Scalzi has won a number of awards over the years, including the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and a Hugo Award for Best Novel. Photo Credit: Athena Scalzi
That life is sometimes stranger than fiction is one of those sayings you here but rarely see proven. But that is exactly what best describes the odyssey of John Scalzi. His rich worlds and highly relatable characters have earned him the adoration of fans around the world. The author’s unique voice and tight narratives have brought him just about every speculative fiction award you can imagine.
Yet none of the above would have happened if a simple coin toss had gone a bit differently. A bit of wind or change in luck and the science fiction landscape of today would look incredibly different: no “Old Man’s War”, “Redshirts”, or the dozens of other books we’ve come to love.
“When I sat down to write my first novel, I was either going to write a science fiction novel or a crime thriller because those were the two genres I read for recreation. I literally flipped a coin, and it came down heads which was science fiction. And that is how I became a science fiction writer,” he said to The Clarion in an interview.
As mad as it sounds, such are the plot twists that great careers of made of. For Scalzi, it was yet another change of fate that pushed him along the path he’s on now.
“I wrote it at the very last minute overnight in a rush and I was the only person in three sections of the class to get an ‘A’. I had what some might call an epiphany: ‘writing seems to be pretty easy for me and literally everything else is hard, I should be a writer.’”
On graduating from college, Scalzi would pursue a career in journalism, writing at first for The Fresno Bee as a film critic and columnist. In fact, his first decade as a writer was spent navigating the world of entertainment journalism. But a high school reunion would change that.
“I started getting into novels because I was going back to my 10th high school reunion and I knew that when I went back, because I was known as the ‘writer dude’, they would be asking me if I’d written a novel. So I thought, ‘Ok, I need to write a novel,” he said.
One coin toss later and the wheels would begin turning on the first major chapter of the best-sellers authorial career. Since then, he’s created some of the most vibrant worlds in fiction, populating them with a constellation of characters as diverse as the modern USA. He cites his upbringing and journalistic career as important factors in his writing education.
“Diversity is not something I have to think about too much because I grew up and worked in places that were always reasonably diverse,” Scalzi explained.
Old Man’s War would be Scalzi’s breakout hit. Photo Credit: Tor Books
But he does admit to being inspired by his own hopes for the future when molding his casts. Readers can find Muslims, Polynesians, Africans, and even members of the LGBTQ+ community in his books, the importance of which is not lost on the award-winning writer.
“I make an effort to ensure that the worlds I write actually reflect the world I live in and the world I would like to live in moving forward,” Scalzi said.
This approach has helped him attract readers looking for a richer, more realized flavor of sci-fi. It’s a refreshing change from the classic all-white and militaristic model many stories from the golden age of the genre were centered around. Even better, however, is the author’s efforts to bring about such change beyond the bookshelf.
“The thing about the world that we live in still being pretty much tuned for your average white man to succeed,” he said.
Scalzi said, “I try to atone for that by recognizing not only have I been extraordinarily lucky with the composition of my career but also that at least some of it was designed to advantage people like me. Secondly, I make sure to promote other writers and do what I can to make this world, specifically the publishing world and even more specifically sci-fi and fantasy the sort of place where anybody has a chance of having the innate advantages that I have.”
While the author would be the first to acknowledge that much work remains to be done, the industry today is a lot more diverse than it was when he entered it. And Scalzi, like many others, couldn’t be happier.
“After literally decades of it being a genre that was predominantly white and male, in the past few years, especially the last ten, it has started to change and there are several reasons for that. The people who are acquiring sci-fi and fantasy now are vastly more diverse than even when I first got Old Man’s War accepted 20 years ago,” Scalzi said.
He is delighted that the speculative field of today is browner and queerer, with many more women in editorial positions than there were some years ago. They are but a few of the drivers pushing the industry forward. Editors and readers want to see different world views, settings, and life experiences.
Scalzi’s latest novel trades outer space for superheroes and villains. Photo Credit: Tor Books
“The thing is that when those kinds of stories come out, the people who haven’t seen themselves represented in Sci-fi and fantasy see themselves represented in it and they enter the field as readers and then possibly later as writers so as far as it goes, from an economic point of view, diversifying sci-fi and fantasy has paid dividends,” explained Scalzi.
A quick glance at any speculative fiction best-seller list proves his point. In any top 30, you will find nearly every race, gender, and creed represented.
“For me it’s great as a reader. What I want to read are the things outside my own experiences, that take me outside my own head, that give me a different view to think about. I believe that is fundamentally what science fiction is about: to feed your mind, to experience empathy for viewpoints you might not have had or considered,” said Scalzi.
In an industry that seems to be entering a renaissance of its own, the veteran author and his colleagues around the world seem hellbent to keep quality books coming. Last year, Scalzi himself topped the charts with “Starter Villain” which came just a year after the highly successful “Kaiju Preservation Society.” Readers, including the author himself, have plenty of reasons to smile.
“As far as I’m concerned, ‘more please, that would be great.’ Like I said more is better, because more diversity and quality mean the field is better shaped to have a greater literary, economic, and cultural influence than it ever has had before.”
Ismael David Mujahid, Executive Editor