Despite a very busy schedule, author John Scalzi found the time to field some of your questions about his book (and this month’s SF BOTMC selection) The Android’s Dream. Before turning things over to John, I’d like to take a moment and dedicate today’s entry to blog regular Whovian and birthday girl Amy Lynn.
Over to John…
Ytimyona writes: “I’m sure you’ve answered this question a million times, but where did you get the idea for the beginning of your book??? It is probably the most original thing I’ve ever read…”
The idea came from me asking myself “what is the most ridiculous thing I could do to start off this book?” I wanted something that would grab people right from the start, and would also be a fun writing challenge for me. This particular opening seemed like it could work — if I could pull it off, basically, then I felt I would have proven something to myself about my writing chops.
Stace writes: “Apart from congratulating Mr Scalzi on writing another great novel, my questions would be:
1] You choose to deal with religion and politics, albeit in a comedic way; is it something you consciously choose to do or just a result of a story’s evolution? Do you yourself have strong interestes in these areas?
I do have strong interests in both, so there was always an intent to have it in there. That said, the shape of this particular religion came out mostly in the writing.
2] Why did you decide to have the followers of the Evolved Lamb be aware of their own cult-like status? Have you faced criticism from people of a religious nature who think you are mocking all religion, or do they see it as you condemning cults based around money/greed/fame (no names, of course!)?
I had them aware of it because it was something new; not many people are part of a religion they know to be fundamentally made up, after all.
I’ve gotten very little negative feedback from religious folks about the Church of the Evolved Lamb, actually; it’s sufficiently different from other religions that I don’t think it trips any triggers. The one religion I think people see the most association with is Scientology (because of the SF writer angle), but inasmuch as the Evolved Lamb church is portrayed positively, I don’t know if there would be any complaint. None has come back to me, anyway.
3] What side of the ‘topian fence do you prefer your reading material to come from – Dys or U?
I simply prefer good books — if a book is well-written, I can go with whatever -topia the writer wants to present.
4]Is comedy an important element in books or can an author succeed in capturing their reader if everything is just doom and gloom?
I like comedy; I don’t think it’s an essential element. There are plenty of excellent books without overt comedy in them, nor is comedy required for an uplifting story. I think I would personally have a hard time writing a book without at least a little bit of comedy in it, though.
5] What one book would you advise people NOT to read?”
I would never advise someone not to read a book, although I might remind them that they’re not obliged either to finish every book they read, or to take every book (or the ideas within) equally seriously.
Beverly writes: “My question for Mr. Scalzi: Will there be a sequel to The Android’s Dream, and if so, will there be any more backstory on Harry Creek, so the readers get to know him a little bit better?”
I’m writing the sequel right now, and it’s called “The High Castle.” It’ll be out in May 2009 (or so). I do imagine we’ll learn more about Harry then (I’m still writing, though, so I don’t know what we’ll learn yet).
Trekkiegirlt writes: “My question for John is : When did you develop an interest in sci/fi? I began my journey in the 5th grade when the local book mobile stopped at my school and I purchased “A Wrinkle in Time” I haven’t stop reading the sci/fi yet!
I think it was in second or third grade, which is when Star Wars came out and simultaneously I started reading Heinlein juveniles. I fell in love with astronomy even earlier than that. Basically I don’t remember a time where I wasn’t interested either in science or science fiction.
Emily writes: “Question for Mr. Scalzi: Why did you choose to name the sheep species after the Dick novel? In the book, it’s said that they were named that “in reference to some book”, but that’s it. Had you already decided to use sheep and just wanted to have an homage to the novel for whatever reason, or is there some sort of thematic (or otherwise) connection that I missed (which would not be at all unlikely)? Am I spending way too much time thinking about something to which there’s no answer?”
I knew there would be a sheep and I wanted a bit of a shoutout to PKD that astute SF readers would get. I think everyone likes an in-joke or two. The name of the sequel is also a PKD shoutout. However, I would be the first to say not to read too much into it. I’ve seen a couple of reviews that suggest the whole book is a PKD tribute, and I have to say it’s not. I couldn’t be that whacked out (in a good way!) if I tried. Not without pharmaceutical help, and I’m not going to go there.
Michelle writes: “1. The title is clever but misleading, in that there are no actual dreaming androids in the book. Did you worry this would put off potential readers who aren’t so interested in androids?
Nah. I mean, the book is shelved in the science fiction section of the bookstores; I feel pretty safe that most of the folks there could handle it.
2. Is there an indication we might see a movie version of the book some day?
No one’s made an offer on the book yet, but I’m open to listen if someone wants to. Of all the books I’ve written so far, I think it’s the one that’s probably the most cinema-friendly, and I know I want to see the Wallball sequence, personally.
3. Do you think the Church of the Evolved Lamb is any more or less valid or righteous than all the other many religions on the planet, old and new?”
I think a lot of the validity of any religion rests in those who follow the religion and how well they filter their religion through their own sense of right and wrong. I know admirable people of many religions (and none at all); I know people of many religions (or none at all) I wouldn’t trust further than I could throw them.
Amazonauntie writes: “I did have one question for John…are you a computer geek yourself knowing all the computer world ins and outs that you described in your book or did you have the help of outside consultation?”
I’d say I’m geek enough to plausibly fake the appearance of knowledge. But you wouldn’t want me to do any of your coding. That code would be inelegant, to say the least.
Joe Abercrombie writes: “I would like to ask Mr. Scalzi the following question: Do you seriously believe that your guest spot can be anywhere near as good as Joe Abercrombie’s was?”
Of course not! Joe Abercrombie’s guest spot was the Platonic ideal of a guest spot; mine is but a flickering shadow on the wall. Every one knows that.
(Also, Joe, you owe me $36.95 for that self-abasement. I take Paypal.)
Fsmn36 writes: “1). What drew you to sci-fi as a writer? Something you’ve always been interested in yourself, or you like the possibilities of something futuristic, or something else?
I was drawn to it most because it’s what I like to read. I also like it because it (and other genre writing actually) still maintains a focus on storytelling, which sometimes gets lost in literary fiction. But I like stories with stories, you know? I like reading them, like writing them.
2). I’ve noticed a lot of branding in the book. Two questions regarding that. A) Did you have to get rights to list them or anything special? It’s rare to see current brands listed in most fictional books and I’ve wondered if that was for legality reasons (the way TV shows and movies sometimes have to make a can of soda look like Coca-Cola without labeling it as such). And b) What made you decide to use brand names? I suspect a lot of authors don’t use them so as not to date the storyline. What was your motivation to use them?
I use them because I think it grounds readers in the familiar and makes the world seem more realistic. I don’t worry too much about the brands going out of date, because forever is a long time and brands that go out of fashion do make a comeback now and again. Blade Runner famously featured an advertisement for Atari, which went out of business a few years after the movie came out — but now it’s an active brand again (and in the book, I have the Washington Senators back in Major League Baseball, which suggests ominous things for the Nationals). So no, it’s not a concern. 3). How do you create the storyline? Do you develop characters or plot first? Do you sit down and write it in as little time as possible, or do you do a more measured approach, say 1,000 words a day? What brings inspiration for you?
I make it up as I go along and I write each day until I get bored or hit a wall, and then I stop and think about the story some more. This way I end up being as surprised as anyone about how the story develops. As to what brings inspiration, well, the idea of paying my mortgage is actually very inspirational for me. Glochidiagirl writes: “1) Did you come up with the first two lines while you were writing the book or were they something you came up with in the past and just had to find a story in which you could use them?
I knew before I started what the first chapter would be, and then I just made sure the first couple of lines totally hooked people in. I’m a big believer in big first lines.
2) In reading Old Man’s War, I have noticed that you also have a character named Javna and named the cemetery where John’s wife is buried is Harris Creek. I was wondering if these were the names of friends or people who saved your life and that is why you keep using them.”
“Harris Creek” is the creek next to the road I live on, which is Horatio Harris Creek Road. “Javna” is the name of a writer of my acquaintance. I use them because I’m really bad at making up names. The names of quite a number of my friends and people I know show up in my books. What can I say, I’m lazy.
Thornyrose writes: What sort of hobbies or interests do you have outside of writing, and how do they influence your writing?
I read a lot, and play video games and I like to dance. Reading certainly influences me, since I see how other people solve their story problems. Video games and dancing don’t have much to do with my books.
Do you hold anything or anyone responsible for your rather…not ordinary sense of humor?
Nope, that’s pretty much all me. No one in my family can explain it. My daughter seems to have inherited it a bit, however. This does not displease me.
Finally, are you, Joe Mallozzi, and Joe Abercrombie all fraternal twins separated at birth? It strikes me as monumentally coincidental that the three of you all share such traits as being rogishly handsome, amazing wordsmiths, and people with similiar senses of humor.”
You’d have to ask our moms.
OHinNJ writes: “Questions for Scalzi:
1) How did you keep track of all of the subplots, the plot twists and connections between the different groups? Do you map out the story elements before writing?
Nope. I just make it up as I go along. I’m just good at remembering details, I suppose. I’ve never had a problem keeping it all clear in my head.
2) As I mention in my comments, some of the scenes seemed like they would play well on screen (like the mall fight with the “jumping shoes”) When you’re writing these sections, did you storyboard the action beforehand, like one might do with a film – or do you simply sit and write?
No storyboarding; I just have a good action sense (and also, I can fix scenes that aren’t working perfectly in the writing without you knowing any better). I was a film critic for several and would watch five or six films a week — do that long enough and eventually you develop a sense of how an action scene should work.
4) A friend who read Android’s Dream told me that he saw it as a satirical commentary on organized religion – or at least one particular religion – and also on genetic engineering gone haywire, as much as a scifi story. Was that your intention?”
It’s certainly satirical, although not of any specific religion. As noted earlier, it’s really easy to see it as a satire of Scientology (again, because of the SF writer angle), but while it’s clear I can’t avoid the similarities, it’s not meant to hammer on Scientology. With the genetic engineering aspect, I don’t intend it to be cautionary, although it would be nice if it WAS; I do expect eventually someone somewhere will do something as inhumanly egregious as happens in the book.
Kimberly writes: “A few questions for Mr. Scalzi, and then I’ll close:
1) Where in the world did the idea for the vending machine wire come from? That was unbelievably clever (and sadistic). I will never look at white chocolate M&M’s in quite the same way. (I did always suspect that there was something slightly sinister about white chocolate. Perhaps this is why?)
It was just that I needed a way for Archie to wear a wire without getting caught, and this seemed like the best way to go about it. Personally, I like white chocolate and put the white chocolate M&Ms in there because I would totally buy them. It’s the wish fulfillment part of the book.
3) I have read many a book with multiple points of view that was derailed by that very fact. This book was not one of them. How did you manage to create so many storylines and so many characters, yet still manage to keep everything coherent, interesting, and important?
I think first I work on the idea that my characters have a life outside their purpose in the book, which gives them an extra dimensionality and makes their own story stand out. The rest of it comes from a good organization sense, and also because I hate it when I write boring crap more than any of you do. If something gets muddled or boring, I hammer on it until it works, basically.
5) Do you generally find that humor and science fiction novels can mix well, or is your own personality such that you need to add a level of humor and snark to your writing?
The tone of this book in particular is very close to my own default sense of humor and snark, so a lot of it really is just me. That said, I don’t think there’s any reason science fiction can’t be funny. But as anyone can tell you, comedy is actually hard; it’s underappreciated how hard it is to do well. Lots of people try it and fail pretty miserably. It doesn’t help that written SF sort of has an unwritten law that all humor in SF has to be like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is a problem, as British farce is tricky stuff.
While I appreciate that someone in the thread compared me to to Douglas Adams, I think my humor is more like the situational humor of folks like Elmore Leonard or (especially) Carl Hiaasen, and that’s a sort of humor that doesn’t show up too much in SF. I think it’s one reason The Android’s Dream sticks out as it does.
Thanks everyone for the questions!