John Scalzi: Just Be You

Photo by Curtis Barton

Fans gathered for a chance to spend an hour with bestselling and award-winning author John Scalzi, Dragon Con’s 2021 literary guest of honor, on Saturday at 5:30PM in Hyatt Regency VI–VII. Scalzi, best known for his Old Man’s War series (or taping bacon to his cat), has won a Hugo, the John W. Campbell Award, and the Locus Award, and the 2020 Dragon Award. His blog Whatever, garnered him another Hugo for Best Fan Writer. Moderator Brian Richardson began the “Guest of Honor John Scalzi” panel with a brief introduction that also mentioned Scalzi’s renown for crimes against the burrito, a reference to crazy concoctions he posts on his blog to the delight of his fans, like the Wilicious, created in honor of Wil Wheaton.

When asked about current apocalyptic scenarios that he seems to have predicted in some of his stories, Scalzi recommended investing in “a very solid basement.” He lives on five acres, so he has a good view of any possible zombie attacks, and he says he “needs the archery practice,” so he’s not worried. He also disclaimed any and all responsibility for our current state of affairs. Things may be tough for us right now, but he noted that each generation has its own awful time—World War II, the Great Depression, The Great War, etc. He thinks we humans “are really good at making do with what comes next,” and that we always seem to be able to “pull our nuts out of the fire at the last minute.” We can solve our problems because humans may be awful but we’re also wonderful.

His involvement in Netflix’s Love, Death & Robots has been a change from his usual writing, which is done on his own. At first, Netflix bought his stories to use, but they did keep him in the loop and asked for his thoughts. Now, though, he’s been writing the scripts and is involved in the whole collaboration, a process that is quite different from working alone.

Asked about his nonfiction series Your Hatemail Will be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998–2008, he spoke about the change as jerks and trolls swapped from email to social media. “Now they’re all on Twitter,” he said, but he’s still not impressed. He says he’s seen it all and doesn’t have time to bother with it anymore. “It’s a young person’s game.” He just puts them into the “kill” file.

Scalzi spoke lovingly of The Beast, a six-necked guitar he bought at an online auction, never expecting to win the bidding. “On a per-neck basis,” he said wryly, “it was very affordable.” Once he’d paid for shipping from the UK, though, the per-neck price had doubled. It weighs 40 pounds, but hey, it’s got every type of guitar he could ever need to play, all in one.

If you’ve never read any of Scalzi’s work, he recommended starting with Old Man’s War because its “very archetypal” of who he is and how he writes, and he thinks if you enjoy it, you’ll likely enjoy the rest of his stories. He doesn’t understand why people read his books and then complain that they don’t like them. He wonders why they don’t just go read somebody else.

He’s used a dog as a character, so why not a cat? Although he loves them both, he says a dog’s interior life is much closer to a human’s mindset. We’ve done that to them by breeding them to be more like us. We’ve taken the wolf and have turned it into a chihuahua—with eyebrows like us. He pities them, and thinks they must be saying, “I would murder you and everyone in your family, but I am only two pounds.” A dog will wait for a human to feed it, but a cat will just go out and “slaughter a squirrel.”

As for the science in his books, Scalzi noted that he makes sure he gets current science correct so he can extrapolate from there, but he’s careful to leave that part as vague as possible. The more you try to explain futuristic science, the more scientists will show up and pick your reasoning apart. He leaves it to them to figure out and come tell him how it could be done. Then he promptly forgets it. “Never overexplain,” he said. “You’ll never hear the end of it.”

At the end of the panel, Scalzi took a moment to explain what Scalzi’s Law really means. Don’t worry about trying to be engaging or clever. Just be you. That’s enough. To enjoy more of his wisdom and witty sense of humor (and discover recipes for outrageous burritos), visit his blog Whatever.

Author of the article

Debbie Yutko lives near Atlanta with her husband and two cats. When she isn’t gardening, rescuing homeless kittens, or cramming math formulas into teenagers’ brains, she can be found stringing words together at her computer and dreaming of adventures in far-off lands. She is a lifelong reader of Science Fiction and Fantasy and a veteran of Dragon Con, where she enjoys attending panels and working with the talented staff of the Daily Dragon.