I recently bought a box of pulp SF from eBay - most dating from the 50s and 60s. Lantern-jawed, pipe-smoking men save the world while their gorgeous female assistants are prone to outbursts of come-hither hero worshiping and swooning - especially when kissed fiercely and unexpectedly by the lantern-jawed men. The latest one was about a worldwide plague where the lantern-jawed hero is a journalist trying to uncover governmental secrecy while trying to decide whether to go to his mistress - young, beautiful, free loving and rich - or whether to return to his ex-wife - a dour and buttoned-up biologist - who has an in on a secret survival bunker. (He's a selfish and cold-hearted bastard, so my bet is on him going with the ex-wife and claiming to have loved only her all along.) “The Collapsing Empire” belongs to this book category.
A few years ago, I tried reading his “Old Man's War”. I still remember thinking: “Gosh! If this the SF that’s been written nowadays I’ll never read another single line of it.” Every character sounded like the last one. That is, like a Syfy channel quickie. That’s why it was with some trepidation that I started the last one from Scalzi.
Most writers have a massively over-inflated sense of self-worth. Most books have no inspirational content whatsoever. Many are drivel. Some people take their inspiration from other things. Reading is a pastime for most. Writers are entertainers no more. A dime a dozen, forgotten if ever noticed. Even those lauded are often just in the right clique of reviewers. Lots of writers seem to think Shakespeare was a professorial type, rather than a jobbing actor. Most of the output of the publishing industry is pulp. Some gems emerge, but I would challenge anyone to name an author who has produced nothing but the highly readable and valuable. Listen to all the recordings of The Beatles. They did change the world in their own way, and some of the songs are wonderful. There is also “Oobla Dee Oobla Dah". “The collapsing Empire” belongs to the “Oobla Dee Oobla Dah” category: not really that good but still quite hummable. ´
I’m not sure why but every time I read one of Scalzi’s novels, James T. Kirk comes to mind, teaching a sexy alien about love: "We have this *thing* on Earth we call love... You don't know about love... Let me teach you..." Now THAT's good SF. Ahem. Ahh Kirk. Hard not to love him, smooth talking intergalactic slut that he was (Was his shirt torn away in that scene? bet it was).
The books I bought on eBay were cringe-making, but also quite diverting and entertaining. Could I ask for more Scalzi-wise? Yes, I could. But I won’t. This is Scalzi at his absolute best. He can’t write any better than this.
SF = Speculative Fiction.