Read John Scalzi on Why You Should Be Paid for Writing

The blog Lifehacker just posted a piece entitled “Why You Should Write For Free,” in which writer Nick Douglas (on staff, note) explains when he believes writing for free is appropriate — and when it is not. The headline alone is enough to fluff me up with righteous fury, as my own, consistent refusal to…

via No, In Fact, You Should Not Write For Free — Whatever

The link above says everything you’ll want to know, but I’ll add my two cents here.

For more than 8 years, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get work as a writer. And let me tell you, it is not always easy or fair to get the pay you deserve. Freelance writing is hard enough because you’re spending so much time trying to convince others that you could write for them.

Now imagine that you’re asked to put out content just for clicks, and not for the actual words you write. You could copy-and-paste your second-grade book report for some employers, so long as you had the right SEO formatting. So, when you’re looking for employment opportunities to write, don’t just settle for “exposure” or “vocational experience.” Aspire to be a professional, and to be treated as such.

Where Syndromes and Security Meet: Lock-In by John Scalzi

Copyright © 2014 by John Scalzi
Copyright © 2014 by John Scalzi

By all accounts, I should be more into John Scalzi’s body of work. I already follow his blog and I love his last book, RedshirtsHowever, I never had the time to get through his famous Old Man’s War series or other key novels.

However, this year he came out with a new standalone novel called Lock In and I knew I had to give it a read. Much like Redshirts, this story’s very accessible, with a touch more science fiction and social commentary balanced around a very tight murder mystery.

In the far future, a terrible outbreak of a disease known as Haden’s Syndrome affects millions of people worldwide, trapping them inside their own bodies. Money and years of research have allowed those victims (known as “Hadens”) to interact with the world through synthetic bodies (known as “threeps”) and human bodies for hire (known as “Integrators”). When Chris Shane, a well-known Haden, starts his job with the FBI, he finds himself investigating a murder in D.C. on the eve of a massive Haden protest march. With his partner Leslie Vann, Chris quickly finds himself lost in a conspiracy of corporate espionage and the growing Hadens subculture, all while questioning where he himself fits into this brave new world.

I will say that Chris Shane could have easily been a generic detective in a murder mystery, but as a Haden who relies on threeps to be an FBI Agent, he adds a layer of complexity, from his hardened shell and instant Web access to his bitterness over the treatment of Hadens in the US. From here we get a sympathetic lens into the Haden culture and how he interacts with other Syndrome victims. The same applies to his partner Vann, a former Integrator (meaning she has a different form of Haden’s). Both of them are a nice balance of virtues and flaws, like courage under fire versus self-loathing.

I also love the worldbuilding that Scalzi goes into, not all of which is based on Hadens. We see the necessities of threeps and Integrators and the Agora, but we also get a look at social implications. There’s the massive cut in federal spending on Hadens, a major shift toward privitization and a changing corporate landscape, a Haden separatist movement led by Cassandra Bell, and the resentment or alienation between Hadens and healthy human beings (with slurs like “clankers” and “Dodgers” thrown around for good measure). But we also get nice tidbits like driverless cars and a Navajo Nation server farm–small advances that add to the story’s atmosphere and a sense of the future where everything takes place.

On the whole, I really enjoyed the story and the atmosphere it developed. On a social science fiction level, it beautifully explores every aspect of a fictional disease. I would’ve liked to have focused a bit more on the Agora, the concept of liminal space, and Cassandra Bell’s separatists, but I can let it go for the sake of the plot. Speaking of which, the story is very tight, moving quickly through interviews, research, brief tussles with armed suspects, and the occasional expository dialogue. I thought the whole resolution in the final chapters was pretty solid, albeit a bit anticlimactic. Of course, real life is a bit anticlimactic, so maybe it’s just as well.

If you’re looking for a tight murder mystery with a heroic FBI agent, then this is your book. If you want a creative social science fiction story, then I continue to recommend this. And while I’ve been referring to the main character by the male pronoun this whole review, in truth, Shane is written with a level of ambiguity with regard to race and gender, so this is a rare opportunity for readers to delve into a story and picture the protagonist however they like. On that count alone, it’s definitely worth reading more than once.

Lock In is available for purchase through booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Bibliography: Scalzi, John. Lock In. New York: Tor Books, 2014.

They’re Not Here To Entertain You: “Redshirts” by John Scalzi

Copyright © 2012 by John Scalzi.

I have to confess that I don’t know much about science fiction writer John Scalzi.  I do know he’s an acquaintance of my favorite author, Matt Stover, and has a pretty cool blog here on WordPress, but until a few months ago, I’d never read a single one of his books.

Then, in July, I ordered a copy of his latest novel, Redshirts.

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, a “redshirt” is slang for a minor character whose only job is to get killed in the middle of a story, allowing the main characters to survive while also raising the dramatic tension.  The term was coined for the common frequency of crew members getting killed on Star Trek, especially because they wore red uniforms.  The same can be said for just about any minor character getting killed onscreen, but in this case, it’s the main focus of Mr. Scalzi’s novel.

So, the story follows Ensign Andrew Dahl, a new recruit to the Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union.  However, within moments of boarding the ship with other “redshirts,” he discovers several unusual factors, like the fact that so many crew members get killed on away missions and that the laws of physics seem to warp just for the benefit of Captain Abernathy and the other prominent officers.  He and his fellow recruits try to get to the bottom of this mystery, especially when it seems like events are conspiring to bring them all to a premature death.  The twist of the story is that they discover they’re living in a fictional universe that was created for a bad Star Trek ripoff in 2010.  With their knowledge of genre conventions, Dahl and his friends have to get to this alternate Earth in the past and convince the show’s producers to stop this senseless slaughter.

I have to say, I really enjoyed this story.  It’s got some very clever dialogue all throughout, a nice treatment of redshirts and their contributions to the show, and a surprisingly emotional climax.  It’s not an action-packed climax, but a soul-searching one, as real-world actors and writers have to confront their fictional counterparts in a manner reminiscent of The Purple Rose of Cairo or Stranger Than Fiction.  I liked the “three codas” (read: extra endings) that serve to deepen the story, giving the real-world implications a little more weight after all the black comedy we got from the world of Ensign Dahl and Company.

If there’s one complaint, it’s that there isn’t a lot of description in this story, but it’s not a huge complaint.  You don’t need to know how the starship Intrepid looks or know what kind of alien Science Officer Q’eeng is.  Just picture the Enterprise during its Original Series run and The Next Generation, and you should be fine.  Above all else, this book is wonderfully witty and deserves to be read by Star Trek fans, science fiction TV fans, and anyone who wants to do a better job at writing characters.

Bibliography: Scalzi, John.  Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas.  New York: Tor Books, 2012.