Interview: John Scalzi
By Chris Large
Interview first appeared in Aurealis #82.
Welcome back John. At the moment your new book Lock In, [discussed in the last issue] is a standalone novel. Are you considering writing more in this world? Or is this it?
No! I’d be happy to write more in this world if there was a desire from my publisher and from my audience. I don’t ever write anything but standalone novels. Old Man’s War was a standalone novel. I wrote that one book, right? And then it took off and my editor said, “You need to write another one,” and gave me some money.
I said “Okay. I see how this works.” That’s how Old Man’s War became a series. Android’s Dream was supposed to be a series. I’d signed a contract for a second book but when I started writing it, it was terrible so I stopped doing that and wrote something else. So Lock In is currently a standalone book but if my publisher comes to me and says, “Yeah, I want you to write the second instalment.” [I’d write it]. In fact I have an idea that I’m ready to start going with. It really depends on sales and the level of interest. Another factor is that at the moment it’s optioned by Legendary Television, a production company here in the United States. And if they manage to get it onto TV, there will be sequels.
Game of Thrones, here we come. So you have Old Man’s War, Redshirts and Lock In television shows in development right now. You’re an executive producer on each of those projects. What does that mean? Do you have any leverage? Can you say, “No! That writing’s rubbish. Go do it again!” Is that how it works?
The title of executive producer can mean many things. It can be an extra credit that entitles you to more money, and they expect nothing else from you. Or it can mean you’re expected to be on the set, offering perspective, possibly writing or whatever. All three of these are pre-green-lit, which means we still need to get the full go-ahead from the studios. So at this point I’ve met with the script-writers, I’ve spoken to them about the stories, spoken to the other producers and in some cases I’ve seen initial drafts of the scripts and given them notes. So there has been a fair amount of involvement. When and if they get green-lit, then the question becomes how much more involvement will I have? And how much more involvement do they want me to have? Some of it will be contractually obligated.
If I’m going to be paranoid about it, and go like, “They’re destroying my art!” they can’t cut me completely out of the loop. It is contractually impossible for them to do that. But at the same time that means that if one of them goes into production I will need to play an active role. But how will I manage that with all the other things I need to do, like writing books and the other projects I have lined up? That will be very interesting. At the end of the day a lot of decisions will be made by other people and sometimes I’ll agree with them and sometimes I won’t, and that will just be the nature of the beast. At the very least, if I think they’re going to do something wrong I can say, “I think that’s a really bad idea.” And if it turns out to be a bad idea I can then say, “I told you so.” And if it turns out to be a good idea I’ll say, “I never said that was a bad idea. I said that was a great idea!”
Okay, so I guess this will be a tricky one. Which of the three would you most like to see green-lit by a studio?
I’ve got to be honest with you and I’m gonna say I have no preference. I was having a meeting recently with some producers about a different thing entirely and they asked me the same question. “Which one do you like the most?”
And I said, “I like the one that has the best chance of getting made. Whichever one of the three it is, that’s the one I will love. ” I like all of the books, obviously. From a practical point of view it doesn’t matter which of them makes it onto TV. As soon as it does, that particular book will likely sell tonnes and tonnes and tonnes and then the other books will also see an uptick. So it doesn’t matter which one makes it. It doesn’t matter which jackpot I hit is what it comes down to. If any of the three make it, then that is my favourite. If it’s all three, then that’s good too.
I was reading a ten point deconstruction of the Star Wars universe you wrote back in 2009 –
Was it the Design Fails piece?
Yes, exactly. And in one of the points you made, you said: “Lightsabers need a cross-guard! This is ridiculous. Everyone’s getting their hands cut off!” Now [with the release of the first Star Wars VII trailer] we see it’s actually happened, are you going to own that call? Are you going to stand up and say, “That’s a Scalzi!”?
I saw people really getting worked up about the lightsaber cross-guard. Saying things like, “That’s just not safe!” And I was like, “And… They were before?” I mean one slice and there goes your hand. Like, “Arrrghh!” Why did Luke lose his hand? Because he did not have a cross-guard. Now, that particular cross-guard that we’ve seen, do I think that is practical? Not necessarily, but at the same time I still don’t think it’s a bad idea. When I saw that cross-guard I said, “Finally! Someone gets it!” That particular cross-guard may not be the best one, or it might be. I mean, we actually have to see it in practice. We only saw like two seconds of it, right? We don’t have nearly enough information to go by.
Although the one thing that I did think was that it seems like it would be really easy to stick yourself. But that’s a problem with lightsabers in general. People say “Oh! It would be so cool to have a lightsaber!” But 99.9% of you – the first time you swing that thing you’re gonna give yourself a lobotomy. You’re gonna lose an arm. You’re gonna lose a leg. You are not coordinated enough.
I think that’s actually part of Star Wars lore that only Jedi and Sith can really use a lightsaber because they’re a dangerous weapon! They’ll cut through anything so you have to have a Jedi’s abilities just so you don’t cut your own head off. In one of the prequel movies we saw the tiny little padawans in training and I was like, “I hope these are low-powered lightsabers; that the worst that they get is a second degree burn. Otherwise you are going to literally cut your padawans down to a small number very quickly.” I mean, think about when you were 5 years old. Could you be trusted with a sharp implement?
Oh, no way.
So what I’m saying is the cross-guard is still a good idea. It remains to be seen whether that design implementation is the best one.
Okay, just one last question. There are probably only two people in the world I’d ask this question – the other being JJ Abrams [note to self: must get in touch with Mr Abrams] – As the person who quite literally wrote the book on redshirts (and won a Hugo for it), who would win the stormtrooper V redshirt smack-down? It’s a quandary for fans because stormtroopers, when they shoot, can’t seem to hit anything – yet redshirts always die.
There’s an internet meme that says, “Stormtroopers fire at the redshirts and miss every shot, but the redshirts die anyway.” The fundamental problem for the redshirts is that they are designed to die. That is their karma. That is their thing. So when confronted with the stormtrooper? The stormtroopers might miss. The redshirts might defeat the stormtroopers one way or another – but the redshirts would still then die. So it really wouldn’t matter what happened, at the end of the day the purpose of a redshirt is to die in service to the plot. So they would lose.
So even if they beat the stormtroopers, they would still all die?
The stormtroopers would not win! That’s important. It’s not that the stormtroopers would win. It is that the redshirts would lose.
And on that note I call this interview done. I’m not sure John gave us a truly definitive answer to that last, and possibly most important question, but at least it was an answer from someone who should know. I heartily thank Mr Scalzi for indulging my geekiness and urge anyone who hasn’t read Lock In to do so without reading any reviews, forums or spoilers such as the ones hidden within Part 1.5 of this interview, beforehand. Don’t read them. Resist temptation. Read the book. You won’t be disappointed.