This is not a review of Collapsing Empire (John Scalzi) because it’s the first of either two or three books – and I am chomping at the bit to be able to get #2. I am actually really glad I waited to read it until now – if I had read it when it first came out I would have been soooo cranky. Ok, by read I do mean “listen to Wil Wheaton read it” and thoroughly enjoy his performance.
I have been musing over this book since last week – I woke up Saturday morning at 6am and found my mind turning over bits of it. It is is the first time in my life I’ve read a book and thought “damn, if/when they read this in 100 years, what will they say of us?”
Let me clarify here. John Scalzi has never considered himself a paragon of literature. He has said (I am paraphrasing here) a thousand times he writes books he hopes entertains people. He isn’t writing to make social commentary (again, as I understand from his blog) and he isn’t writing to change minds.
I wonder if Charles Dickens would have said the same thing.
I have been told in my entire academic career that Dickens was writing on purpose to change minds. But I don’t remember ever seeing a quote from him saying this was his goal. HELL – he called A Christmas Carol “his little christmas book” and he just wanted that to make some money to pay the bills! THAT I remember. I don’t think he was trying to pen the great novel it turned into.
Did he have a social conscious? God yes. Clearly. Do I think he was trying to spark social revolution with his novels? No. I think he was writing those to entertain. I ran searches for keywords (society, poor, etc.) and he didn’t talk about these things in his correspondence. The closest I found was a letter where he came to Virginia (1842!) and wrote about slavery. (seriously, go here and read his letter to W. C. Macready in 1842!)
Interestingly, Dickens & Scalzi have something else in common. Scalzi has written very openly about the difficulties he experienced growing up. Dickens’ father went to debtors prison and at 12 Dickens had to go to work at a factory to support his family. They both had some truly lucky breaks during their teens (Scalzi went to a great school, Dickens got a white-collar job – at the time a truly amazing break for a boy from a lower-income family).
I can’t help but wonder if Collapsing Empire might be one of those books kids read in school in 100+ years and talk about how Scalzi wrote it as a commentary (he says he didn’t!) on early 21st century society. Some of the issues it touches on (gender, sexuality, stratified societies, greed & power, language…. God I don’t want know how many times “fuck” is used) are things that are just so real to me these days.
Whether intentional or not, the book does (in my opinion) touch on some of the mental/social fights we are having today. It might just be Scalzi working through it in his own mind or reflecting his own dreams of how society could be into text.
I can’t wait to see the whole thing play out. I will have to read them again. Hell, I might even buy some copies in paper-form that I’ll write in/mark up and do I truly in-depth review of them! I haven’t done that since college…. mmmmm that sounds mentally yummy.