fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Sagan Diary by John ScalziThe Sagan Diary by John Scalzi

The Sagan Diary was a prize and an experiment. As John Scalzi explains in the introduction, this novelette was written for Bill Schafer, editor of Subterranean Press, who won it in a charity auction. Schafer wanted a story set in Scalzi’s popular OLD MAN’S WAR universe. Scalzi wanted to challenge himself, so he decided to attempt a woman’s internal monologue. Fans will immediately realize from the title of the book that the woman is Captain Jane Sagan, a cyborg who features prominently in OLD MAN’S WAR. Scalzi has said that he originally wrote this story in free verse (which I did not know before I read it). The Sagan Diary is available for free in audio format on Scalzi’s blog where it’s read by Elizabeth Bear, Mary Robinette Kowal, Ellen Kushner, Karen Meisner, Cherie Priest and Helen Smith.

Unfortunately, all of this information about The Sagan Diary is more interesting than the story is. I love the concept and the idea that Scalzi was challenging himself. I love that it’s read by his friends and offered free on his blog. All of that is really cool. But, frankly what works great as an experiment for the author and his friends doesn’t always work as entertainment for the reader. I did not enjoy The Sagan Diary.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSince Jane Sagan is leaving Special Forces to retire to the planet Huckleberry, Lieutenant Gretchen Schafer (Schafer — cute!) are downloading content from Jane’s BrainPal’s memory stacks so that Special Forces can extract what they hope will be important data that will help them in their operations. Instead, what they (and we) get is Jane’s internal monologue which consists of 1½ hours of turgid introspection about events that readers will recall from Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades. There is no plot. Jane spends the time wondering about the woman who used to have her brain and body, reflecting on the mothers of the people she has killed, thinking about what it’s like to speak without words via BrainPal, thinking about how she had no childhood and what it’s like to kill a friend. We even hear her interior monologue during sex. Here’s an example:

I am holding myself in my mind. Who I have been and who I am. Wordless and silent. No description to resolve into a lexicon spoken or sent. A view of myself immune to travel or translation or amputation. When I move to your world my thoughts will be filled with myself. The measure of my character and deficiencies and desires held mute and, in being mute, held whole. So that when I am sent to you, I will be who I have been and who I am, so I can be who I will become with you. I know you would not begrudge me this, that you would want me to think on myself if by doing so I believe that it would keep me myself. But you should know, that as I hold myself in my thoughts, to will myself into being myself once more, the version of me I hold to myself holds you in her thoughts.

And on and on and on it goes like this for 1½ hours. Some readers may find this beautiful, but I just found it bloated and boring. What’s most jarring about the whole thing is that it sounds nothing like the Jane Sagan we know. Jane is tough, direct and epigrammatic. She would laugh at someone who emotes like this. John Scalzi did not convince me that this was Jane Sagan’s voice.

I didn’t know about the free audio version on Scalzi’s site before I acquired a different audio version at Audible (I believe it was free, too). The audio I listened to was narrated by Stephanie Wolfe. Her voice is nice enough, but her cadence was choppy and unpleasant. I wouldn’t recommend The Sagan Diary in either print or audio, but if you want to give it a try, I’d suggest getting the free audio version from John Scalzi’s blog.

Old Man’s War — (2005-2015) Nominated for a Hugo Award. Publisher: John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army. The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce — and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding. Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets. John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine — and what he will become is far stranger.

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  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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