Book: The Sagan Diary by John Scalzi

Interesting as an exercise in writing, less so in reading

John Scalzi
The Sagan Diary
Subterranean Press, 2007
ISBN-10: 1-59606-118-9
ISBN-13: 978-1-59606-118-7
100 pages

John Scalzi has said that he has a theory of first sentences: "the first sentence of your book damn well better grab your reader by the throat and then drag their eyes down the rest of the page". The first sentence of his book The Sagan Diary is:

    Col. Blauser:
        As per your instructions in your memorandum of 341.10.07,
    we have begun processing the BrainPal memory stacks of the
    Colonial Special Forces members who have left the service,
    whether by death or (rather more rarely) by discharge from
    service. (p. 9)

The sentence doesn't quite seem to fit the theory. That's probably because, as he has also said, writing The Sagan Diary was a bit of an experiment for Mr Scalzi and that he was satisfied that it was a successful one. Alas, this novelette bound in hardcover and costing $20 is less than a complete success for me as a reader.

The story is set in the same universe as Mr Scalzi's novel Old Man's War. Indeed, it takes place shortly after the end of that book. The "diary" that makes up the large majority of the book is an interior monologue by Jane Sagan who was a special-forces soldier in the Colonial Defense Forces and is about to be discharged.

The special-forces soldiers, also called the ghost brigades, are different from ordinary volunteers because (for reasons you can find in Old Man's War) they have no memory of life before becoming soldiers. But they're born fully-grown and have computers and communications devices attached to their brains that help them learn and integrate with others. So it doesn't take them long at all to become "adult" and start fighting.

A convincing interior monologue from someone like that, someone who is identifiably both like and unlike an ordinary person, and who is on the point of a life-changing event, is an interesting idea from the point of view of writing. Unfortunately, this interior monologue is less interesting from the point of view of reading.

As with most interior monologues, there's little action. Jane Sagan reflects on a few military events, but her purpose is not to narrate them. They're used to illustrate larger, abstract points. Mr Scalzi has achieved something here by making the monologue persuasive. But I don't go to science-fiction novels for extended contemplations of identity. And that, pretty much, is what The Sagan Diary is.

An audiobook of the novelette is available online for free.

The character who writes the memo that comes before the diary itself seems precise enough that she would probably not have used "verbally" where she meant "orally" (p. 9).

Posted: Wed - May 2, 2007 at 07:27 PM   Main   Category: