The Mallet of Loving Correction is a second collection of blog postings from John Scalzi’s well-known blog, the Whatever. Scalzi’s previous collection, Your Hate Mail will be Graded, won a Hugo.
Before I comment on the content of the “Mallet”, I just want to say that in addition to his Hugos and his Nebulas and countless other awards, Scalzi should win some kind of prize just for his industriousness. He publishes several works of prose, both fiction and non-fiction, a year; he assertively markets his work; he participates actively in Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and he moderates his blog, often with a metaphorical mallet (the “mallet of loving correction” in the title). How does he do it?
The Mallet of Loving Correction contains posts from 2008 through 2012. The posts are not listed in chronological order because, says Scalzi in his foreword, “That would be boring.” He didn’t exactly group them by topic; he chose alphabetically by title. The date is nicely displayed on the first page of every post and so for the most part this isn’t a problem and creates a pleasing randomness. It turns the book into an excellent buffet. You do not need to read it cover to cover. You can browse it. I like that flexibility. Here’s what I don’t like: when you’re the reviewer who forgot to put a sticky-note on a particular post and you want to refer to it, it’s a pain to find it again — and yes, I do understand that this is completely my problem.
Scalzi has a couple of posts that are well-known on their own. Included here is Scalzi’s savage satire about certain politicians’ position that abortion should not be made available to victims of rape, in the form of a thank-you note from a rapist. He also shares a number of sentimental, emotional posts. Probably the best of these is the eulogy to the family dog, Kodi. I was blinking away tears at the end. Some posts are hilariously funny, including Scalzi’s critique of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. I was wiping away tears again, of laughter. (For the record, Scalzi states that the book saved his sanity during a long bus ride across country, and thanks Rand for that.)
Many of the posts here are short. In “These Things I Believe,” Scalzi answers the question about what he truly believes in or stands for, in a single paragraph that ends: “I support the right of same-sex married couples to carry concealed weapons.”
Scalzi analyzes two presidential elections in this book, and writes quite a bit about marriage equality, religious tolerance, and inclusiveness, even, or especially, in geek culture. “Things I Don’t Have to Think About Today” is a post on the nature of privilege; John Scalzi, well-off white male, doesn’t have to spend any part of his day worrying about people staring at his chest, beating him up for who he loves, firing him if they find out what religion he practices, or knowing that someone will call him “lucky” for being able to park in a handicapped space. Scalzi doesn’t have to think about these things, he says… but he will.
The book has several posts about writing. Scalzi is not the kind of writer who provides a lot of advice to new writers. The advice he does dispense falls into two categories; “shut up and write,” and “for heaven’s sake educate yourselves about the business end of writing.” If Scalzi ever decides to write a book about craft, I sincerely hope it is about that second topic.
The very best passage in the book comes not from John Scalzi himself, but from his first editor, Tom Becker, and it is about Scalzi. In a memorial posting about Becker, Scalzi quotes him:
“It makes me happy to know the influence I had on you. I was never sure at the time. You always seemed like a wild horse running free on the plains.”
My closest friend in the world is a big fan of conspiracies, and I imagine her saying, right about now, that John Scalzi, who appears to be an honest, caring, fair-minded man, an unabashed feminist, someone who believes in tolerance and personal responsibility, and a good, funny writer, is in fact secretly planning world domination. This blog is just a front to make us like him. Once he has lulled us all into thinking highly of him, he will begin his climb; first, President of SFWA, then maybe mayor of his town, the House of Representatives, and then… the world. If this is the case, then let me say, you go, John! Your nefarious scheme is succeeding. Keep up the good work.