John Scalzi, Your Hate Mail Will be Graded
(Subterranean Press, 2008)

I'm in the minority among readers/writers of a certain age and of a certain literary genre: I don't read John Scalzi's (in)famous Whatever blog. Not to say I haven't read a post once or twice, or sat for hours reading, slack-mouthed and eye-beglazed, an attending comment thread (and following links to links to links) with replies running in the hundreds. The first time I heard the word "flamewar" was in reference to a Scalzi Whatever thread.

So neither disliking Whatever nor being a devotee, I had no particular expectations going into Scalzi's Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: a Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008. Several things struck me very quickly. First, this was some engaging shit! No wonder thousands of people read Whatever daily with such zeal, and quote the quotes of the quoters who quote from it! The few posts I'd been directed to by friends and SF&F writers had been honed on SFWA matters and other issues of -- let's be honest -- extremely limited interest beyond a quite narrow sphere. But these are carefully selected and thoughtfully arranged entries, and Scalzi wisely eschews chronological arrangement of these Whatever posts in favor of a whenever/however method that serves the book well.

Another observation: one needn't be an avid blogger/blog reader to enjoy this collection of thoughtful and engaging essays. The entries are nearly without fail erudite, charming, almost frighteningly well-informed and presented with an unapologetic confidence both compelling and disarming. Politics, parenting, history, personal finance, philosophy, social commentary -- topics all presented with a journalistic voice so strong and consistent, it exposes its author to argument and attack on a personal level. There's where the hate mail comes in.

This is of course a look at Your Hate Mail Will be Graded, and not at Scalzi or the Whatever blog. These entries and their order are the result of clever selection and a certain unselfconscious showmanship. Reading the posts without the attending thousands of comments is blissfully less distracting (and distressing!) than it would've been with them, at least for those of us uninterested in Internet brouhaha.

Not every topic captured my attention. I've never felt compelled to ponder the Meaning of Life, for example (though Scalzi seems to arrive at a conclusion closely in line with my own suspicions on the matter); and some entries seem to reply to or expand on responses to other Whatever posts, which would read differently to a regular audience but seemed slightly orphaned, or belonging to a context larger than one I cared to delve into. It's safe to say, however, that in reading Your Hate Mail Will be Graded, I was certainly never bored.

I suspect the core audience for this book will be the thousands who already love (or love to hate? their money's just as green!) the Whatever blog or Scalzi's fiction (here's a bibliography on The Internet Speculative Fiction Database), but this collection of essays is worthy of being read as a stand-alone work of huge entertainment and informational value. Such a strong modern journalistic voice presented outside of online format is refreshing, frankly, as is finding such a respected figure in SF&F well-rounded enough to write on such a variety of topics.

A very quick and pleasant read, and a recommended one for sure. Just promise that if you find yourself inspired to send hate mail to Scalzi (Creationists and proponents of "Intelligent Design" beware!), you don't blame me when it comes back covered in red ink and far funnier and more scathing than when you sent it out.

[Camille Alexa]