I don’t think I’m exactly being fair, but I was quite underwhelmed by John Scalzi’s Your Hate Mail Will be Graded. I was excited to read this collection of essays/blog posts from Scalzi’s long running Whatever blog. You see, John Scalzi is a science fiction writer, and although I have zero familiarity with his science fiction novels, I had high expectations for this collection. Why you ask? Well some of my favorite nonfiction essay collections were written by sci-fi writers. At the top of my list are I, Asimov by Isaac Asmov (of course), An Edge in my Voice and The Harlan Ellison Hornbook by Harlan Ellison (duh) and Reflections and Refractions: Thoughts on Science-Fiction, Science, and Other Matters by Robert Silverberg. And now it should be apparent why I feel I am not being fair to Mr. Scalzi when I refer to his book as underwhelming. It’s hardly fair to compare him to three Grand Masters of science fiction who are brilliant essayists! Especially Asimov, Ellison, and Silverberg!
Not only did I have my own irrational high expectations, I had a rational one too. Your Hate Mail Will be Graded won a Hugo award, and yes, this further ratcheted up my hopes. If I could have only focused on the fact that this book is just a bunch of fucking blog posts, perhaps I would have a better opinion of it. Sadly though, I found many of the essays herein to be boring. A lot of these are opinion pieces by a pretty level-headed, centrist guy. I agreed with most of his opinions which frankly doesn’t make for the most exciting reading. Some of the pieces are downright vapid and it’s apparent they are examples of a writer just cranking out fluff to stay loose.
The most compelling essays in the book are when Scalzi strays from his opinion-filled would be comedic rants and gets down to communicating something other than what’s already festering in the average Joe’s head. His essays on Edvard Munch, fascism, tampons, and the end of the world were some of the more memorable and interesting (yes the piece on feminine products was one of better ones.) His advice to writers on their craft and finances was also quite entertaining and useful. And a few of the pieces were genuinely funny such “A Vegetarian Moment” and “On the Creation Museum”.
Scalzi’s skill as a writer is evident and he appears to be a bright guy and a cool dude. Your Hate Mail Will be Graded, however, is more misses than hits, more filler than killer, more shits than giggles… If I read any of his nonfiction again, I hope it will be something more substantial. I won’t be looking to his blog for that. He may not be an Asimov, Ellison, or Silverberg but he’s capable of more than Your Hate Mail Will be Graded.