Birthday Reviews: John Scalzi’s “Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis”

Birthday Reviews: John Scalzi’s “Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis”

Cover by Edward Miller
Cover by Edward Miller

John Scalzi was born on May 10, 1969.

John Scalzi won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2006. He won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 2008, breaking David Langford’s nineteen year winning streak. He won a second Hugo in 2009 for Best Related Work for Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008. In 2013, he won a fiction Hugo Award for his novel Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas. His novel The Collapsing Empire is currently a Hugo Finalist. Redshirts earned Scalzi his second Geffen Award, which he previously won for the novel Old Man’s War. His novel The Android’s Dream received the Kurd Lasswitz Preis and the Seiun Award. Scalzi served two terms as the President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Scalzi wrote “Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis” for an audio anthology he edited, METAtropolis, produced for Audible Frontiers in 2008. The following year, the anthology was published in print form for the first time by Subterranean Press. Brilliance Audio issued the original audio anthology on CD and as an mp3 in 2009. In 2010, Tor reprinted the anthology and in the same year, it was translated into German. The story has not appeared outside its original anthology, whether in audio or printed form.

Benjamin Washington is living in the fully self-sustaining city of New St. Louis. Despite, or perhaps because of, a high-powered mother, Benjy is something of a slacker, putting off tackling his required aptitude test until the last possible moment. His poor scores, and lack of time to retake before the deadline of this twentieth birthday, coupled with his mother’s refusal to expend her political capital on nepotism, mean that he must take a job as a pig farmer working with genetically modified swine.

Suffering through life as a pig farmer, Benjy’s realizes how much he has screwed up, especially when he sees the girl he cares about together with a boy who is constantly needling him. Even as Benjy deals with the repercussions of his laziness, his learning experiences are presented in a manner that is designed to get a laugh, although Scalzi uses those same lessons to great effect later in the story.

While Benjy gets used to his job, complete with razzing from his co-workers, the world of New St. Louis continues to advance, separate from the surrounding area. This provides a look at the haves in the secure city and the have-nots who live in the wilderness beyond, including those who failed to take their aptitude tests and have been exiled from the city. One of those exiles is Marcus, whose younger brother, Will, was a friend of Benjy’s until Will began dating Leah, an ex-girlfriend who Benjy still has a crush on. When Will begs Benjy to help him see Marcus, Benjy’s feelings for Leah cause him to agree and the three attend a rave outside New St. Louis. When the rave turns into a riot, they get a first hand look of what it is like living outside the cities and without hope. Scalzi handles the very real problem of income and hope inequality well.

Benjy’s mother’s platform as she runs for reelection is an attempt to help those who living outside the city. Although she starts out fighting an uphill battle, her platform becomes toxic once the outsiders begin rioting at the walls of New St. Louis, and force their way into the city. While the result of his mother’s policies and the desires of the exiles may align, their methodology of achieving their goals is completely different, further allowing the exploration of the idea that ends justify the means.

Reprint reviewed in its first print publication in the anthology Metatropolis, edited by John Scalzi, Subterreanean Press 2009.


Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” in Galaxy’s Edge. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 5 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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Rich Horton

I was lucky enough to get an advance copy — in print — of METATROPOLIS. I admit I’m a little grumpy about audio-only anthologies, for no doubt get off my lawn sorts of reasons.

Rich Horton

I note that today is also the birthday of one of my all time SF reading shames, Olaf Stapledon (a shame because I have never read him).

And of Michael Shea, whose “The Autopsy” has a strong argument to be the best SF horror story of all time.

R.K. Robinson

I didn’t read or hear this anthology, but never felt I was missing much. The Scalzi story sounds good, but not enough to tempt me.

As for Stapelton, I read Odd John sometime in the Seventies, I think, and wasn’t much impressed, at least not enough to seek another book by him.

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