Sunday, July 28, 2013

Redshirts by John Scalzi: A Review

One of the things I do now with breaks in my writing is make sure that I start reading the best of what my chosen genres have to offer. It's a way of feeling productive without really being productive.

My chosen genres being speculative fiction of all kind, but especially fantasy, science fiction and horror. John Scalzi has been on my radar for a while now, his blog, (http://whatever.Scalzi.com) is one of the best writer's blog out there, he was the (until very recently) president of SFWA, and he has been lauded as a great writer and a great science fiction writer (no, they're not the same thing). Not to mention, from his essays and his public speakings, he seems to be a stand-up guy.

So I journeyed to the one place someone in my position can get good fiction to see if Scalzi was represented there...the library. Quite absurdly, there was only one of his books there (have I mentioned there's about five of John Ringo? ಠ_ಠ Who, although entertaining, is not in Mr. Scalzi's league?) and it was one of the most recent. Redshirts is a science fiction parody of the habit of many writers killing off minor characters while the main ones are incredibly lucky and only suffer terrible afflictions which they inevitably miraculously recover from. This was first made famous in Star Trek where all the minor characters wore red shirts.
Update: Here's the Amazon link:
 

The novel follows Ensign Andrew Dahl, an eponymous redshirt, who quickly realizes that he, and all redshirts, are marked for death.

After finishing this yesterday I tweeted that this novel is the most meta novel I've ever read. At one point when I thought it had reached the meta limit the book surpassed it meta-ly. (Obviously shortened to 160 characters). In other words, there's meta, then there's meta-meta, and then there's Redshirts.

Update: Following no longer applies.
For those of you expecting a jump or link or anything, I'm composing this on my phone so unless I take the time to schedule this for later and go on my PC to make it pretty, it's going go be rather straightforward. Of course, if I do take that time, then I could probably just delete this paragraph so in that case this paragraph is rather meta but then I may just leave it in as an example.
Update: Left in as an example (^_-) ~☆

For those of you that want a basic idea of meta, it's pretty much something that is self-referential. Scream is a good example because the characters in that used the fact that they were in a horror film to their advantage. Have the virgin do the really dangerous stuff because virgins live until they lose their virginity, etc. In normal fiction, as soon as characters start talking about fiction tropes, that's usually a sign that the trope is about to be subverted (I.e. if characters have a virgin do the dangerous thing, but actually say that he or she will be fine because they are a virgin, then you can be pretty sure the virgin will die—or at least be horrifically maimed), not so in Scream and not so in Redshirts. In these films, they can regularly use the narrative and the rules of the narrative to their advantage.

One blurb of Redshirts on its back cover had someone claim to laugh the whole way through. It IS amusing and there were plenty of times for laughter (although not the whole way through). It does call out "bad" science fiction so if you're a fan of bad science fiction and can take a joke, then you will probably love this book for all of its meta-ness. The codas at the end (is codex the plural of coda? Update: No, Google's just got a crap spell-checker, which is rather ironic since it's always correcting me in my searches) were enjoyable, but I was left wanting more. I don't know if that was more resolution or maybe just seeing more of what happens next, but I sat there wishing it wasn't over, and at that point the codas were read more as a consolation prize than with the eagerness I devoured the rest of the book. (Update: It's worth mentioning I read the book in one sitting--it is over 300 pages so that's not a comment to how short it is, but rather a comment to how good it is)

It was a good read and Mr. Scalzi IS a great writer (thank god, I would have been pretty let-down otherwise) so I am looking forward to more from him. Supposedly, there is a way to download his first sci-fi book free and legally, although it involves some internet sleuthing. Can't wait.

Zero Review: 8.0/10 B-

P.S. Lots of anime emoticons today. Why? Been reading some fanfiction lately and it's causing me to regress to my younger self's habits. Ja ne!

P.P.S. Next up book review-wise will be China Mieville's Kraken and Un Lun Dun.