Redshirts

Fry: You saw the sketch.  What did you think?
Laurie: Well, I thought the sketch worked on two levels.
Fry: Only two?
Laurie: Ah! Yes, ah, I’m being simplistic.  I thought it worked on nine levels.
Fry: I thought I spotted twelve.

Redshirts, THE REVIEW

Redshirts gets its own review post because if I lumped it in with the rest of the June books it would steal all the words from them and leave withered, generic husks behind.  Reading Redshirts was a bizarre experience, in that most of the insanity happened in my mind when I wasn’t actually reading it.  If you want a peaceful reading experience, gobble it up in one go.  If you’re the sort who likes funhouse mirror mazes, then feel free to set the book down periodically and let the ideas percolate.  I am not responsible for the outcome, though.

The Prologue:

I ran into trouble on the first page.  I saw Scalzi read the prologue live in Toronto, and even though that was more than six months ago some piece of my mind still remembers it.  I couldn’t stop the text-to-voice translator in mybrain from channeling Scalzi channeling William Shatner.  Which is a bizarre experience, if you think about it (and I did).  I was reading a book written by Scalzi parodying the TV show that Shatner starred in.  At the same time, I was thinking of the book being performed by Scalzi pretending to be Shatner.  Or, more specifically, Scalzi’s performance was parodying the character Shatner portrayed on the TV show that Scalzi’s book also parodied.  The writer had become the actor and the actor had become a character in the writer’s book.

House of Leaves, do your worst.

The Middle:

I had to take a break from reading to make dinner.  That’s around the time my wheels really started to spin.  I was trying to decide whether I could expect the main characters to make it through the book alive.  If this were any other humorous Scalzi book, the answer would be of course.  Protagonist-murder isn’t really his style.  But….

Ok.  This book is about redshirts.  Those guys are the main characters of the novel.  But for them to be redshirts, there has to be a bridge crew who aren’t made up of redshirts.  This is the bridge crew of the Intrepid.  They aren’t going to die, because that’s how this sort of crappy SF universe works.  The bridge crew doesn’t die.  Redshirts do.

However, the bridge crew of The Intrepid are not the main characters of RedshirtsRedshirts, the novel currently being read by me, has its own “bridge crew”—Duvall, Dahl, Hester, Hanson, and maybe Jenkins.  As Redshirts is a parody of Star Trek, my initial inclination would be to expect this “bridge crew” to survive.  That’s a core trope of the genre.  However, as Jenkins pointed out, this is based on a crappy TV show.  This means that Scalzi is free to ham it up, but also that he might feel that it’s necessary to subvert the really stupid bits.  So, to make his book less like a crappy SF TV show he might kill off the main characters.

I know, I know.  When all outcomes seem equally likely, that means I have zero information.  And I do, I really do.

I’m left admiring how manfully he’s resisted the pull of nonsense recursiveism which plagues poorly written time-travel novels.  I feel like that could have totally happened here.

Three-Fourths through:

I feel like this book is a cheat sheet for poorly-written SF shows.  It puts into words everything I had noticed about TOS, but had been too distracted by explosions and well-cleavaged space-women  to remember.

The End:

SCALZI.  YOU CANNOT HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT TOO.

On the one hand, I want to say, you had to go there, didn’t you?  You just couldn’t stop yourself.  On the other hand, it helps.  Because these were certain elements that made my brain hurt, and if I can wave it away and say, well, it’s all fictional anyway, then it’s better.  I’m sorry.  I’m trying not to be spoilerific, which translates into massive amounts of vagueness.

I still feel like he did a really good job at keeping away from descending into nonsense.  Well done, you.

Codas:

Awww.  I’m very, very glad these were written, because they definitely provide some closure.  It’s not possible to have these things (in the novel) happen to you and not be affected, but there wasn’t a good place to include the effects in the novel.  I think the entire reading experience would have felt a lot more…flippant, without the codas.

In Sum:

☼☼☼☼.  I had some trouble getting into the novel.  The characters all felt very bland, but I think I’ve had this problem with all of John Scalzi’s books and it didn’t bother me all that much before.  He relies a lot on dialogue, so it feels like I’m reading a script with a few stage directions included (haha).  I don’t know what the characters look like (for the longest time I thought Jenkins was actually wearing a yeti suit as part of his disguise) or, for the most part, how they feel.  I suspect this was bothering me right now because I just read a number of books by Sherwood Smith (where every character’s a POV character at some point), C. J. Cherryh (where, when I’m in a POV character’s head, I know absolutely every thought that crosses their mind), and one by Cat Valente (which is all emotions and sensations).  So reading Redshirts felt like trying to knit with winter gloves on after I’ve gotten used to doing it with bare hands.

But I read Scalzi for the ideas and the plot and the hilarity.  Those were certainly present. I think I’ll need to reread it at some point to see what I might have missed.  For example, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have noticed the whole travel-by-black-hole thing if I hadn’t known it was such a huge peeve of Scalzi’s from Star Trek XI.

Also, now I know what to do if I ever kidnap someone and want to make sure he won’t run away.

Steal his pants.

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