I’ve been on a bit of a reading kick lately. It is cutting into my time watching Lost. Lessee – I read Railsea by China Mieville, The Wheelman by Duane Swierczynski, King’s Blood by Daniel Abraham, I’ve started At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson and the Feynman Lectures by Richard Feynman. I could take a week just doing book reviews here in the ole blog.
Finished Redshirts yesterday. It is the new novel by John Scalzi. I’d previously read the first two novels in his Old Man’s War series. I follow him on Twitter and generally find his Twitter feed and blog better than his novels. Not that there is anything wrong with the novels. They just aren’t my type of thing.
The setup for Redshirts is that Adam is assigned as a junior ensign on the Starfleet flagship the Intrepid. Four other ensigns start the same day as him. Soon they all realize it is because during away missions and other encounters, the junior officers have a very high mortality rate. The more experienced officers have noticed and do everything in their power to avoid being called on such missions.
The book is actually four separate stories. The main story of Adam and his fellow ensigns dealing with the perilous situation in which they find themselves and three short stories told around minor characters encountered during the main adventure and told as epilogues to the main tale (Scalzi calls them Codas).
The main story has a lot in common with the movie Galaxy Quest. It is primarily a comedy, but it uses that to slowly build up its characters and surprise you with moments of drama. When I say comedy though I don’t mean sitcom style. But the situations the characters find themselves in are so ridiculous that even the characters comment on it.
The plot has an easily guessable mystery at the core, but the resolution to their dilemma is clever and well worth reading. There is a Grant Morison style twist in the last chapter that I don’t feel added much to the book – maybe it was mind blowing for those who hadn’t encountered similar twists before, but it feel a bit flat for me.
The story ends with a final joke that I found to be very funny.
I approve quite whole heartedly. It was funny and sometimes a bit poignant, but most impressively a compulsive page turner.
The codas on the other hand are a different kettle of fish. Scalzi tries to be clever here. He switches the tone and style in each coda. And he does so noticeably by changing the narrative voice used in each one. First person in the first, second person in the second and third person in the third. Each coda also becomes more dramatic and less humorous as they progress.
I had a few problems with the codas. They seemed too obvious as storyteller tricks – I could feel myself being manipulated. That was on purpose – Scalzi is trying to show the strings. But it didn’t fit my paradigm of appreciation. Second, there is a reason very few books are written in the second person voice. It is hard to write, hard to read and the second story didn’t really have a reason for using that voice other than to fit the conceptual framework of the book. Finally, I thought the main theme of the book had been elucidated sufficiently in the main story. The three codas offering variations on that theme felt like a sledgehammer.
In total, I though the codas read like a college creative writing assignment. They were professionally done rather than amateurish, but still not great.
So I recommend the book, but mostly for the main story rather than the short stories at the end.
I referenced the main theme before. I read it as a theme of taking control of your own life. I wasn’t going to mention that because it might reveal too much of the story twists. But in mentioning it above, I can’t very well not spell it out.
I liked all four books I’ve mentioned as having finished in the last few weeks. Redshirts and the Wheelman are the most engaging and readable. And Redshirts is likely my favourite of the bunch.
Let’s see if I get around to reviewing the rest.