Archive for April 30th, 2013


It’s the last day of the month and I haven’t yet talked about April’s primary book in the Great Hugo Read. Which is a stunning bit of procrastination on my part as I finished it on the third. That’s in part an indication of how much I enjoyed the book, and in part an indication of Scalzi’s writing style in Redshirts. I specify “in Redshirts” as I’ve encountered two different John Scalzis when reading his works. There’s the John Scalzi who writes military science fiction in the Old Man’s War series, which will feature in November’s secondary read, and the John Scalzi of Agent to the Stars and Redshirts. The former isn’t necessarily a serious John Scalzi, but is by no stretches as relaxed as the latter Scalzi. I mean it in now way as a knock on Scalzi to split up his writing styles. As someone still struggling to find my voice in one style of writing, I’m awed by writers who can effortless slip back and forth between styles. I enjoy serious Scalzi. I enjoy humorous Scalzi.

Ever write a word so many times it starts to lose meaning? I think that means it’s time to stop kissing Scalzi’s ass, there’ll be more time for that in November and probably next April. Let’s get into the book itself.

I loved the movie Cabin in the Woods. And I loved the movie Galaxy Quest. They’re two very different movies, but both exist to break down genre tropes. Cabin in the Woods takes dissects tropes of a very specific sub-genre of horror, those movies where a group of kids are picked off one-by-one. Galaxy Quest plays with the tropes of science fiction television and all the bits that just don’t make sense. Redshirts serves as a similar deconstruction, with characters who are the spiritual descendants of Sam Rockwell’s Guy.

Redshirts is not Galaxy Quest. Not quite. Galaxy Quest is about actors who know they’re actors and know they’re in a fictional show. Redshirts is about crewmen on a spaceship realizing they’re on a fictional show. And a poorly written one at that. The main characters of the show, the captain, the engineer, the science officer, they’re all the background characters in Redshirts. All except the ship’s version of Worf, the character beaten to a pulp every week to prove just how dangerous the situation is. In their place, the heroes of the book are the nameless grunts who walk around with their data pads and can create 90% of a miracle, needing only that brief interaction with one of the show’s stars to put them over the top.

Oh, The Box. The Box might be my new favorite device in a science fiction comedy. It’s a tough call between it and The Guide. The fun in the book is the characters learning the rules of the television show, and twisting them in their favor.

So, alright, the book is a deconstruction of the science fiction television show as told through the eyes of the nameless cannon fodder who go on missions just to get killed off. It’s funny, it’s fast paced, and I really enjoyed the last little revelation at the end of the main body of the novel. However, the full title of the book is Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, and I’d really like to talk about those three codas.

This is where most readers I’ve talked to end up loving or hating the book. Depending on your approach to the codas, they either ground the story by showing the broader consequences of the story line, or they are an overt attempt to make a comedic novel more serious as awards fodder. I’ve talked to my fellow readers who feel both ways. The codas, written in the first, second, and third person, show the ramifications on the “real life” people behind the television show, how they react to meeting the characters and learning they’re creating reality, not just fiction.

I suppose a reader’s opinion of these codas is tied to how manipulated they feel by them. They’re intended to tug a little at the heart strings, a serious ending to a comedic novel. Personally, they’re where I went from feeling the novel was brain candy, well-written but with little actual substance, into being an overall stronger piece. The codas are the weight that the rest of the novel may lack, back loaded onto the end. The middle coda was the weakest of the three, in no small part due to Scalzi’s decision to write it in the second person, but it still served its purpose of seeing what happens to characters that the narrative necessarily leaves behind for the novel’s big climax.

I don’t anticipate this will be my favorite of the five nominees. I know that’s an odd thing to say with the other four still on my to-read pile. While it’s a novel that I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend, I do wish it had been something a little more. The main novel was fun, but fluffy. The codas were poignant, but divorced. I’m glad I read it, and I’m glad I’ve recently been introduced to Scalzi, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers.

Next month on the Read, it’s Saladin Ahmed’s debut novel Throne of the Crescent Moon with no secondary read.


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