Posts Tagged Redshirts

Hypothetical Hugo Ballot, Pt2

Last time out I looked at the dramatic presentation categories. Now that I’ve finished the last of the five novel nominees, I’m ready with the ballot that I would submit. If I could. Which I can’t. Let’s get right to it, then commentary:

  1. BlackoutBlackout
  2. Redshirts
  3. 2312
  4. Throne of the Crescent Moon
  5. Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance

First there’s a clear division on the ballot between my top two picks and my bottom three picks. Blackout and Redshirts were the two books of the five that I had a difficult time putting down. Redshirts I tore through in three nights, Blackout I read the last 120 pages in a single night. If there’s a better reason of dividing a ballot into halves, I can’t think of it.

Ultimately I went with Blackout for two reasons. One, on its own I felt it was a more compelling and entertaining novel than Redshirts. Two, I feel the entire Newsflesh trilogy deserves some recognition beyond just nominations. While only the last part is being considered this year, I feel it’s appropriate with a self-contained trilogy to consider the work as a whole when deciding whether or not to honor the third part. It’s why Lord of the Rings swept up so many Oscars with Return of the King. Newsflesh did so many things well it’s hard to know where to start. Especially harder since many of the things it did so well are rather massive spoilers to the entire series.

Redshirts ends up second because it was the other book I loved, I just didn’t love it as much as Blackout.

In the lower half of the ballot, I didn’t include a No Award vote. Though I almost did. To be blunt, I’m not sure Captain Vorpatril would have been nominated standing on its own, not part of a long running series from a well respected author. At no point did I dislike the read, but it wasn’t as strong as the other four nominees.

In between Redshirts and Vorpatril is my bias for science fiction over fantasy shining through. It’s my hypothetical ballot, it gets subjected to my biases.

I’d be curious about how anyone else would vote (or, if you’re so bold as to go on record, did vote). Drop me a comment if you’ve read all five. Agree with me completely. Tell me what an idiot I am. I’m interested to see how others would rank this year’s field. And remember that the awards will be presented on September 1, and they’ve promised the stream won’t be killed by a copyright claim this year.

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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.


State of the Writer: April 2013

That's right, I used the IRS building to illustrate April.

That’s right, I used the IRS building to illustrate April.

Struggling. But for good reasons. I’m finding more little bits and pieces of time to sneak in some world building or some outlining, some of which you even saw on the blog when I had that rather math-filled post not too long ago. Now it’s not so much about finding times, I know where they’re hiding, it’s a much more insidious problem: overcoming the momentum of not writing. That’s always been one of those challenges for me. When I’m writing, I’m going all guns blazing. If I step away for a while, it’s easier and easier to find excuses to not do it.

The baby.

The job hunt.

They’re easy excuses. And they’re valid and important excuses. But I don’t think they’re necessarily the all-encompassing excuses I’ve turned them into. Anyway, it’s boring to watch a guy beat himself up over stuff like this, so time to stop.

Still, little bits did get done, and in April hopefully little bits more will get done. I’m starting to have some notions for the broader plot of the first Sarah Constant book, and I need to start outlining I want to make the rough draft a Nanowrimo project.

State of the Author’s Bees: We’re getting to packages of bees around mid-month, so we’ll make our second attempt at being apiarists. Apparently it was a rough year not just for bees in Northern Virginia but all around the country. I’m not nearly experienced enough to say our hive failures were colony collapse. Hell, I know at least one wasn’t, since it got starved out by a vicious robbing. The hive that just vanished? Possible colony collapse, possibly something else. We’re still trying to work out what the inscription “Croatoan” means on the inside of the lid.

Great Hugo Read: One last reminder that we’re into the 2013 nominees, since all that got posted over the weekend. We’ve got one book that’s part of a huge series that we cannot possible catch up on (or, rather, I can’t, having read none of them), one that’s the last book of a trilogy that we can, and three that are standalone novels. We’re starting with Redshirts by John Scalzi as our primary read, and Feed by Mira Grant as the secondary read. There may be some truth to the rumor that I decided to start with the book that’s been sitting on my night stand since I got it for Christmas. I also tore through about a third of it last night, which is not my normal reading pace. Spoiler alert: I’m loving it.

The April-August schedule is here. Or here. Or over in the Goodreads group. This year’s nominees are an interesting mix with some high fantasy, some silliness, some seriousness, and some horror. I’ll be talking more about this year’s Hugo nominees and the Hugos in general later in the week, both here and on Unleaded.

Also coming up, there’s an interesting transition in my World Building Earth posts that I hope to get up this week, a natural segue between the concept of noon and the concept of directions that we’ll look at just as soon as I figure out some story telling step off questions to close the post with.

The days are getting longer. Baseball is back. I’m starting to think we’ve made it through the winter, and it’s time for bigger and better things.

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