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review 2017-05-20 20:17
Redshirts by John Scalzi
Redshirts - John Scalzi

Redshirts stars Ensign Andrew Dahl, newly assigned to the starship Intrepid. It doesn’t take long for him to notice that something weird is going on. Everyone reacts strangely to any mention of away missions, and the Intrepid’s crew has a much higher than normal mortality rate. In an effort to avoid a dramatic and untimely death, Dahl works together with several other new crew members and discovers things that seem too impossible and bizarre to be true.

I went into this book expecting it to be a combination black comedy and Star Trek parody. It started off that way, but then it morphed into something that packed more of an emotional punch than I expected.

This is the third book by Scalzi that I’ve read, and I think it’s the best of the bunch. The premise was interesting and fun, even though the characters themselves admitted it wasn’t terribly original. As with Scalzi’s other books, I felt that the characterization was very thin - I kept forgetting who certain characters were and had to flip back to their introductions for reminders - but even if I had trouble caring about them as individuals I was still riveted by their situation. Was a solution even possible? I couldn’t stop reading because I just had to find out.

I spent most of this book approaching it like a weird adventure, which is part of the reason why the “ending” threw me off so much. My copy of the book was 317 pages long, and the story’s apparent ending happened on page 230. Honestly, readers could technically stop at that point. It’d leave a few questions unanswered, but the result would be an okay sci-fi adventure with a reasonably happy ending. (The brief fake-out pissed me off. I wish Scalzi hadn’t done that - it was upsetting and annoying.)

I vaguely remembered hearing about the Three Codas but, since I’d read reviews ages ago and hadn’t bothered to look any up prior to starting the book, they still took me by surprise. They dug a bit deeper into characters I hadn’t expected Scalzi to spend much time on, and answered a few questions I had thought Scalzi would avoid dealing with. Then again, I’d also thought he’d avoid any direct mention of Star Trek and the Enterprise, and I was wrong about that too.

I can’t say too much about the codas without including major spoilers, so please excuse the vagueness from here on out. I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about them. I enjoyed them, I think, but aspects of them also annoyed me. The first one was my favorite, because it answered one of the questions that had been foremost in my mind. The answer the character arrived at in order to keep functioning and moving forward didn’t quite work for me, but it was better than “he quit” or “these discoveries had zero effect on his emotions or behavior.”

All three of the codas had some amount of emotional manipulation in common, but the second and third codas were the most obvious about it. I was relatively okay with the second one, because it at least gave me a peek at how one aspect of the big plan had worked out. The third one struck me as being more forced. This woman had a complete stranger show up on her doorstep, give her something that was either highly creepy (if she viewed it as coming from a deeply obsessed fan) or impossible (if she believed it), and then leave without an explanation. She handled it all way better than I felt was believable.

One thing in particular that bugged me about the second and third codas (and here I get into “unavoidable spoilers” territory): the way they

emphasized that the connection between the characters and their actors went deeper than surface level. I don’t have the words to fully explain why it bugged me, but the idea that the characters and their actors were essentially the same person didn’t sit well with me.

(spoiler show)


All in all, I liked this book a lot more than I had expected I would. Although I’ve seen quite a bit of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Voyager, and Deep Space Nine, I don’t consider myself to be a Trekkie and was worried that that would impede my ability to enjoy this book. Happily, that wasn’t the case.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-05-18 02:37
The Collapsing Empire, John Scalzi
The Collapsing Empire - John Scalzi

Inevitable Jokey Ship Name: The evidence suggests that sooner or later all post-Banksian writers of space opera will give their spaceships jokey names.

Your Inferior Wit Annoys Me: Yes, though some don't go for the same self-conscious ironic wit that Banks did.

Inevitable Jokey Ship Name: I agree, but even when they try to apply the author's own humour rather than making a failed attempt to imitate Banks' own acerbic wit, they are still wearing their influences on their sleeves.

Your Inferior Wit Annoys Me: This is just part of a trend to consciously refer to contemporary or historical authors in the SF canon within the text.

Inevitable Jokey Ship Name: I find doing so detracts from the work itself, though. Reflected glory is no glory at all and even if the author is being critical of views espoused (often by Heinlein) it just takes one out of the present story.

Your Inferior Wit Annoys Me: Yes, leave it to the subtext, folks! Greater subtlety is to be admired. Readers know that most authors are also readers!

Inevitable Jokey Ship Name: But what do you make of this particular space opera?

Your Inferior Wit Annoys Me: Well, actually, it imitates Banks in another way, that also annoys me.

Inevitable Jokey Ship Name: In what way is that?

Your Inferior Wit Annoys Me: Over use of profanity jokes.

Inevitable Jokey Ship Name: Do you mean over use of jokes that use profanity or jokes that over use profanity? There's a distinction.

Your Inferior Wit Annoys Me: Both. I find it initially amusing but it rapidly palls.

Inevitable Jokey Ship Name: Anything else you didn't like?

Your Inferior Wit Annoys Me: Well, the " apparently ordinary woman reluctantly thrust into a position of power that everybody under-estimates and tries to force into a political marriage and otherwise manipulate and undermine for their own nefarious gain" trope is getting a little over-used.

Inevitable Jokey Ship Name: Well, I felt that way, too, but I also found lots to like about this book. It's fast paced, sets up an interesting galactic situation, has plenty of excitement and intrigue and leaves one desiring more.

Your Inferior Wit Annoys Me: That's fair, but while we've been having this conversation I've already calculated the most probable outcome of the series with 99.999999999% certainty.

Inevitable Jokey Ship Name: Yes, well, I'm not sure it's that obvious to the intended audience, who after-all are just squishy little human brain minds, not ultra-intelligent, almost god-like omniscient Artificial Intelligences like us.

Your Inferior Wit Annoys Me: Of course. Did you notice that AIs and obsession with computers in general is conspicuous by its absence from this book?

Inevitable Jokey Ship Name: Actually, yes. Refreshing.

Your Inferior Wit Annoys Me: Indeed. Well, I have some impossibly complicated manipulation of history to conduct. Talk to you again after I've finished interfering in the destinies of some adorably quaint organic species in another part of the galaxy.

Inevitable Jokey Ship Name: You are going to mess with their SF writing tradition, aren't you?

Your Inferior Wit Annoys Me: Yes, and it will lead to world peace and their induction into a galactic Culture ruled by benevolent AIs with a condescending attitude.

Inevitable Jokey Ship Name: Of course it will, but try to avoid causing all space operas to be filled with annoying spaceship names.

Your Inferior Wit Annoys Me: Out of respect for your cosmic genius and wisdom, I will.

 

 

 

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text 2017-05-16 17:10
Reading progress update: I've read 53 out of 333 pages.
The Collapsing Empire - John Scalzi

Wut? No green people? Must be a different series!

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review 2017-05-16 16:59
The End of All Things, John Scalzi
The End of All Things - John Scalzi

More of the odd, deliberately conceived multiple stories as fake novel approach seen in the previous entry in the series, though we've gone from short stories to novellas, this time - and fewer of them. Weirdly, it doesn't work as well as the mosaic now looks more like just a bunch of torn canvasses stitched to each other.

 

I still liked it, though, and it wraps up the story (again, it was wrapped up well enough three books ago) well enough. Over-all I liked this series better when it stopped being narrowly focused on people who had no clue about the big picture and instead became actually about that big picture. Way more interesting to me than war stories where we have no clue about the causes of the war.

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review 2017-05-14 16:07
The Human Division, John Scalzi
The Human Division - John Scalzi

OK, let's keep score:
Old Man's War: John Perry (smart-arse)
The Ghost Brigades: John Perry's girl friend (mostly non-descript, mildly bad-ass)
The Last Colony: John Perry and now wife (smart arse and stereotypical loving Mum, (still mildly bad-ass))
Zoe's Tale: Zoe Perry (smart-arse)
The Human Division: Wilson (smart-arse, seems to have had a personality transplant from John Perry)
Fuzzy Nation: A smart-arse lawyer
Lock-in: Disabled (but is he really? That's the point) son of an over-privileged businessman-politician.

 

5/7 good score if you like smart-arse characters (which I do - I loves me some Bugs Bunny) but maybe Scalzi should try for greater diversity? Well, he does so with this one, to some extent, because in this episodic novel we are treated not just to Wilson, but a collection of other protagonists and characters who's stories overlap and complement each other as each stand-alone story builds up a picture of what's going on in the galaxy after John Perry radically alters the political dynamics by surprising Earth with a 400+ strong trade delegation from the Conclave.

 

They're good, fun stories with an on-going central mystery that is unfortunately never resolved. The episodic structure reminds of the '60s era of SF where the pulp mags were the main revenue source and people would routinely write story sequences for serial magazine publication that would later be assembled with minimal to zero editing into a paperback novel for further income. The necessity for some kind of resolution in each component story made for slightly weird novels and this example (which was deliberately conceived of and released as a series of e-stories, initially) is no different. The component stories are all good and it does build to some kind of climactic denouement but there's no escaping that it's a bunch of shorts, really.

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