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Redshirts: A Novel of Three Codas - John Scalzi

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Redshirts: A Novel of Three Codas - John Scalzi

Around these parts I commit myself to (at least try) finishing everything I start. Why, you ask? Because I think it's important for me to help my readers make decisions about what they should buy and what they should avoid. If I only read things that I enjoy, how will I ever fulfill the second half of that commitment? I'm also loathe to spend 800 words eviscerating someone's baby. Thus, Cheryl was born. Cheryl is my imaginary personal assistant who helps me "review" novels I really did not like. Instead of just doggedly attacking a novel's failures, I try to have some fun with it and get some laughs. Hopefully it's taken the way I intend it.

This is my sixth installment of posts featuring Cheryl. If you enjoy this one, I suggest finding the Cheryl tag on the right sidebar for the others. Interestingly, in the case of John Scalzi's new novel Redshirts, I finished it because I found it legitimately intriguing. I'm a fan of his work historically and the writing was strong enough to keep me searching for the thread to tie it all together. Alas, that thread never came and this post was born.


Justin: Cheryl, I'm going to be working on my Redshirts review for the next few hours. Please hold all my calls.

Cheryl: Yes, Mr. Landon. Does that include Tor and/or Mr. Scalzi?

Justin: Tor does seem to have an eerie sense of timing. Yes, even them. And please, whatever you do, don't let that pain in the ass wizard show up.

Cheryl: You know I have no control over Fizbane. He's your blog wizard.

Justin: *impatient waving* Thank you, Cheryl. Now lets see... I'm going to need a snappy headline. Something like....

Spoof Trekkie Fiction: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There is



Cheryl: Mr. Landon, Ricardo Montalbán is here to see you.

Justin: *bewildered* I said no interuptions and Montalbán has been dead for three years.

Cheryl: You said no calls.

Justin: I'm pretty sure no interruptions was implied and I shouldn't have to specifically mention no dead people.

Cheryl: Look, I don't tell you how to be a pretentious blogger cum literary [hack] critic. You don't tell me how to be a personal assistant. See how I broke the hack part out into brackets? That's called meta conversation.

Justin: Whatever. Get it? Because I'm writing about a John Scalzi book right now.

Cheryl: I'm unimpressed.

Justin: I'm really funny.

Cheryl: It's more sad funny, wouldn't you say?

Justin: *glare* Show him in.


Justin: Excuse me, Mr. Montalbán, are you a zombie searching for John Scalzi's brain?

corpse of Montalbán: Not at all, señor. I am just getting over my long standing grudge against Shatner for stealing the best line in my Oscar worthy performance of Khan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I find that Scalzi's name works nearly as well to express frustration and anger over an injustice.

Justin: You mean where he yells Khan?

corpse of Montalbán: Por favor, I cannot speak of it.

Justin: You are dead though right?

corpse of Montalbán: Sí.

Justin: You've got a rather well developed chest for a man... er... corpse(?) your age.

corpse of Montalbán: Gracias. Thankfully being one of the undead has done wonders for my skin elasticity.

Justin: Ok, so why are you here Ricardo? Can I call you Ricardo?

corpse of Montalbán: I prefer The Montalbán, if it's all the same to you.

Justin: It's not.

corpse of Montalbán: *ignoring Justin* I'm here because I too have read SCAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALZI's Redshirts and I have some concerns.

Justin: I'm getting pretty sick of prescient layabouts that appear whenever I'm writing a review.

corpse of Montalbán: More of a shuffle-about, aren't I?

Justin: Granted. I find myself oddly gratified that the corpse of Ricardo Montalbán agrees with me about Redshirts. But, given that you seem to have a bit of an inferiority complex, forgive me if I'm skeptical that you're just mad the plot highjacks Star Trek IV: The Return Home, and thus does not include a Khan simulacrum.

corpse of Montalbán: Uh.. no.. you're way off base.

Justin: It's ok if that's why, literature is subjective after all. I would hope that you could find a few other things to talk about though.

corpse of Montalbán: *blushing* Well, umm... I giggled a bit. Macho giggling of course. More of a guffaw really.

Justin: This is a safe placed, Ricardo. I can't disagree with you. It is an awfully funny first 80 pages or so. The prologue is particularly good. He riffs on the idea that a certain segment of the starship crew are increasingly likely to die in an away mission. It's a clever application of the old Star Trek plot device. I was immediately concerned about how he would turn it into a novel though. How does the conflict get resolved? What's the explanation for why the conflict exists?

corpse of Montalbán: Verdad! That's exactly what I meant.

Justin: Of course it was. You're the Montalbán. Since neither of those questions are adequately answered, I found the first two-thirds of the novel fairly uninspired, albeit initially intriguing. I dealt with it because it's the perfect playground for Scalzi's standard sarcastic back and forth.

corpse of Montalbán: Interesting you should mention that. I've read the entire SCAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALZI catalog...

Justin: Really?

corpse of Montalbán: I have lots of free time. Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised to find the same characters from Fuzzy Nation and The Android's Dream returning in Redshirts! I love series.

Justin: I can see how you would think that, but no. This is a stand alone novel; Scalzi just writes the same character over and over again with new names and places. In fact, I suspect he's writing himself over and over again. Sarcastic. Cynical. Player of small instruments.

corpse of Montalbán: *gasp* I am dismayed. I had not made the connection. If my little friend Hervé were alive today he would be saying , Da' plane da' plane, and I would look to the sky and instead see my opinion of SCAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALZI plummeting to the earth.

Justin: *head hanging* Indeed. What did you think about the last third of the novel, Ricardo?


Justin: Mother f*cker.

Fizbane: It is I! Hello, Senor Montalbán, I'm a big fan. Would you mind signing my Kindle Fire, now available for a low introductory price of...

Justin: God, you're such a shill. Ignore him Ricardo, what do you want Fizbane?

Fizbane: *straightens his robe* Right, to the chase. I'm here representing the Science Fiction Writer's of America. I've been asked to inform you that criticizing President Scalzi is not appreciated. You are to cease and desist from writing a bad review due to President Scalzi's years of service in promoting the genre. Regardless of how incoherent the last third of his book may be, you are encouraged to praise his work because of his standing in the community. Also, even if he conveniently posts controversial things to his blog at convenient times before and after he launches a book, please disregard the timing and instead focus on his dry wit.

Justin: You've got more clients than Heidi Fleiss. I think you're making things up at this point. Have you even talked to someone at SFWA?

Fizbane: *sputtering*

Justin: I might have known. You just want to be in Scalzi's good graces don't you?

Fizbane: *ashamed* He gets a lot more traffic than you do. And I've heard he's looking for a new blog wizard.

corpse of Montalbán: It seems that SCAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALZI has quite the following.

Justin: You're not kidding. And you know what, Ricardo? His fans are going to eat this book up. It's John Scalzi to the nth. I do wonder how even his hardcore fans will react to the literary device he tries to use to tie the novel together. It didn't work for me really at all, although I suppose I applaud the attempt.

corpse of Montalbán: Oh, I thought that whole section was a preview of his next book.

Justin: Sadly, same book.

corpse of Montalbán: Well, ok then. I'm going to be getting back to my box. Glad we got this straightened out together. Adios!


Justin: Cheryl, can you get security to escort Ricardo and Fizbane out of the building?

Cheryl: We don't have security, as you well know, but if you'd like you could get off your pontificating ass and walk them out yourself.

Justin: *sigh* I have to do everything around here.

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At May 29, 2012 at 5:14 PM , Anonymous Stefan (Far Beyond Reality) said...


At May 29, 2012 at 6:04 PM , Anonymous Sassy Steve said...

It's refreshing to see someone review a Scalzi book without an OMGFANBOYGASM gush. Redshirts seems to cater to the lowest common denominator of nerd-dom, who would rather have witty homage jokes than actual story and character. Also, it does seem like most reviewers are terrified to critique his work. Thank you for your honesty.

S. Steve

At May 29, 2012 at 8:31 PM , Blogger Jordan said...

I actually enjoyed Fuzzy Nation (never read the original), and Old Man's War was okay, if a sexed-up rip off of Starship Troopers. Ghost Brigades was quite boring. Sounds like Redshirts isn't much either. Thanks for the review.

At May 29, 2012 at 8:34 PM , Blogger Civilian Reader said...

Redshirts is an endearing novel (it taps into nerd nostalgia rather well, I thought), but 2/3 into the book, EVERYTHING changes. Which was weird and unexpected. I'll be reviewing it this week, too.

At May 30, 2012 at 8:04 AM , Blogger Becky LeJeune said...

Aw, I was looking forward to REDSHIRTS (and have not read Scalzi before) but this review is awesome!

At May 30, 2012 at 8:59 AM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

Spoof Trekkie Fiction: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There is

I saw what you did there to Mr Scalzi. (Still reading, but acknowledging...)

At May 30, 2012 at 10:05 AM , Blogger Bryce L. said...

I've heard he gets kind of old the more you read. I've only read a few of his short stories and Old Man's War. Enjoyed all of them and will continue with the Old Man's War setting at least. Very hesitant about this one now and great review/dialogue. Thanks to Cheryl, Fitzbane, and corpse of Montalban for showing up too. :)

At May 30, 2012 at 10:06 AM , Blogger Justin said...

I'm a big fan of OLD MAN'S WAR and enjoyed FUZZY NATION quite a bit. I think the trick may have worn thin now for me.

At May 30, 2012 at 10:31 AM , Blogger James said...

I loved Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades, but by the time I got to The Last Colony, I'd had enough. Never bothered to finish it. Did enjoy The Android's Dream though.

At May 30, 2012 at 12:51 PM , Blogger GunMetalBlue said...

Oh man, Justin you outdid yourself here! Well done sir.

I love Cheryl, she's such a great way to do bad reviews.

Plus the riff on his post "lowest setting" was an apt dig, and I LOLed.

Aside form all that, I'm glad that someone decided to call Scalzi on his propensity to rehash the same character in a different suit. I mean, here we are talking about an author who wrote three books in a series (Old Man's War) and then chose to rewrite the 3rd book (LAST COLONY) from a different character perspective (ZOE'S TALE). It didn't work, and I was mostly bored by it, and moreover I was a little pissed off that an author would basically revisit a situation in such a way...instead know putting ALL those POV's int eh 3rd book to begin with.
Personally I have though for a long while that he needs to step his game up and write something NEW...not just something repackaged.

I'm with you on enjoying his early work, but it's starting to get to be a lot of the whole "diminishing returns" thing now.

Scalzi gets more press than say Alastair Reynolds or Iain M. Banks...but both are superior sci-fi author's (IMHO) and they are always trying to write something new.

At May 30, 2012 at 4:46 PM , Blogger Jordan said...

Alastair Reynolds is amazing.

At May 31, 2012 at 5:42 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scalzi's writing will have some good ideas, but which are exhausted by the end of the first two chapters. After that it is a slog of poorly written plot devices and cliches.

But, because of that, he is easy to read, so I understand his popularity. Just like I understand the popularity of Twilight or other pulp-fiction, but it certainly isn't worthy of praise or critical success.

At May 31, 2012 at 7:34 AM , Blogger GunMetalBlue said...

@Anonymous. Indeed, a good point. I think he gets a pass to skate by on the fact that his stuff is very easy to read. It's soft sci-fi usually at best. Which don't get me wrong CAN be fun to read...but when that is your whole schtick it gets old...quick.

At May 31, 2012 at 7:58 AM , Anonymous Peter said...

Courageous and humorous review. "Spoof Trekkie Fiction: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is" was brilliant.

I appreciate the honesty from reviewers (meaning those who truly love the genre). It seems on Goodreads that a book is terrible if it gets less than 4 stars and reviewers are doing a disservice if they fawn over every book they read, particularly with popular authors.

At May 31, 2012 at 10:12 AM , Blogger Joel said...

I noticed Scalzi's xeroxed characters by the third book of his I picked up. It bugs me, but they are such easy reading (or listening -- Fuzzy Nation was an audiobook for me), that I try not to think about it too much. But the praise and adoration he gets is kind of confounding. I mean, he's a nice guy and I like his blog, but I do get sick of reading about the same snarky, cynical protagonists. Especially because they are eternally the smartest guy in the room, which makes his villains rather weak.

At June 1, 2012 at 5:53 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's quite telling that every comment seems to parrot and/or applaud the reviewer...

At June 1, 2012 at 11:26 PM , Blogger Mieneke van der Salm said...

You have to love Cheryl! And too bad Redshirts didn't work, cause I really loved the premise :-(

At June 2, 2012 at 6:04 AM , Blogger Justin said...

Not sure what it "tells", but I'm certainly surprised by it. I was expecting a bit more vitriol.

At June 19, 2012 at 2:26 AM , Anonymous Belgie said...

A fun science fiction adventure as well as an intelligent piece of contemporary fiction, this is exactly the sort of novel my fiction writing professor would have considered to be "literary". Generally when I declare something to be literary I sneer at the elitist arrogance of it. Those books frequently dubbed as such bore the hell out of me. The thing is, I think I have come to understand what the term truly means. REDSHIRTS transcends the genre, telling a memorable story within a story and earning it the instant status of a classic. REDSHIRTS is Scalzi's best novel since OLD MAN'S WAR, exhibiting his trademark sarcastic wit and nimble pacing while also telling a meaningful tale. Fans of Scalzi, Star Trek, science fiction, and good literature in general will find much to be pleased by here.


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