Sunday, August 24, 2014

Book Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

Summary

Andrew Dahl has just joined the crew of the Intrepid, but being a member of her crew is nothing like he expected. First of all, his superiors always seem to disappear right before the senior officers show up. Then there's the box, a device that makes no sense, but the data it spills onto his computer tablet seems to please the senior officers. Then there's the stigma of away missions. Someone always seems to die on them. There's got to be some explanation for all this. The only possible explanation comes to Dahl through the conspiracy theory of Jenkins, a recluse who lives in the cargo tunnels of the ship. Jenkins's idea starts making more and more sense, though, and Dahl realizes there's just one way to make things right.

He needs to get a certain TV show cancelled.

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from amazon.com

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, with the chance to serve on "Away Missions" alongside the starship’s famous senior officers.

Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to realize that 1) every Away Mission involves a lethal confrontation with alien forces, 2) the ship’s senior officers always survive these confrontations, and 3) sadly, at least one low-ranking crew member is invariably killed. Unsurprisingly, the savvier crew members belowdecks avoid Away Missions at all costs.

Then Andrew stumbles on information that transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship
Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

Context

Redshirts is, just from the title, definitely geared toward fans of Star Trek, and it definitely doesn't disappoint there. Being a fan myself, I admit I was giddy when I learned a book like this existed. It's so entirely tongue-in-cheek that you cannot help but laugh. Even if you're not a huge fan, or not a fan at all, I think you would find this book enjoyable. There are plenty of jokes for fans of any science fiction, and any fiction in general. The book pokes fun at Star Trek readily, but it is still a solid book in its own right, with a solid plot that you don't have to be a fan of the show to understand.

Style

The book is clearly written with a style that's simple without being condescending. I listened to the audio version through Audible, narrated by none other than Wil Wheaton. I don't think there could have been a more perfect reader for this than Wheaton. However, while the book is easy enough to listen to while doing other tasks, the audio version did bring a stylistic flaw to my attention that I may not have noticed had I been reading it. I'm going to call this the "Said Problem."

The Said Problem is just what it sounds like. I've heard in writing podcasts that a writer's only real dialogue tag should be the word "said." Or maybe, "asked" when necessary. After listening to Redshirts, I completely disagree with that opinion. It was became glaringly obvious to me toward the beginning of the book that Scalzi, at least in Redshirts, followed that rule. In a fairly long conversation with a few characters, the dialogue pretty much went like this.

"Comment," Dahl said.
"Reply," Duvall said.
"Other observation," Dahl said.
"But then this," Duvall said.

And on. And on. In the recording, it sounded like the more it went on, the more Wil Wheaton got tired of it. For a few moments, I got to the point where all I was actually hearing was the "so-and-so said" parts of the narrative. I don't know if that was intentional, but the word "said" was run into the ground. This is a dialogue-heavy book, so there were a lot of "saids", a fair number of "askeds" and it was grating the entire time. Only once did I notice the word "snapped" in dialogue context, and maybe one or two adverb modifiers to "said." That's it. So if you're listening to it, get ready to hate the word "said."

My Thoughts

Despite the ridiculous overuse of the word "said" in Redshirts, I was not disappointed in what I expected from this book. In fact, it turned out even better than I had hoped. It's a fairly short read/listen, but there are almost constant laughs, especially for fans of Star Trek. The jokes are plentiful and well-delivered, the dialouge is snappy and surprisingly real in how Dahl and the other Ensigns banter, and there are a lot of small details that tie into themselves nicely at the end. And then there's the last chapter, which I won't spoil, but believe me, it will leave you with a great feeling.

Then... there are the three codas. Think of them as unnecessary to the plot of the book, but it's almost like bonus material. The codas tie up some points I didn't really realized needed tying up, but I'm glad they were there. The three of them together equaled about a quarter of the total novel, and they're well worth the time. All the laughter I spent on the book itself was balanced with some truly heartfelt tears (yes, tears. And I listened to it at work, so yes, I was crying a little at work) at the end of the final coda. I think that was a masterful addition to the novel.


Would I Recommend This Book? I definitely would. It's a great novel for a laugh and some fun, and I believe it's one bound for some good re-reads to look at details. I do also have the e-book version, so I think I will go back and actually read it in the future. I might be able to skim over the "said" repetitions that way. For just the novel itself, I'd give a said-heavy 4 out of 5 stars. But taking the codas into consideration, and the reaction they made me give, and how they really completed the package, I'll up it to a land worm-eaten 4.5 out of 5 stars.



For more information on the author, visit http://www.scalzi.com/

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