Tagged: John Scalzi

Molly Jackson: John Scalzi Got Me Again

The End Of All ThingsAuthors go out of their way to provoke emotions. I understand that. And authors do an amazing job of balancing that impact. However, they aren’t writing for automatons, so each person’s reaction is different. That reaction is where it can all go wrong.

Some authors just have a way of getting to me but John Scalzi in particular. Have you ever read his work? He has a great conversational tone that can suck a person right into the story. After reading his book Redshirts, it ruined TV for me for at least a few months. Over a year later, I yelled at him at Book Expo America. It’s true. I have witnesses. Afterwards, I realized how cathartic it was. I felt unburdened and relaxed. Which brings me to my point. He did it to me again.

While at NYCC, I had a chance to pick up a copy of his new book, The End of All Things, which is in the Old Man’s War series. (Read the first book and you will be hooked.). It is a collection of short stories following the political turmoil in this universe. While I was getting it signed, I made a point of telling him about how traumatized I was from Redshirts. At that point, I was still a little upset but mostly I was over it.

Fast forward to last week. I had finally picked it up to start reading (still struggling with my reading list) and well, I had to stop reading because way too many feels. He sacrificed an important character in a way that was too emotional for me. I really wish I could go into details but I can’t without spoilers! Safe to say, this rocked me once again. They don’t give time off for emotional scarring from books.

Now, I know this all might seem like I’m angry at the writer. I’m not, really. Scalzi is one of my favorite writers. Look at the emotion he invokes in me. The impact his writing has had on me and now all of you. I willingly go on this roller coaster. And yes, sooner rather than later I will finish reading The End of All Things.

So think about the books that have made you so emotional. The writers that still impact you long after the book is finished. Hunt them down; seek them out. Let them know that their writing affected you. I yelled at Scalzi. He was happy that his writing made a lasting impression. Let your writers know how you feel. Yell and everything.

Pulp Fiction Reviews Fuzzy Nation

All Pulp’s Ron Fortier returns with another Pulp Fiction Review. This time out Ron takes a look at FUZZY NATION by John Scalzi.

By John Scalzi
A Tor Book
301 pages

In 1962 the late H. Beam Piper’s well loved science fiction novel, “Little Fuzzy” was published.  This reviewer was a sophomore in high school and has fond memories of discovering that book via the recommendation of a fellow student who was also an avid reader of science fiction.  For those of you unaware of the book’s premise, humans have traveled to the starts and giant corporations mine alien worlds for their resources.  On one such planet, prospector Jack Halloway discovers a race of furry little creatures and befriends them.  When evidence indicates that the “fuzzies” might actually be sentient beings it establishes the plot’s primary conflict.  By interplanetary law, if a planet has aboriginal sentient life, then it is off limits to all who would attempt to harvest its natural resources to include the mining outfit on Zarathustra, lush alien setting for the book.

Part science fiction adventure and courtroom melodrama, “Little Fuzzy” ends when Halloway and his friends win their case convincing an Interplanetary Judge to declare the “fuzzies” sentient beings and thus the unquestionable owners of the planet.  The book was hugely successful at the time of its release and Piper went on to write sequels, several actually published after his death in 1964.  Beside these, other authors were hired to write new Fuzzy novels; these included William Tuning and John Smith.  The late Ardath Mayhar wrote “Golden Dream,” a novel telling the self-same story only from the perspective of the Fuzzies themselves.  In her book she even invented the fuzzies’ language; parts of which were used by Wolfgang Diehr who wrote two new Fuzzy novels.

We relate all this because my own connection with the series is a personal one on several levels.  After reading several of the sequels, we wrote the publishers suggesting how the original Piper book do extremely well if done as a childrens’ book.  In 1983 such a volume was produced; “The Adventures of Little Fuzzy” written by Benson Parker and beautifully illustrated by Michael Whelan.  The aforementioned Ardath Mayhar was our writing mentor at the time of her involvement with the license and we recall how happy she was with her efforts.  As most fans of the Star Wars movies know, it was the “fuzzies” that inspired George Lucas’ Ewoks and one of the TV network channels produced a made-for-TV movie loosely based on Piper’s though as I recall, no credit to that fact was ever stated.

Which brings us to “Fuzzy Nation,” John Scalzi’s rebooting (his own words) of this science fiction classic released in 2011.  Having experienced many television and movie “remakes” we have to admit to being really curious to see how such a thing would work with fiction.  How much does the new writer keep from the original and how much does he or she change?  All valid questions that filled my thoughts as we started reading page one.  What is obvious from the start is that Scalzi understands the essence of Piper’s plot, the tale he wanted to tell and yet he strips it down to suit his own style of writing; one we admire greatly.  Scalzi is one of those science fiction writers who, though knowledgeable about the science he is extrapolating, he never uses hard facts to get in the way of his story spinning.  Our protagonist is still Jack Halloway, the lone independent ore prospector, though now he’s younger and a whole lot less altruistic.  In fact he’s a lawyer who was disbarred back on Earth.  This not only adds a new element but of makes Halloway a logical champion when we get to the book’s courtroom scenes.  All the original “fuzzies” are back, pretty much as we remembered them as is the giant mega corporation gutting the planet Zarathustra.  Whereas the old supporting cast is gone and Scalzi has replaced them with his own creations, both good guys and villains.

Scalzi’s easy-to-read prose is one of his greatest assets as a writer.  Most of his books are intimate and he has an unerring way of pulling the reader into his tale; a result of truly craftsman-like pacing.  There are very few slow moments in “Fuzzy Nation” and we were unable to put the book down once we had reached the half-way point.  “Fuzzy Nation” is a wonderful book and worthy “rebooting” of a beloved sci-fi classic.  Not to overly repeat ourselves, H. Beam Piper’s cautionary tale of environmental mismanagement is at its core a David vs Goliath fable and there have never been any cuter Davids than “the fuzzies.”  Scalzi embellishes that fable for our times in a truly exciting and fun new interpretation.  This is one of those rare books we want to give to all my friends, you among them.  Go out and read it.  Now.

John Ostrander: Redshirts

I love to read. I have ever since I was very small. I startled my parents when I started reading the milk cartons and cereal boxes aloud when I was in pre-school. I love it when a book sweeps me up and takes me wherever it is set. The genre doesn’t matter – fiction/nonfiction, history/memoir, sci-fi/fantasy, mystery/western – just tell me a good story and I’m yours. If I don’t have a good book to read somewhere around the house, I get a little hinky.

If the author wastes my time by not telling me a good story, I get a little irate.

Fortunately, John Scalzi tells a very good story with his new novel, Redshirts (Tor books, hardcover). Tells a very funny, engrossing and ultimately thoughtful story in a novel that includes three codas at the end. Tells a story that will strike very close to home for Star Trek fans, especially those of the original series.

SPOILER NOTE: I’ll give some things away about the plot as this review goes forward. Can’t discuss the story without talking about the story but I’ll try to give away as little as I can. This is as much warning as you’ll get.

The story is set in the Universal Union, mostly aboard its flagship, the Intrepid, and Ensign Andrew Dahl is happy to be posted to it – until he notes something odd. There are all these away missions and the command crew, the captain, the chief science officer, and the astrogator are assigned along with some low level member of the crew. Like ensigns. There’s just about always a fatality but not among the command crew although the astrogator can get hurt really bad but recovers within a week. Odd, to say the least.

These moments come and go but, when they come, it’s as if the crewmembers aren’t really in control of their actions. As it turns out, they’re not.

Turns out that, in an alternate universe/timeline, they’re all characters in a cheesy Star Trek knockoff TV show and their lives are being controlled by a bunch of hack writers. Dahl and an intrepid group of fellow Intrepid redshirts have to travel backwards/sideways/whatever in time/space/dimensions/whatever via a means familiar to Star Trek fans to somehow stop these writers (mainly the head writer) from probably killing them for cheesy dramatic reasons, usually just before the commercial break.

The story owes something of its concept to the wonderful movie Stranger Than Fiction (my favorite Will Ferrell movie and maybe my only fave Will Ferrell movie) and acknowledges that but also, to my mind, owes its tone to an equally wonderful movie, Galaxy Quest, which it doesn’t acknowledge. There are flaws: many of the characters are identified only by their last names and are more a collection of characters traits then characters. On the other hand, that may be deliberate since the book satirizes that way of creating support characters on TV and indeed elsewhere. Take a character trait from column A, column B, and column C and provide a name and – bingo! – instant character. To my mind, they also sounded quite a bit alike but what they said was often funny and entertaining. I just had trouble telling them apart sometimes.

The book is clever and light which makes it great for summer reading. It doesn’t get particularly deep until the three codas that follow the end of the story proper. They’re like three short stories using minor characters in the main book. Here Scalzi plays more with the concepts brought up in the main story. I can see why they are separate – the tones wouldn’t work in the primary narrative but they’re very worth reading and add a great deal to the overall book.

Recommended. It also makes me very sure that I never want John Gaunt to find a way to meet me. I’ve done too many nasty things to GrimJack all in the name of compelling narrative and I think he would hurt me bad. So – shhhh! Don’t tell him where I live.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


Emily S. Whitten: Cleolinda Jones – Comic Book Movies in 15 Minutes

You don’t have to be born with a comic book in your hand to be a fan. As I’ve mentioned, my early exposure to comics was mostly in the form of movies and TV. These days, I read comics too; but I know a lot of fans who’ve primarily discovered comics through the movies, and often stay mostly with that medium.

Some of those people take that movie fandom and turn it into something awesome. One such is Cleolinda Jones, prolific blogger and author of numerous hilarious movie parodies called Movies in 15 Minutes (there’s also a book). Although one thing she’s known for is being the Internet’s top Twilight snarker, she also writes really interesting discussions of comic book movies.

Recently, there’s been a flurry of talk about who gets to be a geek, and I agree completely with John Scalzi’s assessment that anyone who shares a love of geeky things is just as much of a geek as anyone else, and that we can all come at our love of pop culture and fandoms from very different backgrounds and tastes. Given all that, I thought it might be fun to get the perspective of an awesome female author and blogger who’s so known in pop culture and geek circles that people have actually written articles studying her blogging habits  and who clearly fits into comic book fandom but doesn’t come at it from the usual angle of reading comics. Also Cleolinda is just awesome and fun to interview! So here we go!

What kind of exposure have you had to comics generally – as a reader, a viewer, etc.?

Um… there were some tiny comics that came with my She-Ra dolls? I remember walking past racks and racks of comics at the grocery store every weekend and being really intrigued, but I was a very quiet, bookish child, and didn’t even bother asking my mother if I could have one. When I was in my 20s, I started picking up graphic novels based on which movies I had become interested in, and Watchmen on its general reputation.

How did you get into comics movies, and what was the first one you watched (as a child, and/or in the modern resurgence of comics movies)?

I think it says a lot about the genre that I don’t think of them as “comics” movies – I think of them as superhero movies and thrillers and action movies and whatever genre the actual story happens to be. I mean, technically, you could say that The Dark Knight and Wanted and From Hell and 300 are all “comics movies,” but if you say “comics,” I’m generally going to think “superheroes.” And those are such a box-office staple that it’s hard to think of them as something you get into, you know? They’re just there, and everyone goes to see them, and there are so many of them that some of them are awesome and some of them aren’t.

The first superhero movie, certainly, that I remember was Tim Burton’s Batman in the summer of 1989. I was probably ten or eleven at the time, and didn’t actually see it until it was on HBO a year or so later, but I remember that it was a big damn deal at the time. That black and yellow logo was everywhere, as were the dulcet purple strains of “Batdance.” Maybe it’s the Tim Burton sensibility that really got me into Batman movies initially; Batman Returns is pretty much my favorite Christmas movie ever, shut up. I just straight-up refused to see the Schumachers at all.  But I’m a Christopher Nolan fangirl, so that got me back in. Which may be the roundabout answer to the question: I get into these movies depending on who’s making them and/or who’s playing the characters. Nothing I read or saw about Green Lantern really attracted me from a filmmaking point of view (well, I love what Martin Campbell did with Casino Royale, there is that), so, in a summer crowded with movies, I didn’t go see it. And, you know, I’ve had Green Lantern fans tell me they really enjoyed it; that’s just the kind of choice you end up making with the time and money you have when you’re more interested in movies as a medium than comics.

What are your thoughts on the accessibility of comics movies, as someone who doesn’t primarily read comics? Are there any you found incomprehensible or confusing because you didn’t know the source material? Which do you think has been most successful as an adaptation for non-comics-reading viewers?

Well, despite my lack of comics-reading background, I usually hit up Wikipedia to get a vague idea of what happened in the original storyline. So the moment I heard that Bane was the TDKR villain, I went and looked it up and immediately wailed, “Noooooo I don’t want to see Bane [SPOILER SPOILER’S SPOILERRRRR]!” Because I keep up with movie news very closely, I knew when Marion Cotillard was cast that she would probably be [SPOILER]. And then, of course, they mixed it up a little anyway.

I guess The Avengers could have been confusing – which was something I lampshaded a little in the Fifteen Minutes I did for it, the umpteen previously on bits. But I felt like they explained it fairly well as they went. I had randomly seen Captain America (“It’s hot. Which movie you wanna see?” “Uh… that one? Sure”), so I knew the Tesseract back story, but I didn’t see Thor until two weeks after I saw The Avengers. But pop cultural osmosis plus the explanations in the movie meant that I understood the Loki business just fine; all seeing Thor did was give me more specific punchlines. (I do think that humor relies on knowing what you’re talking about, so I usually do a little research after I’ve seen something when I’m going to write it up.) Really, though, it’s hard to say. I’m usually aware enough of the movie’s background by the time I see it that I’m not confused. I mean, I’m already aware that Iron Man 3 is using the Extremis storyline, and there’s some kind of nanotech involved, and an Iron Patriot? Something – not enough to be spoiled, per se, but enough to have a frame of reference going in.

Just going by the numbers, it seems that The Dark Knight and The Avengers have been incredibly successful adaptations – and I don’t even mean in terms of money, but in terms of how many people flocked to those movies, saw them, enjoyed them, and were willing to see them again. You don’t make a billion dollars without repeat viewings. And that indicates to me that these movies were rewarding experiences for people, rather than frustrating or confusing (the Joker’s Xanatos gambits aside). And I think familiarity helped in both cases, though through different means. The Joker is obviously the most iconic Batman villain; in fact, The Dark Knight actually skips the slightest whiff of genuine back story there, instead showing the Joker as a sort of elemental chaos, almost a trickster god who comes out of nowhere and then, as far we viewers are concerned, vanishes. There’s no background for non-readers to catch up on; the TDK Joker is completely self-contained. Whereas Marvel’s approach with The Avengers was to get the public familiarized with the characters, very painstakingly, with this series of movies that built up Iron Man as the popular backbone, and then filled in the others around him, either in their own headlining movies or as supporting characters in someone else’s. One movie started out with very recognizable characters, and the other endeavored to make the characters recognizable by the time it came out.

Have you read a comic because you saw a movie about it? Or, have you read a comic because you were going to see a movie about it? How did that change your movie viewing and fan experience?

I got interested in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and read the trade paperback a few weeks before it came out – and then hated the movie. And you know, I think I would have actually enjoyed the silliness of it if I hadn’t “known better,” so to speak, so if it’s not already too late, I try to hold off on reading a book until after I’ve seen the movie. I did read Watchmen first – and did enjoy the movie. I think those are the only ones I’ve read beforehand, though. I did go pick up From Hell and a Sin City set, and I bought the second LXG series in single issues as well; I keep meaning to get V for Vendetta. I’ve never picked up a superhero comic. I just look at the vast history of Marvel and DC and think, where would I even start? (How could I even afford it? Do they have comics in libraries?) I’ve never even read the Sandman series, and that’s supposedly the traditional gateway drug for geek girls.

You write hilarious parodies about all sorts of movies; and the recent The Avengers in 15 Minutes is no exception. Can you talk a little about what it’s like writing the parodies (including how you started and your experience with that generally), and whether it’s any different for comics vs. other movies? Was there anything unique about writing The Avengers one?

Well, the short version is that I came home from Van Helsing (2004) and started writing a script-format bit on a whim; I thought it was just going to be one scene plunked into a Livejournal entry, but it took on a life of its own. I published a book of ten print-only parodies in 2005 with Gollancz; the original Spider-Man (2002) is in there, but there’s also fantasy, sci-fi, overly serious historical epic, etc., spread pretty evenly throughout. Looking back, I think The Avengers is the only other superhero movie I’ve done; 300, V for Vendetta, and Wanted might count generally. It helps for the movie to have some sense of silliness, or at the very least absurdity or over-seriousness. If nothing else, there’s something humorous about movies as a medium – the tropes they run on, the expectations, the necessary coincidences, the mundane things they conveniently skip, the way that this stuff just would not work in real life. And you can point this out and have fun with it without saying, “And that’s why this is a terrible movie.”

The real difference with the Avengers movie – the material it provided – was that it had all of these background movies leading up to it. So you immediately have more opportunities for cross-referencing and in-jokes, in addition to a running “previously on” setup. There were few comics-only jokes (although I did enough research to mention the Wasp and Ant-Man), because the movies themselves were plenty to deal with. Whereas the various Harry Potter in Fifteen Minutes writeups I’ve done played more on the “This Scene Was Cut for Time” idea, referencing the books and the plot holes incurred by leaving things out – what wasn’t there.

If anything, The Avengers was incredibly hard to do not because it was good, but because it was self-aware. I mean, I did Lord of the Rings, a trilogy I love, for the book, but I consider what I do to be “affectionate snark,” and… that’s kind of already built into The Avengers. So, while a gloriously absurd movie like Prometheus took four days and all I really had to do was describe exactly what happens, The Avengers took six weeks.

What’s your favorite comics storyline and/or character?

I seem to be drawn to characters who have just had enough and start wrecking shit. I think I’m so drawn to Batman not because I want to be rescued by him, but because I want to be him. I discussed last week how the Omnipotent Vigilante just can’t work in real life – but it works as a fantasy. Because every time I hear about something horrible on the news, or even just someone on the internet being a complete and utter asshole, I wish I could go be Batman and show up in the dark and scare the fear of God back into people (“Swear To Me!!!! 11!!”). Also, I didn’t really grow up with the more light-hearted TV version(s) of Catwoman; my frame of reference is Michelle Pfeiffer. And that’s a Catwoman whose story arc is almost a “vengeful ghost” story. She has been wronged, and now she’s back, and you are going to pay (maybe for great justice, maybe not). Whereas the Anne Hathaway Catwoman, while a really interesting character, is more about Selina wavering between conscience and self interest, not vengeance. And maybe that’s closer to the “cat burglar” origin of the character – which, again, speaks to how meeting these characters through movies may mean that you have a very different experience from a comics reader.

And then you have someone like Wolverine – I think my favorite scene in the entire series is in the second movie, where he ends up having to defend the school pretty much entirely by himself. You wish you could be that badass, in defense of yourself or someone (everyone) else. This also may be why I saw X-Men: First Class and kind of wanted an entire Magneto Hunts Nazis movie – and maybe why Magneto, even as an antagonist, is so compelling in the Bryan Singer movies. The X-Men universe has some genuinely interesting moral ambiguities, you know? Gandalf has a few legitimate grievances and now he is tired of your shit. *CAR FLIP*

Also, I have a little bit of grey hair at my temple that I wish would grow into a Rogue streak.

Marvel, DC, or neither?

You know, as much as I love Batman, I tend to be more interested in Marvel characters as a whole; not sure what’s up with that. Actually, it may be that Marvel has been so much more pro-active about getting movies made and characters out there; I like about three of the X-Men movies a lot, the first two Spider-Man movies are good (the reboot was good except for the feeling that half the story got chopped out, I thought), and now the Avengers-based movies are turning out really well. There’s just more to chose from on the Marvel side at this point.

Do you have more of a desire to pick up paper (or digital) comics to read after seeing a comics movie? Or do you prefer sticking with the movies?

I seem to be more interested in reading stand-alone stories, which is probably why I picked up Alan Moore books pretty quickly. Even if it’s a somewhat self-contained Marvel/DC storyline, it’s like… do I need to have read twenty years of story before this? Can I just walk in and start reading this, or am I missing volumes and volumes of context? And then, if I get really into this, are they just going to reboot the universe and wipe all of this out? And then you have to figure out what the movie was based on in the first place. I might be interested in reading the comics a particular movie is based on – but then you say, well, The Dark Knight Rises was inspired by ten different comics. If you put all that into a boxed set with a big The Dark Knight Rises Collection plastered across it, I would be more likely to buy that than if you shoved me into a comics store (complete with disdainful clerk) and said, “There Is The Batman Section, Chew Your Own Way Out.” The decades of stories and do-overs and reboots, the sheer flexibility and weight and history, are what appeal to a lot of comics readers, I guess, but they’re exactly what bewilder movie viewers, leaving them no idea where to start.


What comics movie are you most looking forward to in the near future; and is there a comic book story or character you’d like to see a movie about who doesn’t have one yet?

I’m curious to see how Man of Steel turns out, even though Superman has never done that much for me as a character. (That said, I always talk about “going into the Fortress of Solitude” when I try to seriously get some work done.) I once heard that Metropolis and Gotham are, metaphorically, the same city – one by day and the other by night – and I don’t know that there would be enough sunlight in a “gritty” Superman reboot, if that makes any sense. And I was just fascinated by the idea of Darren Aronofsky doing The Wolverine, of all things, but it looks like James Mangold is directing that now. And, you know, in checking on that, I see “based on the 1982 limited series Wolverine by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller.” I see the words “limited series” and “trade paperback rated Must Have” and I think, okay, maybe this is something I have a chance of catching up on first.

I would really, really like to see a Black Widow movie, at this point. As much as I liked Anne Hathaway’s Selina, I wonder if a character that arch doesn’t work better in small doses. I mean, I’d still like to see them try a spinoff movie, but somehow, I think Black Widow might work out better. Everyone’s remarked on how great a year it’s been for people actually going to see movies with active heroines – Katniss, Merida, Selina, Natasha, even warrior princess Snow White – and I’m hoping that idea sticks. I know that the comics industry in general has a problem both in writing about and marketing to women. Maybe movies can lead the way on that.

Thanks for a fascinating perspective on your comics (and movie) fandom, Cleo!

If you haven’t done so, check out Cleo’s comics thoughts and parodies and, until next time:

Servo Lectio!

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis and the Death of Batman

WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold Goes To A Party!

A Helpful Note re: “Redshirts” Review

Humorous self portrait by John Scalzi, who pre...

There seems to be an idea floating about in the ether that my review of John Scalzi’s new novel, Redshirts (posted late yesterday) is negative, and that I don’t like Scalzi’s books.

Both are untrue. Redshirts didn’t strike me as laugh-out-loud hilarious, as it has been billed [1], but it’s a pleasant, quick entertainment — and Scalzi is reliably entertaining, which is why I keep grabbing his novels as soon as I see them. None of those books has been perfect, though, so when I’ve written about them the most interesting (and, I think, useful) tactics have been to poke at the bits that don’t work as well. [2] Writing otherwise — focusing only on the things a book does well — is certainly enjoyable for the author, but I don’t think it’s as effective for everyone else in the world.

My reviewing mode tends to be more negative than positive, I know, but you really can tell when I actively dislike a book. Take, for example, my reviews of two of last year’s Hugo darlings: Mira Grant’s Feed and Connie Willis’s Blackout/All Clear.

That’s what it looks like when I strongly dislike a book. (And, for an example of what it looks like when I keep reading a writer even after I realize I hate his current work, see P.J. O’Rourke’s Don’t Vote: It Just Encourages the Bastards.)

Redshirts, on the other hand, I basically liked — the “codas” at the end, in particular, are really good stuff. If I’ve driven any readers away from it by not stating that it’s the funniest thing since the invention of the seltzer bottle, then I do apologize. You may well find it substantially funnier than I did; at least four SFnal luminaries have already done so.

[1] Which was sad for me; I wanted to read a book as funny as I was told Redshirts was.

[2] Though I have definitely reached the point where noting that Scalzi is not interested in carefully building up his worlds from close readings of Nature and his flying slip-stick is entirely beside the point; he’s not that kind of writer. Come to think of it, I usually make fun of that kind of writer as well.

REVIEW: “Redshirts” by John Scalzi

REVIEW: “Redshirts” by John Scalzi

It is simply impossible to declare a novel “not funny.” Humor is so personal that all any person can really do is declare whether he laughed or not.

And so I’ll say this: John Scalzi‘s new novel, Redshirts, has four quotes on the back cover (from luminaries Melinda Snodgrass, Joe Hill, Lev Grossman, and Patrick Rothfuss), all of which make a point to note how funny this book is. On the other hand, I didn’t laugh or smirk before page 120 out of 230 pages of the novel proper [1], and, even after that point, there were only a couple of wan smiles and some light chuckles. This reader must then humbly submit that Redshirts did not strike him as funny as it did the blurbers, and that will inevitably color the rest of this review. Please set your expectations accordingly.

I’ve read all of Scalzi’s novels to date, and grumbled about all of them, which proves something, I suppose. (Probably about me, and probably nothing good, either.) I’ve come to realize that I’m engaging in the common but fruitless effort of wishing that Scalzi was a different writer — or that he were interested in writing different kinds of books — than is actually the case. He clearly has it in him to write “serious” SF of weight and rigor — the mostly-successful novella The God Engines (see my review) shows that, as does his best novel, The Ghost Brigades (which I covered in a more cursory manner) — but it’s also becoming clear that he doesn’t want to be a “serious SF writer,” that he’s more in the vein of Keith Laumer, James H. Schmitz or H. Beam Piper, writing zippy novels set in mildly generic universes with wisecracking heroes who always win out in the end. (I didn’t review his first novel, Agent to the Stars, but I did also cover Old Man’s War, The Last Colony — and then a follow-up on the Old Man’s War-iverse in general — The Android’s Dream, Zoe’s Tale, and then last year’s Fuzzy Nation, so the really devoted reader can trace my history of looking for things in Scalzi novels that I should not expect to find there.) Thus, Redshirts — a novel set in a deliberately generic medium-future setting, with plenty of elbows to the reader’s ribs and references to SF media properties that we are all already familiar with [2], that almost but not quite turns into a giant fuzzy-dog story along the way — is exactly the novel we should have expected from Scalzi, and the reaction to that novel (it’s already hit the New York Times bestseller list) bears that out.

Which is all a long way around saying that Scalzi’s work is deeply resistant to criticism (if not entirely invulnerable to it) and that I, personally, am not well-placed as a critic to do justice to Redshirts in the manner it deserves. (Which would either be an excoriating attack on its flabby second-handedness — though that would also be entirely missing the point; it’s second-handed on purpose — or a loving appreciation written either entirely in Klingon or in quotes from famous TV sci-fi shows, a la Jonathan Lethem’s “The Anxiety of Influence.”)

Redshirts is a slobbery sheepdog of a novel, eager to show off its good nature — it’s a quick, easy read, full of snappy dialogue delivered by characters without too many attributes to confuse the reader and delivered, for the most part, in little-described interior spaces, so as to keep the narrative from being cluttered up by action or description. It’s set in a very Star Trek-y future — very original series Trek, to be precise, for maximum audience identification with the premise and the least amount of friction for Scalzi’s few twists in the tale.

The year is 2456, and the Federation Universal Union has just assigned young Ensign Andrew Dahl to the flagship, Enterprise Intrepid, where he soon learns that junior and low-ranked crew members — whom we know as “Redshirts,” though Dahl doesn’t — die at an unusual rate, and because of exceedingly unlikely events, during “Away Missions.” Dahl, and his fellow not-terribly-well-characterized Ensigns [3], do not want to die, and so they try to figure out why this is, eventually turning to the creepy loner Jenkins (who lives, alone and hidden, in the Jeffries tubes cargo tunnels deep within Intrepid), who has a theory So Crazy that it just might be true.

That theory is amusing, and would be even more amusing at about 2 AM in some convention party, anytime in the past forty years. But it doesn’t lead — in my opinion, of course — to anything really funny afterward, just another succession of scenes of not-well-characterized people shooting mildly-witty dialogue at each other in some more undescribed rooms for another hundred pages until the novel ends. The first half of Redshirts isn’t frightening or ominous enough — and God Engines is proof that Scalzi can do really ominous danger-on-a-starship, when he wants to — and the second half isn’t as big or funny as it should be, either. (It resembles, more than anything else, a rewrite of one particular Star Trek story.)

Redshirts is content to be amusing and pleasant, rather than digging any deeper. It is not a failure in any possible sense of the term, but it may leave some readers wanting more, particularly if they’re long-time SF readers who have seen Redshirt‘s Phildickian premises used more evocatively and subtly by other writers. If you just wondered what a Trek redshirt might have thought about his predicament, and aren’t expecting much, you will enjoy Redshirts. If you hoped for a more complicated, interesting answer to the predicament of high-casualty crewmen, I’d suggest instead looking for the excellent (and mostly ignored) novel Expendable by James Alan Gardner.

[1] There are also three “codas” — related short stories — which add another 90ish pages to the book. They’re in different modes, though, and none of them are funny — none of them seem to aim at being funny, either. They’re the best writing Scalzi does in this book, and that plus the example of God Engines implies that Scalzi is deliberately tuning his novelistic output to a particular market.

[2] My reaction to the use of these as “jokes” is approximated by this T-shirt.

[3] Scalzi eventually has a clever in-universe explanation for this; Redshirts is quite cleverly designed to be precisely the way it is, though one must wonder if spending that much energy emulating mediocrity is really worthwhile.

Win a contest by explaining this picture of Wil Wheaton and John Scalzi

Win a contest by explaining this picture of Wil Wheaton and John Scalzi

John Scalzi, President-elect of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, has announced that he and
writer/actor Wil Wheaton are hosting a fan fiction contest.

The rules are simple– just write a story
explaining this painting by Jeff Zugale, which may be one of the most epic works ever posted on the internet. Yes, that’s Scalzi as an armor-clad orc, facing off with Wheaton, who is wielding a spear, riding a unicorn-pegasus-kitten,
and sporting a clown sweater, while surrounded by lava-oozing volcanoes.

The person who submits the best story will be paid ten cents for every written word, a special pack of books from Subterranean Press, and the story will appear in an electronic chapbook about the picture. The chapbook will include stories written by Scalzi, Wheaton, Norton Award winner Catherynne Valente, and author Patrick Rothfuss. The chapbook will be sold online, and will donate proceeds to the Lupus Alliance of America.

If you think you’ve got what it takes to create a fantastic story to go along with Zugale’s picture, then give the contest a go. Check out Scalzi’s blog here for more details and guidelines. 

Stars Come out to Read ‘Metatropolis’

Stars Come out to Read ‘Metatropolis’

Metatropolis is an audio anthology edited by John Scalzi for Audible.com. Subtitled "The Dawn of Uncivilization", the project can be downloaded October 21.

The book’s contents include:

"In the Forests of the Night" by Jay Lake (read by Michael Hogan, Battlestar Galactica)

"Stochasti-city" by Tobias Buckell (read by Scott Brick, who won the 2008 Audie Award for Dune)

"The Red in the Sky is Our Blood" by Elizabeth Bear (read by Kandyse McClure, Battlestar Galactica)

"Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis" by John Scalzi (read by Alessandro Juliani, Battlestar Galactica)

"To Hie from Far Cilenia" by Karl Schroeder (read by Stefan Rudnicki, who previously read Ender’s Game)

Audible describes the book: "Welcome to a world where big cities are dying, dead, or transformed into technological megastructures. Where once-thriving suburbs are now treacherous Wilds. Where those who live for technology battle those who would die rather than embrace it. It is a world of zero-footprint cities, virtual nations, and armed camps of eco-survivalists. Welcome to the dawn of uncivilization."

2008 Hugo Award winners

2008 Hugo Award winners

The 2008 Hugo Awards were given out last night at Denvention, this year’s World Science Fiction Convention, a.k.a. WorldCon. The Master of Ceremony was Wil McCarthy. The winners are (cue the drum roll) …

NovelThe Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins; Fourth Estate)
Novella: "All Seated on the Ground" by Connie Willis (Asimov’s Dec. 2007; Subterranean Press)
Novelette: "The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate" by Ted Chiang (Subterranean Press; F&SF Sept. 2007)
Short Story: "Tideline" by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s June 2007)
Dramatic Presentation, Long FormStardust Written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman Illustrated by Charles Vess Directed by Matthew Vaughn (Paramount Pictures)
Dramatic Presentation, Short Form Doctor Who "Blink" Written by Steven Moffat Directed by Hettie Macdonald (BBC)
Professional Editor, Short Form: Gordon Van Gelder (F&SF)
Professional Artist: Stephan Martiniere
SemiprozineLocus, edited by Charles N. Brown, Kirsten Gong-Wong, & Liza Groen Trombi
FanzineFile 770
Fan Writer: John Scalzi
Fan Artist: Brad Foster
Campbell Award: Mary Robinette Kowal
Full list of nominated works after the jump.



Christmas wrap ups

Christmas wrap ups

It’s winter time, and so I should close these windows, it’s chilly out there:

John Scalzi reprints Chris Roberson‘s thesis on why Mark Gruenwald is the true father of modern superheroes comics.

Steven Bove’s Rock Opera histories.

We’ve been saying that comic books will destroy you— and now we have separate confirmation from Valerie D’Orazio.

Finally, we close out the holiday season with The Adventures of Batman and Robin… and Jesus… at the San Diego Comic Con.