Book Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

RedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sometimes you can create characters that are a little bit too realistic.

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Intrepid as a xenobiologist. But from his first day onboard he notices that something is wrong with the rest of the crew. He and his fellow new recruits quickly realise that people on away missions have a nasty habit of dying. Except for a select handful of important crew members that is. They also notice that reality doesn’t make much sense at times when The Narrative takes over. Can Dahl and his friends figure it out before an away mission kills them too?

After reading the first chapter of Redshirts I had to consult with the interwebz to answer a question about this book: Is it worth reading the whole thing? Aside from one notable review that captured several of my concerns, the vast majority of my fellow readers loved Scalzi and this book. So I decided to persist and found myself at the end of Redshirts with the same reservations as I had at the end of the first chapter.

Firstly, this book was good enough to keep me reading. Redshirts has a very strong premise and the story is mostly well executed. The main story – more on the codas in a minute – steams along and is pretty entertaining. It won a Hugo, so clearly it has a lot to offer.

Now, let’s get to the buts.

For what is clearly a comedic novel, Redshirts is nowhere near as funny as it thinks it is. He said. He said. It has a cast of characters that are meant to be shallow and interchangeable, but they are so interchangeable that you wouldn’t know who was talking if you weren’t constantly reminded. He said. He said. The premise may be very strong, but I felt it wasn’t fully realised, which left me frustrated. And then the three codas arrived and shifted away from the previous 25 chapters’ lighthearted tone. All three, but especially 2 and 3, had a much more serious tone and felt like they belonged in a different novel.

So while I mostly enjoyed reading Redshirts, I feel it wasted its premise and wasn’t as well executed as I’d have liked.

NB: My wife said I had to tell everyone that I’ve spent all day complaining about the ending to Redshirts. She feels it would be disingenuous of me not to mention that and to also give you an idea of how much she is looking forward to me reading something else.

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Barbie My Birthday Party – Too Serious

Somehow, we have managed to acquire a Barbie storybook which our daughter inexplicably enjoys. While I privately suspect that the interest level is driven purely by the immoderate amount of pink the book is composed of, she is still fascinated by having us read it to her at bedtime.

For those who aren’t aware, Barbie is a feminist icon early childhood reinforcement of patriarchal beauty standards much-beloved kids’ toy. It has expanded from a tool of societal indoctrination line of fashion toys into a multimedia empire of animated films, television shows, video games, music, and books; and I’m left with some very important questions.

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The eponymous protagonist’s story starts with her need to celebrate her birthday by buying lots of stuff and having her friends do the same. There are decorations, cake, sparkly jewellery, and dresses to buy. And lots of butterflies for some reason. I’m not sure if the butterflies are attracted to the inordinate amount of sparkly jewels Barbie and her friends adorn themselves in, or if they are a hallucination due to overconsumption of shrooms, or if the butterflies are actually Death’s Head moths and Barbie’s Fun House is in need of an FBI raid.

This brings me to my first question: how is Barbie funding this lavish lifestyle. I know that Barbie has had many jobs during her life but she never seems to hold them down for any length of time. A lot of those jobs weren’t particularly well paid, and given the number of technical and professional degrees she would have had to obtain, her student debt levels would have to be crippling.*

To my mind, there are three possible explanations for this lavish lifestyle. Barbie is either:

  1. A trust-fund baby living a life of vapid luxury;
  2. A white-collar drug dealer supplying her rich friends with cocaine and party drugs;
  3. Or she is a consumerist wracking up mountains of credit card debt to finance a lavish lifestyle to impress her equally facile friends.**

The drug dealer explanation would certainly explain her impossible body proportions; the amphetamines and cocaine keeping her thin, and with plastic surgery padding the other areas. But another career? That seems a bit far fetched. The credit card funding similarly doesn’t seem likely due to her 30-jobs-a-decade career habit.

The job-hopping would, however, fit with the trust-fund baby explanation. Bored rich kid decides to change careers for the third time this year: not a problem. It would also explain many of the other story inconsistencies. Which brings me to the next issue.

In the story, Barbie is throwing a party for herself. She could have been throwing a surprise party for her friends, or she could have been holding a fundraiser for impoverished people who can’t afford to eat let alone accessorise for their catered birthday party. Instead, we are treated to pages of exposition detailing her choice of dress, make-up, jewellery, hairstyle, and matching her shoes and handbag. Then to top it all off, we see her matching presents to the friends who gave them, as though she is judging the friendship upon the quality of the gifts received.

I’m concerned that in a world of growing inequality that Barbie’s message is one of vapid selfishness that seeks to teach young girls a nasty and mean lesson. This trust-fund image-obsessed wealth flaunter is not an ideal that young girls should be exposed to. The very least Barbie could have done is host a charity fundraiser, although even that is somewhat problematic. Has she learnt nothing from Bill Gates and Warren Buffet’s examples?

Maybe I’m judging Barbie too harshly. This was, after all, a short Barbie story. It is quite possible that in further adventures many of my above concerns and questions will be addressed. I only hope that those stories have satisfactory explanations and answers.

* I’m also not convinced that she has actually had all of the jobs she has claimed. There is a sense that she is padding her resume for some unknown reason. I mean, how do you manage to be a paratrooper and the US President in the same year and then throw the towel in to become a Spanish teacher the next year?

** There is a fourth option that I don’t wish to include in the main list as I hope it is untrue. Pretty girls like Barbie can make good money escorting and that would certainly explain her expansive wardrobe; her sugar daddies making sure she is always looking pretty. This is a very poor message to send to young girls. Encouraging such a dual-exploitative career as a means to accrue meaningless objects of vanity normalises everything wrong with the sex-industry whilst marginalising its positive aspects.

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Word limits: or how to learn to stop writing and love the full stop

 

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Source

Every now and then I masochistically log onto Twitter to see what passes for civil discourse amongst the people trying to sell you stuff and those not quite racist enough to be booted to Gab. When I recently logged on, a couple of the authors I follow were updating their fans with their novel progress, or what was currently distracting them from writing.

What interested me about these updates was that several authors were talking about having to trim their draft by 50-65%. That’s right, authors who needed to hand in a 100,000 word manuscript to their publisher were having to trim 100-200,000 words from their novel.

Word limits are a funny thing. I’ve never had a problem being succinct, to the point that my editing usually involves added 15-20%. Yet these successful authors* are having to sit down with their editors to cull half their manuscript. And if we’re being honest, some successful authors** should have culled a lot more and saved their readers all that page skipping.

One of the good things that Twitter trains you to do, aside from teaching you that trolling people is perfectly okay, is how to express yourself succinctly in 140 280 characters. It forces you to practice creating a thought or sentence in a manner that may be foreign. For example, the complex phrase:

I disagree with your supposition as it is currently unsupported by any evidence, either presented by yourself or in the scientific literature, thus there is no reason for me to support your statements. I would also question how rational your supposition is, because despite the lack of evidence, there is no reason to suspect that there is any industry conspiracy trying to deny Dwanye “The Rock” Johnson an Oscar for Best Actor.

Can be replaced with:

Lol, moron!

This says everything that is needed and doesn’t dance around the topic. Conversely, the reply to this can be shortened from:

Whilst you are allowed to disagree with me, my opinion still stands. I cannot provide a summary of the relevant scientific literature at this time, but this is information that is readily understood and referenced in the literature. Thus I will endevour to provide a few examples when I am able to, but in the meantime I’d invite you to read further on the topic, as I suspect that you will agree with me once you have. I will admit, however, that the literature on this topic is currently inaccessible due to paywall restrictions, thus this unsourced blog post will have to suffice until such time as the academic publishing model is reformed.

Can be replaced with:

Well screw you and the horse you road up on.

The trick is to start with what your key points are and not overuse exposition to explain those points. The 140 280 character limit can help with this a lot.

In the meantime, if you aren’t a fan of See Mike Draw, I suggest you become one now.

* Maybe that is why they are successful authors and I’m still in that emerging author category. Perhaps it is time to write double the amount I need.

** Obviously not the authors I follow.

Book review: The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

The Light Fantastic (Discworld, #2)The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Luggage that doesn’t get lost? This must be a fantasy novel.

After shooting off the edge of the Discworld in The Colour of Magic, Rincewind and Twoflower are magically returned to the Disc for reasons unknown. The world turtle, Great A’Tuin, is swimming through space, excited about the red star it is approaching. The Wizards have noticed the red star and the magical change that allowed Rincewind and Twoflower to return, allowing them to uncover an ancient prophecy. Can the prophecy be fulfilled before Great A’Tuin reaches their destination?

When I finished The Colour of Magic I was a little peeved. Whilst a continuing story cliffhanger is a common fantasy trope, a book satirising fantasy tropes should surely rise above such shenanigans. That downgraded my rating to 4 stars.

Happily, The Light Fantastic finished the story started in The Colour of Magic in a highly entertaining fashion. I especially enjoyed the introduction of Cohen the Barbarian, being a fan of the Robert E Howard stories. Death and the other horsemen learning Bridge had me grinning for days. I wouldn’t rate this as one of Pratchett’s best Discworld novels, but it certainly started the ball rolling.

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