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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The Beauty and Anguish of Les Misérables!

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It’s Lit! returns to discuss Les Miserables.

Yeah, I haven’t read it, nor seen the musical nor the musical movie. A title that literally means the miserable and a narrative to match isn’t really my cup of tea. The issues discussed in Les Mis were very real, if romanticised somewhat, and still bear some relevance to the modern day. I discussed one such issue in a previous It’s Lit post.

Maybe I’ll read it one day. Meanwhile, quick overviews will have to suffice.

Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is one of history’s most famous novels and one of the longest-running musicals in Broadway history. On this special episode of It’s Lit! we explore how Les Miserable became both a national and revolutionary anthem, and so publicly adored that all 1,900 pages never went out of print.

Book Review: Socialism A Very Short Introduction by Michael Newman

Socialism: A Very Short IntroductionSocialism: A Very Short Introduction by Michael Newman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How will we have anyone to look down upon if we all work together to make a better and fairer society?

The “A Very Short Introduction” series explores the topic of Socialism promising exactly what the title suggests. Michael Newman seeks to give an overview of socialism; the good, the bad, the misunderstood, and the misrepresented.

In my continued effort to dig into a few of the current bogeymen of cultural discourse, I went looking for an introductory text on socialism that wouldn’t shy away from the flaws but would also be more honest than most detractors. I think Newman succeeds in this respect. Many discussions of socialism treat it as a monolith – which they ironically still manage to misrepresent – which Newman is able to dispell by discussing some of the many iterations. Socialism also tends to have many ills landed at its door without adequate context – e.g. Stalin’s totalitarianism and Lysenkoism are all treated as completely socialism’s fault whilst under other policial regimes we divorce or distance those issues (people starving under capitalism isn’t capitalisms fault… apparently). Newman discusses examples like Cuba and Sweden with enough context to show how internal and external forces impacted what we regard as socialism.

This was a handy overview of socialism and certainly one that people should be encouraged to read before espousing views on the subject.

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Book Review: Incorruptible by Mark Waid

Incorruptible Digital OmnibusIncorruptible Digital Omnibus by Mark Waid

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lifetime villains just don’t know the recipe for being good.

Max Damage was at ground zero the day the Plutonian went berserk. But Max knew it was coming, he’s known the Plutonian’s secret since the day he was sent down the path of criminality. Now with his own superpowers, he realises that if the world’s greatest hero has switched sides, he has to become a hero. It was never going to be that simple though.

Incorruptible is the companion series to Mark Waid’s fantastic Irredeemable. When I originally read both series in 2011-12, I thought they were both very comparable, but that I enjoyed Max’s story more. Now upon re-reading, I’ve switched sides.

The story for Incorruptible deals with more of the consequences to the world after Superman/Plutonian turns villain. The redemption of such a despicable and immoral character is much more interesting than good guy turns bad. But where Irredeemable looks at the repercussions on multiple characters, Incorruptible mostly focuses on Max. This would be fine if Max was actually the protagonist. Unfortunately, Max is merely along for the ride, with major plot points and decisions taken away from him by the events in Irredeemable.

So if you are going to read Incorruptible, do so at the same time as Irredeemable.

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Book review: Irredeemable Volume 1 & 2 by Mark Waid

Irredeemable Digital Omnibus, Volume 1Irredeemable Digital Omnibus, Volume 1 & 2 by Mark Waid

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Why does everyone treat me like I’m a bomb about to go off?” He shouts unironically.

Irredeemable asks the question: What if Superman became evil? We watch the fall of the world’s greatest superhero, the Plutonian, how his friends and fellow superheroes attempt to find a way to stop his rampage while dealing with their own problems of betrayal and hopelessness. And being a superhero comic, there are alternate dimensions, aliens, supervillains, myths become real, and the spirit realm for good measure.

I originally read this and the companion series Incorruptible in 2011-12, toward the end of their run. It was also one of the first comic series I bought in e-format. Originally, I found this take on superheroes to be far more interesting and rewarding than the sort of stories we usually see. The old Spiderman quote, “With great power comes great responsibility”* butts heads with “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” in this story to great effect.

Whenever I think of superheroes, I always think of this series.** Re-reading the series in one sitting made me appreciate more of the story. During my first read through, I thought segments of the series in the run-up to the final arc got bogged down in their own intricacy and lack of relevance to the main story. But this time, I appreciate their inclusion more, even if it did slow the pacing a bit.

If you like superhero stories, then this will probably be a refreshing shot in the arm.

* Although, this quote predates Spiderman by a couple of hundred years.

** And Garth Ennis’ The Boys. I guess standard superhero stories just don’t interest me the same way.

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You should read

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Obviously, I’m preaching to the choir a bit with this one.

But, and this is a big but, how much do you actually read? How much do those reading fans actually read?

If you go by the statistics, which I’ve covered before (US, UK, Australia), you see that even reading fans aren’t actually reading that much. I was reminded of this fact as I looked through a few of the Goodreads Reading Challenges for this year. At one end, you had readers who were going to be downing a book every other day, and at the other end, you had readers who were going to check in with one every other month.

Now, there is nothing wrong with either end of that reading spectrum. But why aren’t we reading more? Not just the general public, us reading fans as well.

He says on the ultimate distraction tool ever created.

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Book review: Austerity – The History of a Dangerous Idea by Mark Blyth

Austerity: The History of a Dangerous IdeaAusterity: The History of a Dangerous Idea by Mark Blyth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You have to live within your means unless you are a bank, then you get someone else to pick up the tab.

Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea is pretty much as the title implies. Mark Blyth lays out the history of austerity economics, the arguments for its use, and then counters those arguments. Job done: let’s have cake.

In general, the deployment of austerity as economic policy has been as effective in bringing us peace, prosperity, and crucially, a sustained reduction of debt, as the Mongol Golden Horde was in furthering the development of Olympic dressage.

I first became aware of Mark Blyth as one of a handful of experts who were explaining the European sovereign debt crisis and why countries like Greece were mad at the austerity measures. He and others were the only ones who managed to accurately cut through the econobabble and victim blaming. Before then, various people involved in causing the Global Financial Crisis seemed intent on pointing fingers at out-of-control government spending, or nation states who were riddled with debt and no major industry. This was, of course, a distraction.

As an Aussie, I clearly remember during the Global Financial Crisis our treasurer dusting off his copy of Keynes and stopping us from being on the list of victims of the banks. As much as I quibble with some of the details of that economic stimulus, it worked. So it has puzzled me why so many financial experts seem to want to beat the economy to death in order to save it.

This book offered the explanation. It was eye-opening and expanded upon tackling the concept of austerity for sovereign nations who were forcibly sidled with the debt of multinational banks. For such a highly supported and enacted policy you would have thought there would be some very solid economics underpinning it… Yeah, not so much. As Mark outlines, pretty much every case of its use is purely ideologically driven and has rarely worked. In fact, quite often it has been a disaster.

Well worth a read. Or you could just watch a 5-minute version of the book:

Or a 1-hour version:

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