Saturday, September 8, 2012

Book Review (#4): Redshirts

Redshirts (by John Scalzi)

So yeah, I've been on a book-reading kick lately. And I guess you'll just have to deal with it, hapless readers! What control do you have over the direction of this blog? Mwahahaha!

I mean shit no come back please

...Anyway. So for pretty much anyone even vaguely versed in geekery, the term Redshirt has a very definite connotation, one pretty aptly summed up by the preceding link. If you click it, you may also note that the definition closes by specifically noting that this very book "deconstructs this trope". Well... yeah. That. Pretty much exactly that.

See, the starting premise of this novel (as kinda indicated by the tagline on the cover up there) is that these redshirts - who are the main characters here, not nameless extras as per the above link - pick up on the fact that accompanying the senior officers from  "the starship Intrepid, on a mission to seek out new life, new civili- yeah so okay kind of the point is that it's a ripoff of Star Trek" on an away mission is virtually tantamount to a death sentence. As, you know, actual human beings likely pretty damn quickly would. They then proceed to kinda freak out because what the hell man what the hell. Understandable.

Because, of course, the things going on around them - the appalling death rate among their friends and coworkers most terrifyingly - make absolutely no sense by any conceivable standard of actual logic. And this is where the whole "deconstruction" aspect starts to really kick in, as our main characters are introduced to the Very Crazy Theory of a paranoid hiding out in the ship's cargo tunnels... namely, that all this really rather more resembles something like TV logic, doesn't it. So... what if what's going on is that what they see as their reality was in fact created by a television show from back when they had such things - on 21st century Earth - and the Intrepid is the setting for that show and its senior officers its protagonists, and so that's why things on the Intrepid in general and around its senior officers in particular are so very bonkers by the normal, sane standards of reality? And naturally, after the obligatory period of scoffing and doubt owing to the Very Craziness of that theory, they're converted, essentially because no other explanation possibly fits what's happening around (and no! no spoilers) them as well as that, Very Crazy though it may be.

So if it's a TV show that's killing them... then they must kill that TV show. Which won't destroy their own reality, because it's already been established now. Probably. That last qualifier causes, oh, some minor consternation. But then they decide to go ahead anyway. Which hey, isn't actually necessarily implausible, because we did for instance choose to detonate the first atomic bomb on the basis that it probably wouldn't cause the atmosphere to ignite and burn every living thing on Earth to death. True history fact! Look it up. You know. So that you can join me in feeling oh-so-much-safer every time you hear the experts assure you that no, they've got this under control, don't worry about it. You're welcome!

But anyhow - that's enough of the plot given away. Suffice to say, shenanigans ensue (plan kinks and alterations naturally included)! Because even though rather a number of people die violently in it, this book is meant as a comedy, after all. Though that said, a couple of the codas mentioned on the cover seem to be somewhat less so intended - one, in fact, threatens to wax downright poignant, which is a pretty neat trick for an overall pretty silly book to manage. And it's a pretty funny one, too - Scalzi's a witty guy, with a gift for dialogue in particular that reflects that. Though... as long as I'm linking to TVTropes (great site by the way, as long as you don't mind potentially having a few hours of your life swallowed by Wikipedia-style link-following), did anyone else feel a huge wave of Fridge Horror wash over them when they considered a certain part of the next-to-last chapter just a little more carefully? Again, no spoilers as to just what I'm referring to - and if you didn't see it, then I'll spare you; it really does cast rather a different pall over the whole book if you let it get in your head too much.

But yeah. Overall, a funny, enjoyable book, if not quite as uproarious (in my ever-so-humble opinion, naturally) as the superlative pull quotes from illustrious sources - in the SF/F world, anyway - on the back cover might lead you to believe. Still, a good time and one I'm perfectly happy to have spent my money on. Why demand more than that?

To check it out for yourself:


P.S.: Oh, fine. You can go on and get a little spoiled, I suppose.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Book Review (#3): The Death of the Necromancer

The Death of the Necromancer (by Martha Wells)

This novel is, very simply, a damn lot of fun. Tired of too-generic, way-too-familiar medieval settings in your fantasy? Martha Wells hears you here. To the extent that Ile-Rien, the setting of this book, has a historical analogue, it's something rather more like 18th or perhaps 19th century France - full of the exquisite yet poisonous manners and maneuverings of Society and the cutthroat crime and desperation of the underclasses alike. This book is full of exciting action, the uncovering of mysteries, twisty intrigues, and more besides.

However, by far the finest part of the novel to my mind are simply the characters themselves. Virtually every one of them is finely realized as an individual, and they and the relationships between them are such that you would never be sorry to spend more time with them getting to know them better, even as the plot races forward. Wells has managed that trick (so deceptively difficult) of making the characters she writes seem like real people in their own rights, so that they seem to take on life that goes beyond what is merely written down on paper. You can speculate as to their character, relationships, or motivations by drawing conclusions based on inference, just as one might with actual acquaintances or friends. This is not a small feat.

Probably the most one-dimensional character in the book (though Wells tries her best even here to instill something of depth and a kind of warped sense of a once-relatable - if not necessarily sympathetic - humanity to it) is the titular villain - the Necromancer. This may be owing in large part to the fact that the greater part of the book might more aptly be described as The Hunt for the Necromancer rather than anything directly leading up to his Death, and direct experience with the character is slight compared to what we get with the other major players.

You see, this villain remains shrouded in mystery for more than some little while, as our heroes - a crew of ostensible (well, and often actual) thieves led by a nobleman who in fact conspires to avenge the secret crime of a wicked Lord (you see what I meant about the intrigue?) joined later by others whose identity I won't spoil - first encounter our antagonist when their secret workings collide with his by the simple coincidence that they both happen to be robbing the same place at the same time, albeit of different things.

From there it is a matter of uncovering who or what precisely they stumbled into, as they are drawn at first more by a cycle of reaction and counter-reaction to the initial encounter than by anyone's deliberate plan into ferreting out the entity who is becoming an increasingly dangerous threat to them and, they come to realize, to the whole capital city of Vienne in which they live and operate. This villain, however, is determined to remain elusive though deadly until after its awful plans have come to fruition, and be revealed not a moment before. The journey to the final confrontation (which does not disappoint for any lack of suspense, danger, excitement or cleverness), then, is not a simple or a straightforward one - and much less a safe one.

In the end, though, matters are resolved, and Wells even manages to draw back in and conclude the initial thread of the plot against the wicked Lord in a manner that is not forced, unsatisfactory, or predictable. Again, not a small accomplishment. As I said in the beginning, this book is just a lot of fun to read, and a better adventure you would be hard-pressed to find.

To check it out for yourselves:


P.S.: And hey, look at me - actually reviewing a book that you don't have to have read a whole string of prequels to understand what's going on in it! Don't get too used to it. I don't want to spoil you.