Fascinatin' Rhythm

March 2, 2014

Same script, different cast

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thurulingas @ 12:30 am
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Redshirts cover imageJohn Scalzi: Redshirts

It has been a long time since I read Scalzi, but I was impressed enough by his novel Old Man’s War to pick up its sequels.  Impressed enough by those to grab this effort on a recent book binge, as the premise from the blurb was appealing to the sci-fi geek in me (and I use the term ‘sci-fi’ entirely deliberately, in case anyone should be tempted to write in).

On its face, the book shouldn’t work.  A less-than-mainstream premise, in-jokes aplenty, narrative causality employed as a plot device: it screams B-movie novelisation.  And yet, the whole is somehow more than the sum of its parts.  Partly this is due to Scalzi’s characterisation.  There are moments of genuine pathos in amongst the flummery, and while the action scenes could have been taken from parts of Galaxy Quest which never made it to the big screen, there was a genuine sense of danger for the cast of likeable characters.

The metafiction strands that ran through the novel were perhaps the most interesting.  Who, when all is said and done, isn’t the hero of their own story?  Wouldn’t all of us like a bit of that narrative invincibility and rectitude on occasion?  Ideally, when we actually want it, of course.  The idea that these redshirts have stories of their own, that they are not simply discardable bodies to be flung at a problem in order to work out its parameters so the true heroes can solve it (always in the nick of time, don’t y’know) is one that many authors have played with.  Glen Cook in his Chronicles of the Black Company, and more recently following in his footsteps, Steven Erikson’s massive Malazan series, have both played with the grunt’s-eye-view of events.  

I’m not sure anyone has had as much fun with it as Scalzi, though.  And in the end, a lightweight concept delivers a book that is lightweight, but with the impression of weightier themes lying behind the action for those who want to delve more deeply.  Which is as satisfying a summary as an author could wish for, perhaps.


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