Monday, 3 September 2012

Review: Redshirts

Redshirts by John Scalzi

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this largely because of Patrick Rothfuss's recommendation, which says, in part, that he can't think of another book that ever made him laugh this much. Around or at the same time, Rothfuss also recommended [b:Ready Player One|9969571|Ready Player One|Ernest Cline||14863741].

What I have learned from this is that even though Rothfuss is one of my favourite writers, his taste in reading and mine are very different.

I hated Ready Player One by page six, and stopped, so I haven't reviewed it (it doesn't seem fair to review something based on so little reading). I read all of Redshirts, though. It wasn't bad. I just less than less than three it.

Scalzi has done something quite clever here, in a way. You see, if someone points, as I'm about to, to the flaws in the book, he has a ready-made excuse: It's meant to be bad writing. That's the point.

Most of the characters are, of course, a little thin (they're walk-on, walk-off characters in a bad SF TV series, after all), though I thought the protagonist was fairly well developed by the end. The dialogue is a little stilted starting out, but I soon stopped noticing it.

One of the biggest problems I had, though, was the lack of description of anyone or anything. I have no idea what any of these people look like, except that one is "handsome" and another one has a beard. That's it. We don't know what colour their hair is, even. We don't know what colour anything is, not even the shirts (since the dream sequence in which the writer meets the redshirts is a dream sequence, and the redness of the shirts is probably metaphorical). One of the officers is called Q'eeng. Is he Asian? African? Alien? Azerbaijani? We're never told. I can't picture a single one of the characters, which in a book about a TV show is... let's be kind and say "surprising".

The other big thing, and it's huge, is the plot hole. So massive is it that it collapses into a black plot hole and is able to be used as a means of traveling not only back in time but from fiction to reality. It makes absolutely no sense, which I suppose is part of the joke, or something, but you have to simultaneously take it seriously because it's what enables the story to be resolved.

I clearly have a different sense of humour from Rothfuss, because I didn't get a single laugh out of it. Admittedly I'm a New Zealander and have a British-style sense of humour, and Scalzi and Rothfuss are both American. I'm going to assume that's the reason.

Some reviewers have complained about the three codas. Essentially, they're what happens when someone who is a competent pulp writer tries to be literary and meta and postmodern, but it almost worked a bit for me. By the end of the third one I was mildly emotionally engaged, though the first one was way too long for my taste and almost lost me partway through.

I think what I'm saying is that I was seriously underwhelmed, and very glad that I followed my instincts and got this from the library instead of paying ten bucks for the ebook (which, by the way, Tor, is about $2 more than I'm prepared to pay for any ebook, even for a book I know I'll love).

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