BookBin2015: Redshirts

What to do on a cold, rainy Saturday? Read a little, drink a little coffee (or a lot of coffee), work out while watching part of a documentary on Harlan Ellison, and then write some book reviews. Finally. Why? What do you do on a cold, rainy Saturday?

I read John Scalzi’s Redshirts back in January of this year, yet it has stuck with me as one of those delightful surprises that I need to add to my sci-fi collection at some point in the future (look at that, already giving you the final verdict).

First off, if you are not a fan of the original Star Trek series, then the term “Redshirt” might not mean anything to you (of course, with the proliferation of geekery in the mainstream pop culture lexicon now, it’s kind of hard not to know the term, but I digress as usual). Quick summation: The term refers to the fact that the unknown, usually unnamed extra thrown into the landing party with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy always wore the security officer’s tunic, which was red on the original show (it later changed to gold on TNG, but the term remained). That officer rarely made it back to the ship, thus equating the red tunic with the survival short straw on any away mission. Because, really, did you think one of the Trek Triumvirate was going to bite it on that planet, Ensign Ricky?

Therefore, naming your novel after the unluckiest crew members of the original Enterprise guarantees you geek points right out of the gate. Of course, I instantly thought that it was going to be a Galaxy Quest-esque parody full of yucks and insider haha moments penned specifically to appeal to thoroughbred nerds.

I was not expecting it to take a wonderfully surprising sharp turn that would steer us all, character and reader alike, into a fantastical meta mixing of fantasy and reality that never once felt anything less than sincere to me as I went along willingly and happily for the ride.

Scalzi takes something so well-known among genre fans and twists it by giving it far more plausibility than the original show could ever afford it (why did the Redshirts always die on the original show? Because they weren’t Shatner, Nimoy, or Kelley…now stop asking stupid questions!) Instead, Scalzi takes the question seriously, examines it from more than the patently obvious answer, and provides a patently wonderful alternative response.

I could say more, but I don’t want to spoil this for anyone. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s intriguing, and it’s far more than the parody I was expecting. It’s still whimsical and at times flat-out ridiculous, but Scalzi sells it in such a way that you willingly buy even the weirdest of the story’s elements.

Final Verdict: Seriously, were you not paying attention? I already told you, I’m adding the book to my collection…and you should add it to your reading list. If you love science fiction and Star Trek, then you, too, may love this book.

BookBin2011: The Man Who Fell to Earth

I almost feel as though I need to apologize for having never read this science fiction classic before now. Tangentially, I also feel as though I should apologize for having never seen the David Bowie movie either, especially now after having read the book and realizing that of the few people who could plausibly play the eponymous character, “back in the day” skinny androgynous Bowie would be at the top of that list.

I do intend to rectify the movie issue soon, and I’m quite pleased that I have now rectified the literary side of this sci-fi faux pas of mine. Walter Tevis’s novel is, quite simply, marvelous. Rather than being all about the ‘splosions and space battles, The Man Who Fell to Earth is instead a quiet treatise on the more sociological/philosophical/political aspects of the genre. The story focuses on the arrival, survival, integration, and subsequent discovery of “Thomas Jerome Newton,” an Anthean sent to Earth as a savior for his nearly extinct people.

The story as it flows from Tevis’s imagination is provocative and introspective, composed of poetry and perfect prose. If you find traditional science fiction to be intimidating, you might want to give this story a try. This could very well be the gateway drug that will pull you into the genre.

Also, for a book originally published in 1963 (there have been minor updates to the text since then), this story never feels outdated. To the contrary, it almost completely transcends the shackles of age that so many “futuristic” novels cannot escape. Admittedly, there are some gadgets and gizmos that come across as charming and quaint. Some, however, are quite prescient.

Final Verdict: I do believe that The Man Who Fell to Earth will be falling into my collection at some point soon.