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Heinlein Nexus
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Post Redshirts
John Scalzi is one of the few authors today whom I can trust to produce a first class story every time. So I deliberately plowed into Redshirts without reading any description, let alone reviews. Although if the title didn't make the subject matter clear, the first page certainly did. And that's where I started to have qualms. The first chapter read like a polished version of a well-worn fan trope, but unavoidably hackneyed. I started to wonder whether Scalzi was slumming on this one.

Then the second chapter changed my mind. Now, I'm going to talk around the topic to avoid spoilers: Chapter two is where Scalzi's wit starts shining. Freed from the plot device constraint of the first chapter, his characters can be more natural and display a sharp repartee that I find particularly appealing. Those characters are gradually sucked into said fan trope. It is not exactly difficult to figure out, it was telegraphed from the first page. But Scalzi drives it to a degree far beyond the extent it would be explored by Joe fanboy.

I think the problem with the first chapter is that it is a start in media res, and mirrors a state of involvement in the trope that isn't otherwise reached for several chapters. The second chapter is a perfectly natural start, but I picture some editor saying, "Too slow... we need to start with a bang."

By the end - there are actually four endings, one of which is a bit too self-indulgent/self-referential for my taste - Scalzi has thoroughly wrung a professional flood of emotional drama out of the trope, leaving behind a story that is not only wittily amusing throughout but poignantly touching.

Only after I was done did massive parallels with Heinlein's World as Myth occur to me. But Redshirts is a much better book than TNOTB, even if it doesn't explore the same philosophical territory any more thoroughly than Heinlein did. Interestingly, while the book contains an extended discussion about other works that explore that territory, Heinlein is not listed. The omission seems glaring in retrospect.

You can't go wrong with Scalzi. This is yet another delight for his readers.

Fri Mar 22, 2013 6:41 pm
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Post Re: Redshirts

Tue Mar 26, 2013 6:09 am
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