Tag Archives: Wil Wheaton

Review: “Redshirts” by John Scalzi

Title: Redshirts
Author: John Scalzi
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: TOR, 2012

I’ve mentioned before, I don’t usually do audiobooks. I prefer to actually read for myself, and don’t typically have a long, boring commute. I made an exception in this case. I had heard a little bit of buzz for this book over the past year or so, around the time it won the Hugo, and was planning to read it eventually. Then I found out the audiobook was narrated by Wil Wheaton, and I decided that this one needed to happen via my iPod. Why? I’ll get to that.

Ensign Andrew Dahl is new to the Universal Union flagship Intrepid, but it has already become clear that something strange is going on. It’s a prime posting, one of the most coveted berths in the Dub-U fleet, but Dahl soon notices that all of his superiors conveniently disappear when a senior officer is around. Then there’s the fact that nearly every away mission involves some sort of lethal encounter with killer robots, deadly diseases, or improbably creatures. Lowly crewmembers die left and right, and Lieutenant Kerensky may get the living $#!^ beat out of him, but he’ll always make a full recovery and none of the senior officers will be seriously injured. On top of these statistically unlikely death figures, every so often everything gets really melodramatic and occasionally nonsensical. It’s the twenty-fifth century and we still have people killed on the bridge when their console explodes? Why haven’t we installed a surge protector by now? And why is it that decks six through ten are always the ones that take damage? Most of the ensigns on the Intrepid are more interested in keeping their heads down and avoiding away missions than they are in figuring out just what’s going on, but Dahl…Dahl is determined to get to the bottom of the matter. And maybe, just maybe, in doing so he can save the life of himself and his friends.

Obviously, this is a parody of Star Trek and it’s many clones. Will you be able to enjoy it without being a Trekkie? I think so. I’m a casual Trekkie at best, much more devoted to the Galaxy Far, Far Away than I am Mr. Roddenberry’s utopian vision of our future. I may have missed a few of the references or more pointed jokes, but I don’t think it took away from my enjoyment all that much. This is also an incredibly metafictional yarn. Or rather, it’s a novel about characters who discover they are all extras on a basic-cable science fiction series. They’re fictional, even within the pages of the book, but they’re also real people with real lives. And they’re tired of being killed off to prove that the situation is serious…. On one level, this is a light read with a biting dose of snark and sarcasm. On another level, this is a fairly deep meditation on the nature of fiction and free will.  Which level you read it on is up to you. I enjoyed it immensely, even the three codas that wrap up the stories of three of the “real” people who encounter our “fictional” characters and now have to deal with the fact that reality is not quite what they thought it was. There are a few criticisms that could be leveled at the book, however. Some reviewers have criticized Scalzi for his inability to differentiate his characters’ voices–all of them speak the same way. I don’t know if this is so much a lack of ability as it is Scalzi not finding this particular element to be a priority, but I can’t dispute the point. They all sound the same, which leads to every line of dialogue being attributed, even during snappy back-and-forth banter. On the page, I don’t mind so much. In an audiobook, that got a little annoying. Another criticism leveled at Scalzi is his lack of exposition and description, complaints about how he let’s the dialogue carry the story almost on its own. This is true, so far as the facts go–his work is incredibly dialogue driven, with little exposition or description, but I think it’s unfair to lambast him for what is effectively just his personal style of writing. If you don’t like it, go read Stephen King. He should have exposition enough for the both of them.* I personally found the degree of profanity off-putting, but that’s a matter of personal taste to some degree.

Now to the audiobook-specific part of the review. Wil Wheaton was an obvious choice, given his geek-god status and the added layer of “metaness” that comes from him actually having been a Star Trek actor in his youth. He’s also suitably sarcastic, which works well. What he does not do is affect different voices for the different characters. He’ll change his voice to indicate if a character is yelling, whispering or drunk, but not to indicate who is talking. This works out okay, since Scalzi attributes every line of dialogue, but I know that this is a major concern for some consumers of audiobooks. I did find the constant attribution to be slightly annoying, but not a deal breaker. Just know what you’re in for.

CONTENT: Heavy use of R-rated language. An off-putting level of such, in my opinion. Sexual innuendo and references, but nothing too explicit. Characters die in a number of horrific and improbably ways, but that shouldn’t be a surprise given the premise.

*Don’t take this as an insult to Stephen King. I like Stephen King. He’s just got a reputation for using lots of exposition and description.

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Review: Eureka (2006-2012 TV Series)

Created by: Andrew Cosby & Jaime Paglia

If you’ve followed my reviews for very long, you are aware of my nearly fanatical love of science fiction as a genre, be it novels or movies or television. For five seasons on the cable network Sci-Fi (or SyFy, as it has rebranded itself) Eureka offered one of the more entertaining television shows in this genre.

Somewhere in the Pacific Northwest there is a town you won’t find on any map, a town where the nation’s most brilliant scientists are all gathered together in one place to better harness their combined genius, working together at the government-funded Global Dynamics in a nurturing environment that would be otherwise difficult to create. Not that everything goes smoothly in Eureka, by any means. If that were the case we would have no show. Instead, we are treated each episode to experiments and projects gone thrillingly awry–from a personal shielding unit that refuses to shut off to an accidentally launched experimental unmanned spacecraft….that just so happens to be manned at the moment. Into this high-IQ environment is thrust former US Marshall Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson), the town’s newly-assigned sheriff, and his rebellious daughter Zoe (Jordan Hinson). Carter doesn’t always understand the science of what’s going on around him, but he does usually manage to come up with a common sense solution. Henry Deacon (Joe Morton) is usually instrumental in this, as both a brilliant scientist and Jack’s best friend in town. Global Dynamics is run by Nathan Stark (Ed Quinn), whose disdain for Carter may have less to do with Carter’s IQ and more with Carter’s interest in Stark’s ex-wife Alison Blake (Salli Richardson-Whitfield), the company’s liaison with the Department of Defense. Carter’s partner in protecting the town is Deputy Jo Lupo (Erica Cerra), an ex-Army Ranger with a love of weaponry some would consider disturbing. Douglas Fargo (Neil Grayston) begins the series as Dr. Stark’s aid, but soon gets a lab of his own despite his accident-prone nature. Apparently his file at GD contains the phrase “inappropriately pressed buttons” thirty-seven times, which is often the cause of whatever disaster is befalling Eureka this week. Notable guest stars include Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day.

If I have one complaint with the series it is that there is sometimes a lack of structure. Later seasons have a cohesive story arc running through, but while the earlier season do tend to have a recurring theme there is little other structure. The writers do such things as killing off a major character just a couple episodes into a season (something you would expect in a finale or premier, not three or four episodes in), and Carter’s love life is very inconsistent. He swings between pining after Alison and dating other characters, which wouldn’t be a problem except that in a couple cases the other woman simply disappears from the narrative with no wrap-up. There are occasional cases of time travel, and that tends to completely change the status quo in interesting ways–all good, but it feels a bit as if the writers ran out of stories to tell and threw a “Hail Mary” a couple times. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the show and very much recommend it.

Content: I think this was probably TV-14 when it was broadcast. There is occasional violence or violent outcomes to the many malfunctions and disasters, occasionally gruesome and often played for dramatic effect. Mild language, nothing too extreme. PG-13 sexual content–references, characters heading off to the bedroom where we refuse to follow, characters in their underwear or with nudity obscured just offscreen or behind foreground objects. Stuff like that.

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