Friday, October 26, 2012

Redshirts by John Scalzi

Scalzi seems to have gotten away from his "hard" science fiction days of the Old Man's War saga, and into some lighter fare these days. It seems like a riff on early SF TV, like Star Trek, poking fun at the genre. The characters are mostly forgettable, but the idea - that people in an alternate universe are either generated by or affected by a science fiction show of the early twenty-first century - contains some fun ideas and food for thought.

The crew aboard the Universal Union ship, Intrepid, seems to encounter more than their normal share of deadly encounters with alien life forms, rogue robots, plagues and explosions. The captain, first officer, and the bridge crew are mostly immune to the tragedies around them, but the newly arrived crew mostly just end up messily dead. When a group of the latest recruits finally figures out what's going on, they have to travel back in time (via the effects surrounding a black hole) and convince the writers of the television show to stop what they're doing.

For old Star Trek fans, some of the "rules" that govern events aboard Intrepid will seem familiar.

"...the Intrepid's inertial dampeners don't work as well in crisis situations... the ship could do hairpin turns and loop-de-loops any other time and you'd never notice. But whenever there's a dramatic event, there goes your footing."

"Decks six through twelve will almost always sustain damages during an attack. It's because these are the decks the show has sets for. They can cut away from the bridge for shots of explosions and crew being flung backward."

"Every battle is designed for maximum drama. This is what happens when the Narrative takes over. Things quit making sense. The laws of physics take a coffee break. People stop thinking logically and start thinking dramatically."

"A fact you didn't know before just pops into your head. You make a decision or take an action you wouldn't otherwise make. It's like an irresistable impulse because it's an irresistable impulse - your will isn't your own, you're just a pawn for a writer to move around."

"...having one get through (torpedos) will be more dramatic."

"Something will explode on the bridge. That's where the camera spends nearly all its time. There has to be damage here, whether it makes sense or not."

"Every once in a while Abernathy or one of the other officers will say something dramatic, or rhetorical, or leading, and then he and everyone else will be quiet for a few seconds. That's a lead out to a commercial break."

Not terribly memorable, but amusing and mildly sarcastic. Scalzi can write, but I wish he'd go back to his strengths.

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