BOOK REVIEW: River Of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

written by David Steffen

Did you know that in the early 20th century the United States Congress considered a bill to populate the Louisiana bayou with hippopotamuses to serve as a new source of meat during a meat shortage?  In River of Teeth, we get to see an alternate history where that law passed and some decades later there are hippo-riding “hoppers” which are something like cowboys.

River of Teeth is a new release and debut novel by Sarah Gailey and published by Tor Books.  It is sort of a an alt-history Western with the feel of a heist story, and also a revenge quest, the first of a two-part book series.

The hippos have been in Louisiana for decades now, and enough hippos have escaped from ranches that the southern portion of the Mississippi River is avoided by most as it is inhabited by feral hippos.

The main protagonist of the story is Winslow Houndstooth, a hopper who had been very happy establishing a hippo ranch until he was betrayed and the ranch burned to the ground by his then-ranch hand Cal.  Now he has accepted a job from the government to clear all of the feral hippos out of the Mississippi so the river can be used again.  He is gathering a group of specialists to help him on the job, including Cal himself, and Houndstooth also has revenge on his mind.

The book has an ensemble cast of characters, several of which takes turns as protagonists, and most of which have their hippos as ancillary characters—each with their own personalities and distinguishing characteristics.  The protagonist’s goal is a daunting one—how do you move hundreds of hostile hippos out of their own territory with just a few hippo-riders?

Given the premise of the book I was expecting the genre to be something like bizarro or weird fiction, this took some mental adjustment for me because it was solidly alternate history.  I don’t think this was an issue with Tor’s marketing, because I don’t believe I really read any of their marketing apart from seeing Sarah post about the premise, and from the premise I assumed it was bizarro.  What I mean by the difference is that the book started with a weird idea (which it claims is a historically accurate weird idea that didn’t get approved), but otherwise plays the book completely straight—given the initial premise, everything else about the story is a consequence of that weird idea.

The book is full of action, lots of cool character interactions and deception, and has the feel of a heist plot (a subgenre I enjoy).  Lots of things to keep you guessing as to what’s going to happen next.  I appreciated that the main cast of those participating in the heist were pretty evenly gender-split, including a nonbinary character which I appreciated that representation, as well as gay characters.

On the whole, I enjoyed the book.  I was surprised at how quick of a read it was, and I’m looking forward to reading book two to find out how the story concludes.

BOOK REVIEW: Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick

written by David Steffen

Chasing the Phoenix is a science fiction novel by Michael Swanwick, published by Tor Books earlier this month.

The book stars Swanwick’s recurring characters, the con men Darger and Surplus.  As the story begins, Surplus is journeying through a future China with the Darger’s corpse carried on the back of a yak, seeking the services of the legendary healer the Infallible Physician to raise Darger from the dead.  Once that’s happened (it happens early enough in the book that I don’t think that counts as a spoiler).   Considering greed a virtue, the con men are always looking for ways to profit from their circumstances.  Surplus, who is an anthropomorphic dog, has used his appearance to his advantage by pretending to be an immortal, and with Surplus rising from the dead they have soon gained the attention of powerful people involved in a brewing civil war.  Even among one side of the war, there are always those jockeying for power and willing to kill to get their way, and soon the two con men are working all sides just to stay alive.

Since Darger and Surplus are recurring characters, of both novels and short stories, a valid question would be: Can this book be read out of order with the rest?  Yes, you can.  This was my first Darger and Surplus story, though I was familiar with the characters from short nonfiction segments that had featured on the StarShipSofa podcast on the subject of the art of confidence tricks.  My only prior knowledge was that they were con men, and that’s obvious very early in this novel.  I had no trouble picking it up.  I expect that there are probably some references and in-jokes about previous books, but nothing that interfered with my understanding.

I imagine that some people enjoy going on adventures with these con men characters–presumably they are recurring characters because books about them sell.  Honestly, I just found them irritating.  Not because of their professions, necessarily–their ethics are certainly different than mine, but I have related to such characters before.  I just found them… I don’t know what word I’m looking for… smarmy, perhaps?  I didn’t really care what happened to them, and if the book had ended with them both dying I wouldn’t have really minded.  I don’t know if this book is representative of them or not, but I probably won’t try to read any more Darger or Surplus stories unless I hear this one wasn’t representative.

I did read through the whole book.  I was curious how it would turn out.  There were some interesting challenges that the pair faced, varying from war strategies, to battling against future technology, to interpersonal challenges that they were coerced to help resolve.  The challenges and the stakes rise throughout the book as they con men play people off of each other and the war goes on.  A few times in the book the characters they seem to be in an impossible situation and those were the parts I was most interested in, to see how these two could turn things around… but more often than I thought was reasonable things would just take a turn of circumstance and save them at the last moment.  In the end there turned out to be some explanation for this, but I felt like it was a cheat and took the enjoyment out of the part that I really wanted to see–these two actually facing a real challenge.  Apart from those apparently unsolvable challenges, they breeze through the rest of the book, never stymied by anything.  Although the stakes go up and up, they just cut through the challenges like butter.

So, this book is clearly not for me.  I didn’t like the protagonists and I thought the book was too easy for them.  I imagine that fans of Darger and Surplus stories might like it, though I don’t know if this story is representative.  Swanwick is a good writer, and I’ll happily pick up other works by him that star different characters.

 

BOOK REVIEW (Conclusion): The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu (Translated by Ken Liu)

written by David Steffen

Less than a month ago, just before the Hugo Award voting deadline, I gave a preliminary review of the first 100 pages or so of the Hugo-nominated novel The Three Body Problem.  I gave the partial review then to get it published before the Hugo deadline, but since then I’ve finished reading.  This review will be pretty brief because I don’t want to spoil everything, and the truth about what exactly explains the weirdness that’s happened so far in the book takes a while to unroll.

As mentioned in the partial review, I thought the beginning was much too slow, going into a lot of background detail on a character who was important to the story but didn’t end up being the main point of view character.

I continued to especially enjoy the in-book game titled The Three Body Problem in it’s weird representation of a world with chaotic seasons, and generally found those sections more compelling than the other parts of the book.  The book in general is more distantly told than I prefer, often with the POV character bringing up a topic that he said he’d been planning with no prior note about it.  I’m not sure how much of that is a language or cultural difference in the expectations of storytelling but I was interested enough to keep reading.

I guess I hadn’t paid enough attention and hadn’t realized that this was book one of three until it ended.  Some things are resolved by the end of the book, but I wouldn’t call it a real complete story arc on its own–its very much a Part One, not a standalone story.  Without getting into spoilery specifics, I thought the tension kind of ramped down near the end, so I’m not really sure how that’s going to carry over into the next book.

I enjoyed reading the book, finding out what was behind the weird occurrences, and finding out more about the in-book game.  But with the generally slow and uneven pacing the ramp-down in tension near the end I’m not sure I’m into it enough to want to keep reading books two and three.

 

Hugo Novel Review (Partial): Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu)

written by David Steffen

I’ve been reading as fast as I can before the Hugo voting deadline on July 31st, but there’s been a bunch of things competing for my time  and so I haven’t been able to read as many of the nominees as I like.  I am only part way through The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu, published in English by Tor Books, but since the Hugo voting deadline is almost here I wanted to give a partial review–I’ll give a complete review when I have had the time to finish the book.

The story starts in China in 1967, during the Cultural Revolution (a social-political movement started by Mao Zedong whose stated goal was to preserve the “true” Communist ideology from the corrupting influences of capitalist and traditional elements from society.  Ye Zhetai is a physics professor at the time, trying to teach his students without coming under the ire of the movement, but in a debate about relativity he is struck dead.  His daughter Ye Wenjie follows in his footsteps, becoming a physicist as well, and ends up being recruited for a top-secret research project.

In the present day Wang Mao, a nanomaterials researcher, is called into a meeting between top researchers and military officials, where a list of physicists who has committed suicide is revealed, each for apparently the same reason, leaving long essays as suicide notes.  It has something to do with the organization called Frontiers of Science which are considered radical by the rest of the scientific community, to answer the question: “What is the limit of science?”  The implication seems to be that something about what they have found in their research is driving them to kill themselves.  He starts seeing elements pointing to a countdown in impossible places.  A countdown to what?  Wang Mao takes a position at the Frontiers of Science, and he sees fellow researcher Shen Yufei playing a game called The Three-Body Problem, which is based in a fictional world where there is no discernable pattern to the seasons and the challenge of the game is to find some pattern so that a civilization can be established in a stretch where the weather is favorable.

And that’s about as far as I’ve gotten in my reading.

The novel is very slow to begin.  It seems like half of what I’ve read so far didn’t have much relation to the other half, but I’m still in the first quarter of the novel so at this point I’m assuming it all ties together to justify that slow start.  I also figured that there might be some cultural differences about the expectations of story structure so I didn’t want to give up on the story until I’d given it a good long time.  I really felt like I got hooked as he was playing the Three Body Problem game, the details of that game and the strange challenges were interesting and caught my attention.  The problem of the physicists committing suicide has a bit of a Lovecraft feel to it–forbidden knowledge that drives one mad, though in general it feels more science fiction-y than horror-y.

Anyway, I’m interested in how it turns out, I’m enjoying the read, but without more pages consumed, I can’t say overall whether I like it or not.  I’ll let you know soon.

My Hugo Ballot 2014

The voting deadline for the Hugo Awards is tomorrow, July 31st, and I’ve read as much of the Hugo content as I’m going to have time for. So, the time has come for me to cast my ballot and put awards aside until next year. As I’ve done the last couple years, I’ve publicly shared what my ballot is going to look like, as kind of a final section of my Hugo review that is kind of an overarching look at what I thought of the categories. I didn’t read work in all the categories, so I’ve abstained from voting in those that I had no familiarity with and left them off the ballot.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with how the voting system works, it used an instant runoff scheme which allows you to rank all of your choices. First, they count everyone’s first choice. If no one gets more than half the votes, then the lowest ranked one in that scheme is eliminated, and anyone who chose that one as their first choice then has their 2nd choice tallied instead. And so on until there is a clear winner. It is possible to vote for “No Award” which you do if you would rather no one win at all than for the remaining ones to win, and in the end if too many ranked No Award above the eventual vote-winner, then no award is given.

 

Best Novel

  1. The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Tor Books / Orbit UK) (I reviewed it here)
  2. Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit US/Orbit UK) (I reviewed it here)
  3. Neptune’s Brood, Charles Stross (Ace / Orbit UK) (will post review on July 30)
  4. Parasite, Mira Grant (Orbit US/Orbit UK) (I reviewed it here)
  5. No Award

I also reviewed Larry Correia’s Warbound here but ranked it below No Award. I didn’t get a copy of Neptune’s Brood until quite late in the game. I won’t finish it before the deadline but I’ve read far enough to get an overall impression to rank it here. I originally planned to post this ballot on July 30, but decided to post my partial review of Neptune’s Brood on that day to give me a couple more days of reading.

 

Best Novella

  1. “Equoid”, Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)
  2. “The Chaplain’s Legacy”, Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jul-Aug 2013)
  3. No Award

I reviewed this year’s Novella category here for more details.

 

Best Novelette

  1. “The Waiting Stars”, Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky, Candlemark & Gleam)
  2. “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”, Ted Chiang (Subterranean, Fall 2013)
  3. “The Lady Astronaut of Mars”, Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinettekowal.com/Tor.com, 09-2013)
  4. No Award

I reviewed this year’s nominees here for more details.

 

Best Short Story

  1. “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere”, John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)
  2. No Award

I reviewed this year’s nominees here for more details.

 

Best Related Work

  1. “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative”, Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink)

 

Best Graphic Story

  1. The Meathouse Man, adapted from the story by George R.R. Martin and illustrated by Raya Golden (Jet City Comics)
  2. Girl Genius, Volume 13: Agatha Heterodyne & The Sleeping City, written by Phil and Kaja Foglio; art by Phil Foglio; colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
  3. No Award

I reviewed this year’s nominees here for more details.

 

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  1. Iron Man 3, screenplay by Drew Pearce & Shane Black, directed by Shane Black (Marvel Studios; DMG Entertainment; Paramount Pictures)
  2. Gravity, written by Alfonso CuarÃ’ n & JonÃ’ s CuarÃ’ n, directed by Alfonso CuarÃ’ n (Esperanto Filmoj; Heyday Films; Warner Bros.)
  3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, screenplay by Simon Beaufoy & Michael Arndt, directed by Francis Lawrence (Color Force; Lionsgate)
  4. Frozen,screenplay by Jennifer Lee, directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee (Walt Disney Studios)
  5. Pacific Rim, screenplay by Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro, directed by Guillermo del Toro (Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros., Disney Double Dare You)

I reviewed this year’s nominees here for more details.

 

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  1. Game of Thrones: “The Rains of Castamere”, written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
  2. No Award

Game of Thrones is awesome, and that was one of the best episodes in the series so far. I haven’t seen the rest of the category, but I am tired of episodes of Dr. Who dominating the ballot. There ARE other worthwhile things being published in SF, people. I’d rather Dr. Who would not be on the ballot or win anymore, so I’m voting accordingly. I haven’t seen Orphan Black, don’t know anything about it–so I don’t want to vote for it with no knowledge, but to vote No Award above Dr. Who episodes there’s nothing to do but lump Orphan Black in with them.

 

Best Editor, Short Form

  1. John Joseph Adams
  2. Neil Clarke
  3. Sheila Williams

 

Best Professional Artist

  1. Dan Dos Santos
  2. Julie Dillon
  3. John Picacio
  4. John Harris
  5. Galen Dara

I based these entirely on the portfolio included in the Hugo packet. Though I do have a soft spot for Dos Santos–I have an autographed print of his portrait of Moiraine Damodred hanging in my office at home. They’re all good but I tend to like the styles that make the people seem very real, and convince me that everything unrealistic is just as real.

 

Best Semiprozine

  1. Lightspeed Magazine
  2. Beneath Ceaseless Skies

 

Best Fanzine

  1. Dribble of Ink

 

Best Fancast

  1. No Award

It’s not that I hate the nominees. It’s just that, with all the amazing fiction podcasts out there, I find it extremely disappointing that only nonfiction podcasts are on the ballot, and that the only fiction podcast that’s ever been on the ballot had to heavily pander to get there. If fiction podcasts aren’t going to be recognized in this category, then I hope this trial category is short-lived.

 

Best Fan Writer

  1. Kameron Hurley

 

Best Fan Artist

  1. Sarah Webb

I based these entirely on the portfolio included in the Hugo packet, which only included work from three of the five nominees for some reason.

 

Hugo Novel Review: The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

written by David Steffen

I’ll try to keep spoilers out of the review and just talk on broad arching principles and maybe a few specifics that aren’t major plot points. Since this is a series of fourteen huge books, that limits a great deal of what I could talk about. But I’ll do my best.

I had nominated the final book of the series, A Memory of Light, for the Hugo Award, but it is not just the final book but the whole series that is up for nomination. I had no idea this was a possibility until it happened. It’s only allowed if none of the individual books were on the final ballot in previous years, and I think the idea is to consider a single long work as a whole if it has a continuous plot arc from beginning to end. So, that’s what happened.

Some people on the Internet are making a stink about The Wheel of Time series being on the final ballot, complaints that some Wheel of Time fans might start a voting bloc, etc etc. There’s drama every year, and this isn’t even the biggest drama of this year. If you want to get worked up about such things, go for it, but it’s operating entirely within the rules so if you don’t like it, try to influence a change in the rules. Otherwise, IMO, there’s not really anything to complain about.

Plus, if you buy a supporting membership for WorldCon this year to get the right to vote which costs $40, then you get the entire Wheel of Time series in ebook format at no additional cost. That is seriously cool.

History of the Series

The Wheel of Time is an epic other-world fantasy series created by Robert Jordan. Robert Jordan wrote the series up to book eleven: The Eye of the World, The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn, The Shadow Rising, The Fires of Heaven, The Lord of Chaos, Path of Daggers, A Crown of Swords, Winter’s Heart, The Crossroads of Twilight, and Knife of Dreams, published between 1990 and 2005.

In 2006, Jordan publicly announced that he he had been diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis. He passed away in September 2007, having left copious notes and partial sections written of what he intended to be the one final book. After some long consideration, Brandon Sanderson was chosen as the writer to complete the writing of the series using Jordan’s notes. In Sanderson’s words, he said that there were certainly better writers than him, and there were certainly bigger Wheel of Time fans than him, but he was probably the best choice to maximize both of those concerns at once.

Brandon Sanderson finished writing the remaining sections of and compiling what ended up being the final three books of The Wheel of Time: The Gathering Storm, Towers of Midnight, and A Memory of Light, published in 2009, 2010, and 2013 respectively.

Review

Most people who’ve tried reading the series fanatically love it, fanatically hate it, or fanatically love it until about book ten at which point they lost interest and never finished the rest.

Those who fall into that last category: I encourage you to give the rest of the series a try. As a whole, I see value in almost all of the books in the series, though there’s certainly some uneven qualities. Book ten, The Crossroads of Twilight, is the exception. I went on at length about that particular book in a separate review, so I won’t go into it here. Suffice it to say that nothing happens at great length for a long book, until literally the final page when something finally happens. So, you might just want to read a general summary, read the last few pages, and move on to Knife of Dreams. Granted, I wouldn’t listen to someone’s advice if they told me that, but if you do insist on reading it, just keep in mind it is not representative of the quality of the series after it, so at least try Knife of Dreams.

I’ve also written up a separate review for A Memory of Light, the last book in the series, which you can find here.

The first book starts with a sudden influx of strangers into the town of Emond’s Field in the Two Rivers, where three young men of very similar age live: Rand al’Thor, Matrim Cauthon, and Perrin Aybara. It seems like these are just visitors for the holidays, but it’s no coincidence that the town is attacked by Trollocs, beasts the locals believe to only be myths. One of the strangers in town, Moiraine Damodred and her warrior companion Lan Mandragoran, smuggle the boys out of town, claiming the attack was directed at finding them. The first book follows that group as they are pursued by Trollocs as they try to journey to Tar Valon where they can be protected.

The series goes on in various directions from there, most of which I can’t really talk about without getting into heavy spoiler territory. This is and always will be one of my favorite series, and it’s definitely getting my vote for the Hugo Award for Best Novel this year.

The Good Parts

  • Imaginative worldbuilding with a variety of detailed cultures
  • A cool and detailed magic system
  • The first book stands well alone as a standalone read
  • Most of the books in the series are memorable in their own right
  • Colorful and interesting cast of villains
  • If you like the story, there’s certainly a lot of it

The Bad Parts

  • The Crossroads of Twilight
  • The Crossroads of Twilight
  • A few of the other books relatively unmemorable
  • Some of the characters fall into the same personality cliches repeatedly (I still love them but it’s hard not to see)
  • Seriously, The Crossroads of Twilight. Yes it deserves to be on this list three times. It’s really that bad.
  • Some of the advancements in magical abilities are unexplained spontaneous jumps that don’t seem to fit into the worldbuilding
  • Some inconsistencies with how magic is explained in the first book with how it’s used in the rest of the series.
  • Sometimes the italicized internal monologuing gets excessive.

The Series’ Effect on My Life

I first came across The Wheel of Time when I was in about seventh grade. I was at a Barnes & Noble waiting for my mom to pick me up. To kill some time I went to the Science Fiction and Fantasy section and grabbed the book from the endcap with the most appealing cover, which happened to be book seven or eight of The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. From there I went into the aisle and found book one of the series: The Eye of the World. I sat down and started reading and it drew me right in with the young man Rand al’Thor and his father Tam walking through a bitter cold wind and glimpsing a mysterious stranger. I was sorely disappointed when my mom got there and we had to go without the book.

At the time I lived in a tiny town with a pathetic closet of a library that mostly contained romance novels, and a school library that was no better. So without money I didn’t have a quick way to access it. I had a little side job delivering advertising newsletters for small amounts of money, so I spent those meager paychecks buying the books in The Wheel of Time series.

That was during a time of my life where I felt very isolated, having no car and living a couple miles outside the closest town which only had a population about 500 people. I’d moved there when I was ten, by which time the social cliques were very well cemented, and in the eight years that I lived there I never really felt part of any group. Reading and video games got me through a lot of that time, keeping me entertained enough to stay sane and The Wheel of Time was a big part of that as the next several books came out through the high school years, and each time a new book came out I would re-read the series again in preparation.

In college, things were much better, but there were still some rough times. One of the worst kind of times were nights in the dorm sophomore year when I lived in a room next to a sorry excuse for a human being who played music and video games at all time of night with the subwoofer planted against the wall with no consideration of other people’s sleep. Talking to him accomplished nothing. Talking to the dorm master accomplished nothing. There was one particular night where he was playing Counterstrike until 3am with the machine guns and grenades pounding the walls. I had to get up at 5am to work at a gas station the next morning. I managed to get through that night without killing anyone and without having a nervous breakdown, and I owe that at least in part to a meditation technique that our main protagonist Rand al’Thor learns in the very first book. I used that technique and even though I was awake for most of the night, just kind of watching the clock and lying still, I still felt rested enough the next day.

And, The Wheel of Time has even molded some of my strategies for life. One of the elements of the series that I found very compelling was ji’e’toh, the systematic system of honorable behavior followed by the warlike clans of the Aiel. There are many details of it, but one of the things that I took from the system was that sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do, sometimes you want to do things that will have consequences you’d rather avoid. But what is generally best is just to do what you need to do and then willingly pay the price required for it. It may not seem profound at the surface, but I’ve found that a lot of everyday problems can be broken down to that level: just asking what you need to do, and asking what you need to pay to do it.

Bottom line: it’s got my top vote for the Hugo Award, and it probably would no matter what other books it was running against. Any other year, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice would probably be my favorite, but The Wheel of Time has had a huge impact on me.

Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

written by David Steffen

Most people who spend a lot of time around geeks like myself are familiar with the term “redshirt”. It is relevant here, so for the benefit of anyone who isn’t aware, I’ll briefly explain. The term “redshirt” refers to a “cannon fodder” character in a piece of fiction who exists strictly for the purpose of killing in order to raise the stakes. In the original Star Trek TV series the main recurring characters of the show were often accompanied by acting extras who frequently died in some way that illustrated the dangers of the particular planet they were visiting that week. According to Wikipedia, 73% of crew deaths in the original series wore red shirts.

Looking back on the series, the redshirt cannon fodder members of the crew are kind of funny, particularly to an SF geek who likes to obsess about things and look for patterns. But it wouldn’t be so funny if you were one of those crew members, having gone through Academy training and getting stationed on an exploratory vessel just to get eaten by random planetary fauna.

The prologue is a scene that feels like a straight up parody of Star Trek, with a redshirt POV character meeting a quick and gruesome fate. This is what Scalzi read at MiniCon that had the audience on a constant roll of laughter. The excerpt ends with one of the officers saying “…this and other recent missions have seen a sad and remarkable loss of life. Whether they are up to our standards or not, the fact remains: We need more crew.”

The main characters of the main story of this book are the redshirt type of expendable crew members on an Enterprise-like exploratory vessel, part of a branch new batch of hires that are a result of the aforementioned recent rush of crew deaths. Our main character is Ensign Andrew Dahl who has just recently signed on to the starship Intrepid as a member of the xenobiology department. Early on he meets other new crew members who were hired on as part of the hiring run.

As they start getting acquainted with their positions on the ship, they start noticing bizarre patterns to crew behavior. The subject of away teams carries an ominous weight, which likely has something to do with the fact that all of these new hires were taken on to replace crew members who have met sudden and gruesome deaths on such missions. The longer-standing crew members have a knack for mysteriously disappearing whenever the senior officers pass by, and for some reason neither the Universal Union or even the press show much interest in the ridiculously high mortality rate among crew members. Something screwy is going on here, and they need to find out what before they all become victims.

From the prologue and the first chapters, I had thought this was simply a parody of Star Trek for strictly comic effect. As the book went on, I’m not sure that’s how I would describe. It certainly has elements of parody, and mentions Star Trek specifically by name, but the story takes the redshirt characters’ plight seriously even though the situations and circumstances around them are ludicrous so that I would describe it as an action-adventure SF drama in a setting with parody elements. Which is cool, there’s a nice mix of flavors here of comedy but of real human stakes and tragedy. The ludicrousness of the situation is recognized by the characters themselves, and makes their potential deaths all the more tragic, because no matter if you are afraid of death or not no one wants to die a pointless ludicrous death.

It’s quite a difficult bog of a situation these characters are mired in, kind of science fictional, very meta as it the characters realize early on that their situation is not normal. I liked this main plot and I liked the resolution of it, which it turned out ended about 2/3 of the way through the pages of the book. After that are three codas, which I haven’t quite settled on a firm like or firm dislike for. Coda I is in first person, Coda 2 is in second person, Coda 3 is in third person. The first coda was written about a writer writing about writing–a trope which has been way too well worn by many authors that it has to be something really special. Which it wasn’t. Not surprisingly, I hate the style of the second person story as I always find that method of telling to be gimmicky and distracting. This is no exception. That section alone made me feel like John Scalzi was filling the rest of his pages were more than a bit self-indulgent, more of a writer’s exercise than a book. The actual story told in the Coda 2 was good, but the style was bad. The third coda was good all around and ended on a particularly well done tone.

So, generally I’d recommend Redshirts on the merits of the main plot of the story. Particularly for any Star Trek fans or people who like some weird twisty plot situations. The codas after the main story were a bit hit and miss, and could’ve used a little less self-indulgent writer style and a little more straightforward storytelling, but their content is still worth reading them for.