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Book Note: John Scalzi, Redshirts

I read this book about 28-Sep-2013. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 2012. This note was last modified Monday, 30-Sep-2013 15:45:58 PDT.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


Trapped in a TV show! A not very well-written TV show, even. With a direct call-out to Star Trek. Seems about right.

Redshirts is the winner of the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

Not a terribly original idea in some ways; L. Ron Hubbard's Typewriter In the Sky used it in 1940, for example (books, not TV). Heinlein's "world as myth" is even more closely related (appearing only in post-brain-eater works).

What happens here is that, sometimes, The Narrative takes hold of you, and requires you to behave in particular ways. Sometimes to say things you'd never thought about before, too.

They find a drastic solution—visit what turns out to be 2012, and convince the people making the show to go gentler on them. This requires luck; in fact it kind of requires The Narrative to take hold, thus introducing an infinite regress.

In Coda #1, a writer is dealing with the shock of being contacted by his characters. He's trying to figure out how to have a career, without abusing his characters so much.

The idea talking to other writers who have had the same experience is suggested, and he looks to find them by finding writers who visibly break the fourth wall in their works. The basic idea of finding somebody in the same situation to talk to is standard, but I think they miss an obvious point—a writer who successfully went through this experience and found a way to stay employed would show a sudden kink in the kind of writing they did. What he should do is look for such kinks; and when he finds them, he doesn't even have to talk to the writers, he can just adapt their methods. (Also, the writers who adapt by unleashing their inner sociopath are perhaps not the ones he wants to meet with.)

The codas play with first, second, and third person conjugation. I really hope this nonsense doesn't catch on.

The next two deal with people getting their lives together as a result of the experience, and some weird possible influence between worlds as the actor who played Jenkins and the actor who played his wife get together in the real world.

All in all, I find this a much more interesting book than its detractors made it out to be. I suppose that's not really a high bar; so I'll go further and say I enjoyed it a lot, and am not angry it won a Hugo (haven't read enough of the other nominees to know what I would have done myself as a voter).


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David Dyer-Bennet