Redshirts and recklessness – my recent reading

Posted: November 1, 2014 in reading
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve been reading some pretty cool stuff recently. I don’t seem to have time for full posts on any of it, but here’s a few things you might enjoy…

Redshirts by John Scalzi

Imagine if all those Star Trek extras who get killed on away missions realised how much danger they were in. Then imagine them trying to make sense of the weekly horror and terrible fatality rate that is their lives. That’s what this book is about.

Redshirts is odd stylistically. There’s almost no description, just a lot of dialogue and occasional action. That lack of description adds to the sense of anonymous people caught up in their terrible anonymous fate, as well as letting you imagine the trappings of your favourite scifi show as the backdrop to their lives. It’s the sort of meta-textual game that’s intriguing for a stand-alone novel but wouldn’t stand up to a series, and I’m perfectly happy with that.

If you’re a Star Trek fan or enjoy watching a writer play stylistic games then it’s well worth your time. If not you might find it a little frustrating. But if I have more than three readers who never watcher Trek then I’ll eat my hat. Or at least a hat shaped cake.


The Thief Trilogy by David Tallerman

I wrote a whole post about why I enjoyed the first book in this series, and it turns out that the rest live up to its promise. It’s a fantasy world without much of the wizz-bang magic stuff, in which the main fantasy elements are an invented country and some loveable giants. Thief and protagonist Easie Damasco continues to do the right thing against his own better judgement, and in the process follows a nice character arc from selfish prat to something at least vaguely akin to a hero.

This is a fast moving, action packed series with a certain wry humour to it and a nicely developed setting. The likeable supporting characters help to carry the reader through despite Easie’s initially despicable attitude to life, and the giants in particular are surprisingly loveable. Even Easie is hard not to like, with his sense of humour up there with his sense of self-preservation, and the clear hints from the start that he sort of wants to do the right thing, however much he protests against it. I’m going to miss these guys now the story’s done.

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

If the art of the short story lies in succinctly portraying a single fascinating idea then Chiang has it nailed. Stories of Your Life and Others was something I only picked up as part of a reading group, and that I then fell far too far behind in reading to take part in the discussion, which is particularly vexing because these are fascinating ideas, from digging through the vault of heaven to trying to learn the language of a previously unknown alien species. The characters have emotional depth, the settings and events are interesting, but because it’s short stories I didn’t have the constant page-turning thrill of a longer work where you keep wanting to know what will happen next. Recommended for the cool concepts and self-contained emotional journeys, but if you’re anything like me you’ll read it over weeks of dipping in for one story, not in an over-excited binge.


NaNoWriMo update

Day one and I haven’t done my daily writing yet, but I’m sure I will. I just wish that I’d gotten round to planning chapter one in advance, or even coming up with decent names for the characters at the planning stage. I can’t write a half dozen scenes about Cardinal Cardinalface.

On Thursday I counted up all the fiction writing I’ll be doing in November. Between NaNoWriMo, a heavy freelance workload and my flash Friday stories, I need to write around 185,000 words of fiction to hit my goals this month. Plus about 15,000 words of non-fiction for this blog and another ongoing freelance gig. That’s a pretty staggering 200k in total. What’s even more staggering is that in theory it’s doable.

If I can do this then I can do anything I set my mind to, which I guess is the attitude NaNo is meant to foster. Have at you word count!

How are the rest of you getting on with NaNo? And having read my book recommendations, do you have any of your own that you’d like to share?

  1. peritract says:

    I’ve yet to read “Redshirts”, but I am quite attached to the Jonathan Coulton song of the nearly same name – “Redshirt” (, which is apparently inspired by the book.

  2. J.W. Kurtz says:

    I read perhaps 75% of this book before I put it on semi-eternal standby. I really wanted to like it. The idea was intriguing and I loved nearly all the previous works of Scalzi. He is the heir apparent to the throne vacated by Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, Heinlein, and Dick (and sometime Haldeman – I wish he had more like The Forever War, Camouflage, and The Guardian). But this one missed the mark for me. Still love his work.

    • What was it about Redshirts that missed the mark for you? And what would you recommend reading next of his books – this is the first one I’ve read.

      • J.W. Kurtz says:

        I didnt like the alternate reality tv show thing. It was just…not my cup of tea. I may finish it one day. I’d recommend you start with Old Mans War and read through that series. Now that is Scalzi and it set the bar pretty high for him.

        • Will add Old Man’s War to my ‘to read’ list. I’m not surprised to find that Redshirts doesn’t suit every reader who picks it up – it’s odd, and there are some really big turns in tone and what the story’s about. I like stories that play games with the writer-character relationship, but that’s really a different genre from sf, and mashing them together is great for readers who like both, but risky for those who are after one particular thing.

  3. Sara Norja says:

    ” I just wish that I’d gotten round to planning chapter one in advance, or even coming up with decent names for the characters at the planning stage. I can’t write a half dozen scenes about Cardinal Cardinalface.”

    Haha, my feelings exactly! I’m writing in a secondary world, so I can’t just get away with calling people John and Mary either. *sigh* My characters will all get random keyboard smashy names till I edit the novel, then…

  4. I’ve been away this week, and didn’t plan for NaNoWriMo as well as I’d have liked. For names, my main characters have names, the others are “NPC##”, each with a unique number. When I get a name for each one, I’ll just search & replace to insert the names.

  5. Sheila Thomas says:

    Thank you for the recommendations; something for my future wish list. I am trying to decide whether doing the NaNoWriMo challenge at the same time as real paying work is courageous or mad, and veering towards the latter – good luck!

  6. I always want to do NaNo, but I’m eternally hip-deep in my series and I can’t seem to concentrate on two worlds at once. So usually I just note my month’s progress on the current work and compare it to NaNo’s goals. Some day…

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