unknown's Reviews > Redshirts

Redshirts by John Scalzi
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it was ok
bookshelves: 2012, audiobooks, meta, sci-fi-fantasy, book-club, wssfbc

I was going to write a review for this one, but then I realized I could basically just cut and paste my review of Agent to the Stars, changing relevant details like "plot" and "character names" and just keeping everything else exactly the same. Because this book, like all of Scalzi's books except maybe Old Man's War and the two Old Man's War books I didn't read because I didn't really like the second book, suffers (or maybe benefits, I don't know, apparently people love this dude) from being written by John Scalzi. More specifically, John Scalzi, Popular Blogger and Honorary President of Internet Nerds.

The plusses of being a book written by John Scalzi: you probably have a good premise, you can be read in about three hours, and you are probably going to sell pretty well. The negatives: you won't be as funny as you think you are, the cleverness of your premise will be worn thin even at a three-hour reading length, and all of your characters will sound exactly the same as not only each other, but all of the characters in all of John Scalzi's novels (more specifically, they will sound like a blog post by John Scalzi). Oh, also on the downside, Wil Wheaton will narrate you as an audiobook, which is bad news not only because you don't work very well as an audiobook (unless your listeners like it when every single line of dialogue is attributed, even during long, quippy back-and-forths, though I guess you could argue it is necessary since everyone sounds the same), but because Wil Wheaton is kind of shockingly terrible as a reader of audiobooks (though he does make all the characters sound the same, so maybe that's intentionally meta).

Speaking of meta: this book is very in love with itself, especially the second half, and especially especially the three codas, which are kind of infuriating, if only because they reveal how lazy of a writer Scalzi is: he hints that there is this deeper level beyond his story, one worth exploring, even though he didn't bother writing a story interesting enough to make me care to do it.

Because Scalzi is kind of lazy. I mean, the incredibly hard-working kind of lazy, where you get everything done, but you get it done just enough, and you think it doesn't matter because your boss didn't notice, or your teacher doesn't grade very hard and you got an A anyway, or you are a really nice guy and your fans are going to praise everything you do regardless of quality (hi, Joss Whedon!).

I mean, consider: all the problems in this book, from the samey characters to the limp plot to the unearned sentimentality to the not-very-funny funny dialogue, could probably have been cleared up with, I don't know, another draft or two. But Scalzi is very busy being Scalzi, so he wrote this one in five weeks (because NaNoWriMo just isn't enough time to do a thorough job), sent it off to his editor, and proceded to write 11 blogs posts and attend five comic book conventions before finally dropping into bed, exhausted, but confident that his teacher was probably still going to give him that A, because he's a really nice guy and always makes funny comments in class.

And, judging by his NYT best-seller status, he got that A! But not from me.
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Reading Progress

July 12, 2012 – Started Reading
July 12, 2012 – Shelved
July 12, 2012 – Shelved as: 2012
July 12, 2012 – Shelved as: audiobooks
July 12, 2012 – Shelved as: meta
July 12, 2012 – Shelved as: sci-fi-fantasy
July 12, 2012 –
page 158
49.38% "this is pretty scalzi so far. pretty, pretty scalzi."
July 13, 2012 – Finished Reading
November 30, 2014 – Shelved as: book-club
November 30, 2014 – Shelved as: wssfbc

Comments Showing 1-39 of 39 (39 new)

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message 1: by Terry (new)

Terry Yeah. I really don't get the Scalzi-love myself.


seak Awesome review. Now THAT was funny. Maybe the Scalz could learn a thing or two. :D

I've been meaning to read more, read OMW and Metatropolis but just haven't gone back. It may be because I keep reading these types of reviews from people I trust.


unknown Seak (Bryce L.) wrote: "Awesome review. Now THAT was funny. Maybe the Scalz could learn a thing or two. :D"

i think scalzi is pretty happy keeping on as he is. he's also still very likable, which just makes me wish i liked his books a little more.

of course, he did write a long blog post about how it is ok not to read his books, so maybe i should take his advice.

if people would just stop being so excited about them!


seak Thanks for linking that post, very interesting, but I think some of the comments were spot on and hit on the reason why we're members of Goodreads - we gotta be able to talk about what everyone's talking about.

I think he should be wary with those kinds of posts though. While he says he's fine with people not liking his work, is he really? I doubt it, although I know he knows it's inevitable. You just never want to go into (or get close to) the territory of being the author complaining about negative reviews.


message 5: by unknown (last edited Jul 17, 2012 01:00PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

unknown i think it was a response to the fact that the reviewer was fairly prominent (former editor of the science-fiction book club) and had apparently been lukewarm on several scalzi books and reviewed them as such.

but yeah, it's hard to be "up" on the genre without reading scalzi. he's definitely in the top tier of writers right now, at least in terms of visibility beyond core SF readers. he has a lot of crossover into the whedon crowd that, say, alastair reynolds will never have. (patrick rothfuss is similarly placed in the fantasy sphere, though his blog isn't nearly as good.)

but yeah, i found the blog very on the edge. it's kind of passive-aggressive and self-serving. like "don't worry about me, i have plenty of fans. you can go ahead and ignore me on your little blog." i mean, i don't think that's what he meant to say. but it's kind of there.


Linguana Aaaah, thank you so much for saying this.
I'm currently reading Redshirts and I was wondering if I'm the only person alive who doesn't adore Scalzi just for being Scalzi.
Old Man's War was fun, sure, but not very memorable.

And this is pure trash so far. Characters are interchangable with each other (male and female also) and with characters from Scalzi's other novels. Dialogues are really, really bad but good enough to understand that they're trying to be funny. And there is NO description. NaNoRiMo is nice and all but shouldn't a writer, especially an NYT bestselling writer, have enough pride and honor to at least publish something that does not make fun of his readers? Cause I feel like he's laughing at me, thinking: What? You paid for this shit? Haha. Joke's on you.

And he'd be absolutely right. So why does everybody treat him like a god? Did I miss something??

Sorry about that rant. I really just wanted to say: Great review!


unknown thanks for the comment. what's really frustrating is when you get to the codas, suddenly he's actually writing real characters and putting in more description and taking more care with the prose and dialogue.

which just goes to show you that he has the talent, but usually doesn't expect much of himself or his audience.


message 8: by Leslie (new) - added it

Leslie I'm still going to read the book, but this review gets 5 stars from me.( Except for the Joss Whedon bit, I'm still enamored)


message 9: by Josh (new) - added it

Josh Joel wrote: "i think it was a response to the fact that the reviewer was fairly prominent (former editor of the science-fiction book club)..."

What I found especially ridiculous is that when I mentioned in a comment, "Hey, if you want to know what [reviewer] thinks, just ask him," Scalzi deleted the comment, and pretended like that wasn't who he was talking about. When it pretty clearly was. Okay man, whatever.


unknown Josh wrote: "What I found especially ridiculous is that when I mentioned in a comment, "Hey, if you want to know what [reviewer] thinks, just ask him," Scalzi deleted the comment, and pretended like that wasn't who he was talking about. When it pretty clearly was. Okay man, whatever."

well, to be fair, i am basing my comments on your comment and the follow-up from the blogger. i don't know why john is being cagey. maybe he doesn't want people to gang up on the blogger.


message 11: by Phoebe (new)

Phoebe For awhile, it seemed like he was tweeting about negative reviews an awful lot. Always in a, "Oh, I'm not complaining, but gettaloadathis" kind of way. It's always odd to me which authors can get away with that--often charismatic dudes--and which ones have the hammer of the public come down on them hard for engaging.


Patrick Fox I agree that the rapid fire attributed dialogue didn't lend itself all that well to an audiobook format.

But, on the whole, I really enjoyed it.


message 13: by Joel (new) - rated it 3 stars

Joel You summed up my feelings for this better than my own review did. This is my first Scalzi book. It may be my last as well.


unknown thanks!

i agree with your review too -- dave barry is an excellent comparison to scalzi.


Audrey The paragraph where you describe Scalzi sounds like Scalzi describing the head writer in the book! ;>


unknown Audrey wrote: "The paragraph where you describe Scalzi sounds like Scalzi describing the head writer in the book! ;>"

maybe he was being really meta...


Daniel Bensen Are you me? Because you said exactly what I was thinking, down to wondering whether Wheton was making all the voices the same on purpose.


message 18: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Even though I liked this more than you did (I think it being my first exposure to Scalzi probably helped), I agree with pretty much all of your points and think this is a great and very useful review. Nicely done.


message 19: by Tim (new) - rated it 1 star

Tim I am so happy that the public library had both Redshirts and Old Man's War. That way Scalzi can only laugh about the time I spent reading. And that isn't really bad, still better than watching a Twilight movie.


Gabriel This was my first Scalzi book, and it need not be said that I will probably not be trying another for the exact reasons in this review.


Jaime the Wizzard " he hints that there is this deeper level beyond his story, one worth exploring, even though he didn't bother writing a story interesting enough to make me care to do it."

THIS SO MUCH. I feel like he could have kept going with the conversation Dahl had with whatshisface (Jimmy something?) at the end of the novel. It really bugs me that he had his story tied up in a neat little bow and then had to tack that bit of nonsense at the end with no hints or clues as to what the true story really is. Why even bring it up if you're not going to do anything interesting with it?


Michael I totally agree, but my review was much more succinct because I am lazy. I gave it three stars, because I at least finished it. Usually when I give a book one star it means it's so abysmally bad that I cannot finish it.


Standback Sir, you got all of my criticisms dead on the nose.

Because Scalzi is kind of lazy. I mean, the incredibly hard-working kind of lazy, where you get everything done, but you get it done just enough, and you think it doesn't matter because your boss didn't notice, or your teacher doesn't grade very hard and you got an A anyway


You know, I've just finished the first coda, and I'm somewhat weirded out by Scalzi preaching directly against quick, "good-enough" writing. It doesn't seem quite in character.


unknown maybe he is being reeeeeally meta.


George "what's really frustrating is when you get to the codas, suddenly he's actually writing real characters and putting in more description and taking more care with the prose and dialogue.

which just goes to show you that he has the talent, but usually doesn't expect much of himself or his audience"

That is so true. It is clear from the Codas and from say, the opening chapter of Old Man's War that Scalzi has the talent to write really terrific prose that develops characters and paints a picture with words, but that on the main he gets by with rushing through the plot and where he wants to go without spending enough time to really hone it to a high quality.


James Dang, you just broke through my rose tinted glasses when it comes to the simple fun that is scalzi. I suppose I will just have to go back to Stephenson. :(


message 27: by Ketan (new) - added it

Ketan Shah Great review. You're spot on about how all of the characters seem to have that same glib voice,and the supposedly witty repartee starts to fall flat when you can't tell who's speaking. I find the same happened thing to Mike Resnick in his later novels. Everyone acting kind of smarmy with dailogue that wears it welcome very quickly. I found the premise interesting but it probably would have worked better as a novella or short story. While the 3 codas brought some much needed humanity and feeling to the novel they still felt tacked on.


message 28: by Squee (new) - rated it 1 star

Squee "...he hints that there is this deeper level beyond his story, one worth exploring..."

There IS a deeper level of meta in this book, but I found it rather distasteful. Paulson's son's injuries echo those of Gene Roddenberry's daughter Darleen. In real life, she died, but in the novel Paulson's son is saved by Star Trekish woo-woo. I've seen no mention of this parallel anywhere but my own review and I suspect (and hope) that it was unintended, but it really soured the whole thing for me after playing spot-the-reference through the entire book.


message 29: by Glee (new)

Glee Didn't read this one - read Fuzzy Nation, and that was enough, thank you very much. Not nearly as clever (or thorough) as yours, but in solidarity, here's my review of that Scalzi book:

"Too cute by half. Or more. Really wanted to like it - actually liked the plot, but nothing very original there. The dialog was just a tad off - the kind of snark I usually like, but just... off. Sort of like harmonizing a half note sharp (or flat, depending on your inclination). At any rate, instead of being clever, over time it became grating.

Some of the blame belongs with the narrator, however. As cute as Wil Wheaton was as Wesley Crusher and the kid in Stand By Me, it just doesn't translate for me here. I think it is because he doesn't (maybe isn't able to?) vary his modulation, pitch, or speech with different characters."


message 30: by Glee (new)

Glee Hmmm. This thread was from 2012 or so. How come it popped up in my Goodreads updates today? You or some wonderful new Goodreads glitch??


message 31: by Glee (new)

Glee OK, I'm officially an idiot. Fuzzy Nation circa 2012, this is Agent to the Stars.... AND I managed to hit the want to read button..exterminate, exterminate.


S. K. Pentecost Brilliant analysis of Scalzi's style. I've only read one of his books, (also heavily derivative of mediocre sci fi,) and your "just enough" theory fills in almost every Why? that book made me ask of the universe with an upraised fist shake to the gods.


Emily THIS.


message 34: by Amanda (new) - added it

Amanda I remembered liking this book when I read it 5 years ago, but probably not as much as I like this review :D


FunkyPlaid I love you, j.


message 36: by Zach (new) - rated it 1 star

Zach Hall I hope you review John Scalzi books professionally for the rest of our days. Bravo.


Diana Sandberg The bit about every line attributed in the reading (blahblahblah, he said, blahblah, she said, blahblahblah, he said....ad infinitum) tickled me because when I first started listening to the audiobook, that drove me **crazy**. What's funny is that, after a while, my brain somehow managed to stop registering it. I had to ask myself, "Gee, did he stop doing that?" "Nope, still happening". Didn't know my brain could do that. Ha.


message 38: by Luiz (new) - rated it 3 stars

Luiz Fabricio It’s like you read my mind and improved my thoughts.


message 39: by Bill (new) - rated it 2 stars

Bill Dauterive I just finished the book and came to take a look at the thoughts of some other readers and your review perfectly sums up my thoughts on the book.

"The plusses of being a book written by John Scalzi: you probably have a good premise, you can be read in about three hours, and you are probably going to sell pretty well. The negatives: you won't be as funny as you think you are, the cleverness of your premise will be worn thin even at a three-hour reading length, and all of your characters will sound exactly the same as not only each other, but all of the characters in all of John Scalzi's novels (more specifically, they will sound like a blog post by John Scalzi)."

The book just seems lazy and ironic in that this book is exactly like the sci-fi show in the story, its poorly written and thinks its better than it is.

"Speaking of meta: this book is very in love with itself, especially the second half, and especially especially the three codas, which are kind of infuriating, if only because they reveal how lazy of a writer Scalzi is: he hints that there is this deeper level beyond his story, one worth exploring, even though he didn't bother writing a story interesting enough to make me care to do it."

Perfect. He really seems in love with himself and the book, and especially smug in the CODAs and the last chapter. I have to assume he thought they were very clever and showed off his writing prowess, but to me they only reinforced what I already thought of him---lazy and smug.


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