Audiobook Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

8 06 2012

Redshirts by John Scalzi

Read by Wil Wheaton

Audible Frontiers

Length: 7 Hrs 41 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Redshirts is the sort of accessible, fun science fiction that I feel should easily pull in readers who may have loved Star Trek, but don’t really consider themselves science fiction fans. It’s full of recognizable character archetypes, bizarre meta-concepts and just enough nostalgia to lead to hours of rousing discussions. Yet, it’s also a whole lot of actiony fun with robots, ray guns and space worms, and that is a good thing.

Grade: B+

Years ago when I was on vacation I was visiting some friends who were hardcore trekkies. Now, I like Star Trek. I really liked Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager. Yet, I liked it with the sane restraint of one not willing to adjust their whole philosophy of life to match up with the values taught by their favorite television program. My trekkie friends were a bit more enthusiastic. While at my friend house, I discovered a book called The Nitpickers Guide to Star Trek: TNG or something along that line. It was an episode by episode analysis of the inconstancies and continuity errors of the entire series. I was never much of a nitpicker. I expect inconsistencies in television. Sure, I always thought the alien parasite at Star Fleet Command episode fit uncomfortably into the overall story of the series, but typically, I was happy in my oblivion. Yet, I became obsessed with this book. I spent hours that weekend reading it, scoffing at something they called mistakes while also occasionally shocked I missed such obvious blunders. At the end though I realized, you know, I just want to be entertained. I don’t want to sit there, examining the show scene by scene, looking for flaws. I want my 48 minutes of fun, knowing by the end Picard would still be telling people to “make it so.” Maybe this is another thing that separates the causal fan from the Trekkie.

In Redshirts John Scalzi tells the story of those unsung heroes of the Star Trek franchise. Those characters that never will see their name in the opening credits. They don their red uniforms and head on away missions and seldom return. Yet, on the Intrepid, these lowly peons of dramatical sacrifice are beginning to figure out the score. They know that heading on an away mission with certain members of the bridge crew will lead to a painful and pointless death and one member of the crew is planning to do something about it. John Scalzi has become the king of the novelty novel, and to me, this is a good thing. Redshirts is an outrageously meta romp through classic science fiction, that will have the ultra serious hard science fiction fans pulling their hair out. Scalzi has found a way to take the standard “a wizard did it” excuse for poorly plotted fantasy and apply it to scifi with absurd results. Its fun, action filled and often times hilarious. Yet, despite all the craziness of the plot, Scalzi manages to pull it together in a bittersweet way. I’ll be honest with you, I had mixed feelings about the three codas. It’s one of those weird moments in literature where you both like and hate what and author does. I enjoyed it, and was frustrated by it at the same time, particularly in the ending of the overall base story. In some ways it was an authorial gut punch by Scalzi, and looking back at it has me asking frustrated by my unanswered questions. Yet, while I was in the midst of the listening experience, I enjoyed every minute. Redshirts is the sort of accessible, fun science fiction that I feel should easily pull in readers who may have loved Star Trek, but don’t really consider themselves science fiction fans. It’s full of recognizable character archetypes, bizarre meta-concepts and just enough nostalgia to lead to hours of rousing discussions. Yet, it’s also a whole lot of actiony fun with robots, ray guns and space worms, and that too is a good thing.

Wil Wheaton is not the greatest technical narrator, and there were a few, a few mind you, moments where Redshirts played into some of his weaknesses. Wheaton takes a minimalist approach to characterization, which usually works quite well in the concept heavy, action based science fiction he reads. He does well with unique characters, but the typically mundane characters tend to be read in slight versions of his natural voice. There were a couple dialogue intensive moments, full of he said/she saids that came off inorganic. This was a combination of a bit of clunkiness in the writing, and Wheaton’s approach. Also, early in the book, the names Dahl and Duvall had a sound a like quality that caused a bit of confusion. Sometimes, I wish writers would take things like that into consideration when naming characters, but not every author writes with the audio version in mind. Yet, all negatives aside, there is a reason why Wil Wheaton is one of my favorite narrators. Wil Wheaton uses his grasp of the material and understanding of the characters, and the writer’s intent, to bring the world created in Redshirts to vivid life. One of my major peeves when evaluating audiobooks is narrators inserting themselves into the narrative, yet, with Wheaton, it just works. I can’t help but imagine Andrew Dahl, without a bit of Wheaton in him. Wheaton chooses his audiobooks wisely, taking on roles that suit him and his skills. He bring a wry wit that highlights the absurdist nature of John Scalzi’s plot, and adds to the overall listening experience better than almost any narrator I can think of. Redshirts is the perfect blend of science fiction fun and nostalgia that will have an across the board appeal similar to Ernie Cline’s Ready Player One. You don’t have to be a huge scifi fan to enjoy Redshirts, but having a touch of the geek inside you won’t hurt.

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5 responses

8 06 2012
blarkon

I do wish that Wheaton had done more with the characterization – it detracted substantially from his otherwise excellent performance. I just listened to the Blue Remembered Earth audiobook and the narrator there seems to have spent a crazy amount of time providing each character wit unique speech patterns and tone.

8 06 2012
Dave Thompson

I pretty much agree. Enjoyed it immensely – it was fun and thoughtful. I also agree about the codas. The theme and conclusion of the first one, in particular, felt like it was going against the narrative. Though they were all well-written, and I thought the second one was particularly impacting.

All in all, a fun book – one I enjoyed, one I’m excited for my dad to read.

(Also – yeah, if they ever make this into a movie – Wheaton needs to be Dahl. Or maybe even Lt. Kerensky.)

9 06 2012
Redhead

Wil Wheaton narrates a Star Trek spoof, that sounds meta in and of itself.

“that will have the ultra serious hard science fiction fans pulling their hair out. ”

more than likely. It was a refreshing reminder to quit taking myself and all the stuff i read so seriously.

and YES. Wheaton needs to be in the movie. as kerensky!

10 06 2012
DevourerofBooks (@DevourerofBooks)

If someone hasn’t ever really watched Star Trek, do you think it would still be enjoyable?

17 06 2013
Audiobook Week – Choosing Audiobooks

[…] an audiobook, I take notice. I would have never listened to Astray were it not for Jen’s review. Bob’s review prompted me to pick up Redshirts. Tanya and I decided to read some Edith Wharton this year […]

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