Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas

By: John Scalzi

Anyone who’s been attuned to the world of science fiction for very long knows exactly what a redshirt is.  For those of you who don’t, it’s a term applied to the ensigns on Star Trek who would join the officers on away missions.  Invariably, they would then die while on those away missions.

It’s with a serious nod to the idea of the “redshirt” that Scalzi wrote Redshirts.  It’s a story about a new recruit.  The new recruit is, of course, an ensign.  Quickly, he finds that there are some very strange things going on aboard his ship.  His crewmates seem to always find a way to be busy elsewhere when an officer is on the way to find “volunteers” for an away team.  And, more often than not, someone from that away team dies.  He and his friends dig into the phenomena and find something that is deeper than any of them could have imagined.

I can’t go on with the plot without giving away some major spoilers, so that’ll have to suffice to get you started.  The writing is typical Scalzi.  Well thought out, and not so full of technical jargon that it makes it hard for anyone but a scientist to read.  In fact, if there’s one thing that I like about Scalzi’s writing is that it’s not complicated, and reads very easily.  It makes it quick and enjoyable.  The structure of the book, a novel with three codas, is a bit odd.  Parts of me wonders if the “novel” part was a bit short for the publishers liking, and so Scalzi added in the codas to flesh it out some.  It’s possible that it was meant to be that way all along as some sort of experiment on Scalzi’s part too.  Either way, I found it odd.

Overall, the book was a fun read, with plenty of sci-fi humor and a good story and plot to help it along.  If you’ve enjoyed any of Scalzi’s Old Man’s War novels, you’ll likely enjoy this one too.


Fuzzy Nation

Fuzzy Nation

By: John Scalzi

In interest of disclosure, I was sent a review copy of this book by Tor, the publisher.  I’ll try my best to keep that out of the review.  I won’t make any such claims about my author-love of John Scalzi.  Got it?  Free book, no sway.  Author-love, sway.

Fuzzy Nation is, as Scalzi says, a “reboot” of Piper’s Little Fuzzy.  I’ve never read the original by Piper, so I can’t really speak to whether Fuzzy Nation takes a huge detour from the original or not, nor can I compare the two.  What I can tell you though is that it is a terrific story.  The plot cruises along and Scalzi does a wonderful job of hiding the motivations and important plot twists from the reader until they are absolutely necessary.  The writing, typical to Scalzi, is short on elaborate description and long on action and dialogue.  Neither of those, in my opinion, is a bad thing.  It lends to a book that reads quickly, and keeps the reader turning pages, and, also is what has gotten the name John Scalzi associated with the term “Bestselling”.

Having not read the original, I don’t know how much credit to give to Scalzi for the story itself.  Whether a majority of it came from Piper, or, from Scalzi, it was good.  A classical morality sci-fi tale about finding sentient life on a otherwise non-sentient planet and the reactions of those who would rather it stayed a non-sentient planet.

I think that, if you’re read the original, you really should read this “reboot”.  Really, even if you haven’t, you should read it anyways!  Another great novel from John Scalzi!

P.S. The original, “Little Fuzzy”, is available for free at Amazon for Kindle.

ADDED: Fuzzy Nation also has it’s own Power Ballad Rock Song by Paul and Storm.

The God Engines

The God Engines

By: John Scalzi

This is a very action/event driven book.  There’s very little of the thoughts of the characters being brought into play.  That lends itself to the short (novella) length, but takes away from the overall story.  Without giving any spoilers, the ending is a bit dismal, and I would have liked to have had the insight of the protagonists thoughts on the happenings.

It’s a very quick read.  The copy that I have is a first from Subterranean Press, which is a small custom press up in Michigan.  Unfortunately, the proofreading was a bit lacking in the development process.  There were a handful of grammatical errors throughout.  They didn’t take away from the story any, but were enough to make me pause while reading to make sure I figured out what was really said/meant.

The basic plot, spaceships that have captive gods for engines, is an interesting one.  I couldn’t help but think that the story was a bit of a narrative on religion by Scalzi.  I found the play between the characters to be well done, but I knew it would be as it always has been in everything that I’ve read by Scalzi.

Overall, the length of the book was a bit disappointing, but who am I to question the authors decision there.  If anything that just means that it was good enough that I wanted more.  An interesting concept, well written.  If you can get your hands on a copy, it’s worth the read.

The Last Colony

The Last Colony (Old Man’s War, Book 3)

By: John Scalzi

In many cases, a series of books is great up until you get to the last book whereupon it falls flat on it’s face as the author struggles to find a way to end it properly.  Luckily, Scalzi didn’t have this problem with this book.  The Last Colony finds a fitting ending to the Old Man’s War trilogy, tying up all of the characters and story lines in a tidy manner.

Like every other Scalzi book that I’ve read, this one was easy to read and flowed along naturally.  The characters that we grew to know in the first two books matured further within the covers and the universe expanded well.  As the title gives away, John and Jane, along with their adopted daughter, Zoe, find themselves as part of the establishment of a new colony.  The last human colony as it turns out.  At least in this story line.  Of course, much like everything else the CU does in each of these books, nothing is as it seems.  Quickly, the heat is turned up and we see John and Jane back in action again.

Scalzi leads us through some interesting reveals and plot twists throughout.  There were one or two that were a bit self-evident, but easily forgiven as the foreshadowing was done skillfully.

Overall, a good finish to the storyline.  I look forward to reading Zoe’s Tale, the fourth book in the series.  It takes place, roughly, in the same time-line as The Last Colony, but ends before The Last Colony does.  If you haven’t read any of this series, and are a fan of SF, you really need to get Old Man’s War and read them.  There’s a reason that Scalzi has the names Hugo and Campbell next to his name in most cases.

Just Write

There’s always a ton of writing advice floating around the internet, and there is certainly no shortage of books on writing.  I touched on that a little the other day in talking about a post by John Scalzi. One thing that they almost always have in common is the advice that you “just have to write”.  Always be writing.

In all honesty, I should be the last one spouting this advice about.  I’m one of those people who hasn’t made it a priority to find make the time to write. That’s the core difference I think.  If  you think of it as “finding” the time to write, you won’t.  If you, instead, think of it as making the time to write, you have a much better chance of actually doing some writing.  What you write, I think, doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that you wrote.  If, at the very least, you use a daily writing prompt of some sort to push you to write, that is a start.  It’s something.

Does it work?  Sure it does.  Looking back at my experience during NaNoWriMo last year, I can say for sure that it does work.  I won.  I wrote over 50,000 words in the month of November 2009.  Since then, when I didn’t have that extra little bit of external push?  I don’t have an official count, but my guess would be something around 10,000 words.  In eleven months.  Why?  Because I haven’t made the effort to write something everyday like I did during NaNo.

As November creeps closer this year, I’m beginning to prepare for NaNo again.   Things are busier this year, and I have a number of ready made excuses for not hitting that 50,000 mark.  But, I’m going to do it.  And then, I’m going to try and finish the year off strong.  Maybe not with a 50k a month writing habit, but maybe something like 10,000 words a month.  That’s less than 350 words a day.  I know that on a slower day in November I easily wrote 1000 words.  I can do it.

If you’re serious about becoming a writer, you’ve got to write regularly.  Make the commitment to it.  Do something like NaNo.  November is a busy month, so if it won’t work for you, try it in January or February.  Bust your word processors balls and write 50,000 words in a month.  I think you’ll be surprised where you make time to write.

The Ghost Brigades

The Ghost Brigades (Old Man’s War #2)

By: John Scalzi

Old Man’s War Review

When I finished Old Man’s War, I immediately put my order in for The Ghost Brigades.  I’m glad that I did.  This is the second book that I’ve read by Scalzi, and I have not been dissappointed.  Enough so, that I ordered a copy of The God Engines and will have The Last Colony on it’s way fairly soon.  Scalzi has an incredible mastery of the English language.  One that is a wonderful pleasure to read.  Many times, I find myself stopping and thinking about what little twist of the wording he used and how I would have never thought to have put it that way.  But, once you’ve seen it that way, you can’t imagine it any other way.  But, enough about the author.  Let’s talk about the book.

When we leave Old Man’s War, the protagonist (one of) is retiring and moving on to a colony while his love ends up in the Ghost Brigades.  The Ghost Brigades is the nickname given to the special forces who are direct clones that have been heavily modified.  They don’t have an existing “soul” like the realborn soldiers and as such, many of the ethical roadblocks are eliminated.  They are able to test new modifications, and send them places that not even the realborn would bother to go.

We pick up at the beginning of this book with an important meeting of some commanders in the CDF (Colony Defense Forces), in respect to a dead scientist that isn’t really dead.  Seems he built a clone of himself and then staged a suicide, so that he could defect to help three alien races combine forces to declare a unified war on the human race.  And with that, we’re off and running.  The book follows the short life of Jared, a special forces soldier from his “birth” to his death.  Along the way, we learn a great deal about the relationship between the realborn soldiers and the special forces, and why the special forces are separated from the rest of the forces.  Much like Old Man’s War, Scalzi touches on several topics of ethical nature as well as what it would mean to have an adult consciousness while you’re still only a year or two old.

Ghost Brigades is only about 50 pages longer than Old Man’s War, and is just as quick a read.  The tempo of the novel is steady, with no slow spots.  As I noted, the writing is wonderful.  And even without the great story to back it up, the book would be worth reading for the writing alone.  But, Ghost Brigades is one of those select few books that has both.  In fact, all of Scalzi’s novels I’ve read have that.  I highly recommend that you pick up Old Man’s War (if you haven’t) and start there and then move quickly on to The Ghost Brigades.  Especially if you like science fiction.

Old Man’s War

Old Man’s War

By: John Scalzi

Truthfully, science fiction has been pretty sparse in my reading list as of late.  Instead, it’s been laden with lots of fantasy.  I’m not going to complain.  If it hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have discovered books like Name of the Wind.  But, my roots are in science fiction.  I cut my roots on Asimov’s robot series’ before moving on to some of the more delicate stuff by the likes of Heinlein.  (By delicate, I mean what I consider to be not hard scifi.) So, with a mind to read more of the science fiction side of the scifi/fantasy realm, I began a search for some of the better scifi writers out there.  Inevitably, Scalzi’s name came up.  And with it, the Old Man’s War series, of which Old Man’s War is the first.

From the back cover blurb:

John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

It’s obvious, then, where the title comes from.  It’s a tale of the old, their lives used up on Earth, joining the Colonial Defense Forces in hopes of a renewed youth.  With only the vaguest of rumors promising a better (not old) life, the senior citizens join the CDF and become the fighting force of the future.  The story follows John Perry through his enlistment, into the “changes” that are made to him and the other recruits, and then on into battle and beyond.

You’ll read everywhere that Scalzi’s writing is comparable to Heinlein’s writing.  True.  Scalzi has a way with the written word that solidifies the story and leads the reader on.  It creates a story that is easy to read and that you want to keep reading until it’s done.  The story is much less about the actual science behind it all, although it gets a fair bit of billing, and more about the human response to the science.  We’re taken on a journey as people who have already lived a full life on Earth are, essentially, given a new life adjust to their surroundings and overcome their preconceived notions about what can and can’t be done.  It carries on into their life as troops, but with action scenes that are quickly overshadowed by the undercurrent of humanity.  (I’m sounding a bit syrupy, I know.)  Nevertheless, if you are looking for a spectacularly written science fiction novel for no other reason than good science and well written battles, you won’t be disappointed.

What I found most impacting is the realism that Scalzi gives the story.  There are no smoke and mirrors, but instead, we are shown how it really might be; Blood, Guts, and Gore.  There are few cookie cutter elements in a science fiction novel that are more horrible than the eminently evil space alien.  Scalzi does well in avoiding that trap and several others.

Overall, the novel is a good to great science fiction novel.  It’s an excellent novel in total.  The one downside that I felt was that it was a bit short.  Part of this is likely due to it’s paltry 320 pages as compared to some of the 600+ page fantasy epics that I’ve been reading lately.  But, I also felt that there were some elements that could have been expounded on.  Either way, I’ll be picking up the next book (Ghost Brigades) and reading it.  In fact, it’s already on it’s way via Paperbackswap!