I recently finished reading, well, listening, to a couple of fantastic novels on Audible. (I had a lot of car-driving time this last week.) I want to spend a little more on the absolutely amazing, beautiful, crazy novel, Redshirts, so I’ll discuss Year Zero first.
Year Zero is about the wacky hijinks of aliens, and their human copyright lawyer, trying to deal with the recent discovery that they owe the Earth literally the entire universe’s wealth in music licensing fees for all the music they’ve been pirating for the last 40 years. It was written by Rob Reid who is no stranger to the world of music and copyright law. The very, very absurd and ridiculous world of music and copyright law. This farcical and comedic novel is a perfect foil to point up just how comedic (in a black comedy sort of way) the reality of the subject is. In fact, the slowest parts of this fast-paced novel are where copyright law and licensing are discussed. But the thing is, the real subject — the revolving-door lobbying, the absurd legal penalties, the paranoid and spiteful barriers to licensing improvement — is so absurd that it actually doesn’t take away from the farcical fiction of the story.
One of the ups and downs of the book is just how much it tries, tries hard, to emulate Douglas Adams. Maybe not quite a “Hitchhiker’s Guide” novel, but at least a “Dirk Gently” novel. At times Reid handles it quite well and I laughed aloud at the pun or slapstick or wacky description, but much of the time, I listened with a small smirk the occasional eye-roll and groan. The novel bounces around from clever to silly to clever quite a bit, and the number of times aliens are depicted saying, “Well, duh!” got a little tired. …and then, like a Family Guy gag, it was to over-used that it almost became funny again.
In any case, it was a fun read, well written despite the groan-worthy puns. I hate puns!
And then there’s John Scalzi’s Redshirts. This was a huge surprise of a book! John Scalzi is a favorite author of mine, and an inspiration to my own writing. And based on the description of the novel and much of what I’d been hearing about it, I thought this was going to be a purely fun, action-packed, quirky romp. And, indeed, the first two-thirds certainly had a lot of that! But then, starting at the end of the main story and carrying through into the three codas, the book takes a very serious turn that left me both inspired and emotionally wracked. The codas are, from what I’ve read of his, the most sentimental (in the good way, not the sentimentality-bad way) stuff he’s written.
What’s funny (not in the ha-ha way), is that I did read some reviews of the novel before hand, to get an idea of the book before I bought it, trying to not spoil myself. And, I read a lot of comments saying that, “This is a great book! Until the stupid codas. They’re pointless and totally don’t fit.” A lot of those kind of comments. So, I was prepared to enjoy the satirical and fun first two-thirds of the main story, and then just kinda gloss over the rest. Whoa, was I wrong! No… boy are those comments absolutely wrong! See, despite the fact that most of the book is the story of a bunch or “red shirts” on a space shift figuring out newbies on the ship tend to die on away missions and figuring out how to overcome this apparent curse, that’s not the real story. In fact, I see that as the preface for the real story, which is the three codas! The sci-fi action story is a necessary setup for the themes and conflict that are dealt with in the codas which investigate the nature of finding yourself. Discovering who you are, what you want to be and do, and how you deal with the life you’re “given.”
I really can’t say more without spoilering the book. And this is a book that I highly and heavily recommend reading! It’s a short book, and very fast — you could probably read it all in a day and evening. I would recommend listening to the audiobook as Wil Wheaton (also no stranger to star ships and red shirts), does a fine job! Although, I don’t agree with some of his inflection and tone choices. Until He gets to the codas. Then, I can’t imagine anyone else reading it. He’s absolutely brilliant, and I’d recommend anyone listening through the first part in order to hear Wil Wheaton read the codas. He’s an actor, so very possibly the emotion I hear in his voice toward the end of the last coda is acting… but I don’t think so. I think, considering what and how he talks about his own life in his blogs, he’s truly feeling the emotion of that last coda, and it’s bringing tears to my eyes right now as I remember it.
Read Redshirts. Even if you’re not a sci-fi fan, even if you don’t think you’ll get the satire and the in-jokes. That’s okay. Remember, the main action story is just a prelude for some of the best contemporary literary fiction that is the core of the book.