The immediate answer to my angsty ‘wherefore reading?’ post of last week was, as it turns out, John Scalzi.
I’d read his post about how Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas was, among other things, a fast, accessible read. Since part of my picky-reader issue is, in fact, a bit of fatigue, this news hit me very much in the “Hey, sign me up!” place. And Redshirts was, indeed, one of those books one can blow through in a few hours.
It’s witty, breezy, full of delightful fannish in-jokes and has a good dose of the voice Scalzi uses on his blog, which is one of the things I find appealing about Whatever.
Redshirts isn’t the only work of fiction to explore the tropes of shows like Star Trek and its creative brethren. There’s Galaxy Quest, and James Alan Gardner’s excellent novel Expendable. (And I’m sure there are others I’m missing, so do sing out.) I laughed a lot as I read this book–it had all the sugary crunchy goodness of caramel corn.
Ultimately what I liked most about the book was not just the piss-take, as Scalzi calls it as its meta-story, which is all about writing. Bad writing specifically, or perhaps lazy storytelling. The issue in Redshirts isn’t that people die in fiction; it’s that it’s so easy, as a writer, to throw in the meaningless death of barely-named characters as a pretense to upping the emotional stakes of a story. The novel questions the blatant emotional manipulation of audiences, in other words. It lays out a proposition that contempt for our readers or viewers is pretty much contempt for ourselves as artists. So, you know, don’t.
Finally, I am such a one as enjoys clever metafiction in almost any reading situation. But I love seeing it deployed in SF, in a book that isn’t pretending to be anything but SF. If the poking of fun at the Trek tropes makes this popcorn, the play with reality and the writer/reader/viewer wall in this novel makes it the surprise appetizer popcorn you get in a gourmet restaurant, drizzled with truffle oil and maybe a bit of boutique buckwheat honey.