Tag Archives: Sci-fi

For Those About to Die, We Salute You

Ensign Andy Dahl is excited to be assigned to the Intrepid, the flagship of the Universal Union fleet. At first. But once he’s on board, he discovers that something unusual is going on.  Nobody ever want to go on away missions because at least one low-ranking crew member always dies in horribly gruesome ways (Pulse gun vaporization! Giant sand worms!  ICE SHARK!).  The long-time crew members have come up with a system to minimize their chances of going on away missions, leaving the steady stream of new recruits to serve as cannon fodder.  Well Andy is just not satisfied with this and sets out to discover the truth about the Intrepid.  He finds a mysterious crew member who seems to have all the answers and I don’t want to ruin any of the surprise twists, but let’s just say that things get really fucking weird.  But really, like Princess Merida, he just wants to change his fate. Though no one turns into a bear.  Although considering everything else that happened, I wouldn’t have been surprised if that had happened.  Anyway, John Scalzi’s Redshirts (Tor 2012)  lovingly sends up Star Trek and those other ridiculous (and not so ridiculous) sci-fi shows that you grew up watching.  Or didn’t grow up watching. I don’t know your life.

I’ve been wanting to read a John Scalzi book for awhile.  I’m a big fan of his blog because (among many reasons) he gives great, practical advice about the publishing industry.  The problem is, I’m not the biggest fan of sci-fi novels.  No judgements, it’s just generally not my thing. But when I heard about this book, I knew that Redshirts would be my gateway to the Scalzi canon. For those of you who aren’t total geeks, redshirts is the fandom term for the glorified extras who die horrible deaths in order to raise the stakes for the regular cast members. The name derives from the original Star Trek series where all those doomed bastards wore, you guessed it, red shirts.  So from the title alone, I knew that I was in for a good time.

The book itself does not disappoint. It’s well-written, clever, and hilarious, but also has a lot more heart (without being schmaltzy) than I was expecting. And you can tell how much fun Scalzi is having with the story, which I found delightful. The plot is quite often ridiculous and the ending makes very little sense, but since that plays into the larger story being told, I think it works.  The three (!) codas are a tad self-indulgent, but since they flesh out some minor characters, I enjoyed them. And beyond the silliness, I think Scalzi plays with ideas about identity and individual autonomy. It makes for a deeper read.

I was able to not only follow along, but to appreciate all the twists, turns, and absurdities of the story, despite the fact that I’ve only seen maybe two episodes of Star Trek.  So I don’t think you necessarily need to be a big sci-fan to enjoy the novel, but I do think you need to be familiar with storytelling tropes in order to fully appreciate how Scalzi plays with and subverts narrative conventions. I personally love it when writers do that, so Redshirts gets a big thumbs up from me.  If you’re looking for a fun, fast, and absurd read, consider checking it out.

And what’s not to like about a book that has it’s own theme song:

Those costumes and special effects are amazing!

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Battlestar Galactica: The Teen Years

If you know me, then you know that I love Battlestar Galactica, which would explain why I had so much fun reading Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011).

***SPOILERS BELOW***

So you have a spaceship filled with what is left of humanity in search of New Earth when ANOTHER spaceship randomly shows up, just like when the Pegasus found the Galactica and everyone was like, “What the frak?! More people?! Maybe they are Cylons…” and then Admiral Cain ruins EVERYTHING because everyone knows that Commander Adama should be running the show… except there are no Cylons in Glow and it is a woman named Mather that ruins everything.

The book starts with Waverly and Kieran hanging out on the Empyrean, discussing the sudden appearance of The New Horizon. According to the plan, two ships left Earth in search of New Earth since humanity had utterly ruined the first planet that had. Jerks. The New Horizon left first and was later followed by the Empyrean. There were light years of distance between the two ships, so The New Horizon had to slow down significantly in order for the Empyrean to ever catch up with them. Which made everyone realize that they had to be there for an important reason… dun Dun DUN.

There was something about the space travel that made all of them women infertile. After years of tests, the Empyrean figured out a solution and let the other ship in on their new found science. Except they didn’t. The captain was kind of a huge asshole and sent the wrong formula to the other ship and made all of the women permanently sterile. Not a smart move considering that they got so pissed off that they slowed down their ship and waited and plotted for YEARS in a nebula for the Empyrean to show up so that they could kill all of the adults and kidnap the girl children, abandon the boy children and then steal the girls eggs so that they could impregnate themselves. What the frak?! It is almost as bad as when Starbuck was captured by Cylons and they stole her eggs and then on top of that, she found out that they were basically using human women as incubators while they tried to create little Cylon babies.

The book alternated between Apollo, I mean Kieran, and Waverly as they try and survive on the two different ships. I was all there with Waverly’s story. She was fighting for her life, trying to save the other girls and keep them from getting brainwashed, all the while knowing that 18 women on the ship were pregnant with her babies and that some of the adults from her ship (her mother included) were on board if she could only find them! She is a strong female character who makes mistakes and is flawed, but is a fighter and kind of sarcastic, which I appreciate.

Kieran on the other had is kind of meh. I didn’t dislike him, but I didn’t like him much either. He just is. His story line gets weird because he is clearly trying to make the best of an impossible situation, but ends up in the brig and they threaten to throw him out the air lock (why are people on spaceships always thrown in the brig? Are they Space Pirates?! And do spaceships ever have an airlock that is designated for throwing people out of it, because that seems to be the main form of punishment?!) because some huge asshole that we are supposed to feel sorry for, decides to take over and rule through fear and pain. Oh yeah, and there is supposed to be some kind of love triangle between violent jerk kid, boring teen and feisty girl. None of their actions made much sense to me. It wasn’t bad by any stretch, but I usually found myself rushing to get to the next Waverly chapter.

I won’t give away any more of the story, but I would definitely recommend it to sci-fi fans. All in all, it is only missing Cylons. The second book in the series, Spark,  will be out July 17, 2012 and I can’t wait to get my hands on it!


The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth

And by Earth, I mean OASIS, a virtual universe where all the pop culture ever created is readily available and anything is possible.  In Ready Player One (Random House 2011), people spend most of their time in OASIS in order to avoid the bleak hellscape that the real world has become due to poverty, pollution, and overpopulation(you know, standard dystopian fare).  People shop, go to school, work, and have fun all in this virtual reality.  But mostly, they search for the hidden Easter Egg.  See five years earlier, OASIS’ genius and anti-social creator James Halliday died leaving behind a trail of clues leading to the egg.  Find the three keys that open the three gates to collect the egg, and you will win Halliday’s billion dollar fortune and controlling interest in OASIS itself.  The clues all have to do with the pop culture that Halliday was obsessed with during his teenage years in the 1980s, so egg hunters, or gunters for short, start exhaustively studying everything from Pacman to John Hughes movies in hopes of gaining some insight into the search.  Years of fruitless searching pass by and people start to lose hope that the egg will ever be found until Wade Watts (aka Parzival), an overweight teen-aged hacker living in a trailer park in Oklahoma, stumbles upon the first key.  Now the whole world is watching, including the rival communications company that will do anything in order to control OASIS.  And by anything I mean murder, kidnapping, extortion, etc.  Because they’re eeeeevil! What follows is an adventure that tests Wade’s courage, intelligence, integrity, and very existence.  It’s very exciting.

I’m someone who loves pop culture and stories revolving around pop culture so i was intrigued when I first read the synopsis, but I was also worried that I wasn’t quite geeky enough to get this book.  I mean, the author, Ernest Cline, owns his own tricked-out DeLorean that he’s nicknamed Ecto88 for crying out loud.  Don’t get me wrong, I have my nerd interests (Buffy the Vampire Slayer!), but I’ve never been into the hardcore stuff.  I’m not a big sci-fi fan and the last video game system I owned was the original Nintendo. Plus I knew that Dungeons and Dragons played a big part in the story and everything I know about the RPG comes from episodes of Freaks and Geeks and Community. That’s probably why I picture Fat Neil in my head as Wade.

I shouldn’t have worried though.  Although the book is PACKED with references, everything that is integral to the plot is explained in detail.  Sometimes in a little too much detail, but your mileage may vary.  There are also lots of fun references sprinkled throughout the text that aren’t explained, but that eagle-eyed readers will recognize as lines from Ghostbusters, Silence of the Lambs, and many more.  Chances are though there will be something in Ready Player One that tickles your geek fancy.  I was particularly excited that Wade had a ship that was a replica of Serenity that he won in a battle fought in the OASIS world called Whedonverse.  I may have actually cheered out loud.

Now if Ready Player One was just a collection of fun references, then it would be a fun, if fairly forgettable story.  Luckily there’s a lot of heart there to balance out the geek fantasy aspect of the narrative.  And yes, the fat nerd who finds solace in a fictional reality, is a bit of a stock character, but Wade is a very appealing protagonist.  I felt genuine tension in the gaming/battle scenes even when I wasn’t entirely clear what was going on.  I think that’s because Cline made me care so much about Wade, that I was very anxious for him to succeed.

The soulless corporation that will go to any lengths to screw over the little people and win is also expected, but it does make an appropriately evil villain, particularly in today’s economic climate. And the eeeeevil corporation makes sure that there are real stakes, both emotionally and physically.  Wade and his friends are fighting to prevent the money-grubbing competitors from ruining OASIS, but quite frankly I wouldn’t be as invested in that if the characters weren’t also in mortal danger.

My one quibble with the book is that despite being a pretty inventive story, Ready Player One kept reminding me of other narratives.  The contest to find the person who’ll inherit the eccentric billionaire’s fortune gave me a major Willy Wonka vibe.  The whole regular people traveling through fictional worlds reminded me of Jasper Ffordes’s Thursday Next series, although the tone of this story is a lot more grounded.  And I even thought of the episode of Chuck where they have to play an old arcade game to the tune of Rush in order to save the world from nuclear war.  Seriously, why don’t more people watch that show?  It’s so fun!  I like all those things, so I didn’t really mind, but it did sometimes distract me from the story.  Of course there aren’t really any original stories out there anymore, but when a book is stuffed with as many pop-culture references as this one, it stands out a bit more.

Uber nerds will LOVE this book, but I think there’s a lot here to offer  to other readers as well.  It’s a rollicking adventure and a lovely coming of age tale.  AND there are (virtual) giant robot fights.  Ready Player One is not for everyone, but if you have a fondness for 80s culture or underdog heroes, you should check it out.

And now as a bonus, that scene from Chuck.  You’re welcome.