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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy


By Phil Plait

[tl;dr: Go buy this book and read it.]

I don't read as much as I used to, which makes me unhappy. I love to read, but somehow finding the time this past year has been difficult. And I prefer to read novels in big chunks, not snatching a few pages here and there when I can. I want to devote the kind of quality time a good novel deserves, but finding that time has been increasingly difficult.

So when I say that I read John Scalzi's novel "Redshirts" over the course of two days -- blowing off a great deal of work to do so -- I hope that conveys just how good this book is.

OK, full disclosure: John is a friend of mine; we've known each other for a few years after first meeting in 2008. But one of the reasons I wanted to meet him in the first place is because his writing is so damn good. It speaks of an intelligence and understanding of how to communicate that's pretty rare. I also tend to agree with him on most issues, so obviously he's a man of fine taste and subtle reasoning.

2822934967_ff8bd52c66_m.jpgJohn writes a blog called Whatever, and a little while back he mentioned that his new book "Redshirts" was finally done. Having read his amazing "Old Man's War" science fiction series, I immediately pestered him for an advance copy. Probably more in an effort to keep me from endlessly annoying him than out of friendship, he sent me one.

And I sat down and did something I almost never, ever do: I read the whole thing through. I mean it; I found myself voraciously consuming the book. It's a science fiction novel that in many ways is a parody of "Star Trek", but to think it's just that is pretty unfair. It's even true to say it's a parody of the entire SF TV genre, but again, that falls well short of what this novel is. Certainly, you can read it that way, but you'd be shortchanging yourself if you did. Scalzi dabbles in a lot of philosophical ideas here, using a Star Trek-like framework to ask questions about the nature of what fiction is, and what writers do. Even, I dare say, the nature of existence.

Not that "Redshirts" is some ponderous tome future schoolchildren will dread reading in literature class. It's a light, funny, and in some cases even breezy read. That's Scalzi's style. His books are fun, even while they tackle serious issues (his blog is a paradigm of that style of writing).

I'm not going to give you any details about the plot of the book, though. I loathe spoilers, preferring instead to be surprised at what I find when I read a book (or watch a movie/TV show). I will point out, though, that Scalzi tackles an issue I used to think about when I was younger (and still do sometimes): does a TV show exist in the history of the fictional TV show universe?

In other words, imagine The Doctor uses the TARDIS to travel to our present day. If he turns on a TV, will he be able to watch "Doctor Who" on the BBC? It's a weird thought, isn't it? In the fictional universe of any TV show, the TV show itself must not have happened, or else the characters in the TV show would know it. Wouldn't it be odd if the future Star Trek timeline actually unfolded (I know, a lot of it can't now because it's already in the past and didn't happen, but bear with me) the real Captain Kirk, in the 23rd century, found out his exact life was broadcast on TV and he was played by some guy named William Shatner (and later, Chris Pine)?

It's fun to think about, and Scalzi tackles this problem in "Redshirts". His solution to the problem is fascinating, and had never occurred to me. And my favorite thing when reading a novel is being surprised... and my favorite thing after reading a novel is finding myself thinking about it long after I'm done reading it.

OK, I'm done blathering about it. Just go and buy "Redshirts" because it's really really good.

And who knows? It may just save your life. You certainly don't want to wind up like this guy:

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