I’m not sure what got me to thinking about John Scalzi’s Redshirts this morning. I read and rather enjoyed the book when it first came out several years ago, and it sprang to mind again today as I was getting dressed. (No, nothing that I’m wearing today is red, so that’s not the connection.)
I suppose it was because I was talking to Mike yesterday about how I’ve found “classic” science fiction to be written from a POV that is emotionally removed from the stories and the characters involved. In the classic books and stories I’ve read, there is occasional delving into the personal lives and feelings of the protagonists, but this is inconsistent and usually feels awkward and forced to me. It’s as though many of these standards of sci-fi were written from more of an academic perspective — this happened, and then this happened, and that’s when it all fell apart — and are missing the more human element.
Or maybe that’s just me.
But that’s a big reason I’ve really enjoyed reading works from the current generation of science fiction authors. In my conversation with Mike, I mentioned Scalzi among others as being good at providing a personal and emotional hook into the story, and a good potion of that comes from humor.
And Redshirts certainly does have humor. What I was pondering and appreciating this morning was how Scalzi took what had been unintentional jokes from the original Star Trek series — the lower-ranking crew members, wearing their red shirts, often don’t come back from away missions; the spaceship is filled with devices and boxes that boop and bleep and flash a few lights before producing quick, tangible results seemingly without any real science behind the process — and poked fun at them, but then also wove them into a plot of problems for his characters to solve. And the result is a delightful read.
So, yes, I suppose I’m recommending this book, but this blog post is more a call to look around your own environment to see what trope you might be able to turn around to a fun and interesting advantage. Galaxy Quest is another wonderful example of taking elements of sci-fi that are supposedly negative — obsessed sci-fi fandom, actors trying to distance themselves from their sci-fi work — and turning them into an adventure. One of the things I’ve found myself doing is taking a literal meaning from a metaphor, and running with it. You’ll find this all over the Valhalla books, and I’ve got a few shorter pieces in the works along these same lines. But this doesn’t have to be limited to science fiction and fantasy. What twist or spin can you bring to something seemingly innocuous or irritating? What are your favorite (and less favorite) examples of other authors doing the same?
As it so happens, I wore a red sweater on my first date with Mike. It was a blind date, and the couple who had set us up were at the restaurant with us when we met. The husband of said couple, during a lull in the conversation, remarked to Mike that “Jen is wearing a red shirt” and helped start a discussion about science fiction — a discussion I suppose Mike and I are still having. Incidentally, my first email to Mike was titled, “This is not a red shirt.” And now here we are, more than eight years later, red shirts and all.
Creative Commons photo: “Rebel Soldier vs. Security Officer (57/365)” by JD Hancock.