John Scalzi, our favorite garrulous liberal science fiction writer (not to be confused with Charles Stross, our favorite garrulous socialist SF writer or Steven Brust our favorite not so garrulous Trotsykite fantasy writer), picked up a well-deserved Hugo Award for Best Novel for his Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas. It's an amusing, if sometimes convoluted, take on the problem memorably framed by Galaxy Quest's Guy Fleegman:
I'm not even supposed to be here. I'm just "Crewman Number Six." I'm expendable. I'm the guy in the episode who dies to prove how serious the situation is. I've gotta get outta here.
Scalzi has taken the trope of the redshirt, the previously unseen character in an episode of Star Trek whose sole purpose is to die and has more fun with it than any author since Douglas Adams asked his audience to empathize with a doomed whale in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Dahl and his mates rapidly realize that while things aboard the Intrepid can appear normal, there are times when things go haywire, with the officers acting irrationally and overly heroic, and danger coming from all sides in some inane ways. They are guided in their investigations by Jenkins, a strange figure who skulks within the walls of the ship, reminiscent of Laszlo from the film Real Genius.
In fact, part of the fun is the variety of homages Scalzi includes to television and film, pointing out their clichés and inanities which are introduced not for any logical reason, but to provide a cliffhanger, much like Gwen DeMarco deploring that “This episode was badly written!” However, while others have pointed out the ridiculousness of the genre, Scalzi’s novel is not redundant, bringing its own loving parody to the unrealistic situations the crew finds themselves in and they struggle for life, knowing that some force, which Jenkins calls “The Narrative” has specifically targeted them.
The key to the novel’s success is that Scalzi isn’t attacking a genre that he doesn’t care about. He understands science fiction, in its written and cinematic form. He has worked on a television show and has some idea about what goes on behind the scenes and how decisions are made. He knows the history of the genre, not just the Star Treks and Isaac Asimovs, but the lesser known works. All of that givesRedshirts an heart that is missing from many parodies and satires where the authors sees the easy targets, but doesn’t actually understand their appeal. The situations and humor in Redshirts is the nudge-and-a-wink from a fellow conspirator, not the condescension of an outsider.
Not only does Redshirts work as a novel, but Scalzi is able to make the characters come alive. ...
As my small pat on theback, I named one of my fantasy football teams this year Scalzi's Redshirts, of which Yahoo says:
When a bottom-half draft slot yields top-half results, that's the sign of a strong effort by the GM. Such was the case with Scalzi's Redshirts, which flipped its 10th overall pick into a projected third-place finish in ProfBainbridge's Last Minute H League (8-6-0, 1,821 points). Scalzi's Redshirts loaded up on ballcarriers early, using three of their first five picks to scoop up RBs Trent Richardson (first round), Darren Sproles (third round), and Eddie Lacy (fifth round). They ended up with one of the most prolific foursomes of WRs in the league, as they scooped up Julio Jones, Danny Amendola, Eric Decker, and Brian Hartline for their rotation.
Unfortunately, SF writer John Ringo churlishly tried to rain on Scalzi's parade:
There's nothing wrong with Scalzi's writing. This is a reasonably good novel (from what I've heard) with no real SF or literary merit beyond being a reasonably good novel. But he's been speaking truth to power about the degradation of women in SF along with other idiocracy and so he's beloved by all the hasbeen liberal neurotics who control the Hugo voting and balloting. Look to many more in the future as long as he toes the Party line. Huzzah.
Coming from Ringo, this is laughable. Based on recommendations from usually trustworthy sources who share my affection for military SF, I gave Ringo a try a few years ago, but ended up tossing his books in the recycle bin. You see, Ringo is an awful writer in practically every sense of the word.
One meaning of awful is "very bad." And Ringo is a very bad writer. He is a poor technician with minimal skills. His plots are tissue paper thin, his characterizations are wooden and shallow, his dialogue stilted, and the books (at least the several I read before giving up) are highly formulaic and predictable.
Another, and even more apt in the present case, definition of awful is "unpleasant." I had the misfortune of first encountering Ringo in what has been aptly referred to as his "OH JOHN RINGO NO" series. His everyday books are pretty hard core violence porn even by military SF standards. But the Paladin of Shadows series adds sadistic sex porn to the mix. They're replete with sadistic sex, bondage, underage sex. Given that Ringo reportedly " felt more or less compelled to write these novels," he must be one sick dude.
Look, as anybody who visits this space on a regular basis knows, I don't share Scalzi's politics. I learned conservative politics at the feet (well, the books) of Russell Kirk, who once wrote that:
The moral imagination aspires to the apprehending of right order in the soul and right order in the commonwealth. ... It is the moral imagination which informs us concerning the dignity of human nature, which instructs us that we are more than naked apes. As Burke suggested in 1790, letters and learning are hollow if deprived of the moral imagination. And, as Burke suggested, the spirit of religion long sustained this moral imagination, along with a whole system of manners. Such imagination lacking, to quote another passage from Burke, we are cast forth “from this world of reason, and order, and peace, and virtue, and fruitful penitence, into the antagonist world of madness, discord, vice, confusion, and unavailing sorrow.”
Sadly, Ringo's world is one of "madness, discord, vice, confusion, and unavailing sorrow” populated by "naked [and constantly rutting] apes." It is utterly loathsome. And I'm betting Kirk would have thought so too.