Stuff I Like - Redshirts

For reasons too stupid to go into here, a lot of people are either boycotting or buying Tor books today. I come down on the "buying" side of this debate, and since I've already told you about The Incrementalists, published by Tor, I shall tee off on another of their fine books.

Redshirts, by John Scalzi, has a premise so good it's surprising it hasn't been done before.  On the starship Intrepid, nothing permanent ever happens to the bridge crew. No matter how many times they travel to a hostile planet or take on a warlike alien race, they come out fine. But at least one member of the ground crew, one of the seemingly endless ensigns, always dies. Andrew Dahl is a new arrival on Intrepid and learns this fact of life, then organizes the others to find out why.

Scalzi takes a jokey premise ("Hey, what's with all those guys getting killed whenever Kirk goes to a planet? And what's the deal with airline food?") and spins it into something truly wonderful. Redshirts would be excellent if it were simply a meta action-comedy, and this section of the book reminds me of Terry Pratchett in its escalating stakes and logical leaps. But it's the codas where I feel Redshirts truly shines.

The original full title was Redshirts: A Novel With Three Codas, and the final third is made up of three short stories about minor characters from the main narrative. By the time the codas are done, what was an amusing sci-fi story has become something much different, something deeper and more meaningful. I can't really describe why without spoiling the story's surprises; all I can say is it hit me pretty hard, much harder than I was expecting. There's a reason it won all those awards is what I'm saying.

I also recommend getting this in audio; it's read by Wil Wheaton, who, in addition to just being really good at audiobooks in general, lends the story an extra level of metatext just by showing up. 

Stuff I Like - The Newsflesh Series

I've been running behind on this, obviously. Suffice to say, I have not been in the mood to be positive about much of anything. But we push on, yes we do. 

I thought I hated zombie stories. Zombies are the big thing nowadays, and I am not a fan, because they all seem to be the same... A small group of survivors has survived the zombie apocalypse and must defend themselves against an ever increasing horde of the ravenous undead. Oh, and most of the survivors will be just raaaaging assholes because apparently that's who we believe will survive the zombs. It's just not my jam. 

The Newsflesh trilogy--Feed, Deadline and Blackout by Mira Grant--are another animal entirely. It's set twenty years after The Rising, the point at which two airborne viruses combined into one zombie-creating pathogen. And the world has kept turning; civilization hasn't collapsed, but adjusted to this new reality, in which a failed blood test can mean instant death and journalists are the new rock stars. Georgia and Shaun Mason are two such; she's the Newsie, an investigative reporter, and he's the Irwin, a sort of extreme nature documentarian who picks fights with zombs. When they're chosen to accompany Senator Peter Ryman on his Presidential campaign, it quickly becomes apparent that someone doesn't want them there, and is willing to shed blood to be rid of them.

Feed and the rest of the trilogy are much more about journalism and the human need to know than they are about zombies. The living dead are simply a fact of life, but they aren't the driving force, people are. There are no straight out villains, no screaming sociopaths, just people who believe themselves to be right, and often those we look at as our heroes are the ones in the wrong. The author excels at both characterization and worldbuilding, and she is so, so good at both ratcheting up the suspense and breaking the reader's heart. You want these books. Go get 'em.

(When you're done, AND ONLY WHEN YOU'RE DONE, check out Mark Oshiro's chapter by chapter reviews and watch a man nearly lose his sanity. Heavy, HEAVY spoilers, read the books first.)

The Showbiz Book I Want

I recently read Cary Elwes' memoir of his work on the film The Princess Bride, titled As You Wish. It's a warm bath of a book, without any major revelations. Turns out that movie that is funny and sweet and nice and beloved by all was made by nothing but funny, sweet, nice, lovable people. This is as it should be, really; you wouldn't want to hear that, say, the director was verbally abusive or one of the actors was on animal tranquilizers the whole time.

However, there's another film of which Elwes was a part that I desperately want a book about, and that's Bram Stoker's Dracula. 

 I recently watched that film for the first time in ages; moreover, I watched the behind the scenes footage, and good gravy. The whole cast assembled at Coppola's compound in wine country and spent time rehearsing, doing acting exercises... basically summer camp for actors. Right off the bat, that sounds like a movie in and of itself. 

Here is some of the madness from the IMDB page:  

"Gary Oldman was quite drunk the night they filmed the scene where he had to lick blood from Keanu Reeves's straight razor. The scene was filmed far beyond midnight, which added to the spirit of the scene and helped put the cast 'in the proper mood.'"

I need to see this.

 

"Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder did not get along well at all during filming. The rest of the cast was shocked because the two actors had been friendly during rehearsals, then came back from a break in the schedule seemingly hating each other, with no indication given (then or later) as to what had happened."

I NEED MORE INFORMATION ON THIS.

 

"In the scene where the heroes bust in on Dracula and Mina, Dracula turns into a bat-like creature and frightens the heroes out of their wits. Gary Oldman had problems with this scene, feeling constricted in the suit and not very scary. Francis Ford Coppola told him to whisper something scary into each actor's ear, which Oldman did with relish. No one knows what he said to them, but they all look absolutely terrified in the scene."

Please note that there is actual footage of this on the Blu-Ray, with Gary Oldman done up as a giant bat walking amongst his blindfolded castmates and FREAKING THEM THE HELL OUT. 

 

"Francis Ford Coppola had Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes and Billy Campbell embark on a series of "adventures" including horse back riding and hot air ballooning to build the camaraderie between the three."

Guys. GUYS. These three going on bro adventures in wine country? Tell me you wouldn't read that.

 

In conclusion, the world needs an in-depth exploration of the insanity of this already completely screwy movie. See to it.