Redshirts: Is this supposed to be a joke?

Spoiler Check: I have completed Neuromancer by William Gibson

Books The answer to that would appear to be “yes” … but let’s back up a minute.

I seem to have developed the habit of posting my views on books when I am about three-quarters of the way through, a case in point being Neuromancer which I have now finished. Remembering that it had been one of the books reviewed on the Sword & Laser podcast in its infancy, I downloaded the relevant episodes, all four of them. I had forgotten that S & L has changed its format; back in 2008 Tom and Veronica had been wont to go through their book picks almost chapter by chapter in minute detail. The wonder is that I must have heard their dissection of Neuromancer in full once before but, as I was not then reading the book, very little of it stuck. A greater wonder is that I kept listening to their exegesis of a book I had not read, was not reading and was not at the time intending to read any time soon. I won’t try to explain it, even to myself.

So to John Scalzi and Redshirts. Ironically, Sword & Laser are just about to read another Scalzi work, Old Man’s War. I’m only reading Redshirts because I’d heard of it (on S & L of course) and Audible were promoting it as part of a 3 books for 2 credits offer.  As if I didn’t have enough trouble getting through my monthly credits as it is.  At least Redshirts is reasonably short.

Compared with the dense and opaque narrative of Neuromancer, Redshirts is very easy to listen to. It also comes over as utterly absurd. Before starting it, I had assumed it was a “serious” SF book and rapidly found myself asking if it was for real. A quick Googling confirmed that it is intended as a humorous work. An attempt to do funny SF in a way which breaks with the paradigm created by Hitchhiker’s Guide. Actually, I have never thought of the latter as SF. It is just comedy, and the SF setting is mainly incidental, except to the extent that it exploits SF tropes as a platform for satirising the failings of current day humans. In  much the same way as say Red Dwarf did in its heyday.

With that cleared up I am pressing on, unobstructed by incorrect preconceptions. I would add only this: so far it has come over as more ludicrous than funny. And some of the writing appears amateurish in the extreme, beyond being explained away by the book’s humorous pretensions. Just the dialogue …. “Blah” said Dahl, “Blog” said “Duvall”, “Bling” said Dahl, “Blurg” said Duvall, etc. etc. for an entire conversation. It may not jar as much when reading a print book or eBook, but the continual alternating “said X, said Y, said X, said Y” really grates when listening to the audiobook.


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