Sunday, August 16th, 2015

Last night I finished reading The End Of All Things, the latest science-fiction novel from John Scalzi, and I have to say that I felt he overpromised and underdelivered by several orders of magnitude. All the things did not end. Not even close. There were, to be fair, a number of things that did end, but by far the vast majority of things did not end. In fact, I would have to say that, on a scale of “All Things,” the number of things that ended was statistically insignificant. So the title was a little misleading. Chalk it up to poetic license, I guess.

But other than that teensy-tiny little nitpick, I’d say it was a good read. The book is actually four novelettes (plus a bonus 25-page “deleted and alternate scenes” coda) set in the same storyline where Scalzi’s novel Old Man’s War first conjured up what has become known in the mind-bogglingly technical nomenclature of science fiction fandom as “The OMW Universe.” You don’t have to read Old Man’s War to get maximum enjoyment out of The End Of All Things. It works just fine as a stand-alone collection, but I’m going to give you fair warning that The End Of All Things may leave you with an overpowering compulsion to get your hands on a copy of Old Man’s War, and from there you’re gonna want The Ghost Brigades and oh geeze you’re in it for the long haul at that point because, damn, these books are fun to read.

In the OMW Universe, humans colonize far-flung planets with the help of the Colonial Union, a organization that does not have the motto “We come in peace” emblazoned anywhere on its great seal, or a prime directive of non-interference with aliens it discovers on the planets it means to colonize. The CU exists to shove the aliens aside and make sure they stay shoved. This policy results in some hard feelings between humans and non-humans, to say the least. Hard feelings lead to conflict, and if I recall anything useful at all from the English Lit classes I took thirty-some years ago, it is that conflict is the heart and soul of exciting drama.

Each novelette in The End Of All Things is about a hundred pages long, give or take ten or twenty pages, so you could treat this book as four yummy afternoon snacks, but if you got it into your head to binge-read the whole thing from cover to cover, you could probably gobble it up in a weekend. Scalzi’s previous OMW book, The Human Division, was a similar collection of novelettes, and also one hell of a fun read. Again, you don’t have to read The Human Division to know what’s going on in The End Of All Things but, again, you’ll probably want to afterwards. Just sayin’.

Scalzi’s been compared favorably to Heinlein for his storytelling abilities; I would say that’s about right if you’re comparing Scalzi’s work to Heinlein’s earlier adventure novels, like Tunnel In The Sky or The Puppet Masters, not so much if you’re into Heinlein’s later works. For what it’s worth, when I read Scalzi’s stories, I get a vibe that’s a lot like the one coming from my favorite Joe Haldeman books, like The Hemingway Hoax or The Forever War, but I also feel as though I can detect a witty harmonic wave that’s a lot like the one running through Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker books. The characters in Scalzi’s stories talk like people I know and would be friends with; they take the time to intelligently think a situation all the way through, but they never take themselves so ridiculously seriously that I have to roll my eyes and moan, “Oh, come on, now.”

To sum up, an entertaining sci-fi adventure for a weekend, or to string out over several days, and don’t let the title put you off. All the things, relatively speaking, are pretty safe.

The End Of All Things | 5:19 pm CDT
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Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

image of book cover for John Scalzi's book RedshirtsI had John Scalzi’s book Redshirts on request for so long at the library that I forgot I’d even asked them for it until we stopped day before yesterday so My Darling B could pick up the dozen or so books she had on hold. When she came back to the checkout, Redshirts was on the top of her pile.

I started reading it immediately. Really, I read the first five pages while she was scanning her books. I read the first couple chapters as soon as we got home. I kept reading it as late into the night as I could, which isn’t very late on a work night. I read it on breaks. I read it at lunch. I finished reading it last night. I couldn’t stop reading it.

One of the reasons for that is, Scalzi’s books are mostly dialog. At least the ones I’ve read are. His characters hardly ever stop talking long enough for him to have to explain anything. They do it for him. And they’re never boring characters. If I could have just one wish, I’d like to meet actual people as witty and interesting as the characters in Scalzi’s books.

Being mostly dialog, Scalzi’s books are usually a quick read for me. The pages aren’t dauntingly packed with dense prose and, as I said, the banter is witty and entertaining. No matter how much I’ve read, I never feel I’ve read enough. I just keep gobbling it up until it’s almost midnight and I realize that, if I don’t go to bed soon, I’ll end up taking a nap for an hour before I have to head to the office and won’t I be cranky the rest of the day then?

If you know anything about Star Trek, you know that, when Captain Kirk, Spock and McCoy beamed down to a new planet each week, there was usually a crew member who beamed down with them, and the poor bastard’s one job on the away team was to get killed by aliens before the commercial break. Among science fiction nerds, expendable characters are called “redshirts” because security guards on the Enterprise, the guys who usually beamed down to protect Kirk and Spock, wore red shirts. The redshirt effect even carried over to Scotty, who got the crap kicked out of him on a regular basis.

In Star Trek, the fact that the security guards always die when they’re on an away team with Kirk seems to go unnoticed. In Redshirts, Scalzi’s characters are keenly aware of the fact and not only look for the reason, they try to figure out how to put an end to the madness. When I got to that part, I couldn’t have stopped reading for all the beer in town.

The book ends with four codas that I haven’t read yet. Probably have to take a long lunch today.

Redshirts | 6:07 am CDT
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