Redshirts by John Scalzi

Another Audible listen by John Scalzi, narrated by Wil Wheaton. This experience was even amplified by Ber making her way through Star Trek (the original series) on Netflix. So every time I came back from the gym where I listened to Redshirts, she’d be watching Trek and I couldn’t  help but laugh.

Redshirts is to science fiction what Last Action Hero was to Arnold’s movie career. You don’t have to be into Star Trek to enjoy it, but it’s a lot more fun if you’re already in on the joke. Basically: what would happen if all the people that died just for the sake of screentime action realized they were being suckered?

Wil does some amazing voice work in this one. In particular a great little conversation in an alien language. The words-on-a-page version I’m sure is good, but I finished it really happy to have gotten it on audio.

Scalzi won the Hugo award for Best Novel with this book, but I think his Old Man’s War universe is still better overall. He just happens to play some tunes that appeal to all readers in this one. A good read for the science fiction lover or the reader who only occasionally picks up the genre.

Redshirts by John Scalzi, part of my 2017 Reading

Audible | Goodreads | Wikipedia

Books and Other Projects by John Scalzi

Lock In by John Scalzi

Scalzi is so good at world building. I went into this book cold. All I knew was Scalzi wrote it and Wil Wheaton did the audiobook narration.

Quickly you’re thrown into a near-future world altered by contagious disease and the technology that helps to ease its effects. Millions of people in the near future have “Haden’s Syndrome,” which most often leads to death or lock in.

Technology progresses quickly to help aid people with the disease, who become referred to as “Hadens.”  It’s as if having the ailment is becoming another race. Those who are locked in can remotely control “Threeps.” Named after C-3PO from Star Wars, Threeps are machines that allow Hadens to walk around their neighborhoods, go to work, or play sports. All the while, their human body remains in a medical cradle at their home.

Laptop displaying audiobook cover art for Lock In next to a sleeping dog.
Lock In’s audiobook cover art, with avid listener dog, Nada.

The plot of Lock In is a police procedural, like an episode of Law & Order. Our narrator is a Haden and our story is his first week on the job as an FBI agent. Going too far into the details would certainly spoil,so I’ll leave that be in case you enjoy police procedurals.

It’s not a great story. It falls for the science fiction trap of solving made up problems with made up solutions without connecting enough to today’s humanity. Scalzi performs that connection so well in the Old Man’s War series, it hurts to see it fall short here.

The world though, is superb. I love the political undertones that motivate so many of the characters, providing depth. Threeps and Integrators (spoiler) are interesting enough that I want to read other stories where such a sudden technological change has consequences we’ve not yet predicted. I think it can be done without a technobabble  resolution. We can expect at least one more novel in this universe, Head On, and I’ll read it even though Lock In was a letdown to me.

I enjoyed this in Audiobook format via Audible, read by Wil Wheaton. The production was great and I’d recommend that version as well if you want to read this one.

Lock In by John Scalzi, part of my 2017 Reading

Audible | Goodreads | Wikipedia

You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop by John Scalzi

It’s kinda my fault that I didn’t like this book any more than I do. I kinda thought it was going to be like War of Art by Steven Pressfield. But I was kinda dumb. The actual words used to describe the book on all marketing materials make it clear this book is Scalzi’s writing about writers and the writing business. Not about the day-to-day grind of working in solitude (which I could really use some advice on.)

You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop on Kindle Cloud Reader. This is how I would’ve read the book on my laptop had I read it on my laptop in a coffee shop.

I guess it says something about my future in publishing that my idea of being successful in that business is roughly equivalent to churning out words everyday. (Laughable at best.)

Even though this ended up not being the book I expected, it was still an enjoyable read. I like Scalzi’s blog, the Whatever, and read all his new stuff there as it comes out. Most of the content in You’re Not Fooling Anyone […] are old posts from that blog when he was still carving out his space as a novelist and primarily working as a non-fiction writer. All his snark is in full force even if it didn’t really motivate me to go and do anything.

And for the record, I’ve been getting some of my best work done in a coffee shop recently.

You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop by John Scalzi, part of my 2016 Reading

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Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi

Foolish I was, to believe that I would read this book super quickly. Zoe’s Tale is a parallel story to Scalzi’s previous novel in the Old Man’s War universe, The Last Colony. We go through the experience of the Roanoke colony, but this time from Zoe’s perspective. I thought this meant I could shoot through the story and move on to the next book on my list for the year.

But it was just too good for that. Parallel it is, but the Zoe Boutin-Perry’s experience is wholly separate from her parents’. It’s surprising how little John Perry is involved in this story. The book stands on its own legs and earned my full reading attention, which meant that I took way too long to read it. The library late fees are racking up as I type this post. You, dear average-paced reader instead of a slow-like-me reader, may not have such difficulties because it’s still a typical length and light effort.

Zoe's Tale in hardcover, with avid reader cat, Bagheera
Zoe’s Tale in hardcover, with avid reader cat, Bagheera

I must admit that I was also hesitant that it would be too much of the Young Adult genre for me. Teenage relationships don’t really catch my interest, and it is a vital part of the book. But the YA and Sci-Fi are balanced well. At least well enough that I didn’t skip anything.

Most importantly the novel does a couple important things that were missed in The Last Colony.

  1. The ending feels thought-out, full, and true to the narrative.
  2. The colony felt a lot more like a community, less like a group of people being lead by rock star protagonists

From Scalzi’s appendix it sounded like a lot of Zoe’s Tale’s story was developed for The Last Colony and was cut. It covers so many gaps that I wasn’t shocked to learn that. It does make me wonder what The Last Colony could’ve been had it been 150 pages longer and included this material. I’d read it.

Another great episode in a universe I’ve come to love. The remainder of the Old Man’s War books are on my list, but I’m pretty far behind so it may be a bit yet before I read more from Mr. Scalzi.

Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi, part of my 2016 Reading

Amazon | Goodreads | Wikipedia

A Conversation with Amber about Cats and Bacon

Perusing the internet, I learned about this gem of a blog post from John Scalzi in 2006. He literally taped bacon to his cat just to prove to the internet that he would do it. I had to share this post with Amber right away. Her response:

Listen, I know you’re going to replicate this. You can put bacon on the cat but you can’t tape it to the cat. And after you’re done with it you have to give the bacon to the dog.

I don’t really have the energy to follow through with it right now. But it’s good to know what Ber’s limits are on this issue.

The Last Colony by John Scalzi

It’s good to hear from John Perry again. I missed his presence in The Ghost Brigades. But even better is to meet Jane Sagan again. After listening to “The Sagan Diary” I started to really appreciate her character and the decisions she made between book 2 and book 3. The Last Colony features Jane as a wonderful heroine instead of the stiff colleague she was in Ghost Brigades.

The Last Colony by John Scalzi, hardcover, on a chess board
The Last Colony by John Scalzi, hardcover, on a chess board

I must admit I was a little worried at first. After the intense military themes I’ve been reading from Scalzi, a book on small-town colony politics seemed to be underwhelming. I should’ve known it wouldn’t stay in that mode for long.

In the same style I loved from the other books, the twists and turns in the plot come out of grains of truth presented early on. But the effect they have on the circumstances are exponential. Every scene goes way beyond the facts presented. In the end, you’re left with a climax nothing short of “epic.”

That being said, this seems like a good point to put the Old Man’s War universe on hold in my reading schedule. Scalzi thought so too (for his writing schedule) in the book’s acknowledgements. I have the benefit of knowing that three more books are out there, but I’ve several other books to hit in 2015. If I get in the mood for more Scalzi, I’ll probably take on Redshirts. Or perhaps one of his non-fiction books, You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop.

The Last Colony by John Scalzi

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Read Scalzi’s blog at

The Sagan Diary

I just recently started The Last Colony, the third book in John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War universe. If you didn’t know, I loved the first two books.

Detailing events that take place between The Ghost Brigades and The Last Colony, Scalzi also wrote a novella called The Sagan Diary. He enlisted several friends to create an audio version, which is available on his blog:

The Sagan Diary: The Audio Version on John Scalzi’s blog “Whatever”

I listened to it on Wednesday and thoroughly enjoyed it. The last chapter brought a tear to my eye. I preferred some actresses’ reading over the others, but I thought it was a unique way to present the work.

You probably won’t like it if you haven’t read the first two books, just FYI. But you were going to read them anyway, right? Do it.