Book Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

Like every good Star Trek fan, I was eagerly awaiting John Scalzi’s book. I’d purchased a copy for my sister for her birthday and she’d loved it. Which meant that I’d probably end up loving it, too (and, well, I did). I’ve been a Star Trek fan for as long as I can remember. I’m too young to have watched the original series, but I grew up watching TNG. I’ve seen almost all the movies in the theater (perhaps not the earliest ones, though my earlier ST memories involve VGER — my parents even humored my sister and I by naming our Voyager Minivan VGER), as I was growing up and throughout college and beyond.

Of course, it wasn’t until the reboot (which I was quite sure was going to be simply awful) that I realized just how much of a fan I am. Once I got over the fact that someone else could, in fact, play Spock (Nimoy will always be Spock for me and perhaps my most favorite character, after all The Voyage Home is my favorite of the films), I feel in love with this new take on the story. It even inspired my sister and I to watch The Original Series on Netflix (which we have also grown to love, in spite of its’ shortcomings).

Which brings me back to the topic at hand, Redshirts. I firmly believe that Scalzi’s book is a love letter to both fans of science fiction as well as the Star Trek universe. I don’t know if many people disagree, nor do I much care (my review, not yours!). It was everything I would want in a book about redshirts. Everyone knows who the redshirts are. They blend into the background, we’re not really meant to care much about them (aside for a momentary sadness at their passing) except in the most ironic of senses. Scalzi plays on all of these stereotypes about redshirts, and then some. In fact, he goes out of his way to bring these redshirts to life in a way that most people would only write about in fanfic. And, perhaps, in some ways Redshirts is also an ode to all those fanfic writers who take such a creative view on the things they love.

I’ve read that some people were hung up on the fact that it was a book about characters on a tv show becoming self aware, but honestly, that’s what made it so good. It’s not really Star Trek, but it didn’t need to be. The novel itself referenced the original show(s), it made sure we knew what we were reading and then it took everything we knew, dumped it in a blender and gave us this fantastic, fun and moving novel. I especially liked the three codas (which I know were a sticking point for some people). I like conclusion, I think well thought out conclusion and while the tv show within the novel had an open ended conclusion (which I liked, because the actual ST shows ended in a similar fashion), I liked that we got a sneak peek into some other major players in the novel itself.

It’s not a book for everyone. I’ve noticed that people my parents age (60s+) tended not to like it as much. I’m not entirely sure why, but young people (20s and 30s) seemed to love it. Of course there are always exceptions, but that’s just my personal experience. I loved the book, teh characters and the idea that these redshirts finally got a story of their own.

Recommended? Of course. A must for Star Trek fans of all types. For science fiction fans who like a good, entertaining (and amusing) story. But also for fans who are into meta fiction (it’s a nice musing on Hollywood/movies/tv writing as well as ST itself). If you’re looking for a quick read, something a little different and much lighter than your average George RR Martin-esque epic, definitely check out Redshirts.

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Kdrama Review: Hero (2012/OCN)

I’ve noticed, in recent months, that my tv watching habits are the same, no matter the language the TV show is in. Earlier this year, I watched a nine episode Korean drama called Hero. There are actually two dramas with this name, the first one (which I’ve also watched) was made in 2009 and stars one of my favorite actors, Lee Jun Ki. But this is the 2012 version, aired on OCN (and I watched it on Hulu). It’s really, really good.

I love crime dramas. I adore them. My favorite kdramas and non-kdramas are almost completely crime related (examples: (non-kdramas) AliasNCISCrossing Jordan, & Covert Affairs; (kdramas) Vampire ProsecutorTen, Joseon X-Files, & Ghost). That’s not to say that there aren’t other types of shows out there that I love, because there are plenty of other dramas/shows that aren’t crime dramas and I still love them (I’ll list them later, maybe). But what makes Hero so good is the fact that it’s science fiction crossed with a crime drama. It’s sort of a superhero origin story, with a morbid sort of twist.

The setting is the Korea, in the near future. You can tell from the grittiness of the of the poor neighbors to the glam of the rich. Our hero, as it were, is Kim Heuk Cheol (played by Yang Dong Geun). He’s the son of a very rich man and has a sister and a brother.  Heuk Cheol is a typical rich kid wannabe. Daddy’s money gets him everywhere, but it’s also Daddy’s money and love (albeit misguided) that makes  Heuk Cheol into the Hero. I’ll spare you the spoilers (you can watch the show on Hulu), but suffice to say that something bad happens and  Heuk Cheol’s dad pays a lot of money to save his son’s life.

It’s what comes after this that makes the show so good. Flawed heroes often make the best dramas and  Heuk Cheol is nothing if not flawed. He’s naive, he’s sort out of control and he’s kind of crazy. But he’s also trying hard to be a good guy. Each episode has a CotW (case of the week) that  Heuk Cheol sort of stumbles into (more often than not). All of these crimes are also uncovering secrets about  Heuk Cheol’s brother and father that he (and his family) would rather he not find out. But, of course, that’s what makes a good drama.  Heuk Cheol’s not alone, though. He works with an adorably geeky computer nerd, Shin Dong Min (played by Kwon Min). Heuk Cheol spoils Dong Min by providing him with really great tech (and giving us some really great scenes between the two of them). But, of course, my favorite character is  Yoon Yi On (played by Han Chae Ah). She’s a pretty bad ass cop (some of the best kdramas I’ve loved had badass female characters) who totally sees through Heuk Cheol, even as he’s trying to help (and usually failing).

The relationships in this drama are short lived, after all it’s only nine episodes. But the writing and acting is strong enough that I found myself caring about Heuk Cheol, about Yi On and Dong Min, along with a few other minor characters who play important roles. Over the course of those nine episodes, you watch relationships develop and while Heuk Cheol never quite wins the girl (I’m hoping they’ll make another season, like with Vampire Prosecutor on the same network), he does earn respect and figure things out. The final episode is a bit rushed, but then again, it’s almost meant to be. I adored the show, I loved every minute of the finale, even while I was crying my eyes out.

If you don’t mind watching on your computer (unless you subscribe to Hulu Plus) and reading subtitles, I completely recommend this drama. It’s fun, it’s well made and it mixes science fiction with crime drama in a well thought out way. And I didn’t even mention the Alfred-like character who looks out for Heuk Cheol, Yi On’s cop partner, some of the guest stars and other characters who flesh out this drama.

I gave it at 10/10, but your mileage may vary.

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