Debarkle Chapter 20: Redshirts

Context

In Chapter 19 Larry Correia was bemoaning the state of the Hugo Awards after failing to be a finalist after the first Sad Puppy campaign. As discussed, Correia was not alone in being dissatisfied with the 2013 Hugo Awards but here I wander into one of the distortions of writing a historical project. In retrospect, because of later events, Larry Correia’s Sad Puppy posts gain greater significance but at the time they were more of an addition to a wider list of complaints from more diverse sources.

Not long after the 2013 Hugo finalists had been announced, German fan-writer and indie author Cora Buhlert wrote a lengthy post as a round-up of the various people expressing unhappiness with the set of finalists. Buhlert herself was puzzled by the controversy:

“Odd. I’d have thought that this year’s Hugo shortlist was pretty much uncontroversial. I mean, we have a healthy representation of women and writers of colour, most of the nominations went to works and writers that are popular or at least talked about, there are very few “What the Fuck?” nominees compared with other years (e.g. last year’s nominees included a filk CD and a Hugo acceptance speech from the previous year). Sure, there still are issues, particularly with certain categories, but there always are issues.”

http://corabuhlert.com/2013/04/04/hugo-nomination-reactions-or-why-the-fuck-is-this-controversial/ [1]

Meanwhile, Ursula Vernon (the 2012 Hugo Winner for Best Graphic Story) was looking more broadly at Worldcon and its capacity to cope with shifting demographics. In particular, Vernon was concerned about how Worldcon was adjusting to the ageing of the convention but not because many of the fans were older:

“Now, before anybody gets their bowels in an uproar about ageism or about how we’re blaming fandom’s intransigence on old people, let me hastily say that this is a symptom, not necessarily the cause.

https://web.archive.org/web/20131113115854/http://www.redwombatstudio.com/blog/?p=5642

Vernon contrasted Worldcon with two other kinds of fandom she was involved with both of which had an older demographic: gardening and birdwatching. As well as explaining how both gardening and birdwatching have much the same dynamics as science fiction fandom in general, Vernon contrasted these other communities with Worldcon.

“The problem of Worldcon, sez I, and of a subset of SF fandom in general is not that it is full of old people. All my fandoms are full of old people. So far, it hasn’t been a problem. They’ve generally been glad to see me, and I’ve been glad to see them. The guy with the scope who got me my Elegant Tern was probably a contemporary of Jules Verne, and the guy who patiently got me onto a Cerulean Warbler in High Island was weathered like a megalith. And I would put any curmudgeon in SF, no matter how legendary, up against the late Henry Mitchell, who would have turned them into mulch and planted daffodils amongst their bones. No, the problem is that it is insular and intransigent and run by rules (Robert’s Rules of Order, ahem***) that favor the status quo over change. It is that it has problems, and one of the manifestations of that problem is that young people aren’t showing up.

ibid

Vernon’s analysis tried to find a path between acceptance of the status quo and unfairly demonising older fans. Organised fandom was naturally going to skew older than fandom in a broader sense as it relied on people with the time, money and experience to run complex events as volunteers. Commerical pop-culture orientated conventions could draw bigger and younger crowds but by their nature were not events controlled by fans.

Multi-Hugo winning fan writer and a veteran of several decades of Worldcons, Mike Glyer[2] noted (amid a different Worldcon related controversy) that the term ‘SMOF’ was being used pejoratively in these broad discussions:

“However, as we have been going through an especially unhappy season with lots of blogging about the evil, nasty conrunners, some of which has been reported here, there’s been a trend back toward the word having a pejorative meaning in some circles.”

http://file770.com/cornell-apologizes-for-smof-routine/

Organised fandom was ageing but then organised fandom had always been ageing as that was a basic feature of a universe with a time axis orientated towards a direction of greater entropy. The question people were struggling with was whether Worldcon and the Hugo Awards could adapt quickly enough to changing societal expectations, particularly around issues of women, LGBTQI issues, disability and race/ethnicity. Looking through the majority of these posts, there were two different expectations:

  • Worldcon (and hence the Hugo Awards) had an unfixable issue and hence would slowly fade into irrelevance due to the control of an ageing set of fans.
  • An ageing fanbase was a self-correcting problem. Generational change will happen but fans (including older fans) will need to help this happen.

What nobody was predicting was a third option: a younger Generation-X set of fans/authors intentionally pushing back against social change in science fiction.

Could fans control the fate of fandom or was the future set by uncaring social forces? Were the Hugo Awards simply playthings of the past? That the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novel (the highest-profile category) was a novel titled after a long-running[3] (but inaccurate[4]) joke about the original Star Trek series, did imply that the Hugo voters might be looking more to the past than the future. Or was it? As John Scalzi himself noted in 2013 after winning:

“Part of the “fun” of winning the Hugo for Best Novel is that after your book wins, people try to explain why it won, because for some reason the answer of “this is the book that largest number of people who voted for the Hugo Awards thought should win the award” is existentially unsatisfying.”

https://whatever.scalzi.com/2013/09/03/hugo-thoughts-2013/

Other factors in the victory for Redshirts might have included:

  • John Scalzi was the high profile President of the SFWA
  • John Scalzi had been active for left wing casues — a claim made by Baen author John Ringo, which we will return to in a later chapter
  • Redshirts was a compromise winner between an establishment choice (Lois McMaster Bujold) and ‘new blood’ candidates (Mira Grant or Saladin Ahmed)
  • Redshirts was fun and populist and hence came top of what was just a popularity contest

It is hard to dismiss these factors but equally, each one would have worked as an explanation of why the novel would have lost[5]. The discussion about the operational and social mechanics of a Hugo win aren’t pointless but they miss the central question: was Redshirts a good Hugo win?

There had been some arguments that the 2011 Hugo winner Blackout/All Clear was a less strong winner than previous years[6] and more generally critics have attempted to identify stronger and weaker periods of Hugo Award winners. In considering what the future fate of the Hugo Awards should be (or what alternatives should exist) a central question is what the Hugo Awards should be rewarding? Larry Correia’s first Sad Puppies campaign characterised the awards as being insufficiently populist. A Guardian article from 2013 stated that the Hugo Awards were seen as being too populist[7]. What was generally agreed was that the Hugo Awards had a lasting status whether the critic writing about them felt that was deserved or not.

That status that is still attached to the Hugo Awards is nebulous[8] but intrinsic to it is a long track record of rewarding novels (in particular) that have, in later years been seen as classics of the genre. A contemporaneous review of Redshirts asked the question of whether it was the best novel of 2012 by comparing it to three past Hugo Award winning novels:

  • 1961 – A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter John Miller
  • 1962 – A Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert Heinlein
  • 1963 – The Man in the High Castle – Philip K Dick[9]

They aren’t the three Hugo ‘greats’ I’d pick but they exemplify a way people evaluate the Hugo Awards: Will this novel be later regarded as a classic of the genre? Rather like how the inner working of a machine-learning algorithm might be a mysterious black-box so long as it produces good results, the quirky mix of voting rules and fannish arguments underlying the Hugo Awards can be evaluated as good and effective just so long as they keep picking stories that are well regarded in the future.

That was a tough standard for Redshirts to meet. For a start, it is (at least superficially) a comedy and the Hugo Awards had rarely awarded comedies in the novel categories. Not that science fiction or fans or fandom more generally was immune to comedy, quite the opposite[10] but arguably the very status of the Hugo Award put comedic novels at a disadvantage.

Secondly, Redshirts was seen as derivative (based on Star Trek) but also had an odd structure — the main plot followed by three ‘codas’ that were unusually written short stories tangential to the main plot. It was also written in a style that was distinctly that of John Scalzi but also, in particular, was often in the same sort of snarky/flippant tone used by Scalzi in his blogging and social media.

Many reviewers at the time were underwhelmed by it. Aidan Moher said of it that it was “fast, fun and forgettable” and that it was also “pretty, predictable and prosaic”[11]. Other reviewers complained about the poor world building[12], others liked it in parts but found the meta-fictional aspects made it ‘lose its sparkle’[13], whereas one reviewer simply stated that it ‘sucks’[14].

Redshirts

When beginning this project to examine the history (and beyond) of the Puppy Kerfuffle of 2015, I decided to revisit Redshirts specifically to see if nine years after it had been published whether it would feel hopelessly dated or whether time had improved it. Rather than re-read the physical book, I chose the audiobook, partly because during the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 I had taken to exercise while listening to books on my phone. This was a wise choice because Scalzi’s metafictional homage to Star Trek is narrated by his friend Wil Wheaton, the former child actor who played Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The premise of Redshirts is simple. A set of new ensigns start work as minor members of the crew of quasi-military starship of the kind made famous by Star Trek. In Redshirts, Star Trek’s federation is called the Universal Union and the homologue of the Enterprise is the Intrepid. Initially, the story takes the course that the basic premise (and title) suggest. The main characters are placed in the role of what would be minor, disposable characters in Star Trek and in the process they get to comment on, joke about and be disturbed by the various plot holes, cliches and often senseless deaths that we might expect from a generic TV space opera. It is an entertaining idea and similar to the idea that won the film Galaxy Quest a Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation in 2000.

If the story only went that far, then it could well have been an entertaining but perhaps forgettable novelette. Instead, this is just an introduction to a set of layers within which Scalzi gets to examine questions about writing, character, time and predestination. Redshirts is a class clown, using jokes as a front to express deeper anxieties and troubling questions.

The central character, Ensign Andrew Dahl, learns from the mysterious Jenkins (a crew member who has hidden himself away amid the service tunnels of the ship) that answer to the strange goings-on aboard ship is the ‘narrative’: a suspension of normal reality in which events and behaviour warp to serve the needs of a storyline. There is an underlying horror to the circumstance that Dahl and his friends have found themselves in that Scalzi doesn’t entirely address but which the grieving and paranoid Jenkins has the strongest sense of.

There’s another element here, that I’d wholly missed the first time I had read this. Dahl and his friends are initially quite superficially drawn characters. Only after meeting Jenkins properly (who is a side character but who is given a more distinct personality) does Scalzi start drawing them out more. They still aren’t deeply drawn characters but it is more than simply being further along in the novel. Dahl gains depth as he attempts to take more control over events, as he essentially tries to assert that he isn’t a disposable character in a pulpy space opera.

Discovering that their lives (and deaths) are being intermittently hi-jacked by the plot of a 21st century cheap knock-off of Star Trek, Dahl and his friends plot to travel back in time. The time travel process is absurd but only because the only way the characters can time travel is by exploiting an absurd time travel plot from an earlier episode. For good measure, they also kidnap a member of the bridge crew, Kerensky, who is a kind of Chekov-like character who is prone to being attacked/injured during ‘narrative’ episodes only to fully recover by the end of an episode.

The shift back in time is consistent with classic Star Trek plots which place the crew in twentieth-century circumstances but in Redshirts, it takes the story into a different place as the characters learn about their parallel selves — the minor actors who briefly played them in the “real” TV show.

The ethics of creating a fictional character are normally inconsequential but Redshirts takes the premise needed for the initial parody aspect of the novel and begins raising questions about it. The deaths of the trope-redshirts are low stakes precisely because we, as viewers, have not engaged with them as characters. Kerensky’s numerous brushes with death are the lazy screenwriter’s way of creating dramatic tension but only because Kerensky is a recurring character in the show that the audience knows. TV plays with a depressing aspect of our functional morality: we discount people we don’t have a sense of as individuals. The trope-redshirt isn’t just the unfortunate security guy on an away team but every single person we fail to see as a distinct individual who dies a needless death. One missing person, given a name and a personality on a news report can raise more public concern than large numbers of people stripped of individuality by the sheer volume of death. Running through Redshirts is a spectre of death that is our own callousness towards people that we don’t know.

The three codas that follow the main plot were criticised at the time as the most self-indulgent aspect of the novel. There is some merit to the criticism in so far as Scalzi uses them to demonstrate three ways of writing and names each coda after the narrative style used (first person, second person, third person) which also presents a minor puzzle of identity.

Returning to the novel, I feel they are not only the strongest part of Redshirts but retroactively up-lift the whole novel. Firstly, they show a commitment to the central idea of the novel that a writer has a debt towards secondary characters. It is an impossible debt and maybe an absurd and incoherent form of guilt, but still, having raised the issue Scalzi attempts to rectify the fact that in telling Andrew Dahl’s story he has created spinning tangents of other stories of other characters.

The codas follow three people. The first is a series of blog posts which is both a lazy strategy for Scalzi as they are essentially his daily writing style and also quite effective. The post follows the main writer of the TV show that the titular Redshirts have escaped from. Having learnt about the consequences of his lazy writing, the author (who unavoidably sounds like John Scalzi even if he is a distinct character) now struggles with writer’s block.

The second story is more moving but a little hard to recap without explaining the major plot details of the story. Like the second it also deals with a person in the 21st century associated with the show but raises both emotional questions and philosophical questions about identity. It presents a kind of Philip K Dick-style question of unreality, to which we the readers already know the science-fictional explanation.

The final story closes the circle of the wider plot. The character Jenkins whose role in the main plot was to info-dump the explanation of the narrative to Dahl was driven to investigating the strange circumstances onboard the Intrepid after his wife was killed in an away mission. For the TV show, Jenkins was simply a grieving husband needed for a single scene. The third coda follows the actress who played his wife, another ‘redshirt’ killed due to lazy writing. Via events in the main plot, the actress had become aware of this otherworldly existence of a woman who looked exactly like her. It is a genuinely moving piece that is technically a short story but which only works within the context of the whole novel.

I found, in early 2021, that I was impressed and deeply moved by Redshirts. Yes, you can pick over the tics and standard plays that are the signatures of John Scalzi’s writing but I’d contend as a novel it is a brilliant synthesis of Scalzi’s multiple writing styles. He uses comedy and flippancy to hide a novel that is ambitious both as meta-fiction and as homage and as a reflection on the process of writing. Like onions and ogres, it has layers. Hiding depth in superficiality is an ambitious move and like a lot of Hugo Award finalist, Redshirts is not lacking in flaws but is full of ambition.

Not everybody will like Redshirts: comedy, in particular, is a personal taste and the comic aspect of the novel is the route into the deeper aspects of both the story and the writing. It is a novel worth reading nonetheless, especially for aspiring authors or for people looking to see what science fiction is capable of as a genre (and I’ll contend that science fiction is neither the best nor most popular of genres but it is the most ambitious). I don’t know if it was the best choice for a Hugo Award in 2013, indeed there is no way of knowing because there may be better novels that may still have gone unnoticed, but it was a worthy winner and a good addition to the roster.

Next Time: Dramatis Personae looks at Nora K Jemisin


Footnotes

126 thoughts on “Debarkle Chapter 20: Redshirts

  1. I realised part way through that this chapter would end up introducing some new protagonists in the Puppy wars (Cora, Ursula Vernon, Mike Glyer) and hence I removed some other quotes from people who don’t appear later. Then that made the title sound like the people introduced here were in some sense ‘redshirts’ (i.e. side doomed side characters) – which was a worry…but then…the redshirts in Scalzi’s novel aren’t doomed characters but people who take charge of a narrative and shift it in a more positive direction…so hey, that works. i.e. don’t get mad at me for calling you redshirts! I didn’t mean to, except then I did mean to, but in a good way, honest.

    Like

  2. At one point, you refer to a “set” of Gen X fans and writers that would “push back against social change in science fiction.” Honestly, I shuddered a little bit when you associated Gen X with the Puppies. I am smack dab in Generation X, am a left-leaning fan from the Golden Age (12) onward, and I have never aligned myself with any of the Puppy nonsense. Hopefully you can explore this connection Puppies-Gen X connection a bit more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry! Wasn’t trying to malign Gen X! The point was that in 2013 the sort of old guard v newcomer dialogue implied it would be reactionary older people v progressive younger people. Now in the SFWA chapter there’s some of that, however the Puppy reactionary push was from a set of people born mid 60s to mid 70s, versus other Gen X people but also many older fans (to the extent that the Pups characterised themselves as upsetting the older establishment).

      So, I was trying to undercut the coming-generational-war thing that I was setting up but which was a bit of a bait-and-switch

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Looking through my 2013 Hugo posts again, I noticed something surprising, namely that after the 2013 Hugo Awards had been awarded, Justin Landon proposed a set of alternate awards for the really popular works that the younger fans liked, to be given out at a big media convention like DragonCon or San Diego Comic Con. And of course, they would be so much more popular than the Hugos. So in short, Justin Landon invented the Dragon Awards three years early.

    Here is the relevant Justin Landon post: https://web.archive.org/web/20131014032813/http://www.staffersbookreview.com/2013/09/mission-statement-the-hugos-and-worldcon-arent-what-i-expected-etc.html

    And here is mine where I say pretty much the same things I would later say about the Hugos and the Dragons, namely “If the really popular stuff wins, you won’t like the results.” http://corabuhlert.com/2013/09/16/yet-more-worldcon-and-hugo-reactions/

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I find it funny that a lot of the chances that people wanted to see, more respect for internet fan writers, etc. came to be in the latter years. In a way to puppies did attract a lot of fans they hate.
      Re Scalzi: The Hugos weren’t the only think were Redshirts were pupular. He declined a nomination for the nebulas https://whatever.scalzi.com/2013/09/06/some-final-hugo-related-thoughts/
      And a funny Cora comment in her Hugoanalysis. She talked about her favorite McGuirebook that would of course never be nominated for a Hugo, Discount Armagedon. (As part of the Incryptseries look at last year)
      I think it is also unfair to exspect any winner to hold up to the best 3 novels who ever won the Hugos.
      The other critisisem that I also rowl my eyes on, is that Redshirts is lesser, because it requires knowledge of another work. If the work in question is Star Trek, a lot of generefans can be assumed to be aware of it. (I am the wrong person to judge on the question, if no knowledge of Star Trek makes it harder to enjoy Redshirts)
      I like Redshirts. I don’t know if I had voted for it, because I am underread on the other nominees.
      The next year became the year when I became awair of the Hugos.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If a book was pupular, does that mean it was esteemed by the Sad Puppies?

        Sorry, I can’t resist an inadvertent pun.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. As the old rule goes ‘I before e, except when it is weird’. Sooner or later this whole project will founder when I have to put Nielsen Hayden, Heinlein and Brian Neimeier in the same sentence and just give up on vowels altogether

      Liked by 6 people

      1. I don’t recall where I first came across this but the rule is: “I before E except when your weird foreign neighbour Keith receives eight counterfeit beige sleighs from a feisty caffeinated weightlifter.”

        Liked by 6 people

  4. I thought the Codas were what made Redshirts worthwhile. I also thought that the Hugo voters had shown any objectors that a popular/populist work could win – so the Puppies should have been happy, right?

    Ringo was the one who described Redshirts’ faults in as much depth as possible given that he admitted no reading it, right?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I enjoyed the whole book, just like I enjoyed “Galaxy Quest” — which won the Hugo when most people figured “The Matrix” had it in the bag. Including the producer and director who were clearly very surprised and were hastily given a panel of their own the next day.

      But the codas made it. There’s a reason they get mentioned on the cover. That last coda made me cry.

      And of course it’s fun to yell “Stay away from the Narrative!” at TV shows now.

      Maybe the subtlety of what’s really happening as the book goes on went over the heads of people? Starting with the title being meta? And of course anyone who only judged it by the blurb and didn’t read it (*ahem*) had no idea how it started off completely goofy and got deeper.

      Liked by 4 people

  5. Just going back looking at stuff that was winning Hugos when I was first starting to read SFF is mind-blowing. The same names over and over again: Heinlein, Anderson, Simak, Dickson, leavened by the occasional newcomer or outsider like Dick and Zelazny and Delany and Silverberg and LeGuin. For Gods’ sake, Asimov won the Hugo in 1973! I have no idea whether the book is any damn good, although I suspect that it isn’t (yeah, I’ve a grudge against Asimov due to bouncing off of the Foundation series too many times).

    But back to my semi-original point: Stranger in a Strange Land is much (much) worse than Redshirts. There, I’ve said it. And Starship Troopers, another Hugo winner by Heinlein, also sucks. And some of the non-winning nominees: E.E. Smith. Really?

    I find it easier and easier to believe that most of the Hugo nominations and votes were done by 14 year old white boys until the mid-1970s. And, honestly, any complaint by the Sad Pups or anyone else that today’s award winners aren’t up to the high quality of the Golden Age, whenever the fuck that was, is just either ill-informed or disingenuous.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Silverberg’s career is definitely divided by the shining bright line that is Lord Valentine’s Castle. Prior to it he was usually put in the same general category as Ellison, Farmer, Moorcock, et al. After it…well I believe it was Ellison that referred to LVC as “well written dreck”.

        Like

      2. Silverberg, the one person who’s attended every single Hugo ceremony ever, an outsider?

        I can easily imagine the sardonic look and chuckle he’d have at that.

        Like

    1. The Hugos did have the tendency to award lesser late period works by authors who wrote their best work before there were Hugos. That’s how The Gods Themselves and Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov won Hugos, even though neither was particularly good. That’s also how E.E. Smith was nominated the year after he died. Sometimes, the Hugo is treated as a lifetime achievement award rather than an award for a particular work. This happens less frequently these days than it used to, though it still does on occasion, e.g. the posthumous Ursula K. Le Guin essay collections.

      However, the occasional outliers aside, the Hugos have a generally good track record of choosing good works. And the three winners Cam listed, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Stranger in a Strange Land and The Man in the High Castle are all acknowledged genre classics, even though I’m not too fond of either of them. The Man in the High Castle even had a TV adaptation a few years ago. Also, you don’t have to like a book to acknowledge that it was important to the development of the genre. I hate Starship Troopers with a passion, but it was an important work and deserved its Hugo, even though I would have no awarded it. I don’t Neuromancer either and think it is more dated than some of the better golden age works these days, but it is an absolutely worthy winner.

      When I started reading SFF, I read a lot of golden and silver age books (and even older works like Edgar Rice Burroughs) alongside then current works by writers like Anne McCaffrey, because those were the books that were available at the local import bookshop. And I generally enjoyed most of the golden age and older writers, whereas I tended to bounce off whatever New Wave stuff I tried (I’ve since learned to appreciate it) and avoided cyberpunk, then the hot new trend, altogether.

      I know it’s popular to bash golden age SFF these days, but that’s not really fair, because there were a lot of good works alongside a lot of mediocre and bad (Sturgeon’s law still applied). Sadly, some of the good works have been forgotten, because they were published in the wrong magazines and early anthologists ignored them.

      Bashing Simak is unfair, because he was one of the best stylists and most human writers of the golden age and his works hold up better than most of that era. Asimov may not have been a great stylist, but his ideas were great and I’ll always have a soft spot for him. Heinlein was a better writer than Asimov, but he’s very hit and miss for me. Poul Anderson is highly variable as well, but then he was hugely prolific and some of his work is very good indeed. Fritz Leiber still holds up very well, even though one of his Hugo winners – The Wanderer – is not very good. However, Ill Met in Lankhmar is still brilliant fifty years later and probably the best Hugo winning novella of all time.

      Did the big names of the past deserve all their Hugo nominations? Probably not, but then neither do the big names of today (John Scalzi’s April Fool’s Day story, for example, would never have made the ballot of anybody else had written it). And while there is more variety these days, we still see the same names pop up on the Hugo ballot over and over again, because those are the writers that are popular right now and speak to our current moment, just as A Canticle for Leibowitz or Stranger in a Strange Land spoke to theirs.

      Are there bad Hugo winners? Of course. Redshirts is not one of them.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. ” Sometimes, the Hugo is treated as a lifetime achievement award rather than an award for a particular work. ” Ditto the Oscars. Peter O’Toole’s award for the forgettable Venus struck me as “OMG, lawrence of Arabia got old, give him an award, quick!”
        I love Simak but there’s something so low-key and down-to-Earth about a lot of his work, I keep forgetting how good it is. Never could get into Heinlein. Love Leiber. Anderson is hit or miss, particularly as his right-wing side seeped into his work, but the hits are great.
        Can’t summon up any enthusiasm for reading Redshirts, but that’s not to say it isn’t good.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. At least one of Simak’s non-victorious finalist novels Time is the Simplest Thing was absolutely brilliant, but had the bad luck to be up against Stranger in a Strange Land. Another, The Goblin Reservation was merely good, but was trounced by The Gods Themselves because people wanted to give Asimov a Hugo.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Well, if nothing else I generated more response than my posts normally receive, so that’s a nice change of pace. But I’ll note that last post was generated after a long day with many things I had to accomplish. However, my perspective hasn’t changed much.

      First, I didn’t intend to run down C. Simak. His stuff was very good. I remember being awestruck after reading “Grotto of the Dancing Deer” in analog. And Poul Anderson was always entertaining but often pretty damn shallow. But looking back after 40 or 50 years on, much of the stuff that seemed so good when I was 15 or so has been visited by the meh fairy (looking at you, Glory Road). And that’s the stuff that was good.

      I mean, H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy? Anything at all by Doc Smith? And don’t think I didn’t notice Time Enough For Love in the nominations at some point in the early 70s. That’s a godawful mess sandwiched between covers. O.K., I still worship at the shrine of Zelazny. And I’d put Gibson’s last 2 books of his Sprawl trilogy up against anything Heinlein or Anderson, much less Asimov, published.

      Anyway, my main point is to reinforce what’s been said elsewhere: the Sad Pups’ nostalgia for some Golden Age is as mythical as their alleged ability to write well. Sturgeon’s Law always prevails. But it does seem to me that over the past 20 to 30 years, in general SFF writing has increased tenfold in its ambition, its willingness to consider the viewpoint of people other than straight white guys, and its practitioners’ skill at writing.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I love Doc Smith. I wouldn’t consider his work Hugo worthy though.
        Glory Road I didn’t like even as a teen. Way too heavy on the hero banging everything in a skirt and Heinlein’s observations about life (marriage and prostitution are both ridiculous because women have an infinite capacity to provide men with sex) sounded dumb-ass even at that age.

        Like

      2. I could see the Lensman books getting Best Series. They are (mostly) quite a step up from the Skylark books. And hugely influential.

        But I really wouldn’t want SF/F to go back to those days. I think it could be argued that SF/F is in a Golden Age right now.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Pretty much agreed with this assessment of Redshirts, which coincidentally I reread about a fortnight ago. I’m not much of a fan of Scalzi’s humour, which tends towards the glib for my tastes, but here he uses it as a reflection on precisely that kind of glibness.
    It’s a book that’s doing a lot of very obvious, glib, stuff, actually – but juxtaposing those obvious things in ways that make them seem more interesting. It exists in this weird liminal space between “serious postmodernist literary work of metafiction” and “entertaining craftsmanlike page-turning humorous adventure of, ironically, precisely the same kind that Larry Correia would write if he was a better craftsman and could stop banging on about guns every five seconds”, sometimes succeeding at both, sometimes failing at both.
    But it’s ambitious as hell, enjoyable even when it’s not succeeding in its ambitions, and a book that could only be done as a science fiction novel, building on and adding to acknowledged mainstream classics of the genre. One can of course argue about whether it was the best SF novel of the year, whether it deserved to win compared to the other contenders, and so on, but I honestly can’t imagine what the Hugo awards would be *for* if they didn’t reward books like Redshirts.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. It reminds me of the discussions we were having last year about one novel nominee that was trying sometime very ambitious, and several of us expressed the opinion, after reading it, that it hadn’t quite succeeded.

      BUT, it was attempting something very ambitious and it came close to succeeding and I had no problem placing it above No Award on my ballot. Stories like that should be recognized, even if they don’t always win.

      The first time I read Red Shirts, I thought it was good, but I had several caveats. Then it made the ballot, and I mentioned my caveats to a friend who had just read it and disagreed with some of my misgivings. So I re-read it. And I found it a much more moving and nuanced experience than I had remembered the first time.

      So, yeah. Was it really the best novel that year? Maybe not, but it certainly deserved consideration.

      And it really felt a lot more like the kind of novel Larry & Co ought to like. I have always assumed that their Scalzi hate was just too much to allow them to even try.

      Liked by 6 people

    2. , ironically, precisely the same kind that Larry Correia would write if he was a better craftsman and could stop banging on about guns every five seconds”

      I can’t help thinking that one of the reasons the pups get so upset by Scalzi is that he’s doing a lot of the things they say they want in SF*, but rather than being ostracised by the SMOFs, he’s an important figure who sells well and the mainstream of fandom generally like. They have to demonise him, because otherwise they’d have to admit that the problem is not that they’re lovers of adventurous SF with ray guns who aren’t crazy progressives, the problem is that they write mediocre books and they’re constantly picking fights and whining about how no-one likes them.

      * He’s not even a leftie, at least not by European standards – I’d put him as on the gently conservative side of centrist.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The SFWA presidency is the turning point. It’s why I’m saving the Ringo post on Redshirts until later (I’ve quoted from the comments in it before because it included his belief in a Hugo conspiracy against him)

        Liked by 2 people

  7. Camestros Felapton: The trope-redshirt isn’t just the unfortunate security guy on an away team but every single person we fail to see as a distinct individual who dies a needless death… Running through Redshirts is a spectre of death that is our own callousness towards people that we don’t know.

    The three codas that follow the main plot were criticised at the time as the most self-indulgent aspect of the novel… I feel they are not only the strongest part of Redshirts but retroactively up-lift the whole novel.

    This was exactly my reaction. I expected the novel to be a lark, an amusing metafictional take on my favorite SF series. But it ended up being much more than that, in large part because of the codas. This is what I wrote about it:

    At first glance, this is a superficial work which riffs on the infamous “Redshirt” of doom from the series Star Trek. However, I was impressed by the way the author manages to make it more meaningful than just a work of satire.

    We get to know the characters; we see the triumphs and failures of their fairly unremarkable lives; we get a glimpse of their hopes and their dreams and their souls. They live and then they die. They are unextraordinary and never make it into the history books (or perhaps, end up nothing more than a name in red font appearing in someone else’s Wikipedia entry).

    And yet, and yet… they are nevertheless important as human beings. For the time during which they live, and the people whose lives they intersect, they make a difference. They matter.

    I think that is such a powerful message, especially for those of us who’ve lived long enough to get a realistic perception of our relative importance to the world and to history – that it’s okay to not be Rosalind Franklin, or Jonas Salk, or Martin Luther King Jr., or Sally Ride. That it’s enough to make our own place in the world and make the lives of the people around us a little bit nicer.

    As Andrew Hickey says, “I honestly can’t imagine what the Hugo awards would be *for* if they didn’t reward [ambitious] books like Redshirts.” And I think it’s a shame that a lot of people seem to have dismissed it as a trivial work without ever bothering to read it.

    Liked by 5 people

  8. This was the first year I voted for the Hugo and I ranked Redshirts first. I wouldn’t call it great but it was better than the other nominees and for me, better than the three classics you listed also.
    Regarding it being derivative- that was an aspect I liked. I liked that it was an ‘insider’ story, that you had to have certain background knowledge to get it.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. “Where the Hugo Awards simply playthings of the past…” s/b “Were the Hugo Awards…”

    Also agree that I found most of Redshirts glib and amusing, but the last coda made me cry.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m not sure that Redshirts is a classic, but it’s a book that you can safely give to a non-genre reader who has maybe watched a bit of Star Trek, and they will get it as a novel.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. “ good addition to roster” – add “the” before “roster”.

    The speed at which you’re producing this excellent material is amazing. Thanks for your fine analysis of Redshirts (and eliciting the very good ones in the comments). I read Redshirts because it’s a funny riff on Star Trek. But I keep it on my shelves, and reread it, because it’s such a loving book.

    And it’s very nice to both have a break from the hateful swamp of puppy thinking and to encounter much more interesting and rational dramatis personae. I suppose the puppies hate Redshirts because they hate the author as a “traitor”? Future chapters will show …

    Liked by 4 people

  12. Aidan Moher’s review perfectly encapsulates my reaction to Redshirts. It was an entertaining two-hour read that, at this remove, has almost entirely vanished from my memory.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. When judging the Hugoworthiness of novels why are they never compared to They’d Rather Be Right (1955), The Wanderer (1965) and Hominids (2003)? Most novels will never clear the high bar set by Canticle, Stranger* and Castle but surely if a book is better than the worst ever winners** it mustn’t be too bad to be considered.

    * SiaSL wouldn’t be my choice for one of the top 3 Hugo winners of all time – I would probably say Dune instead – but I can see how other people would pick it.

    ** Feel free to choose your own worst 3. (I haven’t read Blackout/All Clear yet. The TBR ranges are tall and wide and full of ooo shiny!!!)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I actually wouldn’t call The Wanderer one of the worst ever Hugo winners, but it’s a weak work by writer who’s capable of so much better. Plus, the competition it was up against – Davy by Edgar Pangborn, The Whole Man by John Brunner and The Planet Buyer by Cordwainer Smith – were much better, Coincidentally, at Galactic Journey we almost never agree with the Hugo voters of the 1960s.

        Regarding Fritz Leiber, his other Hugo winning novel The Big Time is much better than The Wanderer, though I know a lot of people have issues with some of the more uncomfortable aspects of the book.”Ill Met in Lankhmar”, another of Fritz Leiber’s many Hugo winners, is just brilliant and my personal favourite of all the Hugo-winning novellas I’ve read.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Big Time is definitely better. I think Leiber’s growing around theater makes it good — presenting a time war on what’s little more than a one-room set would usually fall flat.
        I haven’t read Davy but the little Pangborn I have read doesn’t encourage me. He frequently writes women as annoying, shrill nags getting in the way of the important male bonding.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Davy has a great female character, but she doesn’t show up until more than halfway through the book. But yes, Pangborn had little interest in women and it shows.

        Like

    1. There are of course other works that can someone choose but I like the judging by the worst winners and not the best.
      On the other hand if we go by the whole ballot and all nominees, I think the puppies managed (probably by consens) the worst 5 works ever nominated for a Hugo. (Just in looking in 2015 and 2016 I have 6 candidates)

      Liked by 3 people

      1. JJ: You may be right, I tried to start with the worst 3. Those seven: Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth, Wisdom from My Internet, The Zombie Nation Book #2, “Seven Kill Tiger”, If You Were an Award, My Love, Safe Space as Rape Room, SJWs Always Lie are the once that I think are the absolute bottom.
        I gave up to lower the number down. I was going for a worst 3 than 5.
        I think if you ask for a worst 5, I exspect a lot of this works above in the list for everone who is not a puppy.
        If you force me to choose, If you were an Award, my Love for the deathtread is my worst ever nominee.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. See, “Stripper Boned by a T-Rex” would have a place IF it wasn’t shoved out of the way by so much absolutely awful shit that the Pups forced on the ballot. Yeah, it’s shoddy porn but it’s not actively malicious, which knocks it well out of the top bottom ten.

        Liked by 2 people

  14. Another data point. In December 2006, Kristine Katherine Rusch published an essay “Barbarian Confessions” in Asimovs. It doesn’t appear to be on the web, but as I recall, it argued in part that the Hugo voters sought novelty _too_ _much_ and neglect good renditions of old themes.

    Like

    1. Andrew: Another data point. In December 2006, Kristine Katherine Rusch published an essay “Barbarian Confessions” in Asimovs.

      “Barbarian Confessions” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

      And John DeNardo has a round-up here of the associated dialogue that went on with other SF authors at the time.

      Working links to the other commentaries, which have broken links:

      “Getting Medieval on Reality’s Ass” by Lou Anders

      “These fictions that sustain us” by Ian McDonald

      “Getting Even More Medieval” by Lou Anders

      “The Lie of Star Wars as Entertainment” by John Scalzi

      “Don’t Fence Me In” by Paul McCauley

      Like

      1. JJ: Thank you very much!

        I wrote a letter to Asimovs responding to this essay too – but I don’t think mine was published.

        Like

      2. P.S. I should add – one of the things that I found inaccurate in the essay is the idea that dystopian ideas in SF showed up in the 1960s – infanticide for drama and laughs show up in 1948 (“That Only a Mother”) and 1944 (“When the Bough Breaks”) and the countless after-the-bomb dystopias also show up then.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I remember reading that essay, when it first came out as well as many of the responses. And indeed, there was a lot of debate about how science fiction and fantasy were exhausted and dying and how something new was needed in the 2000s. Some people, like KKR, wanted to go back to the sense of wonder of the old days, others – a fraction I called the anti-nostalgics – wanted something new and totally, radically different like the world had never seen before that captured the current moment.

        However, science fiction was in a bad state in the early 2000s. Those were the years of mundane science fiction and singularity fiction and the New British Space Opera with its bad Iain Banks clones and a string of pretty bad Hugo winners and finalists. Fantasy was part big fat extruded fantasy product, part new weird and part grimdark, which was just hitting its stride. Urban fantasy got big in the 2000s, but it was largely ignored.

        Also, the debate in the genre was very aggressive at the time, as some of the responses to KKR linked above show. If you liked the wrong books and didn’t like the right books or if you watched the wrong TV shows and dared to like them, you were attacked and called stupid, too dumb to understand this new thing, etc…

        This was the time that I almost stopped writing SFF, because I couldn’t write the stuff that one had to write, and almost stopped reading SFF, because I tried reading a lot of the highly toted, award-winning books of the era and found that I hated most of them. So I decamped to romance and mystery and eventually found my way back via paranormal romance and urban fantasy. I read KKR’s essay and found myself nodding along, because I felt very much like she did at the time.

        Meanwhile, the space opera resurgence, which I credit with making SF a lot more fun again, didn’t really get started until well after that essay was published. Scalzi’s Old Man’s War came out in 2005 and was very much an outlier at the time plus more military SF than space opera. Ann Aguirre’s excellent, but largely ignored Grimspace came out in 2008. Leviathan Wakes, the first Expanse novel, came out in 2011. Redshirts came out in 2012. Ancillary Justice came out in 2013, as did Rachel Aaron/Bach’s vastly underrated Fortune’s Pawn. The genre started changing notably around 2010 and entered a new cycle. Fantasy lagged a bit behind, but became a lot more interesting and diverse, too, as a new bunch of authors entered the genre.

        The puppies were in many ways Johnny-come-latelys to the debate (and except for Brad and maybe Hoyt, I don’t remember any of them participating in the genre debates of the time), showing up at a time when the genre was already changing and moving away from the mundane SF and singularity era. The puppies might even have found a niche for themselves as purveyors of good old-fashioned nutty nuggets with none of that newfangled gender and diversity stuff, if they hadn’t peed all over the carpet.

        Like

    2. It was actually September 2006; I just pulled my copy off the shelf and re-read it. It originally appeared as part of a book of pieces by SF writers debating the merits of Star Wars, published by BenBella Books in June 2006.

      It’s surprisingly Puppy-esque: Rusch claims that SF as a publishing genre is dying, and the problem is that readers can’t find the written equivalent of Star Wars on the science fiction shelves. ‘ “Good” sf can retire to the specialty press where the Science Fiction Village can read and discuss it. It’s time to return to the gosh-wow, sense-of-wonder stories that sf abandoned when it added literary values to its mix…”

      “Good” SF means anything other than media tie-in novels, and the Science Fiction Village is Rusch’s (IMO, contemptuous) term for SF fandom.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I saw it in Asimov’s – must have been reprinted there a few months after the BenBella book came out.
        John C. Wright was involved in the Star Wars book, too, I see.

        Like

      1. The Mad Genii follow Kristine Kathryn Rusch, because she and Dean Wesley Smith write a lot about the publishing business. A lot of self-published writers – and many/most of the Mad Genii are – follow KKR and DWS, because they were early proponents of self-publishing and KKR’s business insights are usually worth reading. KKR and DWS were the ones who persuaded me that this self-publishing thing was worth a try, because here were two well known authors from my genre (there were others, e.g. mystery author Joe Konrath) who said self-publishing was a viable alternative now.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. KKR’s writing about contracts is exceptional. She gets a little obsessive on how self-publishing is the way, the truth and the light (Scalzi’s big publishing contract? Not a very good deal. Nobody can get a good deal going traditional).

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Kristine Kathryn Rusch had bad experiences in publishing, which colours her views. Scalzi’s experiences were generally good and his contract is clearly a very good deal for him and Tor.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Interestingly enough, Annie Bellet, who got dragged into the Sad Puppies mess by Brad against her will, wrote once about how Rusch and her partner’s advice actually caused her problems and she had some success by doing things opposite of what they advised in self-publishing. It shows that there isn’t just one way to do it, I guess.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Ironically, if you look at themed short story anthologies from Baen, Rusch’s are often the only ones that have no typos, the grammar and spelling are all perfect, because she’s an editor and sends good copy in.* Often they’re the most offbeat in the book, not using the obvious old tropes.

      *Remember, according to Toni W. herself, they don’t bother to fix grammar, spelling, or typos.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Having read this chapter, I now think that either 1) My read of Redshirts was hasty and superficial, and I missed a lot, or 2) Everyone else is wrong, and I’m going to start a literary movement to prove it.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Lampwick –

      You know, if you had done that 3 or 4 months ago, called it the ‘GasLampers’, and posted about it on Baen’s Bar, you could have obtained a bunch of followers in a very short amount of time. But I guess that was before ‘cancel culture’ took over at Baen. Dang it!

      Liked by 2 people

    2. You need an adjective (Sad, Rapid, Happy, Red) and an animal species to make a proper literary movement start. “Sardonic Lampreys”?

      Liked by 3 people

  16. @Cam:
    “1984 was from 1948. Jack London’s the Iron Heel is from 1908! Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (which is overtly sci-fi ) is from the 1920s!”

    Yeah – I was sticking with American magazine SF just to be fair to Rusch’s argument about what was being published in America and as SF

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, there were earlier apocalyptic texts, though some of them were “apocalyptic” in the original meaning of “revelation of the truth”.

        Like

      1. Hmm. The link to a clip from “Shrek” in which ogres and onions are both described as having layers didn’t show up.

        Like

  17. So like it’s funny – when i got back into SF/F fandom around 2015, I went on a Scalzi binge (in part due to his opposition to the puppies), and I loved Redshirts. Since then, I’ve gotten a lot colder on Scalzi, basically finding both his Collapsing Empire and Lock In series perfectly fine and functional but utterly….bland in the end, which left me little interest in continuing (well, with TCE i felt the first two books were tremendously unsatisfying in being both short and incomplete, with Lock In and its sequel, I felt it just felt mailed in).

    So I’m really curious how I’d feel about Redshirts nowadays – but even in concept it’s a lot more original than practically anything else Scalzi has really written, even if it’s based upon a derivative concept. I know that when I finished Redshirts, I was totally fine with it winning the Hugo from the list of nominees, even if I obviously haven’t read much from 2013 to compare.

    It certainly shouldn’t have invoked any sort of backlash if not for Scalzi’s center left political posts.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m meh on Collapsing Empire — serviceable but I’m not spending the bucks on them.

      Lock In and Head On I really like, though. I like police procedurals, and have done some mild disability activism, so I’m hoping there’s more.

      Like

      1. I found The Collapsing Empire weak, but then the genre has changed a lot since Scalzi came in 15 years ago and where Scalzi’s work was once a breath of fresh air among all the serious business mundane SF and singularity stuff, he’s now one of many voices.

        Besides, my opinion of The Collapsing Empire was influenced by the fact that I read it shortly after K.B. Wagers’ Behind the Throne, which did the whole “unexpected heir becomes empress and has to deal with an intergalactic crisis” plot so much better.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, I really like “Head On” and “Lock In” – I like “one big change, and see how it changes stuff” SF as a subgenre, anyway.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I liked TCE and imho it shows how much better Scalzi has become as writer since OMW. But it’s also more akin to comfort food (your favorite burrito joint / sorry I had to) or easy listening. But there are other authors whose work I’d rate higher

        Thanks all for the K. B Wagers tip

        Like

      4. @JJ
        Yes, I was also disappointed by the second Hail Bristol trilogy after loving the first. But the Farians were the bits I cared less about in the first trilogy and their importance is ramped up in the second. I also didn’t care for Hail’s love interest.

        Like

      5. I’d stick “The Collapsing Empire” books in my “brain candy” bucket (eminently enjoyable, but it’s not anything that requires or inspires deep thought). There’s enough meat to the Lock In books (and one somewhat cool stylistic choice) that brings then closer to “inspires at least some thought”. That being that Scalzi intentionally never reveals the gender of the main protagonist (to the point that there are two versions of the audio-book, one with a female narrator, and one with a male).

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I don’t regret reading The Collapsing Empire books but I found them oddly short. Obviously he’s not ready to just sit back and let a mammoth series sprawl ever onward and sit on buckets of money, which is good but it still felt that it was over a bit rapidly for an epic.

        Like

      7. Yeah, I quite enjoyed The Collapsing Empire series, but my impression is that his contract calls for at least X words per book (which works out to 300 pages), and that’s exactly what he’s giving them, and nothing more. I felt that the novels and the stories in them were a bit unnaturally abbreviated.

        Like

      8. As far as I know, 100,000 words is normal for John. It was the reason that Redshirts had the Codas, becaue it would have been short otherwise.

        Like

  18. Yeah, your take on Redshirts matches with my own and a lot of folk here. My husband loved it, it was a big bestseller that was widely popular both in and out of the category market/media. We also often joke about the Narrative re t.v. shows or that the Narrative is trying to control us when things go wrong in life. It is a book with layers that you can look at or ignore by design and it’s the most experimental thing he’s done but solidly couched in both science fiction traditions and sci-fi history. That includes the meta-tradition we’re familiar with from Harry Harrison, Galaxy Quest, Hitchhiker’s Guide and other works. Because it’s satiric, meta and makes use of Star Trek and other old t.v. shows, plus has a three part epilogue essentially, it’s a book people either tend to really like or not find engaging.

    I think if I were to go and re-read it now (we have it on the shelf) that I would feel rather differently about it, not because of Scalzi’s writing but because of our plague era, where people not only douse themselves in ever shifting alternate reality but try to larp it as a game that they view as absolutely essential to their identity, over their families, their health, etc. We learned that people will not only sometimes act foolishly but actually run to the zombies in a zombie apocalypse to be eaten. We got to read about people who died from Covid and still gasped that it was a hoax with their last breaths. Scalzi’s novel was centered on the issue of free will vs. fate, but it was also looking at reality being a fluid concept of will and perception and, well, now that’s been a rather depressing topic.

    Anyway, for the Puppies, the value of it was that it was A) a book by Scalzi; B) meta comic in approach and C) actually won the award in the time period they wanted to claim was cursed, (said award being one in which the nominated books are always well known/usually best-selling and the winner particularly.) The imaginary intelligensia supposedly loved it because it was meta and because the Puppies kept trying to paint Scalzi as a fervent SJW, which only worked with those who had never met him and/or read his blog or social media. At the same time, the Puppies declared it to be an undeserving lightweight book because it was comic and dealt with Star Trek. Again, it didn’t make sense but it was very much a weird homage to the themes of Red Shirts.

    As for 2006, by that time we’d had the perfect storm of expansion/growth of first YA (initially fueled by Harry Potter,) and horror, contemporary fantasy and paranormal romance from the late 1990’s through the early oughts. Science fiction, as a result of readers browsing in, also began a growth spurt but wasn’t as far along. And so in the grand tradition of science fiction fandom, science fiction was declared defeated by fantasy and dying around that 2004-2009 time period. You could point at very popular books like Blindsight, The Hunger Games, Altered Carbon, Little Brother, Boneshaker, Halting State, Midnight Robber, The Passage, World War Z, Warchild, Light, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, The Quiet War, Rainbow’s End, etc. — didn’t matter what it was, if it was popular, how many SF titles were coming out, etc., that was all waved away for a bit until the teens. So KKR was wrong but wasn’t the only person schilling that idea out by any means.

    The other nice thing we got from Red Shirts was that Jonathan Coulton wrote the song Red Shirt for it and the song totally slaps: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQIuapbeh0I

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Responding to Kat: A friend of mine has pointed out there’s a long tradition in criticism of proclaiming various genres dead. In movie books I’ve seen it with romance (no great romantic leads left), adventure films and swashbucklers (we’re too cynical) and movie musicals (oh, sure, they still get made but they all suck). I’d say KKR’s essay fits in that mode.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Science fiction dies every couple of years. There are articles in 1930s fanzines about the impending death of science fiction.

      The problem that the genre actually had in the late 1990s and early 2000s was that science fiction proper had pushed itself into a corner and was limiting itself only to a few styles, subgenres and themes that were considered appropriate for proper science fiction (mundane SF, the singularity, climate change and environmental issues), while everybody who wanted to write or read something else either had to resort to media tie-ins or Baen (where you could never be sure if you wouldn’t get a big side order of far right politics with your SF) or decamp to fantasy. It’s also notable that a lot of the most interesting SF from that era either came from outside the genre or from its margins. This was the atmosphere in which the Rusch essay was written. Though the conflict between fans who came in via books/magazines and fans who came in via media properties that Rusch mentions had been raging at least since the 1960s and Star Trek and would only get worse.

      Also, that Star Wars on Trial book was pretty huge at the time. The prequel trilogy had just concluded and was overwhelming considered disappointing and a lot of people were discussing Star Wars and if it had any future or if it had ever been good at all. A lot of big name authors contributed to that book. Some of them have faded by now, though few as badly as JCW, but at the time it was a big deal.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. As Cora notes, science fiction is always said to be dying. It is a weird aspect of the fandom for it. In the oughts, SF was not dying; it was expanding in growth/sales and titles. It just didn’t have as many big hits at the time as various forms of fantasy did from expansions that started in the 1990’s and people tend to think YA stuff doesn’t count.

      Like

  20. One final thing to note here is that the voting stats don’t show the vote was really that close. Redshirts not only got 92 more votes than Correia’s own work for the nomination (which came in 6th), but got 103 more votes on the first pass than the #2 (CVA) book on the shortlist and basically grew its lead on every pass – this wasn’t one of those cases where another book was close and the lead switched back and forth on passes. Redshirts was the clear voter choice.

    Liked by 3 people

  21. This chapter might be interesting if you have read Redshifts, but then it perhaps wouldn’t be necessary. When I found the red shirts part didn’t seem to have any interesting data on the Puppy Debarcle whatsoever, I just skipped the rest. One single persons view of a book, whose significance isn’t explained in any way, isn’t very interesting.

    Either add explanations on why it is relevant for us to read a book review of one book among many or cut down the sections going through the entire plot. If you have quotes from Puppies using Redshirts as an argument for something or other, this is where they should be placed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I disagree. Camestros is telling a long narrative and needs to set things up for later. In this case, Redshirts is a novel that was brought up over and over again by the Puppies as “message fiction” and an unworthy winner, and other things which are blatantly not the case if you read the book. And in particular, Vox Day, when he becomes a major part of the story, makes everything about Scalzi in a rather obsessive way. Just as one example in (I think) the 2015 Worldcon, there was a short performance in which someone dressed as an Enterprise crew member shot Death with a phaser. Several of the Puppies were insistent that that was an attack on them, because they claimed it was meant to represent Redshirts defeating the work of the late Terry Pratchett (who they decided was on their side the moment he was dead and couldn’t contradict them).

      To tell the story properly, Camestros has to set up what Redshirts is, in enough detail that it becomes obvious that the criticisms of the book by the Puppies are motivated by things other than the actual content of the book, and that in fact Redshirts is an example of precisely the kind of work that they claimed to want.Those criticisms can’t be introduced before the point at which they happened chronologically, for the story to make sense.

      And Redshirts definitely needed to be discussed, because in the whole benighted multi-year Puppy campaign, the only two works whose literary merits or otherwise they would talk about were Redshirts and If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love. And they didn’t appear to have read either…

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Andrew Hickey: Several of the Puppies were insistent that that was an attack on them, because they claimed it was meant to represent Redshirts defeating the work of the late Terry Pratchett (who they decided was on their side the moment he was dead and couldn’t contradict them).

        Wut.

        Every time I think the Puppies can’t possibly make themselves look any more stupid, they manage to do so. 🙄

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Problem is that this chapter doesn’t in give any example of Puppies bringing up Redshirts. There’s no quotation of anyone saying anything about the book at all, just some discussions about the quality of nominees as a whole and those not even made by puppies.

        If one book should get a whole chapter, then there must be at least some attempt to explain why it is relevant. If only by a throwaway sentence like “The importance of Redshirts in Puppy rhetoric will become clearer in later chapters”.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. That’s not how storytelling works though. If you’re writing a murder mystery, and you introduce the criminal, you don’t say “the butler, whose importance to the story will become important when the detective reveals whodunnit, served the drinks…”
        Unless you’re writing a Columbo episode, of course…

        Liked by 1 person

      4. That comment is nonsense, because this isn’t a Murder Mystery. This is about giving a factual account of an episode of SF fandom, to keep readers interested and make sure they read important details that are necessary to remember later on.

        Like

    2. Hampus, I’ve done more Puppies context comments about these chapters than probably anyone here, but at the end of the day, it’s organized how Camestros wants to organize it. And the way he’s organizing it is not exclusively centered on the Puppies and their words. Instead, he’s looking at a variety of works, industry issues and people, who are threads of what would become the Puppy conflict tapestry. In particular, in the first set of chapters, he’s not simply recounting Puppy history (which he’s already done in his previous timeline on his blog,) but looking at political and cultural events and aspects that represent political-social shifts not just among the Puppies but in the larger SFF field and U.S. political culture. He seems to be drawing a parallel between what the Puppies attempted and developments in U.S. political conflict and conservatism that led into Trump. I’m not sure how well that’s going to develop, but this is not a work that is just about Puppies, Puppies all the time.

      So this chapter is looking at the novel that won the Best Novel Award right before the main storm of the Puppies, a novel that was written by person of interest John Scalzi and whose win caused a lot of reactions among a lot of people besides the Puppies, indicating cultural views at the time. The Puppies are mentioned in general in their future complaint of SFF not being populist enough and in this chapter, Red Shirts is being analyzed in terms of whether it was populist or artsy-fartsy literature (or both — it’s both) and about how it fits in the field/Hugo wins relative to famous past winners (who I’m not sure are the best picks for comparison but they made thematic sense to Camestros.)

      So there’s no “must be there” stuff here. It’s what’s of interest to Camestros and how he sees themes and ideas tying together.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m really impressed with Camestros’ identification of the parallel arcs in sff and the broader culture that have brought us to the present day.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. As Camestros has pressed “like” on my comments, I guess he finds some value in them. I’m sorry you don’t, but Camestros opinion is that is the one that is important to me.

        If he takes umbrage at my comments, then I will take my leave.

        Like

      3. Huh, what am I missing? Hampus, I don’t think anyone wanted you to leave.
        I disagree with you, that this cheapter has no relevance (it basicly shows the world of the Hugos before the Puppies turned it up to eleven, introduces a few persons who will be important later and also serves as breatherchapter after all the Puppypoe) but I also don’t think you crossed any line here. So disagrement but I am looking forward to other comments from you.
        So is there any harm?

        Like

      4. Hampus:

        Neither I nor Camestros as far as I can tell were taking “umbrage” at your comments or saying you should leave. I was pointing out that in your complaint about this chapter, you were missing some of the stuff that Camestros seems to be trying to do. I myself raised questions about relevance in earlier chapters re the Puppies along the same lines, as I mentioned, but Camestros in response pointed out some of the wider stuff he was trying to do and mentioned that some material many of us were asking about would be in further chapters, that early chapters were “setting the stage.” And Red Shirts is definitely part of setting the stage about the Puppies; can’t argue with that as Beale made it a big point during the conflict.

        I may natter on around here but I’m fully aware of whose blog it is. Which is what I was gently reminding you about, as were others. I thought it would help to point out the larger themes that Camestros has been telling us that he’s playing with. But obviously that wasn’t something you wanted to hear.

        We’re all testy these days. I’m not taking it personally.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.