Thursday, June 14, 2012

Redshirts: The "Reading"

So last night I went to see a John Scalzi reading/signing for his new novel REDSHIRTS. It was at the Burbank Central Library, which seems like a pretty special community space for Burbankians (Burbankites?), because it's well-stocked with books, staffed by nice people and open until 9pm (unlike our budget-strapped libraries here in LA).

I got there early, so I could pick up an extra copy of REDSHIRTS to be signed. By the time Scalzi arrived at 7pm, the room was pretty full. I'm terrible at estimating crowd sizes, but I feel like there were about 200 people there. In any event, it was a pretty big crowd for a book reading/signing, but given Scalzi's popularity, both as an author and blogger, that's not too surprising.

At this point, you may want me to explain why I put "reading" in quotation marks/double inverted commas...

[SPOILER ALERT: if you're going to see Scalzi read on the rest of his tour, consider NOT proceeding further. I'm not going to reveal anything "big," or give you a blow-by-blow account in detail, but I will discuss my experience at the reading, and you may prefer to go in clear-headed, as I did. If not, read on.]

At this point, you may want me to explain why I put "reading" in quotation marks/double inverted commas. That's because Scalzi didn't actually read from REDSHIRTS, but from 3 other pieces of writing that relate to REDSHIRTS. This was decided by vote, after he gave the compelling argument that we've all read or are about to read REDSHIRTS, so it might make more sense to hear other things that expand our understanding of it instead. I'll discuss each reading in turn:

1. Secret Undisclosed Project Alpha

Scalzi read from an upcoming piece that I can't tell you anything about, because I was sworn to secrecy. No, I'm serious: we were all sworn to secrecy. But I can say this much: it was good, it featured Scalzi's patented brand of humor and may or may not be announced later this summer.

2. Essay on Bad Design in Star Wars and Star Trek

Given that REDSHIRTS is, largely, a satire on television and film SF, this piece helped contextualized the novel. As Scalzi pointed out, television and film SF franchises are plagued by poor design--things that look cool but don't really make a lot of sense. So he read a list of the 10 things that bother him most about the Star Wars and Star Trek films. I won't go through all of them, but some were pretty spot-on. The lack of seatbelts in any space-going vessel struck me as particularly funny--and true. The Enterprise, Millenium Falcon and the rest are constantly being thrown around, yet no one is strapped in--or suffering from whiplash, for that matter. The inevitable grimaces, shaking heads and raised hands from the Trekkies in the crowd was priceless.

3. A Dialogue Piece Related to Redshirts

I won't tell you the content of this, as it was really really funny. But I think it's safe to reveal the special guest star at this point, since he's an LA resident and unlikely to follow Scalzi to Brooklyn and beyond: audiobook reader, teenage Star Trek star and uber-nerd Wil Wheaton. FYI he has a Dr. Who ringtone. Pretty sure it's the version from the Tom Baker years, which everyone knows were the best in the series' 40+ years of existence.  

Q&A followed, and Scalzi was gracious in his replies (provided you weren't arguing one of his points about Star Wars/Star Trek, which several tried to do). The most interesting moment, for me, came when another audience member said he was interning as an editor, a position he described as "the writer's worst enemy." Scalzi took (polite) issue with that, describing the relationship between writer and editor as reciprocal and mutually beneficial. He then mentioned that the writer's real worst enemy was the point in their career when they can refuse editing. "That's when you end up with these 1,400 page tomes that aren't good for anything except killing bugs."

How did he know I was reading 1Q84??

Singing was fun. I had him sign copies of REDSHIRTS and ZOE'S TALE, and had a brief but pleasant conversation about his future projects and his blog, Whatever, which I read regularly. I was definitely glad I went, and if you are considering going to see a reading/signing on the remainder of the tour, it definitely gets my vote of confidence.