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Audiobook Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

The one thing I never expected from Redshirts by John Scalzi is that it would make me sob. Like a baby. At my desk at work. Because I was listening to the audiobook, and I just started crying at the end. Cue my coworkers: “Wait, you’re crying and you’re listening to a Star Trek parody?”

Of course Redshirts is more than a parody. It’s an exploration of what big stories are like from the point of view of minor characters who are, more or less, extras. It’s about finding meaning and rebelling against one’s expected roles to do something bigger or better. And in some parts of it, it’s about love and how we affect each others’ lives.

The plot is simple: Ensign Andrew Dahl is assigned to work on the Universal Union’s flagship vessel, The Intrepid. On his way there, he meets other new people, including the drug-dealing Finn and the sarcastic and smart Maya Duval. They’re all proud of their assignment until they get on board and notice things are weird. For one thing, away missions have a pretty high mortality rate, but never of key officers. For another, all of the higher ups disapear and avoid the main officers like the plague. And sometimes those officers are melodramatic.

And then there’s The Box. Dahl is expected to create a cure for a space plague in six hours, which is impossible. So he’s told to use The Box. He puts the sample in, the box beeps and out puts nonsense, and he gives the results to the Admiral. Just like that, there’s a cure for the plague. Bam. It makes no sense at all which freaks Dahl out.

Eventually they figure out what’s what and meet Jensen, a man who runs the computers and has a theory that they live in a television show and exist solely to be cannon fodder, which isn’t pleasant to hear. But they decide they have to do something about it and stop the show before it kills them.

Wil Wheaton is, of course, the perfect narrator for this book. His reading is emotive and heart-felt and at times, downright hilarious, just like the text itself. I highly recommend the audiobook if you enjoy that sort of thing. I’m sure it’s a damn fine read on actual paper and/or whatever digital format you prefer.

The funniest part was Coda Two, in which [spoiler] the head writer of the television show has a crisis after meeting his “fictional” characters. The blog part is awesome, the dig at Gawker is great, and the conclusion is the best. Death is inevitable. It’s how one dies that matters.[/spoiler] My favorite part was Coda 3 and that’s what made me cry.

All and all an excellent book. It delivers the laughs and jabs at tropes that you’d expect, but still comes to some honest conclusions and tugs at the heart strings.

Recommend for: Fans of Douglas Adams will adore it. People who like books that can be funny and still make you care.


Review: First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

In Darynda Jones’ first novel, First Grave on the Right, Charley Davidson sees dead people and always has, because in addition to being a private investigator, she’s also the grim reaper. Apparently she glows like a beacon to the dead, and helps the people who don’t immediately cross sort out their unfinished business and then gets them to go to The Other Side. Not that she knows what’s over there. The book opens with Charley waking from a recently recurring sex dream to a dead lawyer in bedroom (which totally kills the mood). Aside from solving the dead lawyer’s murder, she also needs to figure out where those dreams are coming from and learn more about her destiny as a reaper.

In the blurb, JR Ward calls it “hilarious.” I wouldn’t go that far. It has its witty moments, it does, but the rapid-fire attempt to make every other line a sarcastic remark or pun or bad joke got old. One of my novel pet peeves is when authors try so hard to be funny that it feels like they’re standing on the stage in a comedy club in front of a silent audience, with a drummer making rim shots. It’s just distracting and uncomfortable. Now, in Mrs. Jones’ defense other authors who do this and irk me include Christopher Moore and Terry Pratchett*. (I know, that’s like nerd blasphemy.) So take that as you will.**

Despite that, I otherwise enjoyed it, especially the parts where Charley, the first person narrator, is actually serious. The book jokes by quoting tee shirts and bumper stickers about ADD at the top of chapters, but seriously someone needs to get Charley some adderall. And I’m the first person to react to everything with humor, so I get that as a personality tick. But it makes it hard to read when every two minutes she’s being silly and not listening to plot-important things people have to say.

The murder mystery was suspenseful, as what her quest to find out if the dream figure is Reyes, a man she met briefly when they were teenagers, or someone else entirely. I like Charley’s family and most of her friends, especially her ghost buddies. Like all PIs, she’s a coffee addicted work-a-holic but hey, I can relate. The reveals are unexpected. And Charley, for all her quirks, is a good person just trying to help others. Dead Like Me it ain’t but it’s a good framework for a series.

So I did enjoy it, and I’d be happy to read the next one in the series; god knows with some series, the first book is good but then gets better and better with each successive novel, as it establishes its world and cast more. If I had to give it a rating, I’d probably go something right in the middle. Entertaining, thoughtful, creative, but not my favorite book ever.

*I actually love Bloodsucking Fiends and several of Pratchett’s books. But some of them are harder for me to read than others. Clearly this is a case where I’m in the minority.
**Authors I find genuinely funny in an effortless-feeling sort of way include Douglas Adams, Seanan McGuire, Jim Butcher, and David Wong. For the record.

10 Potentially Amusing Presidential Ancedotes

One day, about 6 years ago, I was listening to Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me when the panelists started joking about the Vice President shooting someone. “That’s weird,” I thought, “Why are they talking about Aaron Burr?” It took me a minute to realize they meant Dick Cheney, who was the current VP. And it’s not like I hadn’t heard about the hunting accident, because I had. That was the moment when I realized I was doomed.

As an atheist and American history nerd, President’s Day is as close to a religious holiday as I get. So as is tradition, here is my list of ten fun and interesting Presidential History Facts.

Practically a superhero and he KNEW it.

1. Bulletproof. In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt was campaigning for a third go as President under his newly-formed Bull Moose Party. Before a speaking engagement in Wisconsin, a man shot Roosevelt in the chest. The bullet was slowed by the copy of the speech in his breast pocket. Upon checking that he was not bleeding from the mouth, he insisted on speaking. With a pierced lung, he got up to the podium and, waving his blood-soaked pages in the air, shouted that it would take more than a bullet to stop a Bull Moose. Roosevelt spoke for 90 minutes before agreeing to go to the hospital. (This is merely the coolest of all of the TR is a Bad Ass anecdotes.)

2. Pus Reports. After James A. Garfield was shot in 1881, he was taken to a coastal town to get well. The nation was so captivated by the ailing President that his doctors issued daily reports to the press on Garfield’s condition. The reports were short and often focused on how much pus was oozing from his wounds. Garfield finally succumbed to death on September 19th, 1881.

3. Presidential Pets. Many Presidents have had dogs but Calvin Coolidge practically had a zoo. His pets included two kittens, several dogs, an antelope, a wallaby and a pygmy hippo. Coolidge also had two raccoons, Rebecca and Reuben, which he let roam around the White House, much to annoyance of the staff.

4. Pajamas. Thomas Jefferson believed in a casual, approachable government. When British Diplomat Andrew Merry arrived at the White House in full military uniform, Jefferson received him in his slippers and dressing gown. Merry was offended, thinking it was a jab at the British government. For the duration of his Presidency, Jefferson often greeted guests in his pajamas. (That is my kind of President.)

5. Every 80s Child Probably Remembers When Bush Senior Went to Japan. While on a state visit to Japan in 1992, President George H.W. Bush complained he felt ill before going to dinner with Japanese Prime Minister Miyazawa. On live TV broadcast, Bush vomited in Miyazawa’s lap and then fainted. The faux-pas caused the Japanese media to coin the term *“bushu-suru”* or “to do a bush,” meaning to embarrass oneself by vomiting in public.

6. Bathtub Maintenance. William H. Taft was elected in 1908. At six foot two and over three hundred pounds, he was too big for the White House bathtub and had a larger one installed. The new tub measured seven feet long and three feet five inches wide and was said to be large enough for four normal-sized men.

7. The Whiskey Rebellion. Soon after Washington took office, the new US government enacted a Whiskey Tax to help pay for the Revolution. Furious about being taxed—taxation was used as propaganda to incite the war—people began forming small militias and threatening rebellion. Washington decided forcibly taking down these militias would tear the new nation apart before it began. Instead, he mounted his white horse and marched an army of 1200 men down through Pennsylvania. The show of force quelled the uprisings and America accepted that taxes are an inevitable part of life. You’re welcome.

8. Jackets Are For Sissies. William Henry Harrison’s inauguration day, March 4, 1841, was freezing and wet. Since no President before had given their Inauguration Address in a coat and hat, Harrison refused to wear them. He spoke for two hours in the cold and caught pneumonia. He died thirty days later, on April 4, making it the shortest Presidential term in history.

9. Peanut Farmer Becomes President. Jimmy Carter worked as a peanut farmer before becoming the Governor of Georgia and eventually President. Floating along in his Inauguration Parade in 1977 was a giant peanut-shaped balloon.

10. Poker. Warren G. Harding decided to host a gambling night in the White House for a few of his friends. During one hand the betting got high and Harding ran out of money. Instead of folding, Harding bet the White House’s china. He lost and so did the nation.

Originally printed in the City Collegian, a newspaper that was systematically killed by school politics.

5 Classics Repackaged For Kids Today

A while ago, the internet erupted like a volcano when new Twilight-themed covers were put on the classic novel Wuthering Heights. This is because it’s the one book Bella has actually read, despite supposedly being an avid reader. I thought it was a stroke of marketing genius. I mean, check it out:

It even says “Love Never Dies.” It’s totally trying to cash in on the vampire mania with a book that has nothing to do with vampires. People were amused, outraged, and just amazed that publishers would do it. I thought, why stop there? So I’ve repackage five classic novels to grab attention on the shelves, just in time for the holiday season.

Packaged to appeal to: fans of Transformers
Why it works: Hey, it’s about a guy who turns into a bug. It’s practically the original Transformer, right?

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YA Book Proposals (Based On Current Trends)

These are, of course, guaranteed* to be bestselling mega hits that will spawn movies and tee shirts. And it’s meant to be a bit of parody of some of the trends and popular ideas shown in YA. It’s supposed to be funny. Call it affectionate snark. And hey, if you’re a book publisher or an agent, and any of these catches your eye as something you want to sell, I am not above writing them seriously and cashing the check. Really**. No, really. E-mail me.

*Assuming you put the money into marketing and generating buzz.
**I have no shame. Ask my friends.

She loves to read. Her favorite book is.. uh... Romeo and Juliet. Because that's not cliched. Image: nuchylee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Title: Denial – A Mummy Love Story
Paranormal Romance
Pitch: Let’s face it, vampires are everywhere. Heck, even zombies are getting their own romance novels now. But where are the mummies? No where, yet, which is why Denial will be a hit!

Synopsis: Henry is a mummy, an ancient and immortal creature, who was too beautiful for his time. He was wrapped up and put into a tomb to wait until the day his prophecy would come true and he would be a great, gorgeous king. As he slept, he was toured around the world in museums, until a curator accidentally awoke him one night. After hearing his story, the curator swept him away to the United States, to the dry air of Phoenix, Arizona, where she became his forged legal guardian in an attempt to let him live a normal life.

Forever a teenager, Henry goes to high school posing as a burn victim, but the bandages don’t cover up his gorgeous golden eyes. There, he meets Grace Papillion, a girl who is average and plain in every way. She catches Henry’s attention by being so nice to him. Henry wants to be with her. To remove his bandages and show the world what a beautiful immortal thing he is. But her father is an archeologist and he has to resist the urge to curse her and her family for digging up the remains of the dead.

Cover Suggestion: A flower petal with a scarab crawling on it. Black base. Pretty swirly font.
Will be a hit with:
fans of Twilight and their moms.

 (Props where they’re due: this one was a group concept with a few coworkers, on a very slow day. Thanks to Hannah, Jon, and Liam for fleshing out this insanity.)

Apparently in this world, the nurses and doctors are happy knowing they didn't choose. Image: nuchylee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Title: Different (alternative tiles: “Special” “Immune” “The Choice”)
Genre: Dystopian Future
Pitch: Dystopias are the new vampires, am I right?

Synopsis: Hundreds of years in the future, the nation Beautopia, everyone is happy because they get to choose their own life and everything works out in the best interests of The Republic. At the age of 17, everyone is brought into the “Future Success Hall” for “Life Choices Day.” In theory, it’s a day where options will be explained and then each person will make a series of choices: who they will marry, where they will live, what career they’ll embark on, and how many children (if any) they will have.

In actuality, it’s a lab that tests their DNA, genetics, and weighs that against their potential, which is derived from academic performance and extracurricular activities. Then each person is given a shot of a drug meant to make them forget the tests and given a list that outlines their futures. They read this list into a camera, smiling on the drug, saying, “I choose to marry [assigned spouse], I choose to work in [assigned field], I want to live in [assigned city] and have [assigned number] children.” But our protagonist, Amanda, is immune to the drug. Panicked, she pretends not to be and reads the list but none of it is what she wants! And if she’s immune, there must be other people out there who are unhappy and pretending.

Should Amanda go along with The Republic and live the life they want her to have? Or should she find a way to get the life she wants, a life of her own choice?

Suggested Cover: Something with glass breaking, maybe a broken syringe with a girl in the background running away.
Will Be a Hit With:
Fans of Matched, Divergent, Delirium, Uglies, etc. Fans of The Hunger Games will find it lackluster and want more bows and arrows.


No one can know my perfect skin isn't from Neutrogena! Image: nuchylee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Title: Glitter Blood (alternatively, “Horns,” “Unicorn Blood,” “Sparkle Veins”)
Genre: Normal High School Girl is actually special magical creature, ie, Paranormal Romance
Pitch: Everyone wants to find out they’re special. And part of a nearly extinct race. Faeries have been done, but what about unicorns? Am I right?

Synopsis: Larissa Stephens was adopted as an infant. Her mother, Jena, is an artist who paints fantastical paintings and her father, John, is  history teacher at the local university. Larissa loves her parents but has always felt a little weird. She has perfect skin, she heals quickly when injured, and more, she can heal people with her touch, a power she’s kept hidden from everyone but her parents.

At the age of 15, a young man named Coren arrives at her door. He’s handsome with a mane of thick white hair and stunning blue eyes. And he bows and calls Larissa “princess.” It turns out, Larissa is the last unicorn princess, the remaining royalty of a hunted and dying race. She was sent away as a baby to keep her safe, but now unicorn hunters have discovered she’s been sent to live with humans, and they’re after her healing blood. Besides, it’s time for her to take the throne and lead her people to a promised land in a corner of the Faerie World. But Larissa doesn’t want to leave her mortal parents or her mortal life. And she’s not sure about her feelings for Coren, nor her feelings for classmate and best friend Jake.

Suggested Cover: Something pretty, with a sparkle font.
Will be a hit with:
People who like stories about girls finding out they’re magical, like Wings, and fans of paranormal love triangles.

Actually, you know what, these last two are pretty awesome. Any takers? I’ll just be waiting by my inbox for offers from agents and publishers.

4 Obvious Things I Always Forget About Travel

In my younger 20s, I was a workaholic go-getter who had 3 jobs at once (including unpaid internships), sometimes while I was also in school. I thought if I busted my ass, I would be like famous and rich and awesome by 30 and could slow down. But reality is a bitch and I got jaded and then I got wiser. That’s another article.

The point is, now I take vacations. A lot of them. As many as I can reasonably afford and some I probably can’t. It averages out to about two or three short trips a year, usually by airplane. And yet somehow, every time, there are things I completely forget, as if my brain is trying to protect to me from anything negative so I don’t say “fuck it” and spend a week at home in my swimsuit mixing up margaritas and watching re-runs of America’s Next Top Model.

4. Check In is Late and Check Out is Early

Sometimes on shorter trips, I’ll get this wild idea to book my departure for late evening. That way, I naively think, I can spend practically a whole other day exploring and hanging out. Genius, right? Yeah, you seasoned travelers are laughing at me. Because sure, you have time to spend, but you also have to lug around all of your luggage.

Shakespeare invented the word ‘luggage.’ Pretty obvious, when you think about it.

Image: winnond / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Check out at the hotel is inevitably 11 am or 12 pm, and often late check out isn’t available. Even when it is, or even if your hotel will happily store your luggage, it still means an extra trip back to the hotel before hitting the train station, which means you can’t go far. Of course you can’t go far hauling a giant suitcase and wearing a hiking backpack either.

Check in is the same way, except you’ll have to get back to hotel eventually. But it does still limit how far you want to go, since you’ll want to go back and settle into your room, and by the time that’s done, a whole day is pretty much blown.

3. Speaking of Luggage, Souvenirs Take Up Space

My roommate and I usually travel together. We bring one large suitcase that we share and pay to check, and a carry-on backpack each. It’s plenty of room to bring our clothes, as well as alternative shoes, toiletries, etc. By the time we head out the door of our apartment, the bag is packed so full I’m always afraid the zipper will bust and all of our stuff will end up strewn across the tarmac, but it never does. And voilà, we have all of the things we need and extra socks.

Which is well and good until I hit the gift shops and museum stores and souvenir stands. I collect shot glasses, love awesome tee shirts, and always find things I can’t live without. And somehow we always end up at the bar that gives away souvenir glasses or martini shakers.

It isn’t until the final day when I’m trying to shove everything back together that I remember souvenirs are made of matter and need to occupy space I don’t have.

I've never once used this glass since I got it home, but it is too awesome not to keep.

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