Book Review: Night of the Living Trekkers

I picked this up on a lark. It was at a book sale benefitting the library. It cost a buck. I thought maybe it would be cute. Well, lemme tell you, that was a dollar well spent, because this book turned out to be so, so much fun.

The premise is pretty simple. Jim Pike did two tours in Afghanistan before someone back to the US. He works in a hotel that is hosting a Star Trek convention. The hotel is over-run with zombies. Jim has to try to save himself and his sister, Rayna. He teams up with Princess Leia (how Leia ended up at a Star Trek convention is a long and very funny story) and various other people as they try to escape from the hotel.

This book is a parody, but it’s also smart. One thing I love about it is that Jim points out that everyone in the story is playing things out according to the rules they learned from fiction – but Star Trek rules and zombie movie rules don’t match up:

Star Trek is all about applying the Federation’s high-minded ideals to difficult situations. No matter how bad things get, you’re supposed to play by the don’t-shoot-first, don’t mess with pre-warp cultures, don’t alter-the-timeline rules. But in the zombie universe, it’s all about jettisoning everything – morality, sentimentality, weaklings – that might keep you from seeing the next sunrise. Because no matter how impeccably you behave, you’ll never bring the other side alive to your way of thinking. The don’t think. They just kill.”

However, while the Star Trek people depend on Jim’s survival skills (he claims that clearing a street or a house in Afghanistan is not unlike clearing a hotel stairwell) they have something Jim does not have – optimism. They need a leader and while Jim does not want to be that leader they refuse to let him curl up and die. Whether it’s Leia bawling him out in an elevator swarmed by zombies or Jim giving an inspiring speech to a Klingon in actual Klingon, watching the characters balance each other and play off each other is deeply satisfying.

In a lot of ways, this book does a good job with female characters, but I would say that it’s already dated in it’s portrayal of women at conventions. It does much better than I feared. It passes the Bechdel test, there are multiple main female characters and some supporting characters, all the women are easily as well-versed in science fiction as the men, if not more so, and Leia saves the day over and over again. My only quibble is that the women are very concerned about physical appearance. Leia is a model (but a truly geeky one), and Rayna and T’Poc talk about staying in shape so they can look good in their costumes. The fact that the men vary in appearance but the three main female characters are gorgeous bugged me. I’ve been to a lot of conventions and seen a lot of beautiful women, but I’ve also seen women with an abundance of curves who aren’t afraid to cosplay anyway (including my very short, rather overweight self). It would have been nice to have one or more of the women not be shaped like a supermodel (without any commentary about it beyond basic description. Women cosplay because we like to. We aren’t there for decor (well, technically Leia is there for decor). On the other hand, Leia is a delightful character. All of the characters are pretty sketchy, but the Jim and Leia show never gets old.

Above all, this book is funny. I mean stay-up-until-1AM-can’t put-it-down-laughing-so-hard funny. I don’t want to spoil any of the funny bits by quoting them. There’s funny dialog, there are funny situations, I believe I mentioned the dialogue. Willy the Redshirt, Leia searching the hotel for a pair of shoes, “They did it in Dawn of the Dead!” I just…you just really have to read it. The character development is scanty and it’s written for fun, not lyrical language or deep thought, but if I gave out grades on this blog I’d try to stop laughing long enough to type an A+. Best of all, it’s not condescending to fans or their shows. Jim claims to have “outgrown” Star Trek, but only Star Trek can save him. It makes me want to quit this writing gig and watch every episode of the Original Series and Next Generation back to back.

This book came out in 2010, before Redshirts, by John Scalzi. It shares some meta aspects with Redshirts, although it deals with them in a straightforward, fun way whereas Redshirts is still fun but more experimental and intellectual. It also came out before Mira Grant’s novella, Last Stand of the California Brownouts, which tells of a zombie outbreak on preview night at San Diego Comic-Con. Last Stand is beautifully written and terribly, terribly sad. The three books are all completely different and independent, but they make a nice trio if you want some theme reading.

Between the Lines Book Club: The Third Plate

between the lines book club logoIn keeping with Sacramento Public Library’s One Book 2015 program, Between the Lines Book Club will be reading The Third Plate, by Dan Barber, in September. If you can, join us in Sacramento, CA for an in person book club at Arden Dimick Library (891 Watt Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95864) at 10:30AM on Sept 26, 2015.

You are also welcome to leave comments here!

The Sacramento Public Library will be holding events all through October related to The Third Plate – this means a lot of food, people!  Here’s a link to the full program including event dates.

Wednesday Videos: New Music from Chris Hadfield

WednesdayVideoChris Hadfield is an astronaut best known for commanding the International Space Station (ISS). While he was up there, he played a and wrote a lot of music, some of which is making it into his new album, “Space Sessions: Songs from a Tin Can”.

And in case you missed it, here’s his haunting cover of “Space Oddity” set on the ISS. It’s gorgeous!

In an interview with Globe and Mail, Hadfield talked about some of the challenges of playing music in space:

“It’s hard to play guitar on a spaceship, because there’s nothing to hold the guitar stable,” he pointed out. “Almost always, the guitar slips in your hands. If you’re a guitar player, I tell people to try playing while standing on your head.

“The producer who was helping me, Paul Mills, said: ‘Your guitar playing is a little messy,“’ he added with a laugh. “I said, yeah, you come up here and play guitar.”

His singing voice mutated too, he explains, because sinuses don’t drain mechanically like they do on Earth.

“There’s no gravity to pull the fluid out of your head,” he said. “So you always have a full head and swollen tongue and vocal cords.”

An Interview with Diana M. Pho

Diana Pho_side_Credit Amy StappToday’s interview is with Diana M. Pho, author of the essay “Breaking Mirrors” in Invisible 2, edited by Jim C. Hines. We’ve been thrilled to feature interviews from several authors from this anthology recently – you can read my review of Invisible 2 here.

I loved how, in talking about Julie of the Wolves in your essay for Invisible 2, you expressed how even though later you learned that the book had problematic aspects, you took something positive from it. How should we approach books that have both positive and problematic elements to them?

No work of art is perfect, and I think people fear being judged by liking something that is imperfect. Everyone has their own boundaries about what they like and what they don’t, and it can feel very personal when one’s boundaries are being examined.

Interacting and creating art should prioritize a code of ethics, for artists and people who enjoy art. I don’t think we can use the excuse, “Art for art’s sake!” anymore, because the meaning of art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and to claim that it does is to effectively render art meaningless.

It’s always important to keep in mind that art-making is subjected to many different types of responses. Of course, there’s entertainment value– no one wants to be bored by something (unless boredom is the point, and hey, I don’t have any desire to be an expert in ennui). There’re also the internal responses a participant has with the work of art and the external conversation among other participants.  And those things can be messy and complicated.

There’s also the role of the creator too; I think in today’s culture, the creator’s intent is put in the spotlight, while at the same time, the creator’s intention is frequently disregarded when criticizing the effect a work has on another person. So creators are being told two distinct messages: “Just make art for yourself and don’t listen to what others think!” but also “If someone tells you your art is racist/classist/sexist/oppressive in any way, you *must* acknowledge something or be smeared on the Internet forever!”

No wonder the internet explodes whenever someone points out something “problematic about their fav.” (Joss Whedon isn’t a feminist! Slash can fetishize queer relationships! There aren’t any PoC main characters in this thing!) Everyone gets their hackles up because people associate their personal happiness with the stuff they like. They don’t want to think that their happiness is false or flawed.

Acknowledging the weaknesses of an artwork doesn’t shortchange my personal relationship with it, because I know that thing is imperfect (and so am I).My personal relationship with Julie of the Wolves changed over time. That’s also significant to acknowledge. People can grow and change by art in many ways. As much as the book helped me when I felt isolated by my family’s identity, recognizing its racist flaws also developed my sense of political awareness. I am comfortable with seeing both; it’s an honesty that develops over time and thought, but ultimately is rooted in the initial love I had for the book.

(By the way, I use the word “art” in the most general sense — creations made by creators. Highbrow, lowbrow, pulp fiction, cosplay, religious icons, popcorn movies, symphonies, Shakespeare, nursery rhymes — it is all art to me. Age of Ultron is not the highest example made by the human race, but I’m not dismissing it as meaningless dirt either. Even the fluffiest or shallowest bit of storytelling is still telling — that is the soul of art — the existence of a narrative.)

What draws you to science fiction, fantasy, and steampunk?

It’s potential. The ideas. The feeling that our own lives exist on the surface of a deeper emotional and intellectual world, and SFF helps brings those qualities out to the forefront.

I’m a big fan of your blog, Beyond Victoriana. what, in a nutshell, is your advice for people who want to explore and enjoy Steampunk without glorifying the British Empire (including its colonialism, sexism, and racism)?

In a nutshell: own up to the bad stuff. Don’t romanticize it or explain it away. You also get much richer stories in dealing with the darker side of history and find may even find new spots of light.

People tend to shy away from addressing these more serious implications of history because they don’t want to spoil the sense of fun to it. But good storytelling — including the fun adventurous stuff — has roots in conflict.To me, why not address all of the social conflict in your storytelling — it only makes it more interesting, increases the stakes for your characters, and makes readers more invested in them. So beyond building verisimilitude in stories, it makes creators better creators.

It’s summer – should we be lucky enough to head to the beach, what book should we put in our beach bag?

I’m currently in the middle of both Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem and Lev A.C. Rosen’s Depth, so I’ll rec those. The Three-Body Problem is a meaty sci-fi read, and Depth is a stylish post-apoc noir set in a flooded New York. I don’t read your typical fluffy beach reads.

 

Diana M. Pho is an editor at Tor Books and blogs for Tor.com. She is also a published scholar, activist, performer, and general rabble-rouser. She is best-known for running Beyond Victoriana, an award-winning, US-based blog on multicultural steampunk under the moniker Ay-leen the Peacemaker. For several years, she has traveled the country as a professional convention speaker about social justice issues and fandom. Her most recent publications include the introduction to The Best of Spanish Steampunk, edited by James and Marian Womack and a forthcoming article in Like Clockwork, edited by Professors Brian Croxall and Rachel Bowser. You can follow her on Tumblr and Twitter.