Posts Tagged ‘comic novel’

John Scalzi’s ‘Redshirts’ explores the downside of life as a supernumerary aboard a TV spacecraft

July 24, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
July 24, 2015

John Scalzi’s 2012 novel, Redshirts, is a wonderful comic exploration of what life might be like for the crew of a spaceship featured in a campy television series.

Scalzi’s protagonist is Ensign Andrew Dahl, a 25th-century xenobiologist who has just been assigned to the Intrepid, the flagship of the Universal Union. He’s one of five new junior crew members who quickly become aware that their new starship is, well, a little unusual.

For instance, take Dahl’s first away mission, to a space station overrun by deadly robots:

Dahl screamed McGregor’s name, stood and unholstered his pulse gun, and fired into the center of the pulpy red haze where he knew the killer machine to be. The pulse beam glanced harmlessly off the machine’s surface. Hester yelled and pushed Dahl down the corridor, away from the machine, which was already resetting its harpoon. They turned a corner and raced away into another corridor, which led to the mess hall. They burst through the doors and closed them behind them.

“These doors aren’t going to keep that thing out,” Hester said breathlessly.

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When life gives you the (magic) finger: James Hynes ventures into a mixture of fantasy and academic satire in ‘The Lecturer’s Tale’

March 17, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 17, 2015

The Lecturer’s Tale, a 2001 novel by James Hynes, is a wicked academic satire about an English professor who becomes extraordinarily persuasive following an accident.

The story is set at the University of the Midwest, a public institution in the Minnesota town of Hamilton Groves. (The university and town are fictitious; the state of Minnesota apparently does exist.) Moments before the tale begins, the protagonist, Nelson Humboldt, has been released from his job as a visiting adjunct professor due to budgetary reasons. This appears to signal the ruination of a once-promising scholarly career; in a matter of weeks, the married father of two young daughters will lose his job, his health insurance and his eligibility to remain in faculty housing.

But then, as Humboldt walks across the university’s teeming quad at noon on Halloween, he stumbles and falls, losing his fingertip in the spokes of a passing bicycle. The finger is sewed back together, but it suddenly seems to have magical properties: When Humboldt touches another person with his fingertip and utters a command or suggestion, the other must obey his will.

The professor first uses his power — unintentionally — when Nelson and his wife, Bridget, encounter a noisy couple at a movie theater. Humboldt walks over to them and asks them not to talk; when they start to get up, he asks them to stay where they are.

As the lights came up after the movie, Nelson noticed that the middle-aged couple were glancing anxiously back at him. The man had his hands on his throat, and was making choking sounds. Nelson hurried down the aisle.

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‘And Another Thing’ proves to be a worthy sixth entry in ‘Hitchhiker’s’ trilogy

October 3, 2012

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 3, 2012

I am not, for various reasons, the kind of person to make a big deal of my birthdays. I did precisely nothing in observance of my last two birthdays, one of which marked a significant milestone. Looking back, I can only remember what I did on two relatively recent birthdays; those were memorable because my then-girlfriend made some arrangements.

One of the few other birthday memories that I have comes from my childhood. I don’t recall how old I was turning, but I would guess that my age might have been somewhere from 10 to 14.

What happened? Simply this: My mother handed me a gift consisting of a small stack of new paperback books. One must have been a Star Trek novel of some sort. The only other one I can name was a copy of a 1979 book called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about the work of Douglas Adams, the comic genius behind the Hitchhiker’s series. What I did not realize until a few weeks ago was that in 2009, Eoin Colfer penned a sixth entry in what has sometimes been described as the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker’s trilogy. Read the rest of this entry »

Missteps obscure Adams’ quirky comic genius in ‘The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul’

September 4, 2012

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 4, 2012

Douglas Adams is best known for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, his comic romp through space and time featuring the hapless Earthling Arthur Dent and a cast of zany alien friends and enemies.

Adams died in 2001 at the age of 49, having only completed seven novels. Five of those books belonged to, as the tagline goes, the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker’s trilogy; the other two concerned a dissolute London detective.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, published in 1987, was a marvelous book. It featured a smattering of science fiction and a bunch of eccentric characters and unusual events, plus, of course, a great deal of humor. The central storyline involved contemporary Londoners with whom the reader could more or less identify. The new book had some things in common with the Hitchhiker’s tales, but it was different enough to establish that Adams could still entertain readers while striking out in new directions.

A year later, the British novelist published The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, a follow-up with Gently as one of its main characters. I read the book years ago and felt that it missed the mark more often than not. Unfortunately, a recent rereading of the novel confirmed that impression.

The two people at the heart of Tea-Time are Gently, a short, stout and undisciplined detective, and Kate Schechter, a widowed American travel writer. The novel starts as Schechter is trying to catch a flight to Oslo; she is thwarted by a number of factors, the last of which is a very large and very odd man who is trying to board a plane without ticket, money or identification. A few sentences later, there is a mysterious explosion, which kills no one but sends Schechter to the hospital. Read the rest of this entry »

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