Book review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

I’m quite the sci-fi-fan, so this book appealed to me before I’d even heard the title. I put it on my list as it was brought to my attention by my friend Hannah (a properly proper computer scientist, she teaches stuff to other people and gets excited about robots, and stuff). As I put it on the list I read the other reviews in Goodreads, which were quite scathing. Some stuff about the author being very pleased at how clever he is and how the book read a lot like a series of blog posts. At least, I think it was this one they were talking about: that’s how I remember it, anyway.

The premise draws on the well-known sci fi lore that any un-named redshirt who goes on a mission to a planet’s surface with named characters who feature regularly in the narrative in any film or series is doomed. The book starts by describing the back story and current predicament of a red-shirt who is on a planetary mission with the captain and the chief science officer of _The Intrepid_. Take a wild guess what happens. For a moment, I had a strong fear that this book was going to be a long series of very short stories with a lot of back-story explanation. I didn’t want to read *that* book. It was all fine, though, that was effectively a prologue. The main character in *our* narrative, one Andy Dahl, joins _The Intrepid_, and it doesn’t take him long to work out that there’s something odd going on. His colleagues in the ship’s lab disappear whenever any senior crew appear, people seem super-reluctant to go on surface missions, he’s warned off going to the bridge by someone that looks like a Yeti, and one of the senior crew members seems to get horribly injured and near-death, and then make an amazingly quick recovery, only to go on an off-ship mission and be injured/infected again.

I like this idea, and I enjoyed Scalzi’s take on it. The book is divided into sections – the main narrative, which concludes neatly, followed by two codas. I had (another) moment of fear when the main narrative completed with about a third of the book to go. Previously I read a book that was crowd-funded on a Kindle, and the last nearly 20% of the book was a long list of credits naming contributors. It’s fair to say I felt utterly cheated on that occasion – I was expecting 20% more book, and it just ended. I don’t think the narrative was incomplete in that case, but I was enjoying it and my device told me there was more. I was ready to get really cross at the ridiculousness of wasting trees on a third of a book of people’s names, when I turned the page to find the first coda. It took me a short while to settle back down again, but I did, and managed to get quite into it before we switched to the second coda. While some might find this “overly clever” and “showing off” I think it was a neat way of extending the story beyond the obvious frist narrative.

I found this to be readable, and the story moved on at a good pace. The only “violence” was fairly cartoony (“and he got eaten by space worms with sharp teeth”), there’s no hanky panky (not on-the-page, anyway) and although in my head it was quite sweary I’m writing this a week later and I can’t remember if it actually *was* sweary or if I thought the characters should be swearing in the context they were in.

I’d recommend it for any sci-fi fan, but this is not my new favourite book.

Snapshot

I’m currently…

Listening – traffic, snuffling, silence
Eating – in a minute, bran flakes
Drinking – in 5 minutes, a cuppa tea
Wearing – wedding band, engagement ring, stud earring, sleeper earring, Erasure t-shirt, underpants
Feeling – like I need a wee.
Weather – bright. I think.
Wanting – to make sure I don’t waste today
Needing – a plan
Thinking – about vegetables. And my job. And the mousetrap.
Enjoying – possibility

re-entry

The tension between stuff-I-need-to-do and the desire to sleep/sit on my arse is almost unbearable. Joel was keen for me to get up at 8 which, given that I slept until 0730 (hurrah for nearly over the time difference – I woke up at 0430 the last couple of days) wasn’t something I was super-keen to do.

We also discussed homework:

me: what homework do you have, then?
joel: maths, spellings and learning log
me: *big groan* oh no, not learning log
joel: it’s OK mummy, this one isn’t so bad – I have to do 3 things and I have 3 weeks to do them in
me: Oh, OK, well I suppose that’s manageable (while trying to think if we have anything planned for the next 2 weekends and work out if we need to do 2 today to stay on top of it)
joel: *pause* except that this is the second weekend, and I haven’t done any yet.

😐

So today brings food planning & buying, laundry and 2 lots of learning log homework. Huzzah. Oh, and Steve will be back this evening.

nearly done…

This morning we headed out early, but before we got to Ndongo we got word that our safari friend was waiting at the lodge to help bring the donated clothing to the school, so Vish was sent right back to go and meet him.

This morning, I wrote up the charcoal agreement and put together a return form for the schools to report weekly on what they have collected & how many students they have. Ken was teaching the teachers about SMART objectives, Emma was meeting with health visitors who were coming to weigh & measure children, and SUPER BONUS they brought vitamin A and albendazol (or something that’s spelt differently & sounds the same & is de-worming medicine) which was given to all the under 5’s at Glad Kids. This is a major result. Every other avenue we’ve explored for de-worming has resulted in a request for money or a bureaucratic wall, so to get people turning up with them and feeding them to children is outstanding.

Also, we (technically John) got a tap fitted to the 50L tank I bought the other day so that hand washing could be A Thing at Excel. I have pictures of children avoiding classes by washing their hands, and of the AWESOME flow-restriction device I fitted (Dad, you would be proud – it involves a bit of wood and some salvaged string), however, my phone has fallen out with the wifi here and although I’ve put the right password in a bajillion times it’s not connecting.

After Vish got back with the clothes we divided them into piles for the schools and distributed accordingly (we still have to work out how to get Vish’s suitcase back here by tomorrow night :-/ ) which were all very well received.

I was sent to Lizpal to gather financial information (Teacher Grenah very kindly walked me there before Steve starts worrying) and when I arrived, the upper school were being organised to move a big pile of rocks that they have collected from outside the classrooms to “round the back”. It was awesome to behold and again, I have pictures, but they are on the phone that won’t connect to the wifi. Grr! Imagine 2 lines of barely-organised 9-13 year olds carrying rocks that are clearly too big for them, and you get the gist.

Again, we were late back and this time we took a tuk-tuk for the second leg of the journey. Although we had privacy – just the 4 of us in a vehicle instead of 16 (in 12 seats) – my back may never be my friend again. Suspension is clearly a foreign concept.

Bacon & fried egg butty tonight and a (failed) 2-hour attempt to install SP3 on the Excel School laptop and I’m more than ready for my bed. Just one more attempt to get my phone back on the network and then I’ll turn in…

Hurray for finally connected this morning! Here are ingenious flow control device, instant popularity of hand washing & children moving rocks 🙂 IMG_6989.JPG

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not too much walking. But actually quite a lot of walking #blister

After yesterday’s very sore leg at the end of the day, it was decreed that I should not walk much, and Emma has very kindly lent me her flight socks to try to avoid ankle-swelling.

My first task was to go with Mary, Excel’s deputy head, to get a dongle so that internet access is possible from the school’s new donated laptop. The process would have been a lot faster if I had remembered to check Mary had her ID with her before we left the school. We got to safaricom and checked – ID is indeed required to register a SIM, and so poor Teacher Andrew had to drop everything and come to meet us. Having been assured it was a “plug and play” device, we packed everything up and headed back top school. We did some research and got prices for a 50L water tub and tap on the way, so that we can set Excel up with a hand washing station as soon as possible. We got prices, but having seen The Negotiator in action yesterday, I was hesitant to go with a no-discount price. And so I was sent back to get both items before lunch.

Once back at school, I had a go at setting up the dongle and it turns out, with the exception of a brief moment of confusion over having to enter a PIN I didn’t know anything about (it was on the SIM card credit-card-sized thing) it was indeed pretty straight forward. I pinged Steve a gmail chat and quite naturally he asked what I was doing that I was in touch in the middle of the day…

We are setting up a health record of the children so that we can monitor growth, so I did some cross referencing and copying of names once I’d eaten.

In the afternoon, Vish and I were sent to check out a couple more potential schools. One was just around the corner but the other, although it was close, was an adventure journey all on its own. We went through a door at the side of the road, down an alley, through a forest, through a ravine, over the railway tracks, across a boggy stream and then we were there. On the way back we were buzzed by a massive flying insect and almost trampled to death by a rampaging herd of runaway goats. We barely made it back in one piece.

Friday evening is very busy in the world of Matatus it turns out – we ended up taking a “proper” bus, although it’s still the kind of vehicle that makes you confident that the owners would struggle to tell you what “MOT” means.

So we’re back, eating dinner and writing up reports. Or faffing about. I’m busy elevating my leg which now has a blister at the end of it as well as whatever damage is there already.

It’s all about the goat

Wednesday morning Ken had some quiet time at the camp while Emma, Vish and I headed over to Dagareti. Catching a matatu proved non-trivial (briefly) as for about 10 minutes we didn’t see any. A brief foray with a bus ended quickly when, in spite of checking that it was going directly to Karen, it immediately turned left and would have taken over an hour. And then the Karen to Racecourse leg of the journey was pretty much all done at a crawl due to traffic. Boo!

Added together, this meant that we were half an hour late for our meeting with Amref, a charity who are working in the area. There isn’t as much overlap as we would like, either in what we are doing or geographically (they are based in the Waimuru district, and we …aren’t (yet)), but the woman we met was very open and clearly wanted to be helpful. She gave us the names and contacts for key people at Ngong health centre which will hopefully expedite some of our programs.

We went on, after taking a quick drink of juice at John’s house, to help serve lunch at Lizpal. We arrived to find the whole school apart from the baby class in the courtyard, lined up with their bowls, and were overwhelmed with loud cheering. Seeing what the children are getting is very useful, and we know that the balance isn’t quite right yet. The ratio of beans to rice isn’t right, but we get the impression it will be hard to reduce the rice as although it’s nutritionally poor, it fills them up. However, we have a plan for helping to make sure enough is dished out to each child, involving slotted spoons… Vish found one online which has a Nessie head, but this was swiftly dismissed as an indulgence.

After lunch we returned to Excel as yet more generosity was being showered upon us. Titus, the head teacher, had his mother slaughter & pack up a goat to be sent down from his homeland in the country. Ken had warned us that this is then turned into all kinds of exotic stew involving visible body parts, however I’m guessing that our delicate ways were accommodated this time as we were presented at first with tasty stew, and then with “choma”, which was barbecued goat. Teacher Andrew carved with a machete and we all dug in. The other head teachers & deputies joined us for this, so it was quite the party. Again, it’s really touching to be hosted so generously by people who have so little.

After this, we went to a builders merchant for a water tank & stand. Sadly neither outlet would budge on price, so the hunt continues – we have more options to explore, which is pencilled in for Thursday.

The evening was spent quietly back at Eco Wildebeast uploading photos and being deafened by the toads (they sound like very loud woodpeckers). My leg is still really sore & would ideally be elevated more than it is – all the walking we are doing is not really helping the healing process so I’ll just have to do a lot of sitting when I get back…

And finally, after the torrential rain on Tuesday night, a mud update. It actually wasn’t too bad. There were quite a few puddles about, and you can see how the rainy season could be a total nightmare, but most of the water has just run off into the ditches, etc. The playground at Excel needs some work to drain effectively, but at no point were we “forced” to wade through knee deep mud. Again, it’s not like at Glasto 😉

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This is the big ditch across the road we have to negotiate each day – as it involves tromping over a muddy temporary dyke with deep water each side, we were a bit concerned it would have been washed away, but it was fine. In the UK this road would be closed to through traffic, but they hold no truck with that kind of thing here – this is what we nearly drove into on our way from the airport. Another ditch sprang up further up the road the other night (Tuesday, when it was raining) and it was helpfully marked as a hazard with a pair of boots and red & white stripy tape. Finding our way around that in the dark meant we all wound up wearing an extra 2″ of mud on the bottom of our shoes.

Today we are due to look at a couple of prospective schools while Ken & Vish go in search of water tanks.

Safari-wim-away-from-wifi

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(aside: I was told to do a lot of Africa “selfies”. This is the view from mine and Emma’s room on Saturday morning. Not that you can see it on here, but the peak of Kilimanjaro was free of cloud. I’d not long woken up, which is why my face looks inflated…)
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Saturday involved more driving around looking at animals – we had a mission to see Giraffe from closer, and we also managed to see hippo, although my only shots of them were noses poking from the water, and out of the water from a great distance. Our lunch was eaten on the observation hill overlooking a big lake.

If you’re keen to see all of the photos from this trip as they are uploaded, Steve has set up a short cut to the flickr group I’m uploading to: jude.hanlon.co.uk/kenya

Today (Sunday) we had breakfast and a chill by the pool, having come up against the Kenyan tradition of changing the rules and then asking for more money in order to get what you originally paid for – as it was the weekend and we couldn’t contact the head office to query/fight it, our 2-day concession permits turned into 24-hour non-concessions and in spite of paperwork to support our case, there was no budging to be had without money changing hands. So we chilled by the pool and headed home a bit earlier than planned. This evening we will be planning the week ahead, including practising the lessons we will be giving, and learning how to play bridge. A key skill, clearly.

100% more journey, Milwall fans and a transvestite welder

The excitement hasn’t officially begun, and already, the excitement has begun.

Steve dropped me off at Lime Street early this avo, meaning that I didn’t have to walk to Ormskirk and then from Central to Lime street in Liverpool. This worked really well, because although my case only registered 21.6kg on the old bathroom scales, it’s damned heavy. My train departed on time – it turns out that the seat reservation system chose to honour the “airline style” part of the preferences expressed, and I was facing backwards with a small corner of window in my window seat.

Mustn’t grumble, though, as my last boss used to say.

It was all going swimmingly until we got to Crewe. Where we stopped. For a long time. The guard at first came on and told us that he didn’t know why we were stopped, then that he now knew why (overhead lines at Rugby causing problems & diversions), but nobody would commit to when the problem would be resolved, so we will be here for at least another 20 minutes. We carried on, eventually, and then had another sit outside of Stafford. And then carried on veery sloowly, finally getting to Euston at T+2h7m. On a 2 1/4 hour journey… Ooh, there was grumbling. I got through Richard Herring feat. Josh Widdicombe *and* most of an episode of Stash & Burn, which meant that by the time I wanted to gripe properly to Steve about being late & let Ken know my new ETA, my phone was down to 1%.

So, 100% more journey. The good news is that as it was a one-way ticket (because I’ll be coming home straight from Gatwick) we can get a full refund I think. Huzzah, that’s a cost-saving right there.

So, Milwall fans? Yes, there were. They arrived at Crewe, and enforced their seat reservations, which meant much shuffling and the lady who had been happily sat next to her companion was now sitting on half a seat next to a chap who had insisted that as he had the window seat, he ought to be sitting in it. Also, it’s the seat with access to the all-important plug. Nice lady and her partner moved a short time thereafter. Other than that, they weren’t actually that rowdy, other than reacting loudly to the guard’s announcements. The downside to that was that several times I wasn’t able to catch all of the detail to what the guard was saying, but frankly, the upshot of it was generally “we’re really late and I still can’t tell you exactly how late”

So, I took my super-heavy suitcase on the tube (turns out a really heavy suitcase is quite tricky to manoeuvre on an escalator. Who knew?!) to Vauxhall where my Hounslow connection could be made. There was a last-minute platform change, which had me panicking for a moment, given that I’d barely made it up the stairs once, I wasn’t up for running down stairs & up to another set of platforms, but this just had me turning round and crossing to the other platform.

This train ran on time and wasn’t too crowded, but those of us with big luggage elected to stand. Other big-baggage passengers who got on at Clapham were a couple who had clearly come from Gatwick (tanned, sunglasses, lots of talk about how cold it is) and a butch-looking probably-woman who wouldn’t have looked out of place carrying skis.

I’m not sure how this happened, and clearly this is a travesty, but these 2 groups of people struck up a conversation and I stayed out of it. It turns out, chap from the couple had just been on the blower to his mate at home who has just been found out to have a gambling problem (the downstairs neighbour came round & asked mate’s partner for the £6k back that he’d lent the chap’s mate) but, oh how we laughed, he kidded his wife that the mate had been found to be on the gear (to the tune of the 6k). OH HOW WE ALL LAUGHED. She took it astonishingly well, so I can only assume that she’s never really liked the mate very much.

Anyway, the conversation rattles on, and probably-woman is asked what it is that she does that is taking her back to Dubai at the end of the month. There is a pause.

“I’m a welding manager”

Well, that explains the 2 missing finger-tips, I guess.

“…and in my spare time, I’m a little… Eccentric.”

In fairness, she makes a good-looking woman, although clearly not foolproof. Good luck to her, we all said (or thought, remember, I’m the enigmatic non-crazy-person-attractor today) and, in my case, resisted asking where she’d got that nice tunic from because it’s exactly the kind of thing that would work in my own wardrobe.

And there we have it, I’m in Hounslow, so very much not there yet, but it’s been eventful so far. Tomorrow I meet the rest of the party and at high noon, we set off for exotic LHR.

There are no pictures, because my phone pretty much died. And, having not joined the conversation, a photo of my new not-friends would have felt a bit inappropriate…

Significant progress…

Today Steve has done three significant things in preparation for next week.

He has started ribbing me about how long I will be away (currently registering at 6 weeks, apparently).

He acquired a connecty thing so I can slurp photos from the posh camera straight onto the iPad.

He tested the keyboard that goes with the leather case I have, which haven’t worked for months, and it turns out… it works after all! Huzzah! now I can blog with pictures and easier words.

It’s like he’s happy about me going, or something.

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This is one of the uploaded photos. It makes me happy.

Phew!

I’ve started a new exercise regime which involves some weight training on today, day 1. I ran first thing this morning as well (gosh that feels like a long time ago!) so am full of The Smug just now. I said to Steve, who was looking after/keeping company with Joel who was in the bath “I’m going to do my weights now”. Joel’s response was “wait, does Mummy do weights as well?”

Oh yes, mummy does weights now. Only small ones, mind…

I may be less smug tomorrow when I can’t walk, but keep fingers crossed the after effects aren’t too severe.

I have Furnace Training at 0600, after all…