Giant Red Shirts

RedShirts by John Scalzi

A fun, quick read.

It niftily skewers the model of TV writing that grew out of shows of the original Star Trek and it’s ilk. TV writing often operates under the dictum of, ‘Don’t need it good, need it Tuesday.’

Definitely a fun read but my biggest laugh was Scalzi’s afterword where he boasts that Stargate:Universe, which he worked in, was a better written show than the Star Treks. S:U may have given its Redshirts more meaningful deaths but it had so many other writing problems.

Clever of Scalzi to take an oft discussed TV trope and turn it into a novel.


Ewan McGregor, Ian MacShane, Stanley Tucci, Bill Nighy, and Bryan Singer.  When you write it down, such a list of talent leads you to believe that this will be a project of some import.  But, alas Jack The Giant Slayer is an instantly forgettable 3D effort that retells Jack and The Beanstalk.  It’s rather amazing that a well acted and polished effort can lack any sort of emotional spark.  Goes to prove that story telling is an art and not a science.


My short piece came back from my beta reader with great results and only a few minor suggested tweaks.  Sent the story off and thinking about the next story.My short piece came back from my beta reader with great results and only a few minor suggested tweaks.  Sent the story off and thinking about the next one.

To date, I’ve written a mirco-piece of 200 words and a flash fiction piece of 1000 words. Time to tackle a more traditional length of prose.

Spartacus – Bloody Chess Match & Fiction Frission

Spartacus S03E05 – Blood Brothers: much like last season’s 5th episode – was brilliance.  Spartacus and the Roman Military Leader Crassus have been engaged in a mental chess game match all season.  In this one Spartacus made all the right moves and yet was still out manuveured by Crassus. On the action front this show continues to set the high bar on action sequences with swordtacular battle scenes. Again and again.

And like last season’s show shifting 5th episode which saw the gladiators leave the arena and their slavery behind forever, Spartacus has lost the city.  Just as he was poised to draw out and divide Crassus’s forces.  To the hills they must flee! 

Crassus has gained the upper hand in battle while at the same time the rift between he and his son, Tiberius, has now become permanently irrepairable.

The foreshadowing irony of Caesar stabbing Spartacus in the back was most delicious indeed.

Brilliant, brilliant writing.


I’ve taken stabs at fiction writing here and there but never have I experienced that AHA! moment when unrelated items have coalesced into a new and unique idea that other writers talk about.  Part of my problem is that I have read so many takes on how to write the process has become overwhelming plus my own unintentionally created roadblock of wanting to write something big and epic so that it will move people.  A bittersweet story much like Frodo sailing off to the Grey Havens after saving Middle Earth.

That’s a tall order for any writer.  Especially one starting out.  

So I’ve refocused my direction and am now directing my energies to smaller pieces.  I mentioned in a previous post that I had sent off a piece for a 200 word micro-fiction contest. That’s about as small as one can get!

Genre fiction is where I wish to write in be it SF, Fantasy, or Horror.  I have seen it said countless times that genre fiction is about the characters.  Take a character and put them in unusual circumstances.  Such circumstances arise when you take two previously unrelated ideas and put them together in a brand new way to push your characters.

Well I have achieved that AHA! epiphany.  The catalyst for my moment of insight was a lovely piece of writing over at Flash Fiction Online – “Beholder” by Sarah Grey.  This is a small story about technology versus man that elicits, for me, a big emotional response.

That’s the kind of story I want to write and Beholder gave me the spark to put two disparate ideas together. So I am working a piece that takes something I do often – walk our dog and a concept from a TV show.  I have it all mapped out in my head.  I know the whole story and how it will end.  

How well putting those two ideas together works is throttled only by my skill as a writer to tell it.  Exciting!  And scary.

I Swear By Jupiter’s Cock!

I’ve been reading my first Ramsey Campbell book – Creatures Of The Pool – and after hearing so much praise for him my initial impressions are decidely mixed.  I’m a third of the way into the book and an overwhelming majority of it has been a history and geography lesson of Liverpool.  I’m a big believer in setting but this is going overboard. At this point, very little has been revealed about any of the characters and beyond the story noting how damp everything is, very little of the story itself has yet to be revealed.   I’m probably making a fool of myself at this point with my initial reaction given Campbell’s reputation.  Or maybe I just chose the wrong book to start with.

On the flip side, when I want a fun and quick read I find myself turning to Jim Butcher’s – Dresden Files series.  The book series came to my attention after the short lived TV series. Butcher writes the Dresden books in engagingly dry manner that harkens back to those old hard boiled detective noir style stories and has mixed it with wizardry, magic, and the supernatural.  Harry Dresden is a very sympathetic character who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders and never seems to get a break.  Harry has a great sense of humor which leavens up the grist mill of obstacles and tribulations Butcher puts his poor protagonist through.

If the title of this post rings a bell for you then chances are you too are a viewer of the StarZ series – Spartacus.  The show is in its last season and has followed the story of Spartacus’s capture into Roman slavery, his rise in the gladiatorial arena, and the Slave Revolt he has led against the Romans.  In the final season, which is four episodes in, Julius Caesar himself has been summoned to deal with the ever growing rebellion.


After a first season shaky start in the first four episodes – exacerbated by the show’s signature battle scenes that are very reminiscent of the 300 movie’s slomo bloodfests – the series has crafted a complex and intricately plotted story that constantly presents characters with life and death decisions from which very few walk away alive.  The body count is high and favored characters fall with a degree of regularity that tops that of The Walking Dead.  The difference between Spartacus and The Walking Dead is that with Spartacus, character deaths consistently illicit emotional responses from both sides of the spectrum depending on where your character loyalties lie.

This is a very adult show.  Blood, limbs, heads – cloven whole or in half, and gore flow freely.  So does wine and bodily fluids.  Spartacus is an equal opportunity show – full female and male nudity, yes including that of the frontal variety – are often on display in all the possible configurations and gender pairings possible.  These were violent times and Spartacus captures it all whether it be in the arena, on the battleground, or behind closed doors of a master’s estate. 

Further props have to be given to the cast who undergo a rigorous physical regime to maintain and project the musculature of warriors.  These actors, in very physical roles, then must master many weapon types with swords the most common choice.  The physical aspects of the show are then married with modern technology to create battle scenes that, for my money, surpass most things seen on the much more lauded Game of Thrones.  Another show which I enjoy watching.

Spartacus is a great show that deserves far more acclaim than it has garnered to date.  This is a harsh, gritty world where the characters live and die hard. Check it out. Highly recommended.


On a writing front I put together a piece of micro fiction and sent it off today.  The deadline is mid-March so it was great to get that one under my belt. Especially since it is my first dribble of fiction writing in ages.