John Scalzi: Trekkie Approved

John Scalzi: Trekkie Approved

Redshirts book coverBestselling sci-fi author John Scalzi discusses his Hugo-nominated Star Trek send-up Redshirts and why he’s excited for this summer’s newest entry in the famous film franchise.



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Zola: Are you a Trekkie?

John Scalzi: I would say that I am “Trek adjacent.” I really enjoy watching Star Trek and I definitely have knowledge of it. But I never had a uniform, and I don’t speak Klingon. I could tell you that I remember the episode where Worf babysat Data’s cat, but I couldn’t tell you the season and episode number. I would not claim the Trekkie mantle for myself.

What is important in respect to Redshirts is that I watched enough Star Trek and sci-fi that I know the community, that I could speak like a native. I was making fun of the tropes and everything, but not making fun of the people who love it. Anyone who is any fan of sci-fi knows that there are flaws and that there are things that don’t add up. There are things that don’t reflect the real world—and they are totally okay with that, because everyone recognizes that it’s fiction. It’s okay to point out those things. If you make fun of the fans, though, you will lose them.

Zola: What’s been the response to the book among Trekkies?

JS: You hear a lot. “Yeah, I really love it.” “Yeah, I don’t like it, here’s why.” You’re not going to make everyone like it. Generally speaking, the response has been good. There is a considerable overlap between my readers and the ones who consider Star Trek their core fandom. Their response has been generally positive. The worst I’ve heard is, “I don’t know if this works.”

Zola: How do you feel about the upcoming Star Trek film?

JS: I’m looking forward to it. I thought the 2009 film did exactly what it was supposed to do: It got people excited for Star Trek again. The previous Star Trek movie [2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis] was just “blech.” They really had an obligation to make people care about the franchise again. I have a couple problems with the movie, that the science was notably messed up, even for Star Trek. But even so, it did what it was supposed to do and got people reinvested in the series.

The new one isn’t, “Look, here’s Khan again!” It looks like they’re trying to expand their own universe instead of expanding on the existing universe. And Benedict Cumberbatch is great. As a watcher of Sherlock, I like that. There will be times I want to strangle the screenwriters—but I have faith that they’ll pull through.

Zola: What’s your favorite sci-fi B movie?

JS: I lived in L.A., and KTLA, which is Channel 5 there, used to show really cheesy B movies on Saturday afternoons. The one movie that I really liked a lot—partly because of the title and partly because, even at a young age, you can see the cheese—was Angry Red Planet. We landed on Mars and someone got eaten by a blob. I just remember being eight years old and watching it on TV and saying, “This is ridiculous!” Being eight or 10 or 12, this stuff speaks to you.

Zola: Given the nature of the novel, was this one of your more fun writing experiences?

JS: It was definitely fun, though I generally have fun writing. If I’m not having fun writing, that generally indicates something is wrong. I’m a big believer that if I’m not enjoying writing it, you won’t enjoy reading it. In that respect, I generally just have fun writing.

That said, I certainly had a ball hauling out all the tropes and stereotypes and getting to play with them. It is something that I think I’m very well suited to do. Before I was a novelist, I was a critic. I watched a lot of sci-fi. I wrote a lot of books on sci-fi film and culture. I had a very large database to work with in terms of building this particular book. That was absolutely a ton of fun, just rummaging through the toy box and finding the particular toys I wanted to play with and winding them up. It’s hard to say it was the most fun I ever had, but the amount of fun I had is evident in the story itself.

Zola: Given the meta nature of the story, did you write yourself in as a character?

JS: No, the main character, Andrew Dahl, is meant to be almost like an archetype of someone the readers can pour themselves into. He is not too quirky or odd or strange, so that anyone who reads it can put themselves in his shoes. It was a specific choice as to who the protagonist was. You have to be careful when you deal with “meta” and these levels of perception of storytelling, as you have a very high likelihood of just going up your own butt. Like, “Ha! Isn’t that cool how meta we are?” You still have to tell an entertaining story and make people care.

Zola: The Web site io9 recently claimed it was in fact the Goldshirts that suffered the most casualities in the entirety of the Star Trek series, not the Redshirts. Is a title change in order?

JS: I question the methodology of that particular study. If you focus on the away teams in the Star Trek series, the [Redshirts] died at a much higher rate. The fact is that the term Redshirts is the phrase that has currency amongst the community. We won’t be changing it to Goldshirts at any point.

This article originally appeared on Zola Books.