Redshirts

redshirtsJohn Scalzi’s REDSHIRTS is a TV show mash-up of the nonironic original series STAR TREK and the hilariously brilliant British sitcom RED DWARF, all tied up in a literally laugh-out-loud and damned thrilling comic adventure. His premise is both clever and insane, and his execution of the tale is perfectly done.

Ensign Andy Dahl is about to take his first post, as a xenobiologist aboard the Universal Union flagship Intrepid in the year 2456. He’s excited to take his first adventures into space, and happy to be on board the UU’s (always referred to as the Dub U) most famous ship. But soon after he arrives, he and some of his newfound friends on board discover something disturbing: Routinely, once a week or so, when there is an away mission, one of the more junior crew members ends up dying. (Yeah, now you get the redshirt reference.)

Death is an acceptable part of a mission, but the Intrepid‘s death rate is astronomical (sorry). Senior officers seem oblivious and even complaints to the Dub U fall on deaf ears. As a consequence, no one wants to go on away missions and start to actively avoid the captain and science officer in an effort to stay alive. Dahl ends up not having this chance as he is given a forced promotion to the bridge where he is in constant contact with these superior officers.

SPOILER ALERT … KIND OF: It’s not really a spoiler, as the main conceit is explained a hundred pages in, but one of the crew members finally tumbles to what is going on: In the early 21st century, there was a television show, a space opera all about the trials and tribulations of a spaceship called the Intrepid. The scripts that were written for that show, filled with sloppy science and illogical plotting, are somehow affecting the reality of the alternate universe real-life Intrepid in the mid-25th century. The characters in the book, while real to themselves, are being manipulated by their fictional counterparts hundreds of years ago. They exist as extras in their own universe. END SPOILER.

Scalzi explains this all in a crystal clear way, allowing his characters to discover what’s going on all while disbelieving the sheer nuttiness of it all. The efforts of the crew to avoid their own meaningless deaths — and attempts to go back into time to fix this issue once and for all — are hilariously outlined with a wry humor.

And there are more surprises up Scalzi’s sleeve, as he ends the book with three different codas, written in first-person, second-person and third-person which ties up a few of the loose ends.

REDSHIRTS is funny and fun. Scalzi has a smooth, amiable style and writes believable dialogue. His characterization is, well, kind of special for this particular book. After all, most extras don’t have complicated backstories. This is a novel you read for the clever premise and see how well the author handles the material, and Scalzi does a masterful job here. Highly recommended. —Mark Rose

Buy it at Amazon.

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3 Comments »

Comment by Slade Grayson
2013-08-16 13:03:13

Came across this one during an Amazon search a few weeks ago and thought about buying it. I was on the fence, but I think your review helped sway me into getting it.

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Comment by Steve Oerkfitz
2013-08-16 16:11:41

I thought this minor Scalzi. Amusing, but would have worked better as a novelette than a novel. Went on much too long.

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Comment by R
2013-08-17 12:22:53

I’m actually reading this book right now. About 60 pages from the end. If you like Star Trek, especially the original, you should pretty much love this book. If you don’t like Trek, I’d say it’s a lot more iffy.

I agree that it goes on too long. I’m halfway through the first coda and I already wish it had ended after the main storyline ended, but maybe I’ll feel different by the time I’ve finished, which should be later today.

The good parts are the fun Scalzi has making fun of both Trek, the way it was written, and the storytelling methods used for TV. The not-so-good part (although I hesitate to use the word bad) are that most of the supporting characters are pretty hard to distinguish from one another. To make them even more confusing, they have similar sounding names (lots of last names starting with H’s and D’s). And I don’t think this would have worked as a more generic story of this type, that is, not Trek-like characters.

I was ready to love this book at one point, but about halfway through, when the good guys leave the ship to go on a mission to save themselves, it got less interesting and funny. First half, great. Second half, okay but somewhat of a letdown after the start. If that changes after reading the last two epilogues, I’ll come back here and correct myself.

Slade, a few months ago they had the first 40 or 50 pages of the book free for download on Kindle, so you could try that. That’s what I did last winter and I knew I had to read it after that, although it wasn’t until now that I finally got a cheap copy of the book online.

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