Redshirts by John Scalzi – Capsule Book Review

John Scalzi - Red ShirtsRedshirts has got to be one of the most geek-friendly book titles I have encountered. The uninformed might guess that it’s about wearing a certain colour of clothing, and they might be wondering why it’s a single compound word. However, any sci-fi fan worth his salt knows that it actually refers to the laughable tendency for characters on the original Star Trek series who wore red uniforms to be entirely expendable and prone to being hurt or killed on away missions. So we know what this story is going to be about. The story of Ensign Andrew Dahl is clearly set in a copy of the Star Trek universe with its starship Intrepid and Universal Union as clear analogues to the starship Enterprise and the Federation. Nevertheless, Redshirts is not merely a spoof of Star Trek, but attempts to tell its own very “meta” story. When Dahl arrives aboard the Intrepid, it doesn’t take him long to notice that certain people are dying on missions (and in gruesome, ridiculous ways such as “death by ice shark”), while others never get hurt or seem to recover miraculously when they do. The behaviour of certain crew members changes without explanation and other reality-defying incidents start to pique Dahl’s interest, so he starts digging for answers — hopefully before he falls prey to whatever is happening as well. Because of the obvious Star Trek comparisons, we same sci-fi fans who are worth our salt can also predict quite easily what is going on, so thankfully, author John Scalzi doesn’t keep that a “mystery” for long. Instead, partway into the story, the plot takes a huge “meta” twist and the fictional reality kind of wraps in on itself. I don’t want to give too much away (maybe I already have), but this twist makes the story pretty interesting (a cool little variant on the time-travel story — another sci-fi staple). This plot change also comes right at the time when I was getting very confused by the various characters and their names. (I listened to the audiobook, which was wonderfully performed by Wesley Crusher himself, Wil Wheaton — How’s that for “meta”? — but that made it even harder to keep characters straight since they all sounded similar until the story started to focus on a small away-mission crew instead.) The writing style is very light and humourous — and not particularly literary. In fact, we don’t delve too deeply into the characters’ minds or motives. There isn’t even very much description. It’s essentially all plot and dialogue (much like a TV script would be). In many ways, this story feels like an episode of Star Trek (or better yet, an epic, two-part episode — maybe even a cliffhanger season finale). Everything moves along rather briskly. After the end of the main story there are several long epilogues which add layers of emotion and character to this story, but it seems weird to relegate them to the post-script. It may have slowed down the pace of the plot, but I would have preferred if that kind of depth could have been a part of the main story all along. In the end, there’s not much I can say about this book. It’s fun for anyone who is familiar with and enjoys Star Trek and other similar space shows but for anyone outside the fandom I think there is probably not nearly as much here to hold their interest. Thankfully, though I am not a fan of the original Trek, I do enjoy everything that came after — and that includes this book. (4 out of 5)

Redshirts Campaign Poster – fan art by mholyome

Redshirts – fan art by Natalie Metzger (thefuzzyslug)

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