Review: Redshirts

Posted: June 1, 2012 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: John Scalzi, Science Fiction

Once upon a time I read OLD MAN’S WAR by John Scalzi (Amazon) and it became my favorite book of all time. That said, REDSHIRTS (Amazon) has much more in common with Scalzi’s ANDROID’S DREAM (Amazon) than it does OLD MAN’S WAR. Sometimes a book is worth losing sleep over. Some books are basically begging to be read in one sitting. REDSHIRTS is one of these books.

Andrew Dahl, Ensign of the Universal Union, has a problem. He has been assigned to the capital ship Intrepid, a ship with an alarmingly high casualty rate for low ranking crew members. Recognizing a terrifying trend relating to away missions, Dahl and his friends seek to discover the origin of the trouble plaguing Intrepid. As death draws ever nearer, Dahl must race against fate to save himself and his friends from a most assuredly gruesome demise.

My review of REDSHIRTS will be purposely short for a change. I can’t go too far into detail without giving away large pieces of the plot and to do so would be a crime against literature. REDSHIRTS is a self-aware science fiction novel, paying respect to Star Trek in the vein of Dean Parisot’s Galaxy Quest. REDSHIRTS is definitely a spoof but it is also a very thoughtful and well plotted homage. At first I had no idea how Scalzi would cultivate the idea into a full blow novel. The premise struck me as a fantastic idea for a novella but I had doubts about the ability to expand it any further. I need not have worried. This is a meta-novel of sorts, encompassing many trends and tropes of the weekly sci-fi television drama, filled with pop culture delights and snappy dialogue. Scalzi riffs on everything, from bad science plot devices to dramatically necessary deaths.

I remember being disappointed when ANDROID’S DREAM turned out not to be OLD MAN’S WAR. I was expecting another serious military science fiction thriller and what I got was a slightly funny satire. It wasn’t fair of me as a reader but that’s how it is. I didn’t have that conflict with REDSHIRTS. I have grown as a reader but Scalzi has also grown as a writer. Though frequently laugh-out-loud funny this novel just comes across as more genuine. Scalzi never has to grasp for humor, lines are delivered wit comedic precision.

The characters exhibit wonderful chemistry, and despite no huge amount of effort spent on development there are some surprisingly touching moments. Dahl and Co. exhibit just the right amount of depth for “expendables”. Most shocking of all is how much I ended up liking the super attractive and intensely unfortunate Lieutenant Kerensky. These characters are worth rooting for and you will find yourself firmly attached and wishing to follow them to the stars and the unknown.

A fun SciFi adventure and an intelligent piece of contemporary fiction, REDSHIRTS is exactly what my writing professor would have considered "literary."

The plot is largely twisted and philosophical. By the end you may find yourself asking if you are the protagonist of your own life’s story or just an extra in someone else’s. There are multiple surprises, especially regarding the characters themselves and the world they inhabit. Ironically the few problems I did have with the novel were solved by the time the conclusion came around. My minor grievances actually turned out to be deftly maneuvered plot devices. The ending is satisfying in a way that I have recently found lacking in my reading.

A fun Science Fiction adventure as well as an intelligent piece of contemporary fiction, this is exactly the sort of novel my fiction writing professor would have considered to be “literary”. Generally when I declare something to be literary I sneer at the elitist arrogance of it. Those books frequently dubbed as such bore the hell out of me. The thing is, I think I have come to understand what the term truly means. REDSHIRTS transcends the genre, telling a memorable story within a story and earning it the instant status of a classic. REDSHIRTS is Scalzi’s best novel since OLD MAN’S WAR, exhibiting his trademark sarcastic wit and nimble pacing while also telling a meaningful tale. Fans of Scalzi, Star Trek, science fiction, and good literature in general will find much to be pleased by here.

  • Recommended Age: 14+
  • Language: Frequent
  • Violence: Some but less than expected
  • Sex: Alluded to but nothing explicit

A Note on Codas: This is being sold as REDSHIRTS: A NOVEL WITH THREE CODAS. The first coda is absolutely essential and hilarious and adds to the overall experience. The two proceeding codas struck me as unnecessary, dragging out the book longer than I would have liked. Maybe I’m just being nitpicky because I was reading this early in the morning and desiring nothing more than sleep but I thought it important to mention my one legitimate objection.

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