Review of Redshirts by John Scalzi

If you like Star Trek, you’ll appreciate Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas.  It’s a lot like the movie Galaxy Quest — it makes fun of the genre, but in a way that clearly honors it as well.  If you don’t know what the term “redshirts” means, this probably isn’t the book for you.

Redshirts is the story of five cadets, just out of the Academy and beginning work on the Universal Union starship Intrepid.  The Intrepid is an exploration vehicle, which means it travels to strange new worlds and seeks out new civilizations, etc. etc.  It also takes on unusually dangerous missions.  The crew members face possible death with every away mission.

But for some reason, even though the senior officers charge in bravely, it’s always the young and relatively unimportant cadets who die.  And it’s always from strange things like ice sharks and land worms.

Our five new cadets quickly realize that everyone else on the ship disappears when the Captain comes around.  They know the pattern, and they’ve learned to go get coffee every time an away team is chosen.

Redshirts pokes fun at lots of Star Trek clichés – like the fact that the crew members always have to rush to the bridge with whatever mission-critical data they’ve obtained, even though they all carry tablets and could clearly send the information electronically.   And the fact that there’s always a time countdown, and the situation will always be deadly and always resolved within minutes of that countdown.

But while the story starts out feeling a bit like a Galaxy Quest retread, it turns into something else entirely.  Andy Dahl and the other four cadets have to figure out what’s happening on the ship before they all get sent on away missions and die horrible catastrophic deaths.  Scalzi takes the story in fun and clever directions, which I won’t tell you about.  He also has three “codas” at the end that further tell the story from different perspectives.  I found one of the three codas a little pointless but that’s a small complaint.

If you’ve ever wondered if the world is bigger than what you see around you, or if there are parallel realities out there, or if you’re simply playing a part in someone else’s story, this is a book you’ll enjoy.  The story is convoluted and ridiculous and every page of it is a lot of fun – and even occasionally heartwarming in the way your favorite Star Trek episodes were.

(And I’ll admit I do have favorite Star Trek (Next Generation) episodes – like the one where Deanna Troi finds out she had a sister who died as a girl.  Or where Dr. Crusher falls in love with a man who turns out to be a body hosting a parasite – and when the man-body dies the parasite is transferred into the body of a woman.  And the one where Picard has to learn to speak an alien language that’s all metaphor.  Come to think of it, someone DOES die in every episode.)

Like his last novel Fuzzy Nation, Scalzi has a writing style where you almost feel you’re reading a screenplay.  He’s a little light on character development (although so was Star Trek; these are redshirts after all).  But he’s great at telling a clever, humorous, yet complicated story where you really feel like you’re watching it all unfold.  Kind of like it’s a TV show. And you’re part of the story.

  4 comments for “Review of Redshirts by John Scalzi

  1. August 13, 2012 at 9:27 am

    I get excited about any TNG episode that heavily features Data & Geordi. Those ones just make me happy.

    I need to read this one soon. It’s one of those books that’s been sitting on my shelf since June, but that for some reason I just haven’t gotten to yet, even though it’s one of the books I’m looking forward to reading the most.

    • August 19, 2012 at 9:45 am

      Thanks for the comment! I agree about the Data and Geordi episodes — Geordi was an under-utilized character but of course there were tons of great Data episodes. The women didn’t get the best roles on TNG, especially Troi, who seemed to get mind-raped on a regular basis.

      • August 19, 2012 at 12:16 pm

        Mhm, and I feel like empath power had so much more potential than what it was used for…

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