Thursday, December 13, 2012

Redshirts, by John Scalzi

So a couple of months ago I heard about the then-new novel, Redshirts, which was a ruthless satire of Star Trek and other poorly written science fiction shows with massive death tolls. Being the complete sci-fi nerd that I am, I was eager to crack the pages of Redshirts and discover Scalzi's own insights into the lower grade of science fiction.

For those of my readers who are unfamiliar with the concept of a redshirt, (which is probably none) let me provide a brief explanation. In Star Trek: the Original Series it was very common for Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and some poor sap in a red shirt to beam down to the planet the Enterprise was orbiting that episode. Inevitably, Ensign Skippy in the red shirt would get eaten by a monster before the commercial break to raise the stakes for the main characters (who, of course, were never in any real danger thanks to plot armor). By the end of Star Trek's three-year run a total 13.7% of the Enterprise's crew had died, the vast majority being the eponymous redshirts. Since then redshirt has become a term for any expendable character who gets killed mostly for cheap shock value. Actual red shirts are, of course, optional.

Redshirts focuses on the events surrounding the Universal Union's flagship, the Intrepid, where strange things happen. New crew members Andy Dahl, Maia Duvall, Jimmy Hanson, Finn, and Hester notice that not only is everyone terrified of going on away missions, but the senior officers occasionally act just downright strange. Together they compare notes and discover that there might be more to the mysterious occurrences on the Intrepid than what meets the eye, provided that they can live long enough first.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel and its take on a plethora of science-fiction tropes. In addition, it had plenty of leaning-on-the-fourth wall humor, which is a particular brand of humor I enjoy and can be very hard to do well. I will admit that the book got almost too meta for me towards the end, but I still think it was a very well-written book from Scalzi. Furthermore this book has some great advice for aspiring science-fiction writers on how to avoid common pitfalls of the genre. Or at least, how to avoid making the deaths of redshirts completely meaningless.

Another point I want to make is that I was expecting this book to be a little more lighthearted than it was, sort of on the same grade as Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but this was a far more serious book than I anticipated. By all means, it's still an excellent book, but if you haven't read this yet the keep in mind that it is by no means a laugh-a-minute satire. I definitely went into Redshirts with the wrong expectations and had to adjust to the more serious tone.

Redshirts is definitely a must-read for any sci-fi geek, however, if you're not a fan of Star Trek in specific or a fan of sci-fi in general, then this book really doesn't have a lot to offer you.

- Kalpar

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