Redshirts by John Scalzi
Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas
John Scalzi has fast become one of my favorite science fiction writers. My husband first introduced me to his writing via his website, and I’ve picked up a few of his books since then. When I saw that he was writing a novel based on the concept of the “redshirt” from the old Star Trek series, I was excited, and I wasn’t disappointed. Redshirts is a comic send-up of some of the genre’s greatest tropes.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.
Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.
Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.”
I thought about how to describe this novel in a suitably irreverent way, and here’s what came to mind: Take the entirety of the Tropes Wiki and distill it down into a drug. (Whatever you do, do NOT click on that link unless you have nothing better to do today. Seriously.) Throw a party and invite all the novels and movies in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, and then pass out this drug. After several hours, some room of your house will be host to an orgy involving Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Galaxy Quest, and the Thursday Next novels. Redshirts will spring fully formed from this union.
Honestly, this book is about as meta as they come. Scalzi is using the common clichés of the genre to tell a story about circumventing the clichés of the genre, and then within the story, the characters use some of the clichés to their own advantage. It really does remind me a lot of Jasper Ffforde’s Thursday Next series, because the characters are jumping in and out of fictional settings with full knowledge of the fact that they are fictional themselves.
What I enjoy most about this book is the humor. It’s not just humor that focuses on lampooning Star Trek; it also branches out and encompasses the characters and situations created for the book. And it’s not a snarky humor meant to denigrate the genre. It’s an affectionate homage that nonetheless acknowledges how terribly silly those early science fiction shows (and even some shows being produced today) can be. And yet, we love them, regardless. There’s almost a comfort in watching a well-worn storyline play out in a way that we expect and understand. Of course, there’s always a need to challenge convention, but sometimes, campy is okay.
There’s not a lot that I can say about the plot without giving away too much, and I’d rather not spoil the fun for other readers. Let me just say that if you have any nostalgia for the early days of science fiction television, or if you have a show that you follow today, you are going to enjoy this novel. Our summer days are winding down, but you still have a little time to sit by the pool and enjoy some of this wonderfully goofy and irreverent novel. And once you’re done, go and pick up Scalzi’s other novels. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on August 18, 2012.