“Redshirts” by John Scalzi

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

“Redshirts” by John ScalziRedshirts by John Scalzi
Published: 2012 by Tor
Genres: Humor, Science Fiction
Pages: 317
Format: ARC
Source: the publisher
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You know how in Star Trek and other stereotypical sci-fi shows there always seem to be characters who exist only to die in horrific ways in order to create drama and a sense of danger?  In Redshirts by John Scalzi, a group of newly arrived crewmembers on the Intrepid quickly find that everyone’s really weird about away missions.  This is because someone always dies, although for some reason, a core group of about five officers always survive, even if they sustain injuries along the way.  The redshirts realize that they are redshirts, but instead of calmly accepting their fate, they are determined to do something about it.

Redshirts had been on my TBR for a while now.  I kept meaning to read it, knowing that John Scalzi is awesome and that I’d love the book.  Now that I finally got around to reading it, I’m wishing that I had read it even earlier, because it was both lighthearted and meta.  I’ve always been a fan of books that do unconventional things with structure, and Scalzi nails it here.  The first three quarters or so of the book is the main plot, in which Ensign Andrew Dahl and his fellow crew members realize that their universe is being altered by a terrible sci-fi television show from the past, and that unless they figure out something drastic, they are likely to meet their ends sooner rather than later.  This part of the book reminds me a bit of the movie Galaxy Quest, but better.  It’s filled with campy humor and doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is essential in this kind of book.  It makes fun of itself, but in a way that only makes the characters more relatable and sympathetic.

After the main plot ends, Scalzi presents three codas, which are tangentially related short stories about the actors who play the crew in the television show.  After spending an entire book getting to know the characters, it’s rather neat to see their doubles’ own distinct personalities and the subtle ways in which their lives overlap.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough.  Anyone who grew up watching Star Trek will enjoy the nostalgia, but the story is accessible enough that you don’t have to be too much of a Trekkie to be entertained by it.

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8 comments

  1. I too enjoyed this book. I gave the audio version a listen – it was read by Wil Wheaton and was very good. I loved the humor and the gentle poking fun at 1960s scifi stories in general.

  2. This is one I wish I would have waited on as I did not enjoy it nearly as much as I had other Scalzi books. So many people got early release copies and RAVED about the laugh-out-loud humor and how great it was that it ended up being a disappointment for me. I was quick to point out that a disappointing Scalzi is better than a great book from many others, but my enjoyment of the book would have probably been increased had I waited for a good long while before reading it.

    I did ultimately love the last coda and it redeemed a lot of the story for me, but prior to that I felt like it was a fun idea that wore thin too soon.

    1. Part of why I waited so long to read it was because I didn’t grow up with Star Trek, but rather started watching and loving it as an adult. When I first got the book, I had only seen maybe half a season of TNG, so I wanted to wait till I was a bit more familiar with the show before reading a parody so I could really appreciate it. It also means that I missed a lot of the hype.

      I’ve had things ruined for me by too much fan enthusiasm before (e.g. The Dark Knight, which I thought was an okay movie but not THE GREATEST MOVIE OF ALL TIME, unlike pretty much everyone I know), so I totally get it.