Redshirts by John Scalzi
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.
Redshirts by John Scalzi tells the story of the support crew onboard the Universal Union Capital Ship, Intrepid, and all the perils they face on a daily basis. I've been sitting on this review for a while, partly because I've not had much time to write but mostly because it has taken me a long time to come up with the right words for it. I'm a relative newcomer to Scalzi, having heard lots about him and his various sci-fi works but having never sat down and read anything of his until Redshirts. My first impression - if his other work is anywhere near as good as Redshirts then I can see myself devouring the rest of his bibliography in no time at all.
The story follows Ensign Andrew Dahl, newly assigned as a junior scientist onboard the Intrepid, complete with red shirt. Almost immediately he notices something strange - the support crew are very good at hiding, the away missions have an obscene amount of fatalities, and the officers always seemed to survive the most horrific of injuries and are back up within days ready to face the next away mission. Dahl is determined to find out what is going wrong on this ship, before the next away mission becomes his last. This is a book that exploits the concept of the Redshirt, that guy on the away team in Star Trek that you knew was going to die because he was wearing a red shirt. It pokes fun at all those 70's - 90's sci-fi TV shows in a number of overt and subtle ways. Decks six through ten always suffer from explosive decompression during a fire fight, consoles on the bridge blow up in a shower of sparks every time the ship is hit by an energy weapon, you know, the little things that make sci-fi TV unique. Redshirts is a book that feels more like a tribute than a parody - I found the whole story heartwarming, and never condescending. There are a couple of problems with the story, the first being that the whole story feels like a running gag and by the end you are just looking for the next punchline. The other is that the entire story feels like an in-joke, and I feel like anyone who hasn't ever watched those 70's - 90's sci-fi TV shows will be excluded from enjoying the majority of the story.
Looking at the characters, it is very easy to dismiss them at first as being cardboard cut-outs. The nature of this story is to look at the Redshirt concept, so every main character plays a stereotypical Redshirt who is trying to avoid their likely fate of either dying on an away mission or on deck six. There isn't a great deal of depth or complexity to these characters, but this has been done deliberately, fits within the context of the story, and has been executed perfectly. For those who love their characters, it will mean the book is less than accessible for about the first 30%, but once you get to the first major plot twist it all makes sense with the characters taking on extra layers of complexity because of the bounds by which they personalities have been artificially confined. That said, despite these characters being perfect for the story Scalzi wanted to tell, they are just lacking, and to be honest I can't remember any of the Redshirt's names except for Ensign Dahl and Jenkins!
The writing style for this whole story feels like a script, which again fits in with the context of the story. This can be jarring to read during the early chapters, especially during some of the rapid-fire dialogue that goes on between the characters. Almost every line of dialogue is followed by 'said Dahl' or 'said Jenkins' or 'said...' for whichever character just spoke. As I said, just like a script / screenplay. I'm not sure if this is typical of Scalzi's writing, or if he just wrote it that way because it made sense to the story, but once you start to realize what is going on the narrative style almost becomes a character itself and I found myself laughing a few times at the way the scene was written, not just how funny the content of the scene was. After the completion of the main story, there are three 'Coda's' that act almost like short stories set within the same world. Each one is written with a different point of view style - the first is written in first person, the second is written in second person, and the third (my favourite) is written in third person. All three Coda's have a completely different voice and style but they all work perfectly and help to bring this story to a fitting conclusion.
Redshirts is a book where your mileage will vary based on how familiar you are with sci-fi. I also picked up a copy of the audio book (read by Wil Wheaton, and in my opinion the best way to consume this story) so my wife and I could listen together during a long trip, and we were both in stitches the whole way. But when I played it for a friend they were less than impressed, especially since they just didn't understand a lot of the set-up material or the punchlines. Redshirts gets a 9.0 from me, but I completely understand if you cant get into it and don't like it.
You can read the prologue and first four chapters here: http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/03/redshirts-prologue-chapter-1-a-2-excerpt
This Redshirts book review was written by Ryan Lawler
Have you read Redshirts?
We've found that while readers like to know what we think of a book they find additional reader reviews a massive help in deciding if it is the right book for them. So if you have a spare moment, please tell us your thoughts by writing a reader's review. Thank you.
Redshirts reader reviews
Nadine from Austria
If this were a first novel, nobody would be making a fuss. Scalzi's writing is lazy, his characters bland, and the plot boring. Now one can argue he is doing that on purpose to be meta and poke fun at the tropes of Star Trek and similar science fiction series. However, does this justify writing a bad book? I don't think so. It seriously put me off Scalzi! Full review at: http://sffbookreview.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/john-scalzi-redshirts/
6/10 from 2 reviews
Write a reader review
Thank you for taking the time to write a review on this book, it really makes a difference and helps readers to find their perfect book.
More recommended reading in this genre
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet
When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn't expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that's seen better days, offers her everything she co...
Marjorie B Kellogg
Set in the future on a distant world, Lear’s Daughters tackles the issues of global warming, pollution, exploitation of resources, and disastrous climate change. Long...
Iain M Banks
It begins in the realm of the Real, where matter still matters. It begins with a murder. And it will not end until the Culture has gone to war with death itself. Lededje Y&...
The burgeoning new economies in near-Earth space are fuelled by a steady stream of comets, steered back home by huge nuclear-powered mining ships like Bella Lind’s Ro...
The Naked God
Peter F Hamilton
The Confederation is starting to collapse politically and economically, allowing the 'possessed' to infiltrate more worlds. Quinn Dexter is loose on Earth, destroyi...
The very far future: The Galaxy is a drifting wreck of black holes, neutron stars, chill white dwarfs. The age of star formation is long past. Yet there is life here, feedi...
When Streaker - the first starship designed and crewed by dolphins - discovers a derelict ancient armada with evidence of the first sentient species ever, she sets off a wa...
For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme. Now it is dying. But only Hari Seldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into ...
James SA Corey
Humanity has colonized the solar system - Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond - but the stars are still out of our reach. Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making r...
An Ancient Peace
The centuries-long war between the Confederation and The Others, a group of violent alien species, is over. Intergalactic peace is finally restored. Torin Kerr and her crew...
During all recorded history, the Moon has hovered above our heads, a timeless symbol for lovers' ecstasy. Goddesses & Gibson Girls have tripped the light fantastic ...
James SA Corey
On Ganymede, breadbasket of the outer planets, a Martian marine watches as her platoon is slaughtered by a monstrous supersoldier. On Earth, a high-level politician struggl...
The Uplift War
As galactic armadas clash in quest of the ancient fleet of the Progenitors, a brutal alien race seizes the dying planet of Garth. The various uplifted inhabitants must batt...
The Dreaming Void
Peter F Hamilton
The year is 3589, fifteen hundred years after Commonwealth forces barely staved off human extinction in a war against the alien Prime. Now an even greater danger has surfac...
Khesh City floats above the surface of the uninhabitable planet of Vellern. Topside, it's extravagant, opulent, luxurious; the Undertow is dark, twisted and dangerous. ...
Looking for more suggestions? Try these pages:
Books of the Month
A selection of books - old and new alike - that were a joy to read.
A corrupted city. A dark dream of power. Luke is a prisoner, condemned for a murder he didn’t commit. Abi is a fugitive, desperate to free him before magic breaks his mind. But as the Jardines tighten their grip on a turbulent Britain, brother and sister face a fight greater than their own. New alliances and old feuds will remake the natio...
The Fifth Empire of Man
Rob J Hayes
The Pirate Isles are united under Drake Morrass’ flag, but the war has only just begun. There’s still a long way to go before he’s able to call himself Ki...
Ian C Esslemont
After the disappointments of Li Heng, Dancer and Kellanved wash up on a small insignificant island named Malaz. Immediately, of course, Kellanved plans to take it over. To ...
Age of Swords
Michael J Sullivan
Raithe, the God Killer, may have started the rebellion by killing a Fhrey, but long-standing enmities dividing the Rhunes make it all but impossible to unite against the co...
A Time of Dread
The Ben-Elim, a race of warrior angels, once vanquished a mighty demon horde. Now they rule the Banished lands. But their dominion is brutally enforced and their ancient en...
The Last Dog on Earth
Adrian J Walker
Every dog has its day... And for Lineker, a happy go lucky mongrel from Peckham, the day the world ends is his: finally a chance to prove to his owner just how loyal he can...
The Shadow Crucible
Taking humanity back to their primordial beliefs and fears, Estella confronts Mikhail’s faith by revealing the true horror of the lucrative trade in human souls. All ...