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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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. ...
This is a follow-up to The Voyage of the Sable Keech tracing the journey of an Old Captain, Orbus - a sadist in charge of a crew of masochists - to a planetary wasteland ca...
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.
At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist. But even the mistresses of sword and s...
Events are coming to a climax in the Banished Lands, as the war reaches new heights. King Nathair has taken control of the fortress at Drassil and three of the Seven Treasu...
For Kivrin Engle, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity's history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the four...
The Banished Lands are engulfed in war and chaos. The cunning Queen Rhin has conquered the west and High King Nathair has the cauldron, most powerful of the seven treasures...
The Creeping Shadow
Lucy has left Lockwood & Co. A freelance operative, she is hiring herself out to other agencies – agencies that might value her ever-improving skills. But now Loc...
The Burning Page
When it's your job to save the day - where do you start? Librarian spy Irene has standards to maintain, especially while on probation. And absconding from a mission via...