Book Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

“Redshirts” is one of those novels that is constantly winking at the reader.  And, given the premise, how could it not?  For those of you that don’t know, a Redshirt is a reference to the hapless extras in the Star Trek series who invariably wear red shirts and whose sole purpose is to die horribly in the presence of one or more of the main cast to give some semblance of danger without having to kill off the main cast.  In “Redshirts”, those hapless extras take center stage.

The premise of the story is brilliant in its simplicity.  A small group of Redshirts discover that they are actually Redshirts and that some mysterious and all too predictable force seems to be guiding the fates of those aboard the Universal Union ship, Intrepid.  At key moments in critical situations, they find themselves doing and saying things that they don’t seem to have complete control over.  They start to call this strange force The Narrative.  And then there’s The Box, a device that can solve any problem, but only in critical situations and only in the nick of time.  What does all of this mean?  The Redshirts band together to find out before they become the next victim of an explosion on deck 6 or a Longranian Ice Shark or Bogrovian Land Worms.

With such a wacky premise and a whole mess of base material to draw from, you can probably guess that “Redshirts” is both a comedy and contains a plethora of Easter Eggs for sci-fi geeks.  The humor in the book is pretty good, but it kind of wore thin for me after a while which is much of the reason why I gave the book three instead of four stars.  John Scalzi’s writing always contains a bit of humor and it always works in smaller quantities.  In “Redshirts” it was just a bit too much.

Following the main story, there are three Codas which follow individuals who are trying to come to terms with being affected by the people they unknowingly affected after they learned that they were affecting them.  If that sentence doesn’t make sense to you, read the book and all will be revealed.  None of the three really add much to the main storyline, but they are interesting experiments in empathy.  I’m a sucker for stuff like this.  Here’s a story.  Now look how this story felt from this point of view.  And now this point of view.  And now this point of view.  This is probably like Creative Writing 101 stuff and I don’t know it, but it seldom is found in novels these days and I appreciate it.

“Redshirts” is worth reading, especially if you are a sci-fi geek.  There is some good stuff in it for non-sci-fi geeks too and I don’t think you’ll miss out on much in the book if you aren’t a sci-fi geek.  I found it to be an enjoyable light read and would recommend it to anyone with a caveat for the humor.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

  1. Brandy

    I can’t speaking for Creative Writing 101, but in Film 101 telling the story from different viewpoints is from Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon. Plenty of movies follow that form, if you dig it.

  2. Pingback: Book Review: 2014 Revue | A Little Rebellion

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