Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi @scalzi
Redshirts by John Scalzi is a look at the life of those anonymous Ensigns that died in every episode of Star Trek (among many other even-hackier – yes that is a word now – science fiction TV shows) that has ever aired. At least that is what you might be read to believe if you just glanced over it. While that is the central conceit, however, the book is really something much more clever than that.
Redshirts lets you think that you’ve gotten everything figured out pretty early on. I am not giving away anything that is not in the official blurb to tell you that at the beginning of Redshirts you meet Ensign Andrew Dahl and four other new Ensigns assigned to the Intrepid, the flagship of the Universal Union. After realizing that the lowly Ensigns have a tendency to die on Away Missions, Dahl and his friends try to discover exactly what is wrong with the Intrepid and how they can get out with their lives.
Honestly, Redshirts gives away the central premise fairly early in the book and I was concerned that the book would run out of steam well before it ran out of pages. Sure, Scalzi’s writing at its best is Whedonesque banter, moving smoothly and quickly between the characters, but that wouldn’t matter if the story had no place to go once it had shown its hand. Or you think it has shown its hand. It hasn’t. I don’t want to ruin anything for you, but trust me when I say that the back part of the book is actually even better than the first half. The characterizations get stronger, the stakes get higher, and the risks get more interesting. The whole thing reads extraordinarily quickly and rarely lulls for any length of time. The story, like most good stories, is hilarious in parts, action-packed in parts, and heartfelt far more often than it has any right to be.
After the novel proper you get three additional perspectives on the events of the book. Each one is great (the first and the third were particularly strong) and adds something else to the story. Most of all, however, the codas seek to remind you that the focus of Redshirts is about people and that often the story is bigger than you realize it is. If you are worried about satire of science fiction television getting in the way of your enjoyment of the book: don’t. Seriously, I have no history with Star Trek to speak of but, so long as you don’t mind the occasional spaceship, I don’t think there is much you are going to miss by not having the background.
Redshirts by John Scalzi is available now and was released on June 5, 2012. It is a story that starts as a story about something weird happening on a spaceship and turns out to be something much bigger than that. Check out the publisher’s page for information where you can get it near you, or go to your local eBook device to have it mere moments after you finish this review. You can also head over to TOR’s site to read a pretty substantial excerpt from the book. Like magic.