Redshirts: Curse you, John Scalzi!

SFF book reviews John Scalzi Redshirts: A Novel with Three CodasSFF book reviews John Scalzy Fuzzy Nation, Redshirts: A Novel with Three CodasRedshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi

I tend to be wary of comic science fiction novels, but I had read good reviews of John Scalzi’s Redshirts, so when I was on vacation I picked up a copy at an independent bookstore in the beach town I was spending a couple of days at.

(Shakes fist at the heavens. “Curse you, John Scalzi!”)

Walk on the beach? Nope. Go up to the art center and look at the most recent exhibit? Nope. Drive up to Schooner Gulch and look at those awesome striations where the cliffs surge out of the water? Sorry, nope — because I couldn’t stop reading!

Redshirts assumes that you know (and probably loved) Star Trek. That title is the first clue. The novel is short — which is a good thing considering I didn’t want to put it down — followed by three codas that follow some of the secondary characters.

In the future, the starship Intrepid is the flagship of the line. However, the ship’s mortality rate, especially among new crew members on away teams, is high. Very high. Andrew Dahl, who is newly assigned to the ship, and several of his friends, begin to explore this fact and some other strange facts about the ship. The result is a delightful romp, a send-up of science fiction tropes (time travel, voodoo science and bad uniforms), and a few touching moments as Scalzi encourages us to question what it means to be “real;” and what it means when humans sacrifice other humans in order to save themselves. That last sentence makes the book sound much heavier than it is.

The reader is in on the joke, but in the novel itself Scalzi has one final twist on the story, especially as it relates to Dahl. The codas, First Person, Second Person and Third Person, extend the experiences of a specific group of characters from the story, and they are indeed written in first, second and third person POV respectively.

Scalzi speeds Redshirts along with side-splitting dialogue and recursive meta-fictional discussions that make the book even funnier. (“I hate that we have these discussions now,” one character laments.) The final coda explores a slightly more serious tone and wraps everything up with a sweet, if a tad too coincidental — oh, wait, that’s the point, isn’t it? — ending.

In his afterword, Scalzi insists that this is not a thinly veiled roman a clef about a TV show he worked on, called Stargate: Universe. Um, excuse me… isn’t Universe the one where the hi-tech military trapped on the alien starship use magic rocks to body-swap with people back on Earth? Are you sure this isn’t a roman a clef? To be fair, the little bit of Stargate: Universe that I watched, the show did not employe no-name characters just to have them die before the first commercial break. When a character died, it was someone who had been developed, and that death was a loss, with ripples into future episodes. And that really, those ripples, is largely what Redshirts is about.

And it’s about 230 pages of giggles, snickers, snorts and the occasional guffaw.

~Marion Deeds

Marion’s review nailed how much fun this book is. I don’t usually enjoy SF or fantasy that’s intended to be humorous, but I giggled my way straight through this book.

~Terry Weyna

What if the redshirt extras low-ranking crew members on Star Trek The Chronicles of the Intrepid realized that whenever one of them accompanies the starship’s officers on an away mission to a planet or somewhere, that crew member was extremely likely to be killed?

Naturally, this creates a dog-eat-dog situation where the long-term members of the crew learn to disappear quickly whenever an officer comes around, and the newer members have a very high mortality rate. Finally, a few of the junior crew members decide to try to get to the bottom of this mysterious phenomenon and, if possible, try to find a way to end it.

Redshirts is extremely funny in parts, especially if you’re familiar with the original Star Trek and some of its characters and quirks, but it’s really kind of an odd book at the same time. Most of the book is a satire, a little on the superficial side and very snappy-dialogue-driven. There’s a lot to make fun of with Trek, as fond as I am of it, and it’s not all about the callous and weird ways in which random crew members die. (I did think the captain needed a few sexy alien ladies slinking up to him.) The answer to the mystery of why so many crew members are dying on this particular starship doesn’t really hold water logically AT ALL, but I’ve suspended disbelief on a lot shakier plot lines in my Trek-watching over the years, and I was willing to roll with it.

Then the story gets a little bit more screwy and a lot more meta, and at about the 70% mark the main story ends and the rest of the book is three “codas” written from the points of view of three very minor characters from the first part of the story, telling a little more about what happened in their lives after the main story ended. They’re interesting, but so very different in tone from the rest of the book that the contrast is a little jarring. They’re kind of sobering, in fact. And no, that wasn’t me you saw surreptitiously wiping away a tear as I turned the last page of Redshirts.

~Tadiana Jones

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas — (2012) Publisher: 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.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She longs to be a full-time reviewer, critic, scholar and writer, but nonetheless continues to practice law as a civil litigator in California. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, the imperious but aging Cordelia Louise Cat Weyna-White, and a forever-growing personal library that presently exceeds 15,000 volumes.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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  1. Yes, this was a really fun book!

  2. Enjoyed your review! Sorry it cut into your vacation time, but wasn’t it worth it? Really enjoyed this one, so glad you did too!

  3. This is one that I have yet to read, but it’s definitely on my To Read pile. I’ve heard so many good things about this book, especially the dialogue, that I knew early on that I was going to have to read it some day. Great review, and you’ve just made me want to read it even sooner!

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