Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi
This is the part where you run and scream a lot.
Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Intrepid, a spaceship that has the reputation of killing off most of its non-essential crew. The captain and senior officers and one or two especially good-looking guys always come back from planetary “away” missions alive (though often mangled up a bit), but always, always, at least one, and often many more, of the crew is killed. When Dahl and a few other new recruits begin investigating, they discover that the statistics just don’t work out right. There is definitely something weird going on. With the help of a computer hacker who hides in the bowels of the ship, they set out to get some answers and make a discovery that completely changes how they view the world.
I’d love to tell you more about the clever plot of Redshirts, but I don’t want to give it away. I hope it’s enough to say that I was delighted from the first page and I laughed a lot. Redshirts is a spoof of Star Trek; the title refers to the ever-changing expendable red-shirted crewmen who go down to the planets with Kirk, Spock, Bones, et al., but usually don’t return. Most Trekkies are sure to find it hilarious. Though Scalzi mocks Star Trek plot clichés, there’s a sincere sense of affection and nostalgia for Star Trek that I found charming. Also charming is the reminder that all those expendables have real lives, too.
Redshirts is self-aware metafiction divided into three parts: a novel and three codas. While the novel is a comedy, the codas are meant to make us think about life and death and our place in the universe. The conceit starts to wear a little thin by the second coda, but rebounds for a gut-wrenching twist at the end. If you don’t like metafiction, Redshirts may not be for you, though I’d encourage you to try it anyway, especially if you’re a Star Trek fan.
I listened to Audible Frontiers’ audio production of Redshirts which was read by Wil Wheaton. I don’t know if Wil Wheaton’s narrations are always so good, because I’ve only heard him narrating novels written by John Scalzi, but let me just say that in my experience, Scalzi + Wheaton = a brilliant performance. Wil Wheaton totally “gets” John Scalzi’s characters (and it’s not just because he used to play an ensign on Star Trek). If you’re an audio reader, you definitely want to read Redshirts in that format. If you’re not an audio reader, Redshirts could convert you.