REDSHIRTS by John Scalzi: a Book Review

Big-Hearted Characters Think and Joke their Way through a Broken Reality

REDSHIRTS, the latest book by John Scalzi (blog, Twitter) doesn’t come out until June 5, but fans of Star Trek, sci fi, comedy, and Scalzi’s nerdy snark should pre-order the book now.

One of the classic Star Trek tropes was that when an away team beamed down to an alien planet, although the officers might get bloodied, the unknown ensign–wearing a red shirt, of course–would die, often horribly. So John Scalzi decided to tell the story of what life would look like from the point of view of those red shirt wearing ensigns. But the resulting novel is more than just a 300-page meta riff on a sci fi cliche. Although there is plenty of sarcasm (this is a John Scalzi book after all), this is also a smart, fun, mix of sci fi and adventure told with a surprising depth of emotion. On top of that, it’s also a book about storytelling itself (adding another level of meta fun onto the pile).

REDSHIRTS begins with Ensign Andrew Dahl taking up his post in on the Universal Union Capital flagship, the Intrepid (cough, Enterprise, cough). Dahl quickly learns that the crew spends most of its time avoiding away team missions through superstition and ritual. And while that is odd enough, with each week on the Intrepid, Dahl and his fellow redshirts learn that the away teams are but one tiny part about life onboard that does not make a lot of sense. Or is there a method behind the madness?

It’s not mandatory that you be a Star Trek and sci fi fan to read REDSHIRTS, but it certainly helps. And let’s be honest, on the Venn Diagram listing John Scalzi fans and Star Trek/sci fi fans, I would bet that there’s a lot of overlap. So I assume most readers will get the Star Trek and sci fi jokes. But more than jokes, there are some well-drawn characters who are having to deal with death, while also questioning reality, fate, and free will.

Also, you may have noticed that the full title is “REDSHIRTS: A Novel with Three Codas.” The three codas less Star Trek and more about wrapping up the story–in increasingly beautiful ways (bonus points for noticing the atypical ways the codas are told). In other words, not only is REDSHIRTS very entertaining, but it has quite a bit of substance as well.

As summer kicks off, you’ll want to pick up some fun reads. Definitely pick up REDSHIRTS. I think most genre readers will love it. But if you are unsure, you can get a sneak peek of REDSHIRTS: you can download a preview of the first four chapters for free. Or you can read the first five chapters on tor.com. But like I said earlier, you should go pre-order the whole book now.

And, yes, as a disclaimer, I’m a fan of John Scalzi, so I may have had some bias going into this review. But since I’m a lifelong fan of Reading Rainbow, you don’t have to take my word for it. Here are reviews from io9.com’s Charlie Jane Anders (contains mild spoilers) and Wired’s GeekDad.

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