Redshirts (BOOK REVIEW)

It’s about time I got around to reading this. Redshirts, a novel by John Scalzi, is a look behind the curtain of what life might be like for those unfortunate enough to be wearing a red shirt on Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise. Of course, this isn’t quite Star Trek, but it’s certainly a very close spoof. It takes all the shoddy science, plot holes, and ridiculous dramatics that make for a great television show, and presents to you the other side of the equation, and how insane life must be like for those aboard the ship.

Have you ever wondered what the red shirt wearing members of the Enterprise are thinking between away missions? This is as good of a look as you’re going to get into that mindset. And as a character study, it’s top notch stuff. The crew begins to see the bridge crew as something more akin to cursed. When comparing away-mission notes, they actually begin to see patterns in how many absurd casualties are accrued when any of the bridge crew are tasked to go along with. They begin to avoid these crew members, never lingering in eyesight, just in case they get asked to risk their lives for the sake of it.

Strange conspiracies begin drumming up. And not only because of this. Sometimes they say or do things they wouldn’t have normally, rationally done, in a far more dramatic way. They have a magic box with tech capable of producing any antidote or answer with just the right amount of time to spare, that helps explain away strange and wonky science. It’s pretty brilliant, up until you find out why.

And even then, it’s still brilliant. Although Scalzi gets away with not explaining any of the wibbly-wobbly science he writes in Redshirts, it’s only because that’s the whole point. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s as meta as meta fiction gets. It’s as if Scalzi has given himself a pardon to write all the wonky stuff he wants, without actually finding suitable answers for them. The resolution of the main plot works on an emotional level, but doesn’t even make sense logistically by the standards and laws set forth by the writer himself, or the rational thinking of the characters in the plot. It’s given an oddly ambiguous notion for an ending, that isn’t developed or answered at all.

And then there are the three codas, or seperate and loosely connected plot lines. They kind of hit you right out of nowhere. And although they are interesting, they fit very disjointedly. I don’t think I’d have given the book such a high score, if it weren’t for the last coda and it’s incredible ending.

One of the most irritating things about this book is that each character can be entirely interchangeable. I would not be surprised if you switched the names of any of the characters during dialogue, and have it still work just as well. All characters have the same humor, the same reactions, and the same mentality during conversations – especially once the codas begin. It’s as if Scalzi wrote himself as every character.

Certainly not what I’d consider Hugo worthy, but a fun read.

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21 thoughts on “Redshirts (BOOK REVIEW)

  1. Might be something worth checking out. I do love me some Star Trek. But it makes me think of something my husband said while I was watching Star Trek Next Generation, because I was talking about how cool it would be to get to be on that ship and his reply was, “I don’t know, they get attacked a lot. You always forget about the kids when they’re getting attacked. ‘Deck 37 has been destroyed’, little did you know that’s the kids school and now there are a bunch of dead kids frozen floating in space.” Which is totally messed up but made me laugh way too hard. Seriously though, you never think of these things while enjoying the action.

    Also… you gonna be doing anything on Deadpool, cause that movie was awesome!


  2. I read this one a while ago for my Sci-Fi book club (of which I don’t participate nearly as often as I’d like), and at the time I loved it! Reading some of your comments, I think perhaps I didn’t read it as analytically as I usually do…

    I guess I loved it because I come from a Trekkie family (my baby brother actually speaks a bit of Klingon). From a fangirl standpoint, I really liked it, but I think I’m going to have to reread it with a more critical eye. I’ve been recommending it pretty heavily to people, and now I’m wondering if perhaps I shouldn’t recommend it so highly…

    Great post, as always! Sorry I’m just getting around to reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved Redshirts. It’s one of the few books that’s made me genuinely laugh out loud. It’s play on Star Trek was just so perfect. That said, I agree with you that the characters were practically interchangeable (though that may have been the point, they were Redshirts after all). Also, the codas were terrible. I almost stopped listening to the book once I realized that they were so separate from the main story.

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  4. My feelings about Redshirts are much like yours. I enjoyed it, I love the Star Trek playground, and I get the sense that the disconnections are Scalzi’s attempt at being arty, which I don’t think is his forte. But it was fluff. His fellow nominees Saladin Ahmed, with his newcomer status and refreshing fantasy world, and Kim Stanley Robinson, with his return to Hard space science, seemed like better Hugo winner potentials (and I bet there were plenty of novels not nominated that year who surpassed all three.)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This was my first Scalzi book (and so far only one) and I really enjoyed it. Nice to see your review of it up. Any recommendation on what a good 2nd Scalzi book would be for a noob? Should I jump right into Old Mans War or start on something else?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not much of a Scalzi reader, although I do want to get into his Old Man’s War series. I haven’t yet. I have read ‘Locked In’, one of his more recent releases. Good read. Better than Redshirts in my opinion. Was more of a futuristic murder-mystery.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I was the same way. Redshirts was my first Scalzi book, and Old Man’s War was next. They’re completely different, though I thought the humor was very similar in both of them. Old Man’s War was easily the better book.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Good review–at least I agree with it 😉

    Scalzi has written (or at least has published) three comic novels, of which “Red Shirts” is probably the weakest for the reasons you cite above. There’s no apparent reason for the final third of the book, the “epilogue,” which is quite anticlimactic, other than to increase the page count from novella to novel size.

    “Red Shirts” received far more attention than Scalzi’s two better comic sci-fi novels, “Agent to the Stars” and “Fuzzy Nation,” simply because of its Trek-related subject matter. The bulk of the book (its first two-thirds) is quite funny and worth reading, but the “epilogue” is a waste.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Haven’t read any of Scalzi’s work, or much [anything?] from the Hugos for a while so I’d be interested in knowing if there are any you’d recommend. And by that I mean, really recommend. Something that has it all, or at least comes close.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I have a fantasy lean, personally, so I don’t read nearly as much SciFi as I should. That said, in recent memory, I loved Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. If you’re into Robin Hobb, I’d suggest The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. If you’re looking for a fantasy that truly gets almost everything right? I recommend The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson.


      2. Thanks! I’ve read Player One and absolutely loved it. Same with Patrick Rothfuss but I haven’t come across Brandon Sanderson yet so I’ll definitely give his book a try. Much appreciated!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I set a goal to read all the Hugo winners, and I finally did it late last year. It was a lot of fun because there’s such a huge variety of styles among the winners. I gave quick thoughts about them in a post I wrote a while ago.

      The easiest one to recommend is Ender’s Game, it’s regularly considered one of the best sci-fi books of all time. I’d also suggest The Gods Themselves, my favorite Asimov book, or Ancillary Justice if you’re interested in something more recent.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve read Ender’s Game and loved it, and I’ve just bought Ancillary Justice but haven’t started reading it yet [finishing Firefall by Peter Watts] Will take a quick look at that post if that’s ok.

        Liked by 1 person

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