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.