REDSHIRTS by John Scalzi

It's somewhere between a joke and a cliche that on the original Star Trek series, a character wearing a red shirt is pretty much doomed when sent on an away mission.  This concept gets taken to a comedic and metafictional extreme in Redshirts, a novel by John Scalzi.

It's the year 2456, and Ensign Andrew Dahl has been assigned to the Intrepid, the flagship in the Universal Union (Double U).  He's become fast friends with some fellow new recruits -- Duvall, Hester, Hanson, Finn -- and is ready to explore the universe on an elite starship.

It's not long before Dalh starts to notice that things on board the Intrepid are more than a little odd.  There's a mysterious Box that can magically create the solution to any problem -- in a dramatic amount of time.  During certain events something called the Narrative takes over, making characters say and do things that make no sense.  Some of the more experienced crew members have not only noticed that new members die with alarming regularity, but also calculated the odds of dying based on which command staff are on the mission.  Astrogator Kerensky keeps getting sent on away missions, gets injured or diseased, and miraculously recovers -- until the next one.  And a crew member named Jenkins hides himself in the ship and has the crazy idea that all the strangeness is somehow related to an ancient television show called Star Trek...

John Scalzi wrote for Stargate: Universe and was president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, so he knows his sci-fi cliches, and has plenty of fun with them in Redshirts.  Where the novel becomes in danger is when it gets too meta, as Dahl and his friends get more than a little mixed up with science fiction television to try and gain control of their own destinies.  The characters are pretty thin (good luck getting a physical description of any of them) but that's balanced by some nicely dark humor ("but then he tripped and one of the land worms ate his face and he died anyway") and three post-novel codas that are surprisingly moving.  Redshirts is an uneven novel, but it still manages to supply plenty of chuckles for those familiar with the... excesses of Star Trek, and science fiction in general

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch

No comments: