Scalzi has written some great sci-fi such as Old Man's War, however he has misfired a little on this curious mix of parody, comedy and pathos.
Essentially we have a crew of a space ship who have come to realise that they always end up getting offed whilst the senior officers lead a charmed life. Just like Star Trek whom Scalzi has some clearly disparaging ideas about. The thread of the story is the bit part players trying to work out why this is happening and to somehow stop it. I won't say too much more or it will give the game away.
What somewhat spoils this is the fact that to start with Scalzi is writing a comedy, then it turns into a parody eventually becoming a little confusing and a lot serious. It's a bit like the newer Terry Pratchett stories where the initial part of the book is good fun but tapers off towards the end. I just wish that if a book starts off this way it would continue rather than becoming ever more schizophrenic.
Effectively we have a mix of Star Trek and Galaxy Quest with some of Jasper Fford's Thursday Next chucked in for good measure. It's not all bad but it could have been great.
I bought this book, not having read much of Scalzi's previous work, mainly for its intriguing premise. What if, several centuries in the future, in a universe somewhat like that of "Star Trek" - starships, a galactic federation, aliens, diplomacy, space battles - the junior crew (and in particular, Ensign Andy Dahl) on one of those ships start to ask awkward questions - questions about why there are so many pointless, contrived and unlikely deaths among their ranks?
The title alone seemed to promise an amusing read, enlivened by geeky in-references. If you're interested in the book you'll probably know where the title comes from - but if you don't, the "redshirts" were the expendable security personnel in the original "Star Trek", a couple of whom would invariably accompany Kirk and Spock on hazardous missions and almost invariably get killed). Terry Pratchett said, I think, something about the minions in fantasy novels who would come running in response to the call of "Guards! Guards!" deserving a book of their own - well, here is the Sf equivalent.
In fact, this is much more than an amusing read. I don't want to say too much about what happens, for fear of spoiling the story, but as well as having fun exploring his central concept, Scalzi manges to pose a number of questions about what is real and what isn't, free will, an author's responsibility to his or her characters, and what are the hallmarks of good (and bad0 SF writing (and perhaps, writing in general). And he writes a good, page turning story as well - this isn't just a parody, or a dramatisation of tvtropes.org.
Yes, to a degree this book is having an argument with itself (and with the reader) about those questions - this is made more explicit in the "codas" (about which even less can be said, again for fear of spoilers - except that they are clearly an organic part of the book, not afterthoughts, and while more serious than the main story, shouldn't be skipped). But it's a fun read as well.
on 23 April 2015
Redshirts is a relatively short novel by American science fiction author John Scalzi, best known for his 'Old Man's War' military science fiction novel and its sequels. The book is about 300 pages, but the last 80 or so pages actually form three 'codas', linked short stories that add extra content to the book. The book won the 2013 Hugo Award, arguably science fiction's greatest accolade, but reader reviews on Amazon are decidedly mixed and some think a book as light and frothy as this shouldn't have won a Hugo.
Redshirts follows a group of junior Ensigns on a starship, the flagship of the United Union fleet. The main character, Andrew Dahl, is a new crew member who gradually realises that being an Ensign or 'redshirt' on the ship is a very dangerous occupation, as people keep dying horrible, meaningless missions on a seemingly endless stream of away missions. Senior officers never die however... What is going on?
The book starts off as a spoof on Star Trek - even referencing it in a couple of places. It gradually develops a rather interesting storyline. It's also rather funny, I laughed out loud in a few places, and quoted several bits to my wife - much to her delight! I read a few reviews of this on Amazon before picking it up, the most helpful of which said something along the lines of: 'If you read the first couple of chapters and think it is a really badly written story, then persevere. It intentionally starts out like this, and is an important part of the story.' Good advice, because this is exactly what happens.
A final note about the 'codas' at the end of the book. I got to about page 220 and went 'huh?'. The story had ended and what were these things at the end. Should I read on? I actually googled it and found a blog post from the author explaining about them. I did read them. The first was quite interesting, but not spectacular. The final two were shorter, and really good. The first coda adds a funny, interesting perspective. The other two add quite a touching, emotive and thought provoking element to the book and round off the whole thing nicely.
Overall I really enjoyed this book. It a good story that had me hooked, it was very funny and also touching towards the end. While I see why some people complained, I feel it is a worthy winner of the Hugo Award.
Ah, redshirts. Any geek worth their salt knows about them -- random extras on "Star Trek" who die in almost every episode.
But what if the redshirts knew that their fates were coming, and tried to stop it by whatever means necessary? That's the idea behind "Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas," John Scalzi's affectionate lampooning of sci-fi TV. It's a light, fluffy novel that touches on some philosophical ideas, but nothing too serious.
In the 23rd century, Ensign Andrew Dahl is assigned to the Universal Union flagship Intrepid. It's a dream job for a xenobiologist, except that some of his new shipmates are acting a little strange.
And soon he finds out why: the Intrepid has an incredibly high mortality rate. The captain, science officer, engineer, doctor and the handsome if dim Lieutenant Kerensky are never permanently injured, but low-ranking officers inevitably die messy, violent deaths. There's also a magic "box" that generates the answer to impossible problems.
The widower of one "redshirt" has already figured out the answer -- a bizarre answer that calls into question the nature of reality itself. And with Dahl scheduled for an away mission, he and his fellow endangered officers will have to take drastic steps: go back in time to a parallel world, and find a way of stopping their problems in the 21st century.
"Redshirts" is a fun idea for a story -- what if the disposable extras became aware of their doomedness, and tried to prevent it? There's a lot of metafictional twists and some contemplation of what reality is, but it never gets too heavy. It's a pleasantly light sci-fi story.
It also has some fun with the scientific improbabilities of "Star Trek" and similar shows, although the world of the Intrepid is definitely much, much dumber than most (robots with harpoons!). And Scalzi inserts some rather un-"Star Trek"-like comedy at times, such as Kerensky (and his doppelganger) being deprived of their pants.
However, it can get a bit confusing at times. And even now, I'm not entirely sure how you can time-travel into a reality controlling your own without that reality interfering in your plans. Scalzi... sort of explains it at the end, but also doesn't.
None of the characters are very deeply developed or given much backstory, but I guess that makes sense since they are meant to be "extras" who have little development. Scalzi still manages to give them depth and texture that makes them likable, even doofs like Kerensky or the acid-tongued Duvall.
"Redshirts" is a lightweight sci-fi adventure, but the gentle spoofery and humor make it a fun read. Just don't expect great things.
It's the 25th century. Ensigns Andrew Dahl, Maia Duvall, Jimmy Hanson and Crewmen Finn and Hester have just been assigned to the Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union. It's a prime assignment and Dahl's excited by the opportunity. But it's not long before all five begin to realise that something's terribly wrong on the Intrepid. For starters the other crew members try to avoid the captain, chief science officer and Lieutenant Kerensky. Then there's the fact that every Away Mission results in the fatality of a junior crew member and serious injury to Kerensky.
In between dodging Away Missions, Dahl and the others try to work out what's going on. Help comes from an unlikely source but the answers they get are too crazy to be believed ...
The idea behind John Scalzi's SF comedy will be familiar to anyone who's seen GALAXY QUEST and it makes no secret of its reference to the pitiable STAR TREK red shirts who died in the service of Kirk. While Scalzi skilfully builds meta upon meta and there are some neat lines about the predicament that the crew members find themselves in, it can't hide the fact that this is basically a one joke book and that joke gets seriously thin towards the end. This would be fine if the characters were deep and complex but they're little more than broad cut outs interchangeable with each other (and the use of surnames beginning with the same letter doesn't help) and the prose is workmanlike rather than inspired with the exception of three codas at the end, which I thought to be the best parts of the book. It's an enjoyable enough read, but I'm surprised it won the Best Novel Hugo 2013.
There's a lot of fun to be had with the various ways the Away Team members meet their deaths (particularly the ice sharks) and I also enjoyed the confrontations the various characters have with their reality. Scalzi also puts his experience as a TV creative consultant to good use with some sly in-jokes that SF TV fans will enjoy. Emotionally though, for all the death in the book there's no real emotional impact to any of the deaths and that's because the characters never really spark off the page. Ultimately it's a fun bubble gum read that kept me turning the pages but don't read it expecting any depth.
on 14 December 2013
I've never read this author before, and bought the book for two reasons: it's won this year's Hugo and the blurb suggested an amusing Star Trek spoof. And it is amusing. I take the point made by some reviewers that the characterisation is slight (these are redshirts, after all) and that it's mostly dialogue, but it's zippy, snappy dialogue and it gave me a few chuckles. Coming from someone whose single attempt to read Pratchett left me straight-faced that's some compliment.
Star Trek fans will get the jokes, and this is a quick and enjoyable read for the most part. Unfortunately the author then starts to take his own gag seriously and demands that the reader do too, and so we get a few rambling over-indulgent codas to insert some post-modern meta-fiction, metaphysics and other tosh stuck at the end of what had been, until then, a light and enjoyable romp. A pity, but it's certainly put me off reading anything else by this author.
As to the Hugo award, it strikes me that, given that last years winner, the excellent Among Others by Jo Walton, was positively littered with classic sci-fi references, that science fiction is becoming far too self-referential for its own good. (I mean, you can't even watch Dr Who these days unless you've seen it for a few decades!)
Trekkies might like this despite the 'extras' rather than because of them.
on 16 July 2013
I had high hopes for this book, having seen it was on a few 'Best of..' lists. Certainly the premise appealed to me as a fan of Sci-Fi shows and Star Trek in particular. Sadly it was a poor book. It is written almost entirely in dialogue, with each speech bubble being followed by a 'said SO-AND-SO.' After a while that gets really irritating.
'Shall we go down here' said Bill
'Let's' said Tom
'I don't know what we'll find' said Bill
'Neither do I' said Tom.
Also I found the characters to be poorly developed. They were all a bit snarky with no real defining features beyond perhaps their sex. (the female character being the only one really to have her sexuality brought into it).
I almost didn't finish it but decided in the end to push on through. It wasn't worth it.
on 13 April 2014
I expected a fun read. I got it.
What I also got was a well written story with characters I cared about.
Don't miss the three codas at the end - they're the best bit.
on 20 December 2012
I read this book in a day, and I was keen to see what happened in the end, but somehow it was not the enjoyable experience that some of the other reviews here led me to expect.
I have been trying to work out what the problem was, and it's difficult to put my finger on what exactly jarred (probably something to do with the characterisation), but I found it curiously lacking in charm.
Good author, clever idea and it didn't work for me.
It takes the joke about red shirted security guards in sci-if always getting killed in episodes and introduces us to a starship where reality and fiction blends rather too much. The first half of the book is the story of The Intrepid where crews members die too easily and eventually realise it may be the script that is to blame. The second half is a number of codas giving us different perspectives on the story and for me I had lost interest by then to be honest.
The trouble is, much of this has been done before, and better. So this adds very little and is not as clever as it thinks it is. Shame as Scalzi is a good writer but he is off target with this one.