Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

On June 18, 2012, in Book Review, Cathy Russell, by Catherine Russell

Redshirts by John Scalzi takes one of the most beloved science fiction series of all time and mercilessly tears it apart. But in a good way.

Andrew Dahl has just been stationed aboard the Intrepid, but as soon as he arrives he notices things are amiss. Crew members mysteriously disappear before certain officers appear in their department, crewmen act illogically – but only at certain times, and the laws of physics often take a break when the Intrepid is involved. Dahl and the other new recruits must learn how to survive on a ship where the new guys have a tendency to die in dramatically appropriate ways.

This was a fun read. When I started the book, I was excited to be reading a science fiction novel with a sense of the absurd, and I wasn’t disappointed. Throughout the book, the characters observe when the physics make no sense and comment on the fact. However, we are given phones instead of communicators, and translators are used for sensitive diplomatic situations where the computer translator might miss idioms. These small changes and modernizations further highlight some of the absurdities of the show it satirizes.

Scalzi sprinkles profanity throughout the book, though – for the most part – in situations where you’d expect characters to be cursing the heavens. However, there are also vulgar sexual references made in an attempt to be humorous that seem blatantly uncalled for. They seem unnecessary and do nothing to establish character or further plot. In fact, it took me off guard and jolted me out of the story. On the other hand, there is also some witty adult humor that actually does reveal things about the characters, ironically without any profanity or explicit sexual references of any kind.

Partway through the book, I became a bit bored with the plot. It seemed as though the same jokes were being made again and again, and I found the story a bit predictable. However, when the characters start actively trying to alter their fates instead of simply avoiding them, the pacing noticeably picks up. There is more action, more plot, more everything.

The unusual format of the book confused me at first. In addition to a prologue, the book contains three ‘Codas’ after the main story. The main novel can be enjoyed without the reader progressing further, but the three stories at the end flesh out the rest of the world that Scalzi created without intruding on the main narrative.

This book is a treasure trove of geek humor, poking fun at one of the most beloved series of all time. It reminded me more than a little of the movie Scream, where the characters learn the rules of horror movies in order to survive, except this was aimed specifically at the Star Trek fans. Though I thought the book was a bit slow in the middle, it picked up its pace and was definitely worth the read in the end. I recommend it to Science Fiction nerds everywhere.

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