Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi
Published by Tor Books, an imprint of Macmillan
A “redshirt” is a stock character in fiction who dies soon after being introduced. The term originates with fans of Star Trek (1966–1969), from the red shirts worn by Starfleet security officers who frequently die during episodes. Redshirt deaths are often used to dramatize the potential peril that the main characters face.
Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union. Even more prestigious , he has been assigned to the Xenobiology laboratory. There’s something strange about the Intrepid, though. Every time the captain or the chief science officer are around, everyone else seems mysteriously absent and most of the crew avoids away missions as if their life depends on it. In fact, it seems that perhaps their lives do depend on it. Strangely, every away mission seems to involve incredible danger and the death of a good portion of the crew that goes off on it – but never the captain, chief science officer, or the often-injured but never killed Lieutenant Kerensky. Andrew and his friends must figure out exactly what is going on before they find themselves on their last away mission ever.
I’m not much of a science fiction reader, but John Scalzi is my one main exception. Thus far I’ve enjoyed everything of his I’ve read and, unlike Scalzi himself, Redshirts is no exception. The whole thing is wonderfully meta and self-referential. It is not even necessary to be a Star Trek fan (I think I watched one of the movies ever, and nothing else), so long as you get the concept of a “redshirt,” which isn’t terribly difficult to grasp.
I enjoyed basically every word of the novel, but the really creative and wonderful part of Redshirts are the three codas at the end. The codas take some of the other characters from the novel and continues their stories while also changing up storytelling techniques. The codas are some of the most meaningful and emotional parts of the entire book and should under no circumstances be skipped.
I loved Redshirts. It is fun, and smart, and is likely to appeal to lots of readers. Highly recommended.
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