REDSHIRTS by John Scalzi
John Scalzi’s Redshirts has an interesting premise based on what has become a humorous standard in the Star Trek universe. Every fan of the show knows that the last thing you want to wear in an episode is the dreaded “red shirt.” Traditionally throughout the show, the red shirts die episode after episode. They get obliterated by death rays, eaten by creatures, die from toxic poisons and diseases, etc.
Scalzi makes the “death sentence” a real thing in his latest novel, and he does it with such tongue-in-cheek humor that I was laughing out loud during several scenarios. I dare you to read the opening chapter and not be intrigued enough to see how far the writer goes with his premise. Scalzi twists and bends and just takes the idea so far out there that you’ll find yourself turning pages just to see which Star Trek trope gets outed next.
Andrew Dahl, the main character, is the perfect vehicle for this story. As a character, he’s just deep enough to get a clear view of the field and all the players, and is a great catalyst to just keep moving things along. I loved his background and the way he became disenchanted with different past experiences and ultimately ended up in the Universal Union. Yet, it’s these past experiences that allow Dahl to ultimately see what’s going on and to save the day.
Scalzi has always had a great ear for dialogue, but in this novel he truly excels. Reading the book is effortless, and the conversations between the characters really scintillate, providing comic relief and a deeper understanding of the scenes.
The novel reads very episodically in places, but that can’t be helped. Without those episodic pieces, the true gist of the lampooning of Star Trek (though I feel this was done with a loving hand) wouldn’t be the same.
Redshirts is a lot different from his other books in many regards. Old Man’s War sucked me in and wouldn’t let me go until the final page, and I enjoyed the sequels as well. Scalzi fans looking for something like that won’t find that otherworldliness and sense of adventure in these pages. Still, the book is an enjoyable and diverting read. Think of it as a Scalzi sorbet, something to cleanse the palate after serious reading. Or maybe as the “reset” button in those old Star Trek episodes.