Thursday, June 18, 2015

Redshirts - John Scalzi

    2012; 314 pages.  Full Title (at least on Amazon) : Redshirts – A Novel With Three Codas.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Science Fiction; TV Spoofery.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    Welcome, new crewmen, to the spaceship Intrepid, the flagship of the Universal Union!  Or as we affectionately call it here, “The Dub U”.  You are here because of some …um… unplanned openings in the Intrepid’s crew and we wish you best of luck in your new assignments!

    Among the many perks of serving on this flagship, is the opportunity to visit new alien worlds as part of our regularly-occurring “away missions”.  You will accompany the highest-ranking members of our command team on these missions, and most recruits find them to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

    That is all for now.  Please pick up your red shirts on your way to your new quarters, and again, Welcome aboard!

What’s To Like...
    The book’s title is slightly misleading; the band of crewmen that we follow here don’t wear red shirts.  But anyone who even occasionally watched the Star Trek of Spock and Kirk (or has seen its internet memes), knows what a redshirt is, and it is a treat to watch John Scalzi explore this phenomenon and offer at least one possible explanation for it.  The main protagonist is Ensign Andrew Dahl, and he and four other recruits quickly learn that when Captain Abernathy or any of the other top officers on the Intrepid come looking for volunteers for an away mission, the savvy veteran crewmen know to make themselves scarce.

    Redshirts has the same relative balance of Action and Personal Interaction as the original Star Trek had, so if you liked that series, you’ll enjoy this book.  The difference is that the storyline follows five of the ordinary crewmen, not the command team.  The book is divided into three roughly-equal-in-length parts, which we'll call The Paradox, The Solution, and the sub-titular Three Codas.

    The writing is great and strewn with wit, which is what we've come to expect of John Scalzi.  This is much “lighter” in tone than his Old Man’s War series, but it still comes with at least one thought-provoking topic – predestination.  There are “tips-of-the-hat” to some fellow authors, such as Jasper Fforde, and the unforgettable Denise Hogan.  And to Star Trek, of course.   

    There is cussing here, as is true of all of Scalzi’s books that I’ve read so far.  This is a standalone novel with a pair of endings – one at the end of the second section; the other after the three codas are done.  And as a chemist, I would give anything for the “Magic Box” the Intrepid has in its science lab.

Kewlest New Word...
Chuppah (n.) : a canopy beneath which Jewish marriage ceremonies are performed.

    “Hey, Jer,” Finn said, walking up to him.  “It’s me, Finn.”
    Weston squinted.  “Finn?  Seriously?  Here?”  He smiled.  “Jesus, man.  What are the odds?”
    “I know!” Finn said, and then shot Weston with a stun pulse.  Weston collapsed.
    “That was your plan?” Dahl said a second later.  “Hoping he’d pause in recognition before he shot you?”
    “In retrospect, the plan has significant logistical issues,” Finn admitted.  “On the other hand, it worked.  You can’t argue with success.”
    “Sure you can,” Dahl said, “when it’s based on stupidity.”  (pg. 128)

    “Do you think our lives make any sense at all?” Hester said.  “You’ve got us living in a universe where there are killer robots with harpoons walking around a space station, because, sure, it makes perfect sense to have harpoon-launching killer robots.”
    “Or ice sharks,” Duvall said.
    “Or Borgovian Land Worms,” Hanson said.
    Weinstein held up a finger.  “I was not responsible for those land worms,” he said.  “I was out for two weeks with bird flu.  The writer who did that script loved Dune.  By the time I got back, it was too late.  The Herbert estate flayed us for those.”  (pg. 196)

“It doesn’t bother you that a science lab has a magic box in it?”  (pg. 63)
    As intriguing as the Redshirt phenomenon is, it is an almost impossible task to write a story about it, lasting over 300 pages.  To be sure, John Scalzi does a good job of stretching the subject, and in the hands of a lesser writer this would have been a very tedious read.  And yet...

    The action, though plentiful, gets repetitive, and I grew impatient with the protagonists and how slowly they grasped the situation they were in.  The Codas are necessary due to the need to tie up the plot threads involving characters beyond our five protagonists.  But it made for an awkwardly structured book.  Apparently, Scalzi likes to serialize his books first, and Redshirts had that “feel” to it.

    Still, if you make it through the repetitive action in the first part of this book, you’re treated to a great storyline in the second.  And the codas do nicely tie all the loose threads up, if you’re the type of reader who needs that.  Which I am.

    8 Stars8 stars for Part 1; 9 stars for Part 2; 7 Stars for the Codas.   Certainly not John Scalzi’s most serious literary effort, but in a strange sort of way, his most ambitious one.

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