Slick, Smart Sci-Fi with a Sense of Humour: Redshirts by John Scalzi

Posted by Justine Solomons on September 25, 2013, in Recommendations

Buy Redshirts.

Review by Tracey Sinclair.

You don’t have to be a Star Trek fan to love Redshirts – though it certainly doesn’t hurt. This cleverly written novel is set in a universe suspiciously similar to that of the USS Enterprise – and, in the same way that that TV show was famous for sacrificing anonymous extras on away missions (the ‘red shirts’ that inspire the title), the starship Intrepid has a curiously high mortality rate among young crew members. Even more mysteriously, the senior officers have a tendency to survive anything that’s thrown at them, no matter how fatal it should be. So when new ensign Andrew Dahl is assigned about the vessel and quickly spots this trend, he realises things aren’t quite as they should be, and that his and his friends’ lives depend on him figuring out just what is going on, and how to stop it.

Redshirts just won the prestigious Hugo Award for best novel, and it’s easy to see why. The ideas Scalzi plays with aren’t completely original – Galaxy Quest did the Star Trek pastiche sublimely, and the idea of characters interacting with their creators has a long history, which Scalzi himself acknowledges in one of the three short stories that work as a sort of coda at the end of the novel. But he handles them with wit, biting humour and energy – the book fizzes along at a hectic pace, throwing one clever idea after another into the mix, and is packed with likeable (or pleasantly unlikeable) characters and smart dialogue, resulting in an adventure that, while heavy on laughs, has real heart as well; the story isn’t just played for comedy, and you genuinely care about the fate of these potentially doomed ‘extras’.

My one caveat is that the three short pieces at the end are so different in style and tone that reading them straight after the book jars – so I’d advise putting the novel down and coming back to them a little later. It’s fun to see what happens after the credits roll (and the first is very funny, while the second two are genuinely moving) but I felt they could have done with a slight trim. But overall, Redshirts is enormous fun – and not just for the Trekkies.

Tracey Sinclair's second novel in the Cassandra Bick Chronicles series, Wolf  Night, was self-published earlier this year and can be purchased here.

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