Have you ever wondered how rubbish it would be a redshirt on the USS Enterprise? Your friends keep dying in bizarre circumstances, often while on away missions they should never have been on. Everything seems to revolve around a small number of officers and and the basic laws of science appear to take a break whenever they are involved.
If you have, or if you just want to read a loving pastiche of the original series of Star Trek entwined with some meta fiction, then Redshirts is for you.
When Andrew Dahl is transferred to the Intrepid, the Universal Union flagship, he’s pretty excited. It’s a famous ship that explores the frontiers of space and the boundaries of science. While he soon makes friends with some fellow new recruits, the rest of the crew are strangely edgy. Dahl soon learns of the weird ‘rules’ of living on the Intrepid and realises he has has to figure out how he and his friends can avoid being added to the ever growing list of fatalities.
It’s funny and it was made with love
It’s clear that Scalzi has a lot of time for The Original Series. It’s also clear he is aware of how ridiculous it appears in hindsight and how there is no excuses for writers using the same devices in today’s television. Scalzi is aware of every lazy trope used by the writers of episodic science fiction writers and skewers them all.
By seeing the adventures of the Enterprise (or The Intrepid in this universe) through the eyes of the poor grunts who work on the ship we get to appreciate the bizarre universe they inhabit in a new, more sarcastic, light. Only someone who loves the show could imagine the working lives of those on the ship in such loving detail. Even if they then poke fun at it.
It may get a little meta
The second half of the novel gets very meta, very meta indeed. Scalzi considers the implications of characters living ‘off the page’ and what it means for their relationship with the writer.
When novels go down this route, it becomes a very real danger that they disappear somewhat up their own fundement. And Redshirts certainly comes very close to doing this. What saves the novel from become too smug and meta is is Scalzi’s wit and his unique way of talking through his ideas.
It’s only fair to say that the latter part of the novel does drag a little more than the first but, overall, Scalzi always manages to keep the reader onside by remembering to keep the humour and focus on the characters.
You probably need to be a fan of Star Trek
I’ve read reviews that suggest you can enjoy this novel without at least a passing knoweldge of the original series, but I find that hard to believe. While the story will some have some funny elements, I can’t see how you could possibly get enough from the novel to make it worthwile without it.
In fact, ideally you would have at least a passing knowledge of episodic science fiction tv shows in general to get full value from this novel.
If you like funny science fiction books, you may also want to look at Martians, Go Home or How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.