Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.Redshirts turned out to be less flippant and shallow than I had been led to expect. The universe Dahl and his friends live in is, more or less, perfectly sensible. And yet, the events surrounding the Intrepid and its senior officers are not sensible in any way. We are given a sense of this immediately from the prologue, which highlights the way characters are sometimes inexplicably driven to things they would not usually do. As the story develops we learn more about exactly why this is. In a way, the reader already knows why things are silly, but on the other hand, the exposition is not entirely straight forward. This is a more complex story than it seems on the surface.
Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.
Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.
My favourite thing about it — which should not surprise long-term readers of my blog — was the way Scalzi highlighted the sloppy worldbuilding and nonsensical physics of those sorts of
The subtitle of Redshirts is A Novel With Three Codas and I would be remiss if I did not mention them. After a story that puts
Despite all the scathing commentary of the sci-fi genre, Scalzi brings a great deal of empathy and emotional significance to the tale. Even before we get to know any of the characters well, we feel bad for them. As we do get to know them better, the possibility of their deaths becomes heart-wrenching (and since they are still redshirts in their universe, it was difficult to predict who would survive a particular situation (except in retrospect). For a story that looks flippant on the surface, it was surprisingly heart-wrenching.
I have not watched much Star Trek (all I remember clearly are the two JJ Abrams movies) but as a geek the concept of a redshirt was in no way foreign to me. I expect that most geeks would enjoy Redshirts — and understand the concept — whether or not they are Trekkies. Highly recommended read/listen. People with little familiarity with sci-fi or science fiction probably won't get as much out of it, however.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: 2012
Format read: Audiobook
Source: Purchased on sale from Audible