If you're a Star Trek fan then you probably won't be able to resist Scalzi's recent novel, Redshirts, which pays homage to the popular scifi show by telling the story of the sacrificial men in red.
It's possible that there are other Star Trek references in the book as well but I wouldn't know since I've never actually watched the show. I only know about the Redshirts because I read about them somewhere right before I started the book, and then I Googled for more information in case it was crucial for my understanding of the story.
In any case, knowing what a Redshirt is before I started wasn't essential, though it did at least make me feel like I was in on the joke. And in case you're as clueless as me, I'll let you in on it as well.
Redshirts are the low-ranking crew members in Star Trek (who I assume wear red shirts) who die early on in the show while accompanying the main characters on landing parties. They provide some heightened drama while keeping the main characters safe from harm. And now you probably have some idea of what Scalzi's newest novel, Redshirts, is about.
- 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.
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 expendedon 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.
Redshirts is one of those books that the less you know it the more you'll enjoy it, so I'm going to make this review short to avoid giving too much away.
I will say that Redshirts was a lot of fun to read and it's a book that can be enjoyed equally by scifi and non-scifi readers. I'm sure there must have been jokes and references that went over my head because I've never watches Star Trek, or other similar shows (something called Galaxy Quest?), but the writing itself was humorous enough that I didn't feel like I missed out on anything.
I have to admit that the character development was rather weak and while the characters were compelling enough to make me care about them they weren't as fleshed out as I might have like them to be. There isn't any real romance or deep friendships, though you definitely get the sense that the characters care about each other. While these issues would normally detract from my enjoyment of a book, in this case it didn't really bother me, probably because the unfolding events engaged most of my attention.
I'd recommend Redshirts to anyone looking for a quick and entertaining read. But do yourself a favor and avoid reading any reviews of it (other than this one, of course) because many of them reveal the story's main surprise, ruining your chance of discovering if for yourself, which is the best part.
As my first Scalzi book, Redshirts was a real winner. I'm now very eager to try out more of his books, and have already gone ahead and ordered a copy of Old Mans' War to read next.
P.S. There is a liberal amount of swearing in this book, which you should be aware of it that's something that will really bother you.