Monday, June 11, 2012

What We’re Reading: Redshirts, by John Scalzi

What if your coworkers were regularly being killed off, and in spectacularly implausible ways, while your superiors were always left unfazed and untouched? Wouldn’t you try to figure out why and make sure whatever was happening to them didn’t happen to you? This is the premise John Scalzi boldly explores in Redshirts.

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Intrepid, the flagship of the Universal Union. But once he reports for his new posting, he can’t help but notice that things on the Intrepid are far from normal. His crewmates in the Xenobiology lab mysteriously disappear and reappear with little or no notice, as if they are hiding from something or someone, and this behavior is not limited to Ensign Dahl’s lab. Everyone on board seems preoccupied with "away" missions: The senior officers are concerned with finding individuals willing to go on them, and the crew, conversely, seems set on doing anything possible to avoid them.

The reason for this quickly becomes clear: Every away mission involves some sort of hostile interaction with the species native to the world being visited. And while the command crew, especially Captain Lucius Abernathy and Science Officer Q’eeng, always emerge from these hostilities unharmed, at least one low-ranking crew member always dies. In fact, the Intrepid’s fatality statistics are unbelievably high compared to those of other ships in the fleet. Why is this, and why is it allowed to continue?

In Redshirts, John Scalzi seeks out a decades-old joke from a classic science fiction television show (Star Trek, for the uninitiated, where mostly nameless crew members were regularly killed off to illustrate the danger that threatened--but never exterminated--the command crew), and has written an intriguing and enjoyable novel that seems both familiar/comfortable and yet new and engrossing. Clearly, Scalzi is familiar with science fiction television and movies (he writes regularly about both on his blog). He writes with authority about some of the weaker points in well-trodden series and films while also highlighting the elements that make them classics. While he sometimes walks the line between fondness and merciless parody, the result is entertaining, thought-provoking and, ultimately, quite touching.

Science fiction author Harlan Ellison once wrote that a critic must be careful not to rob the reader of “the frisson of joyful discovery.” So, in recommending Redshirts, one must be cautious--not because Redshirts shouldn’t be recommended (it should, and is!), but because the discoveries from embarking on this trek must be made for oneself...

John Scalzi, the author of Redshirts, will be visiting the Burbank Central Library this Wednesday, June 13th, at 7:00 PM! Information about his appearance can be found by clicking here.

1 comment:

Danmark said...

I love Scalzi's books. I have read them all. Old Man's War is on my favorites list. If I had to compare the writing in Redshirts with other Scalzi books it would be the writing in Agent to the Stars and The Androids Dream, not Old Man's War.

I think the theme limits the book. The time line was created to mirror the writing on a popular TV show. The main characters are extra's written in as placeholders. They were not supposed to be that well developed and they are not. You don't see much of the stars of the show and when you do they are definitely one-dimensional just like they are on TV.

There is a lot of humor, play on words, and twists in the story. I had at least one laugh out loud moment but in the end I was disappointed. The story just never caught me. I did like the Coda's at the end. I found them more interesting than the main story.