Author: John Scalzi
Release Date: June 2012
Reviewed by: Mark Chitty
Buy from: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com
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.
So, Redshirts, the new John Scalzi novel. Okay. Hmmm.
Look, I'm a fan of Scalzi's fiction. His Old Man's War books (Old Man's War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, Zoe's Tale) are excellent SF with a good story, setting, and plenty of humour in the narrative that works well. Agent to the Stars was also a really good read, as was Fuzzy Nation. But Redshirts. Man, disappointing isn't even the word.
The focus of Redshirts is the UUC Intrepid, and some newly arrived ensigns - our titicular Redshirts. The primary character is Andrew Dahl, and it's his experiences as he joins the Intrepid that we follow. There's something very wrong on this ship, and with his colleaugues miraculously disappearing at the right moments just as senior officers walk into the room, Dahl soon sets about to discover just what the hell is going on. It appears that there's a rather high percentage of crew deaths on away missions, and it is clear that certain people seem to be invulnerable to this misfortune....
I'll start with the good: Redshirts is a funny novel, a quick read, and full of references to Star Trek. I enjoyed reading it, plowing through in barely a day, simply because it's a typical Scalzi novel and his prose is easy to read - it very much has the 'one more chapter' effect. I also very much liked the fact that Redshirts focused on the minor crew members on the Intrepid, not on the bridge crew and high-ranking officials as is the case with many novels, and TV shows.
Despite how much I enjoyed reading Redshirts I got the feeling, on pretty much every page, that I'd seen this before. Scalzi pays homage to Star Trek, without a doubt, and manages to do so fairly well, but that's its biggest failing. It's too similar, too many plot elements have been seen before. Adding a tongue-in-cheek take on them is good because, lets face it, the source material is ripe for mocking. But Redshirts' main draw is also its biggest letdown.
I had very high hopes for Redshirts, but ultimately it failed for me on pretty much all counts. It's a quick - and enjoyable - read, but doesn't do well when you look below the superficial elements. And the Codas - completely unneccesary, and it felt like they were there simply as padding because the main story was over so quickly.
For a bit of mindless reading if you've a spare afternoon, then Redshirts should suit you fine, but if you're looking for something deeper just give it a miss. I can't say I recommend it, because I don't, I'd much rather direct you to his previous novels where you'll find some of the most enjoyable SF stories I've read.