Thursday, May 30, 2013

Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi


Review from John for Redshirts.

John’s quick take:   What starts out as a clever and humorous science fiction story turns into something a bit too clever and a bit less funny.

John’s description:   I’m not spoiling the plot by telling you that this story is one long (and convoluted) riff on Star Trek. In Star Trek stories redshirts are the lowly ensigns who accompany the senior officers on missions and who have remarkably short life spans - while the senior officers themselves always survive in order to go on many more future missions, some portion of the redshirts always come to a sticky end.

In this novel a group of lowly new ensigns on the Universal Union ship Intrepid are the focus of the plot. They soon figure out that something is amiss and that statistically speaking far too many of their colleagues and peers have ended up dying. Meanwhile, crew members who have been around just a bit longer go to ridiculous lengths to avoid the senior officers and their off-ship missions. The newbies come up with a very whacky theory as to what might be causing their plight. The theory is so crazy that our heroes start to think that they themselves must be slightly crazy, but now the plot takes the first of several mind-bending twists.

I can’t say too much without giving away spoilers, but suffice to say that as the ensigns struggle to figure out how to survive, we quickly descend into time travel, doppelgangers and metaphysics.

John’s thoughts:    The plot is based on a very interesting premise – though I still can’t tell you about the basic idea without making myself a turkey. Be prepared for a Mobius strip-like logical flow that will exercise your grey matter as you try to work out the possibilities and ramifications of what is going on. I found myself giving up and just going with the flow.

But did I enjoy it? Well I did to begin with, but as things become more and more twisted I started to feel like I was on a bit of a mission to make it through to the end, rather than actually getting a kick out of the read. And I did find that as the implausibility factor increased, so my enjoyment levels diminished.

Also, I am a bit undecided about how the book ends. Basically after the main story comes to a sort of a conclusion, there are three separate codas from the perspectives of three of the minor characters. It’s a neat idea and I really like the final coda, but I didn’t like the first of the three and found the second one a bit so-so.

So overall it’s a great premise for a story and I got a few chuckles from it, but in the end I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I thought I was going to. I do suspect that there will be some very divided opinions over this one. Personally I’m glad that I read it and I’d rate it three stars, despite some of the things which didn’t quite work for me. If you like convoluted science fiction stories written by someone with their tongue firmly in their cheek, then this one is for you.

Tor Books; January 2013; Trade Paperback; 320 pages.


Linda said...

I really liked this one. It was fun and I enjoyed how it progressed. I think people who enjoy Star Trek/SciFi would enjoy it the most.

John D said...

Hi Linda,

Glad that you enjoyed it. This one is ideal for anyone who:

a) is a Star Trek fan; and
b) has a good sense of humor; and
c) has a strong and elastic brain

I think I only score three partial points! Cheers,


Carl V. Anderson said...

Opinions on this one seem to be all over the board. I am a long-time fan of Scalzi's work and I think this is my least favorite read of his to this point. I, like you, started out enjoying it and then felt that the premise wore thin and the idea behind the book, which I won't spoil either, isn't executed as well as I felt it needed to be in order to feel like something worthwhile.

Others rave about it, so mileage obviously varies. Like you I found the last Coda to be great and it really redeemed whatever opinion I had about the book. But it wasn't enough for me to feel that the praise heaped on Redshirts is justified.

John D said...

Thanks Carl,

Good comments. This was my first experience of Scalzi, so - which of his books would you recommend? Cheers,


Carl V. Anderson said...

Generally speaking I think people are most impressed, skill-wise, with his book The Old Man's War. It is by far my favorite, although it is part of a series so if you start you may find yourself sucked into more books.

His reboot of the H.Beam Piper book Little Fuzzy, entitled Fuzzy Nation, was a really nice one-shot book.

John D said...

Thanks Carl.

I'll keep my eyes open for those two. Cheers,


Anonymous said...

For being a fairly clear satire, I was surprised as how much brain-twisting thought went into this one, and how it dipped into being meta quite often. It was a fun read, though, and I'm glad I read it when I did.

ediFanoB said...

Thanks for the review of a book which I read recently.

Like you I really enjoyed the beginning and I share your opinion regarding the three coda.

This has been my first Scalzi book.

John D said...

Hi Bibliotropic,

Yes, I have to say that I was surprised by the mix of simple satire and complex concepts.

Meta indeed. (And having just Googled "meta" I now feel qualified to use the word for the first time ever!). Cheers,


John D said...

Hi Edi,

So - will it also be your last Scalzi?

I'm kind of on the fence but am tempted to try another. Carl gave a couple of good recommendations in the earlier comment above.


Alexia561 said...

This was my first Scalzi and I really enjoyed it! Decided to go with the flow and just enjoy the ride, but didn't really care for the ending codas. I think it helped that I'm a Star Trek fan.

John D said...

Hi Alexia,

I'm pleased that you enjoyed it. There are definitely very divided opinions on this one - which is good. If we all thought the same thing then world = boring place. Cheers,


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