Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Intrepid, the flagship of the Universal Union. He is excited because, as a xenobiologist, he gets to go on “Away” missions. Missions that, as he comes to learn, are very dangerous to the assigned ensigns — and perfectly safe for certain officers.
What is the secret behind the dangerous away missions? Is it simply bad luck, or is something more dastardly going on?
John Scalzi’s Redshirts offers us a look at just that — the red-shirts from a certain television series (whose name was changed to protect the innocent) in a fictionalized universe. Well-paced and well-written, the author draws us into a realm where the narrative of the story is everything.
Dahl, the main protagonist, is determined to not die on an away mission like so many of his fellow ensigns have upon joining the crew of the Intrepid. As he and his fellow new arrivals settle in, they begin to discover that some of the more savvier crew members avoid both the captain and first officer like the plague in an effort to not be assigned to an away mission. Dahl suspects something strange is going on, and gets confirmation from an unlikely source — Jenkins, a mysterious crewmembers aboard the Intrepid who seems to know the answer to the riddles that Dahl seeks.
Redshirts is the book that would have been written had any member of the Star Trek television series had the thought to. Funny and clever with a dark humor that the audience should enjoy, this book is highly entertaining. The pacing is excellent, the plot is compelling and the mystery behind the Intrepid is very well drawn out, despite that the reader knows what is going on within the first ten pages. Scalzi also does an excellent job of making this quasi-science fiction novel character driven, which is something more authors need to do.
The downside? The book is too short, and the first two codas (stories) of the second half of the book are… difficult for the unsophisticated reader. The second story is written in second person, which is very hard for some readers to wrap their head around. The first story is written as a script, which is strange because it’s also written in the first person (much like a blog entry). It offers some insight into the mind of a screenwriter, and I can see how many critics of the book say this is the author’s none-too-subtle nose tweak towards his cancelled television series. I disagree with this assessment, but I can’t offer any more proof other than “Read it and decide for yourself”.
Overall, a great entry. Scalzi fans will be pleased with this one.
–Reviewed by Jason