NOTICE: Posting schedule is irregular. I hope to get back to a regular schedule as the day-job allows.

Monday, July 9, 2012

REVIEW: Redshirts, by John Scalzi [Full link to blog for email clients.]

At DeepSouthCon, I was at a table full of people who were asked by Howard Tayler if we had read John Scalzi's Redshirts yet. 

When I responded that no, I had not read it, he recommended I do so. As near as I can recall, his recommendation was this: "If you are expecting a humorous novel about a bunch of low-ranked people on a starship that keep getting killed off when they go off on missions, then you won't be disappointed.  However, the story is about so much more... and hit has a lot to say about how we, as writers, create and treat characters."  [Note:  This is from the man who named a character "Der Trihs" in his webcomic Schlock Mercenary.  I ended up reading 3-4 books worth of the comic before I realized that Der Trihs was Red Shirt spelled backwards.] 

So I bought Redshirts and read it.  I am a Kindle reader, so I bought the ebook, the hardback is available here. I'm not an Amazon affiliate, so you might want to go to and click on the Amazon link from there and send a little cash in the direction of a great webcartoonist.  Don't like Amazon and want to support brick-and-mortar stores?  Try Uncle Hugos science fiction bookstore. [If the fact that the SF store is named "Uncle Hugo's" and the mystery store is named "Uncle Edgar's" doesn't ring any bells, look up the names of the annual "best novel" awards in each genre.]

Yes.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I've been a science fiction fan since before the original Star Trek.  Yes, I watched the original run on TV - I'm that old.  I was never a "Trekkie," I don't have a uniform shirt, Spock ears or a phaser.  (I do have a model of the original communicator - it's a voice recorded, and was a gift.)  Serious fans preferred to be called "Trekkers" although I didn't really qualify as that.  I went to a few comic book shows and had the chance to hear and meet Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan and Walter Koenig.  I do know and speak the language of Trek fans and have used the term "redshirt" in casual conversation.
As such, I really enjoyed the book.  It pointed out the particular problems and plot holes of weekly TV scripts as part of a seamless story by a writer who has in fact been part of a weekly SF show.  I can't tell you too much about the book, but my favorite line was:
“I mean that you and I know that in this universe, God is a hack,” he said. “He’s a writer on an awful science fiction television show, and He can’t plot His way out of a box."

Scalzi, John (2012-06-05). Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas (p. 136). Macmillan. Kindle Edition.
This is part of that "so much more" mentioned by Howard Tayler. Scalzi pokes fun at Star Trek-like plots, SF "gimmicks," actors, writers, producers and Hollywood.  All of this wrapped around the humor of the story.  The humor is always there in the background, but there are serious parts to the story as well - maybe not too serious, but kind of poignant and nice.  I particularly liked the message sent by the three "codas" at the end.   Again, not to give too much away, the "codas" involve people and story possibilities that are peripheral to, but affected by, the main story.  In many ways, the codas redeem everything else in the story.

So, buy, borrow or rent (but please don't steal, writers deserve their royalties) this book!  If you don't, you may find yourself redshirted in a future life.

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