Revenge of the Redshirts (Redshirts, by John Scalzi)


John Scalzi – Redshirts: A novel with three codasThis book was exactly what I expected it to be. Plus a bit more. In fact I was a little surprised when I put it down, surprised that this turned out to be a story that lingers in my head. I keep thinking about it.

The structure of this novel is a bit unusual, and could have failed completely. But I think it works.

What I expected was a lighthearted kind of revenge for all the Redshirts – a way of poking fun at some kinds of stereotypical TV writing. You know about the original redshirts of course? The extras (in red shirts, duh!) that used to accompany Captain Kirk on the missions to weird places, in the original Star Trek series. They were really very often killed or injured, to create dramatic tension without sacrificing any of the important characters. Similar things have been known to happen in other TV shows.

The starting point of John Scalzi's Redshirts is that the redshirts on the starship Intrepid start thinking about their weird situation. They realize that something is really strange. Why the many unnecessary deaths?
Actually, many things happen on the Intrepid that should not be possible, including exceptions to the laws of nature.

Among the crew of the Intrepid, some have coping strategies, but these don't tend to work very well. And someone always gets hurt. That's why some of them decide to do something about it, and get to the heart of the problem.

So far it's all great fun, up to the action-filled resolution.

Then comes the coda.

At first I thougt this was an unnecessary addition, a way of extending a story that is already good, stretching it to 300 pages. But when I put the book down I almost think of it the other way around. Perhaps the coda was the really interesting part, and the adventure only a lengthy backstory. It's here, at the end, that some of the deeper ideas are developed about story and narrative and how they interplay with real life.

This unexpected turn is what stays in my head, and this is what I talk about and mention to my friends.

I hope you like it, too.