Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas
by John Scalzi
published by Tor (a Macmillan imprint)
original publication: 2012
size: 449KB (318 pages)
categories: fiction; science fiction
simultaneous device licenses: six (but released without DRM?*)
part of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library: no
suitability for text-to-speech: good
Whispersync for Voice:yes ($8.49 at time of writing, read by Wil Wheaton)
“I want you to think about what it means when I am the person in a group who is making the case for reality. I’m the least responsible person I know. I resent having to be the voice of reason. I resent it a lot.”
The human mind observes what is happening around it, and creates ways to deal with dangerous situations.
Imagine that you were a member of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise on the original Star Trek series.
Would you notice that there was something…odd about the ship?
Would people gossip about the fact that every time a “redshirt” (often a security team member, but it could be a different specialty…certainly, not a major decision maker) beams down with the bridge crew on an away mission, it becomes very likely that they are going to get killed?
That sounds like something that would be important to you, right?
That’s the basic concept that launches John Scalzi’s well-written and clever novel, Redshirts.
I’d heard it was a Star Trek parody, and expected absurdity and silly wordplay, like in a 1960s Mad Magazine issue.
The beginning of the book turned out to be quite a bit more interesting than that.
It’s not the Enterprise, exactly, but fairly close to it.
We follow a group of new recruits…as you can imagine, the ship has quite a bit of turnover.
Generally, I enjoyed this first part, and its commentary on the original series (how did Chekov keep healing so quickly?).
The characters with whom we relate are more than just cartoon characters (even including Star Trek: The Animated Series ).
It’s also clear that Scalzi, President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, isn’t a poseur as a fan. While I thought the Dr. McCoy equivalent was quite flat and uninteresting (I’m guessing Bones is not one of Scalzi’s favorites), I was amused that the Doctor was named Hartnell (as in William Hartnell, the first actor to play Doctor Who in the TV series…The Doctor).
However, the book shifts in tone…more than once.
That could be innovative entertaining, and certainly, the book is highly-reviewed at Amazon (3.7 stars out of 5 with 364 reviews at the time of writing).
For me, though, that meant that what I thought was great in the first part, wasn’t quite as good in latter parts.
It’s important to note, though, that I have a sibling who enjoyed the second part better…and said the same was true of a friend.
I also want to be clear that I liked the whole book…I just liked the first part better.
As I was barely into it, I predicted to my Significant Other that it might turn out that way…that the tone would change. For me, it was a bit like a Saturday Night Live sketch that they make into a movie (Coneheads, for example). In a desire to give an expansion more length and depth, something that I find deliciously whimsical can become more…mundane, I suppose.
I do recommend the book, although if you weren’t a fan of ST:TOS, I don’t think it would work as well.
* DRM is Digital Rights Management, which is code inserted into a file to control how the file is used. Tor has been releasing their books DRM free in the Kindle store (an option also available to publishers using Kindle Direct Publishing). That means that nothing mechanically inhibits someone from converting the file into another format, for example. It does not change the nature of the license.
Fans of the original series may also enjoy my (very different from Scalzi’s book…different purposes) post,
his post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.