Review: Redshirts

Review: Redshirts

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
lending: no
simultaneous device licenses: six (but released without DRM?*)
part of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library: no
text-to-speech: yes
suitability for text-to-speech: good
x-ray: yes
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,

Star Trek parody: The Kindle Encounter

his post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

10 Responses to “Review: Redshirts”

  1. Joe Bowers Says:

    Hello, Bufo,
    I haven’t had the chance to read it yet, but it sounds interesting. As on Original Series geek, I have to point out that Mr. Scott was the exception to the rule, wore a red shirt and went on several “away teams.” And came back!
    (I recently bought on-line a t-shirt that is basically a recruitment poster for the “security team”, featuring a fetching young lassie in a Federation red mini-dress, promising good benefits and adventure to sign up for the “redshirts.”)

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Joe!

      I think you’d enjoy the book. 🙂

      Not everyone who wore a red shirt was a redshirt. 😉 It’s intriguing that Uhura wore a red uniform, for example, although that might suggest that Communications was part of Engineering.

      This is a fun post with analytics of reshirts from the original series…for example, 73% of the crew who died on the original Star Trek were wearing red shirts:

      There was a t-shirt I liked years ago (and there have been variants), where it was a simple red Starfleet shirt on the front…with a big bullseye on the back. 😉

      • Joe Bowers Says:

        I never saw that shirt, sounds great. And I love the line on the sitelogic blog to the effect…”if you beam down in a red shirt, you’re gonna die…”
        When I first heard about this book, my initial impression was like yours, it would be a goofy “Mad” type spoof, but have since heard better things about it. I look forward to it. Thanks, again, for the blog.

  2. JJ Hitt Says:

    I’ve noticed that Scalzi has “reworked” a number of classics (Little Fuzzy, Do Androids Dream..). I’ve had real cold feet about reading him for that reason.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, JJ!

      It’s interesting that that would make you reluctant.

      Scalzi’s The Android’s Dream is not a reworking of the Dick novel, although the title does reference it. The Fuzzy book was done in conjunction with the Piper estate. Even in my scenario of perpetual copyright, it could still have happened, because it was being done with permission. I’m curious…do you feel the same way when someone writes a new James Bond novel (a new one was just announced for later this year) under correct licensing?

      • jjhitt Says:

        A good question I don’t have a good answer to. Some characters and universes are almost meant for collaboration and contribution. (The Saint, or most any comic or serial.)
        Others, usually out of fondness, leave me with of feeling of “why mess with a good thing”.
        Possibly because Piper’s stories are so exactingly consistent and interlocking that I dislike the idea of them being retcon’ed.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, jjhitt!

        This idea is interesting enough to me that I think I’ll do a whole post on it…thanks!

  3. jjen Says: has a few fun redshirt-related parodies, including a card game, poster, and a red shirt that says “expendable”.

    I read the free preview chapter, and while I enjoyed it, I had read some reviews complaining about the change in tone later on. So I haven’t yet coughed up the money for the whole thing.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, jjen!

      ThinkGeek is one of my favorite sites. 🙂 You can often also get their stuff at Amazon.

      The book was a gift from a family member, so I didn’t actually pay for it…

  4. On our guest Kindle | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] (Review […]

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