Redshirts by John Scalzi is an absolute hoot. It’s clever and witty and a fast paced, easy read. It will especially be enjoyed by anyone who has followed television science fiction (particularly Star Trek) and anyone who has enjoyed the film Galaxy Quest.
The premise of the book is that on the starship Intrepid strange things are happening, as observed by a new crew member. Every away mission the crew undertakes involves a battle with aliens but strangely the Captain and senior crew members who are present on the missions always survive. At least one ordinary crew member does not. It eventually transpires that what is happening to these people is affected by a television show long in the past and that the television narrative is determining the events in the starship’s reality.
Of course, the crew have worked out that something is going on, even if they don’t know what it is, and take all sorts of evasive action to avoid being part of an away mission. They watch with amazement as officers survive in miraculous situations. But it is Andrew and his friends who begin to piece together why this is happening – then the novel takes a surreal turn but bear with it because the author carries this off and we remain engaged with the individuals whilst the plot gets very imaginative.
This book examines every stereotype of science fiction and turns it on its edge. It would be a purely academic exercise had it not been for the fact that the characters are engaging and we are gripped by the situation in which they experience things which they cannot control. We really want to see them overturn the situation and for them to regain control of their own lives.
This book will be particularly enjoyable for anyone who enjoys science fiction and is aware of its tropes and stereotypes – if you understand what it means to be a redshirt in Star Trek then you will appreciate the story. I enjoyed it hugely and have to admire the author for being able to carry this idea through into a very readable book.