(Some spoilers may be unavoidable. Read at your own risk.)
A couple weeks ago I got John Scalzi’s Redshirts out of the library. It took me a little while to find the time to sit down and read it, but once I did…WOW. I’m so glad I did! This is my first Scalzi book, but I will absolutely be checking out some of his other works now!
The first half of the book was fairly predictable given my long-time readership of Scalzi’s blog and awareness of the world he was spoofing. Basically, original Star Trek, but from the point of view of the expendable extras (the Redshirts) who die every episode. Only, they’re real people, and they don’t understand why new crew-members and ensigns have such a high mortality rate in weird situations, and 5 particular officers seem incapable of dieing. Ensign Dahl, the protagonist, figures it out with the help of another crew-member who had gone rogue, and then figures out a possible fix. He and his friends must travel back in time and to another dimension, where the TV show impinging on their lives takes place and stop the writers from killing off any more characters.
And this is where the book starts to get unbelievably meta. I’m going to try to avoid too many spoilers, because part of the mind-blowing awesomeness of Redshirts lies in the unexpected turns and twists which start to crop up about half-way through. But I will say this, the second half of the book blew my mind both as a technical feat and as a story. Scalzi manages to incorporate fricking writing advice into the story without being preachy, or dull, or distracting from the main thrust of the story. In fact, a major plot point for Redshirts seems to be “Don’t be a lazy writer.” I’ve never read a novel that had me scrutinizing the death-scenes in my own fiction before. I mean, is it really necessary that I kill off that one character or was it just convenient? (I think I’ve decided it’s necessary and not gratuitous. For now.)
I was also really impressed with some of the technical aspects in the end. Redshirts has three “Codas” that are sort of epilogues wrapping up some plot threads. Each one is done with a different point of view (First Person, Second Person, Third). The Second Person Coda was particularly impressive, personally. I rarely find second person engaging or realistic, especially second-person present tense. It goes against everything I believe in about storytelling, but in this case it worked, both stylistically and narratively. I enjoyed the entire book (and have recommended it to several fellow nerds), but I think the Codas were my favorite parts.
This book is definitely worth reading for any sci-fi fan, particularly anyone with any familiarity with ST:TOS. The plot is engaging, the style amusing, and some of the themes make you stop and think. Scalzi manages to spoof bad writing, campy old sci-fi TV, celebrate Star Trek, and tell an engaging story all at once. I call that impressive.
The book does leave me with a question for Mr. Scalzi, though. What did you say to your Stargate characters when they popped ’round to discuss your writing? Inquiring minds want to know. 😀
(Not that I expect Mr. Scalzi to ever read my little blog, but one never knows.)