Book Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi
Redshirts by John Scalzi
Before I start talking about Redshirts by John Scalzi I have to say it’s been a few months since I actually finished it, but this novel had such a profound effect on me that I wanted to write about it anyway. So I apologize that I’ll miss quite a few aspects of this novel that I would have otherwise liked to mention, but I’ll do my best.
Let me begin by saying that I hate people like John Scalzi. As an aspiring writer, I hate anyone that can come up with such astoundingly clever ideas like the premise of Redshirts and then have the skill to write them so well.
Now I don’t want to spoil this story for any of you. If you are in any way a fan of the Star Trek TV shows, then you need to read this book because you are the target audience. If you’re completely unfamiliar with Star Trek, then you should still read this book, but you’re going to miss out on a lot of it, and it will probably take you much longer to realize how clever this book actually is. That being said, I should also suggest that you listen to the audio book version. It’s narrated by Will Wheaton and he does an amazing job with it. The fact that Will Wheaton was a cast member on Star Trek: The Next Generation adds a whole other level of Meta that adds to the other layers of Meta-ness that will slowly be added throughout this book.
Redshirts is the story of the characters that we hardly notice and forget about as soon as we do notice them. They are the background. They are the cheap deaths. They are us in most cases. Scalzi takes the background characters of a show like Star Trek and puts them in center stage.
These characters serve aboard the star ship Intrepid. A ship that has the task to explore the universe, but does so with the worst luck possible, at least if you’re not one of the officers. So for the Redshirted Ensigns aboard the ship, death stalks you at every turn especially if you spend too much time in the vicinity of the ship’s officers. But the real danger begins when the surviving Redshirts start comparing notes and figure out the pattern.
That’s as far as I’m going because I don’t want to ruin the amazing journey you’re about to undertake. But I want to talk about one last brilliant addition from Scalzi: The Three Codas.
Yes, Codas. Like the musical notation that’s meant to bring everything to a close. Most would call these epilogues, but I think Coda is the better term because they don’t exactly deal with the main characters, but instead he goes back to wrap up the stories of a few side characters. (Yes, he tells the story of the background characters in a story about background characters. Trippy, huh?). Interestingly he writes each coda in a different perspective hitting third person, second person, and first person. Aside from being clever, these codas were very powerful to me, especially the second one where he says, “You don’t win by getting through your life without having done anything.” This hit me hard when I listened to this book because I was doing just that. My goal in life was just to get through it. To survive long enough to pass on my genetic code and then die in a retirement home somewhere around the year 2060. But Scalzi made me think of what I would look back on if I was hit by a car tomorrow. What would they write on my tombstone if I didn’t get to live any more days? That’s when it got real for me because they really wouldn’t be able to write much more than Ryan Johnson: Son, Brother, Friend. And you can pretty much write that on anyone’s tombstone as soon as they’re born. Realizing that now, I’d like to think that I’m doing more with my days than I was before. I’d like to hope that my days mean more to me now because of that second coda and I hope that this book will have such an amazing unexpected effect on you if you choose to read it as well.
Rating: 4.5 Beards out of 5