What if your coworkers were regularly being killed off, and in spectacularly implausible ways, while your superiors were always left unfazed and untouched? Wouldn’t you try to figure out why and make sure whatever was happening to them didn’t happen to you? This is the premise John Scalzi boldly explores in Redshirts.
Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Intrepid, the flagship of the Universal Union. But once he reports for his new posting, he can’t help but notice that things on the Intrepid are far from normal. His crewmates in the Xenobiology lab mysteriously disappear and reappear with little or no notice, as if they are hiding from something or someone, and this behavior is not limited to Ensign Dahl’s lab. Everyone on board seems preoccupied with away missions. The senior officers are concerned with finding individuals willing to go on them, and the crew, conversely, seems set on doing anything possible to avoid them. The reason for this quickly becomes clear because every away mission involves some sort of hostile interaction with the species native to the world being visited. And while the command crew, especially Captain Lucius Abernathy and Science Officer Q’eeng, always emerge from these hostilities unharmed, at least one low-ranking crewmember always dies. In fact, the Intrepid’s fatality statistics are unbelievably high compared to those of other ships in the fleet. Why is this, and why is it allowed to continue?
In Redshirts, John Scalzi seeks out a decades-old joke from a classic science fiction television show (Star Trek, for the uninitiated, where mostly nameless crew members were regularly killed off to illustrate the danger that threatened--but never exterminated--the command crew), and has written an intriguing and enjoyable novel that seems both familiar and comfortable, yet new and engrossing. Clearly, Scalzi is familiar with science fiction television and movies (he writes regularly about both on his blog). He writes with authority about some of the weaker points in well-trodden series and films while also highlighting the elements that make them classics. While he sometimes walks the line between fondness and merciless parody, the result is entertaining, thought-provoking and, ultimately quite touching.
Science fiction author Harlan Ellison once wrote that a critic must be careful not to rob the reader of “the frisson of joyful discovery.” So, in recommending this book, one must be cautious--not because Redshirts shouldn’t be recommended (it should, and is!), but because the discoveries from embarking on this trek must be made for oneself!