Sorry, I couldn’t help myself, and I really couldn’t have picked a better book for my #52. Scalzi is now officially on my list of my favorite authors ever, and not because what he writes is necessarily deep or profound or written in the most complex language, but simply because the guy knows how to write a smart, fun book. I know I’ve compared Scalzi’s books to Mexican food before, but really it’s the best comparison. Reading Scalzi, and Redshirts in particular, is the literary equivalent of eating a really good burrito — it’s not the most nutritious food in the universe, but it fills you up, and damn does it taste good going down.
A redshirt, for those of you who don’t know the term (and where have you been living?) is a character type popularized by the Star Trek franchise. A redshirt exists only to die, a cheap and easy way to up the ante in any given situation, and in the original Star Trek series, they almost always wore the red shirt of a Starfleet security officer. Scalzi takes this concept and runs away with it, making a group of redshirts in a Star Trek spoof universe his main heroes. Instead of Captain Kirk, we have Captain Abernathy. Instead of the USS Enterprise, we have the Universal Union’s flagship, the Intrepid. The new recruits, led by narrator and protagonist Ensign Andrew Dahl, quickly realize there is something horribly wrong aboard the Intrepid — awful, catastrophic things seem to occur on a regular basis, especially on away missions, and while the five most senior officers on the ship always seem to survive, at least one crew member always, always dies. The entire crew lives in fear that they might be next, and none of them understand why.
Redshirts is a tongue-in-cheek, laugh out loud spoof, but it’s also a loving homage to a subject that Scalzi clearly feels affection for. Even if you aren’t that familiar with Star Trek in any of its incarnations, Star Trek itself has had such a huge impact on popular culture that you’re going to get the jokes in this book, because you’ve seen them other places in the forty-five years since Star Trek first aired. It’s part of the zeitgeist. And even if you don’t get the jokes, Redshirts is still a rip-roaring good yarn with likable characters and a zippy, clever, lightning-fast narrative. Redshirts also comes with three codas, each a sort of epilogue to the main narrative that fills out the Redshirts universe and some hanging plot threads that weren’t crucial to the main narrative. All three are fun little vignettes that I’m glad Scalzi included — I like to see authors getting experimental every once in a while.
If you like science fiction at all, run out and get Redshirts right now. You’ll laugh your asses off, and it will remind you of the many reasons you love the genre in the first place. I guess the rest of you can suck it, because WTF? What is wrong with you. Anyway, you might like it, too.