the Little Red Reviewer

Redshirts, by John Scalzi

Posted on: June 7, 2012

Redshirts by John Scalzi

published in June 2012 by Tor Books

where I got it:  borrowed ARC from a friend

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If you grew up watching Star Trek TOS or TNG, if you fell in love with discovering new worlds and new civilizations on the back of suspiciously shoddy science, if you wondered were those relief ensigns on the bridge came from (ensign closet?), if you derided TNG for its pathetically formulaic and episodic set up (Data is training his cat in the opening? He’ll totally still be training the cat in the closing, and wow they sure solved that mystery fast!) yet still loyally watched and rewatched every single episode, Redshirts is the book for you. I haven’t laughed this hard in a long, long time. The franchise that Bakula nearly destroyed and Tim Allen inadvertently nearly saved has been saved again.

Way to wreck the franchise, Bakula.

Ok, you don’t have to be quite as much of a trekkie geek as I am to enjoy Redshirts. Scalzi starts out spoofing science fiction shows that feature terrible science, but ends up faithfully honoring the spirit of those same shows while at the same time boldly going completely meta and self-aware.

I found Redshirts to be hysterically funny, completely off the wall, full of sarcastic wit and absolutely brilliant. Also? it’s fucking hilarious.

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just got the posting he’s been dreaming of – the xenobiology lab on the Intrepid, the flagship of the Universal Union. After inadvertently volunteering for future away missions and then getting settled in, Ensign Dahl notices something very strange: every time a senior officer visits the lab looking for away mission volunteers, his lab-mates make themselves conspicuously and busily absent. Even worse, Dahl learns, the more senior officers on each away mission, the higher the likelihood of an ensign or junior officer getting injured or killed. The more Dahl gets to know the patterns of the ship, the stranger everything begins to look, and everyone else seems OK with the status quo.

Should he investigate? Or should he just shut up, avoid as many away missions as he can, and make peace with the fact that eventually a sandworm or flesh eating virus or stray phaser shot or exploding control panel or something will eventually kill him? What the hell is he, a redshirt or something?

(if you knew the planet was over run with sandworms or flesh eating viruses, why the hell would you send someone down in an unarmed shuttle without environments suits anyway? Also, whoever thought it would be hilarious to wire explosives into onboard control panels has a really sick sense of humor)

A few quick words on characterization and dialog. Regarding characterization, don’t expect a lot here, this isn’t that kind of book. If you’re pissed off that you don’t know enough about the characters, you’re missing the point. Regarding dialog – it is hysterically hilarious, and full of swear words, including much in the way of “that doesn’t make any fucking sense!” and “whoever writes this shit is an asshole”. Seriously.

we have to go through the Chompers? srsly?

Some of you already know where this is going, and for those of you who don’t I will hint no more on the surprise. It’s the kind of surprise that at first has you question the intentions of the author, then has you shaking your head, then has your mouth drop to the floor as the lightbulb goes off in your head, and then has you telling everyone you’ve met (even peeps who have never heard of Star Trek and wouldn’t know a tricorder if it clocked them in the head) to read this book as soon as possible.

A few other reviews that I’ve read of Redshirts mention that Scalzi didn’t put as much work into it as he could have and recycled some characters from previous books for this one. I can’t speak on that, as this is the first Scalzi that I actually finished.  Yes, believe it or not, I am NOT on the Old Man’s War bandwagon. Picked it up when it first came out, barely got 100 pages into it because the story didn’t grab me and I didn’t care for the main character. Picked it up a few years later, had the same experience. Old Man’s War is supposed to be some kind of modern day Starship Troopers? That’s fine, but Heinlein must do something for me that Scalzi doesn’t. For those of you who are totally on the Old Man’s War bandwagon and I may have told you I read it way back when? well, I did try. twice.

So, did Redshirts get me on the Scalzi bandwagon? I ain’t drinking the kool-aid yet, but I’m willing to see what flavor it is.

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31 Responses to "Redshirts, by John Scalzi"

Read and loved Redshirts as well.

If you’re not an Old Man’s War person, may I recommend The Android’s Dream (interstellar war starts over flatulence) and Fuzzy Nation. Both are great.

As for this one, I’m glad that Scalzi de-constructed genre TV shows. Of course, the biggest culprit is Star Trek, but there are others out there that follow the formula. And you’re right about TNG–I got a bit tired in season six when every other week it was Worf’s family crisis somehow tying into threatening the ship.

The Android’s Dream is a great one to go to from here, I completely agree.

Definitely try out The Android’s Dream, I think you would find the humor to your liking and it is a really nice story.

I do want to give Fuzzy Nation a try. and isn’t it amazing, that someone’s second cousin twice removed can threaten a starship that’s in an entirely different quandrant? incredible! ;)

Very sorry to hear that you didn’t finish Old Man’s War. That series (all 4 books) really is something special. Especially as the relationships between John and Jane and Zoe take off. But everyone has their own interactions with books, so no worries.

I’m skipping all but these last two paragraphs of your review until I’m done. Midway through now. I will say that thus far the book has been great. I haven’t found it anywhere close to laugh-out-loud funny, but it is entertaining. Since you enjoyed this one you should really try The Android’s Dream, which opens with a chapter long juvenile humor joke and then turns into a wacky, humorous sci-fi caper novel. Very good. And his reboot of Little Fuzzy, Fuzzy Nation, was also great.

I’d also suggest picking up a copy of his latest nonfiction book, 24 Frames. It is all about SFF films and it is a lot of fun. Sometimes he has me shaking my head wondering why he didn’t see what I saw in a particular film and other times he opens my eyes to things I didn’t consider.

I was a fan after reading Old Man’s War. He could have written nothing but crap after that and I still would have hailed that novel as one of my all-time favorite contemporary SF works. But thankfully he’s done some really nice stuff since then.

that 24 Frames book sounds fascinating! I always love learning all the behind the scenes stuff. maybe when I go back to OMW I’ll try reading the books in the wrong order and see if that helps.

The 24 Frames book is good, and NESFA puts together really nice books.

Ha, love your review! I’ve only read one other Scalzi, Fuzzy Nation, and enjoyed it enough to want to read this and I am now anxiously waiting to hear from the library when I can pick it up. So far, the other reviews I’ve read for Redshirts have been positive.

I tried reading Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson twice, but each time I only got half way through and just couldn’t go on. But then I read Snow Crash and loved it. These things happen with authors and we can only hope that there will be at least one of their books we can connect with in some way.

lol, I had the exact opposite experience with Neal Stephenson. Had the toughest time ever getting into Snow Crash, but I was addicted to Quicksilver about 10 pages in. how funny! :D

I do really want to read Fuzzy Nation, i adored Little Fuzzy.

There’s like a weird, opposite, through-the-looking-glass thing going on here with the Stephenson books lol

I was actually encouraged to read Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation based on your two Little Fuzzy/H. Beam Piper posts a while back.

Finished Redshirts the day it came out and enjoyed it quite thoroughly. It was a fresh change of pace for me to have something that told a quality story and just sort of flew right along and took me with it.

I think that’s one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much, after reading so much heavy, epic stuff, it was so refreshing to read something funny that didn’t take itself seriously.

I haven’t read anything ST related in years. Something that is a little heavier on the humor side sounds nice.

This is one I do think you would enjoy, James.

I’ve never read any Scalzi, but this book sounds like a hoot. I can think of a half-dozen friends that would probably like it too. Thanks for the tip.

I would never have gotten into OMW and the Scalzi universe had I not read Zoe’s Tale first… it’s the last of the series and YA-style so it was more in my wheelhouse and a good bridge to the military sci-fi that I still don’t really read. :) Then I read Agent to the Stars and then The Android’s Dream, so I think I’m primed for Redshirts! Now if it would only get delivered to my library…

I think that is how I’m going to approach OMW series, if I do attempt it again – reading the books in the wrong order. Me and military SF still don’t mesh together well.

the release date for the book was just the other day, so the libraries should be getting it very soon.

Should be and will are two very different things… :) I think my library ordered this low-priority as it hasn’t even been delivered yet — usually a book is at least physically in the tech services building on release day! Thank goodness for my already-towering stack of library books?

You know, I almost didn’t buy this book for the sole reason that I had been “Red Shirts” as the working title of a book I had outlined. Totally different plot, but the title was the selling point. Now I’ve read this, I’ll have to pick it up. It sounds extremely funny.

please do give this book a try, it will give you a good chuckle. For us trekkies, the titles was most certainly the selling point as well.

I think this is one my husband and I would enjoy. Great review.

thanks! give it a try, I look forward to hearing what you think. :)

Sounds fun. Will have to see if it’s available yet in India.

I’ve been excited about this book ever since I first heard about it. Umm, not that I’m a Star Trek nerd or anything. Uhhh…ehh, forget it, sure I am. Anyway, glad to hear it’s as good as I was hoping.

ahhh, the best kind of nerd is a Star Trek nerd! Surely there’s a copy of this floating around your work, that you could flip thru?

[...] Mine is but a lone experience of the book. For an alternate viewpoint, or rather the viewpoint of someone who engaged with the book on a level much closer to the the back-cover advanced praise, check out Little Red Reviewer’s post. [...]

I finished it this weekend and just finally got around to putting my review up. I gave it a 7/10. It had some flaws that I’m not used to noticing in a John Scalzi book. I’ve been a BIG fan of his ever since picking up Old Man’s War several years back (right about the time the sequel came out) and I’ve enjoyed each of his books that I’ve read to varying degrees. This one was fun, no doubt about that, but the humor did not strike me as hilarious as the book advertises. Which isn’t a big complaint as unless I’m reading Wodehouse or Bryson I’m not really looking for laugh-out-loud funny. But still, I was surprised at how it never once came close to making me laugh out loud. Humor is very subjective.

I liked the characters and felt they got short shrift at the end of the story which was another disappointment. An additional 50 pages or so could have fleshed out what I felt were weak parts in the book. Wasn’t a big fan of the first coda, but boy did I like codas two and three. And loved the ending of the last coda.

While it sounds like I hated the book it is far from it. It just isn’t the best that Scalzi has done, in my opinion, and I think the hype surprises me a bit. Still, well worth reading. A ‘weak’ Scalzi is, for me, far and above something strong from many other authors. Once again I suggest The Android’s Dream for the next time you need an infusion of SF related humor.

[...] reviews: Stainless Steel Droppings Little Red Reviewer Tia’s Book Musings Anyone [...]

[…] the Little Red Reviewer: “Ok, you don’t have to be quite as much of a trekkie geek as I am to enjoy Redshirts. Scalzi starts out spoofing science fiction shows that feature terrible science, but ends up faithfully honoring the spirit of those same shows while at the same time boldly going completely meta and self-aware.” […]

[…] Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, John Scalzi (Tor) […]

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About this redhead, etc.

Redhead is a snarky, non-politically correct 30-something who reviews mostly science fiction and fantasy and talks about all sorts of other fun scifi and fantasy geekery. She once wrote a haiku that included the word triskaidekaphobia.

This blog contains adult language and strong opinions. The best way to contact her outside of this blog is twitter, where she is @redhead5318 .

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