'Redshirts' by John Scalzi (2012)

Redshirts - John Scalzi

John Scalzi, Redshirts (London: Gollancz, 2013), 309pp


A fantastically funny story which was exactly as I hoped it would be. John Scalzi tears into the 'redshirts' trope with glee but also with affection; this is one of those rare books that had me with a permanent grin etched on my face throughout. It is very funny, and will appeal to anyone who has ever watched a film or TV show and noticed that the anonymous red-shirted extra always gets killed whilst the hero survives, that the stormtroopers never seem to be able to shoot straight, that the characters spout dialogue that is completely inorganic and seems only to exist to drive the plot forward; above all, that there are innumerable plot holes and faulty logic at play.

It is very quick and easy to read, well-paced and never indulgent or overly self-referential. In a rather peculiar way, it reminded me a bit of an Elmore Leonard novel: very dialogue- and plot-driven and not boring the reader with oodles of descriptive writing. Scalzi also respects his readers; he doesn't try to shoehorn a romantic arc in with Dahl and Maia as I had feared he would, and the book also has a lot of heart, particularly where Jenkins' wife and Nick the bartender are concerned.

People may be worried about the complexity of the meta angle, but have no fears. Scalzi deals with this quite ably - his clarity is helped by the fact that, as mentioned above, the book is primarily dialogue-driven. The three codas are not as bad as some other reviewers have suggested; I was dreading reaching the end as I thought they would ruin the book, but I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, the novel might have been better if it had ended before then, leaving the focus on the redshirts, but they fit in well with the overall story and they didn't detract from my enjoyment of the previous two-hundred or so pages.

Overall, Redshirts is a well-crafted book and exactly the sort of thing that appeals to me. It's not for everyone, but if you're looking at it and think it sounds interesting then I think you'll like it. I would say it's great for people who like TVTropes.org and watch Community, people who liked the affectionate sci-fi geekiness of Ernest Cline's Ready Player One and the meta-comedy of David Wong's two John Dies at the End books. I wouldn't go so far as to put it on quite the same level as those three books, but it holds a similar place in my heart.