"Redshirts" is a terrible book to read in a library. It is far too
funny. The average reader will not be able to contain their glee.
Those few readers with the self-discipline to muffle their outbursts
of laughter are probably high-stress, stick-in-the-mud types who need
to lighten up. For everyone else, I recommend reading this book
somewhere you know you can let yourself go, laugh out loud, and
generally make a ruckus.
This is easily the funniest book I have read in a long time. Scalzi
does an elegant, loving satire of science fiction tropes much as John
Moore does of fantasy tropes. Is "Redshirts" a deep, thought-
provoking book which will cause you to contemplate the meaning of the
universe? Probably not. Am I going to read it again, to the chagrin
of the 800 books on my to-read queue? Very likely. Will it induce
uncontrollable giggling? You betcha.
I had never read anything by Scalzi before "Redshirts." I first
discovered it because I happened across a preview of the first few
chapters on Tor's website. Halfway through the preview, I knew that I
had to read the book as soon as it was released. It was simply
hilarious, just the levity and self-awareness that the science fiction
genre has been needing. The preview was just enough temptation,
itching away at the back of my mind and constantly reminding me of its
presence. I couldn't even wait for my copy to arrive by two-day
shipping to read it. I went out and bought a second copy in order to
read it sooner (and to donate to the library upon completion). The
extra two days was just too long to wait.
The idea drew me in even more than the raw humor that was in evidence
on every page. It is a book centered on the throw-away characters,
those who get only enough screen time and characterization to die, the
familiar redshirts of decades of science fiction. Who in their right
mind would write such a book? Except: there are certain fundamental
laws of their universe which govern the actions of redshirts. A
redshirt has to die in order to demonstrate a new threat (that those
light brown patches of dirt are really quicksand). A redshirt must
make the obvious yet stupid decision (making out with a member of the
incredibly attractive alien species with poisonous saliva) in order to
prevent a main character from doing the same. A redshirt must die in
order to demonstrate the gravity of a situation, to raise the stakes
and make it clear that death is on the line.
Yet if these and other universal laws govern the lives of redshirts,
what sort of world must they live in? "Redshirts" explores this
question, with some unexpected results. While the book does not delve
into all possible ramifications, I was satisfied with being given
leave to ponder more on my own rather than having them laid out before
My only real criticism of the book is that the characters are
difficult to tell apart. They all speak the same way, in Scalzi's own
distinctive style, and you should keep notes handy as to which
redshirt is which. While I appreciate that there was not overmuch
effort put into distinguishing them, as redshirts should be imminently
interchangeable, slightly differentiated speaking patterns would have
decreased the frequency of going back and checking speaker tags.
I highly recommend this book to anyone with at least a passing
familiarity to tropes of old science fiction TV shows, especially
"Star Trek: The Original Series." Genre fans who have been reading
too many giant tomes with a serious or depressing slant will find
"Redshirts" a great relief. This book was laugh out loud hilarious,
and I gladly give it full marks.