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August 21, 2012

REDSHIRTS by John Scalzi, 2012

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship "Intrepid," flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It's a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship's Xenobiology laboratory. Life couldn't be better... Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues' understanding of what the starship "Intrepid" really is...and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Laura Madsen

I attended a reading by sci-fi author John Scalzi last year when he was promoting his novel FUZZY NATION. He asked if we, the audience, would like to hear the prologue from his work in progress. We all cheered. He swore us all to silence; we promised we wouldn’t reveal the novel’s name or concept until it was published. He then said he would read the chapter without disclosing the title; afterward he would have us guess the title. The prologue follows a young starship ensign on his first—and only—away mission on a foreign planet, during which he and the other young crew member are unceremoniously eaten by Borgovian Land Worms. The Captain and Science Officer momentarily regret the loss of their ensigns and then declare, “We need more crew.” After the reading, Mr. Scalzi asked the audience what the title ought to be and we all yelled, “REDSHIRTS!”

Do you remember in the classic STAR TREK television series when Kirk, Spock and Bones would beam down to a strange planet along with a nameless red-shirted ensign? In their subsequent adventures, they would disregard the prime directive, Kirk’s shirt would be ripped, Spock would raise an eyebrow, Bones would swear, “Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor,” and the hapless, anonymous ensign would die horribly. But fortunately for the bridge officers, there was always another redshirt available for the next episode.

In REDSHIRTS, Mr. Scalzi explores this epidemic of redshirts dying on away missions. The novel’s subtitle reads, “They were expendable… until they started comparing notes.” The novel follows Ensign Andrew Dahl, newly posted to the starship Intrepid. He and his fellow junior crewmembers gather statistics and investigate the crew deaths which circle like vultures around five particular senior officers. They also notice that during dramatic moments, the ship’s inertial dampeners tend to fail so the crew can tumble artfully across the bridge, and a random piece of equipment can be expected to explode spectacularly to further the theatrical tension. They begin to suspect that they’re extras in a sci-fi television show—and a poorly written one at that.

John Scalzi is one of the funniest sci-fi authors around. Recommended for any fan of science fiction.

Market: Adult fiction (science fiction)
Language: quite a few “F” words
Violence: lots of it (exploding heads, punctured spleens, ice sharks, land worms)
Sensuality: referenced but not seen
Adult themes: death, conspiracy, self-sacrifice

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