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Book Review: Redshirts

January 6, 2014

John Scalzi
Tor Books
317 pages

Oh man, I really loved this book. It was exactly in several of my sweet spots: wry humor, satire of campy science fiction adventures, meta-narrative without trying to be arch in a hipster sort of way. And above all, it seemed like a good natured book. I tore through it in the space of a weekend, stretched out on the couch, and laughing so hard my mother looked at me strangely.

And I don’t even watch Star Trek particularly. Which was part of the reason I hadn’t picked this book up before now. But, I was in the mood for something lighthearted, and fun, a good end-of-semester read. And I’d remembered hearing this was a good one.

Ensign Andrew Dahl is aboard the Intrepid (sort of like a Star Trek universe, of cadets in uniform boldly going out into space). He has started to notice that Away Missions proceed according to a pattern. Captain, Chief Science Officer, and Lieutenant Kerensky plus some random ensign head down to the planet’s surface. The officers survive (Kerensky even cheats death with some spectacular science hail mary save). And the low-ranking random ensign gets dead. Plus, Andrew has noticed odd behaviors among his crewmates, to avoid getting stuck on an away mission. Like crowding into a closet, going for coffee, etc. The other thing Andrew has noticed is that sometimes, he catches himself saying things that are brave to the point of stupid, or doing things that are, far against his better instincts, and maybe even likely to get him killed. What’s going on?

What’s going on is some excellent satire of the things that make science fiction adventure shows gloriously campy and unintentionally funny. Lighthearted, goofy, delightfully meta.

It reminded me of Galaxy Quest, which is one of my go-to brain candy movies. It also reminded me of Expendable, by James Alan Gardner, which takes similar characters into much darker plot twists and questions of deliberate morality rather

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