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…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.
Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. 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.
I was a bit hesitant opening this book as I’ve heard mixed reviews. It’s also pretty clearly a sort-of-parody of Star Trek and those things can sometimes flop. And as I dove into it, I did find it a bit lacklustre, but it soon picked up and became utterly fascinating.
It’s a somewhat common premise — these people living a crazy life find out that they are actually characters in a work of fiction. We’ve seen that before, and it’s actually talked about in the book. What I find makes it particularly interesting is how Scalzi has his characters use this premise to their advantage, to fix their lives… which involves going back in time to 2012 to meet the writers of the show that they exist in. Well, it’s not so much that they exist in the show, but rather the show alters their reality. They exist in a starship in the future, but the crazy events that happen and all of the characters that come about are because of the scriptwriting for the show.
This book had an evolution for me — it started off as humorous, then evolved to interesting, then evolved to unique, then evolved to “okay, this is cool,” and then evolved to “this is fascinating.” The journeys of the characters were fun to follow, but I found the most fascinating element, and the thing that sticks out to me the most, are the three codas at the end of the book. There are three chapters that follow three characters from 2012, after their future fictional counterparts have come to visit them. The development of these characters post-visit was utterly fascinating and engaging.
I think it compares well with the movie “Captain Phillips.” The movie is great and all that, but the most intense and effective part for me was at the very end, where Captain Phillips has an emotional breakdown in the last five minutes of the movie. Without it, the movie would have been good, but with it, we suddenly have this immediate emotional depth that tugs at your heart and leaves you contemplative, silent, and emotional. The end of Redshirts was the same. Without the codas at the end, it would have been a good book. It was the sudden and immediate emotional depth that made the ending shine as bright as it did.
My ONLY criticism of this entire thing is that I had trouble with Scalzi’s writing style. I had trouble keeping the characters straight sometimes, and 99% of dialogue had “he said” or “she said” or “Dahl said” or “Kerensky said” attached to it. It got a bit distracting and could have been buffed out. HOWEVER, I noticed that in the codas, the style of writing changed immensely. It makes me wonder if the sub-par style in the body of the book was intentional, to reflect that these people were living out a sub-par sci-fi show. Once it got to real life in the codas, the writing became much more realistic. I have to think more on that.
Long story short, I’m glad I picked this up and gave it a try. 🙂