Oct 16, 2012

[Books] Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas

I'm a pretty big Star Trek fan, and thus I know both the good and the bad things about this particular fandom. Like any other TV show, it has more than its fair share of high points and low points and things that just didn't make sense - something that is inevitable for a TV show that survived at least five different live-action incarnations and one quirky animated one.

I'm not one of those fans who are incapable of laughing at some of the sillier aspects of the show. I find that horribly unrealistic and in generally bad form when you think about it. And there are few things that we Trekkies don't forget to laugh about quite like the Red shirts.

Most especially in the Original Series, the Redshirt was sort of an in-joke about how the guys in red uniforms (since this was the color of the security teams) were often cannon fodder for various alien threats. It was a bit of a trope on the part of the writers in order to stress how serious or perilous a situation was without harming the command crew (who are the named stars of the show).

And when it was reported that John Scalzi was going to write a book that sort of addressed this little eccentricity of the show, well, I was all over it.

Synopsis: Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas is a science fiction written by John Scalzi. It could be argued that the book is meant as a parody of Star Trek, but that would totally undermine the value the book still has outside of the TV series. And yes, there's more to the story than just making fun of expendable crewmen.

The Intrepid is the capital starship of the Universal Union, and thus is at the forefront of many exciting missions and breaking new ground scientifically. So that makes it seem like the perfect posting for anyone wanting to advance his military career - or at least that's what Ensign Andrew Dahl first things when he finds out that he has been assigned to the fabled ship.

But once on-board he starts to notice some rather peculiar behavior among the grew. It seems like everyone has developed a sixth sense when it comes to the impending arrival of any of the senior officers since they almost always become busy with some other task in some other part of the ship (including running inventory in a storage locker). And beyond the momentary disappearances  there's also the captain's odd emphasis on the importance of away missions - and the number of crewmen that are lost on said missions. And thus Andrew and his fellow new recruits on the Intrepid find themselves trying to quickly piece together what exactly might be going on - at least before one of them get assigned on one of these now-infamous missions.

Now I love how the book begins with an away mission and the seemingly tortured mind of the ensign assigned to accompany the senior staff. Just think about it - you know that being a member of the security detail naturally presents risks, but what more on a ship that seems to lose a crewman on almost every single away mission. And you look around and see that you're only in the company of the senior staff members who never seem to get injured or put into any risk. So yeah, that can be a pretty weird place to be and make for some nearly psychotic ramblings going on in your head.

The first half of the book (thereabouts) focuses on the inherent humor in the situation and at the same time a lot of the things that don't quite make sense. And having a story told from the perspective of a pretty common sense ensign does give you a singular voice to listen to and potentially agree (or disagree) with as you all puzzle through what exactly is going on here on this ship. Are we really just making fun of the old Star Trek TV series. Does Scalzi have a different perspective that he wants to address in this very Federation-like Universal Union? And what the heck is in that Box? You'll get my drift in time.

But when you get to the latter parts of the book (or at least the main story section), then you'll find that Scalzi really starts to work his magic and takes this book beyond the confines of mere parody. The story really takes a life of its own as our protagonists try to find a way to dramatically reduce their chances for death and perhaps figure out how to save even more lives in the longer term. And the way they they're going to do this is pretty impressive - or at the very least it's pretty fun indeed.

I enjoyed how the book felt like light reading for the most part and yet tackled some pretty complex concepts and raised some great questions about shows that we love. Many of the story quirks that we've come to accept as tropes of the science fiction world, especially when it comes to TV and movies, take on a different perspective when you put yourself in the character's shoes. No one wants to feel like they're expendable and there are far more creative ways to make a situation seem important or more serious without introducing needless deaths into the picture after all.

Redshirts was a lot more than I had expected it to be and thus it made for a very, very enjoyable read. And please note that the book is not divided into three sections. The reference to three codas in the title refers to something else entirely - and this further helps flesh out the stories of the characters involved. So I happily rate this book as 4.5 crazy ways for a crewman to die on an away mission out of a possible 5.

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  1. It's been such a long time since I have finished a book. Sigh. I need to start reading again.

  2. Looks like a very interesting sci fi type of story that's action packed and has a lot of exciting twists.

  3. Oh definitely! There should always be time to read - even just a page or two a day.

  4. I was pleasantly surprised by how it turned out - and I think it's safe to say that the book can still work for other readers and not just Star Trek fans.

  5. I read science fiction books after watching it's movie. Which by the way works for me coz it prevents me from hating the movie yet even appreciate the story more. Weird, i know! :) But this one's kind of intriguing.

  6. I certainly enjoyed it, so should you get a chance to read it you just might enjoy it ;-)