Redshirts, by John Scalzi

Comic SF/fantasy novels are difficult things, I think. I enjoy some of Terry Pratchett’s work and some of Simon R Green’s. Neil Gaiman always has humor in his books, but they are not comic novels. Christopher Moore is probably the king of the comic fantasy novel genre.  I had a read some good reviews of Redshirts, though, so I picked it up yesterday at the Four-Eyed Frog.

(Shakes fist at the heavens. “Damn you, John Scalzi!”)

Then I sat on the deck of my lovely ocean view room and read it. Walk on the beach? Nope.Go up to the art center and look at the most recent exhibit of local artists? Nope. Drive up to Schooner Gulch and look at those awesome striations where the cliffs rise out of the water? Sorry, nope — because I can’t stop reading!

Redshirts assumes that you know (and probably loved) Star Trek. That title is the first clue.  The novel is short –which is a good thing considering I didn’t want to put it down — followed by three codas that  follow some of the secondary characters.

In the future, the starship Intrepid is the flagship of the line. However, the ship’s mortality rate, especially among new crew members on away teams, is high. Very high. Andrew Dahl, who is newly assigned to the ship, and several of his friends, begin to explore this fact,and some other strange facts about the ship. The result is a delightful romp, a send-up of science fiction tropes (time travel, voodoo science and bad uniforms), and a few touching moments as Scalzi encourages us to question what it means to be “real;” and what it means when humans sacrifice other humans in order to save themselves. That last sentence makes the book sound much heavier than it is.

Scalzi speeds his short novel along with side-splitting dialogue, and recursive metafictional discussions that make the book even funnier. (“I hate that we have these discussions now,” one character says.)  The final coda explores a slightly more serious tone and wraps everything up with a sweet, if a tad too coincidental –oh, wait, that’s the point, isn’t it?– ending.

In his afterword, Scalzi insists that this is not a thinly veiled roman a clef about a TV show he worked on, called Stargate:Universe. Um, excuse me… isn’t Universe the one where the hi-tech military trapped on the alien starship use magic rocks to body-swap with people back on Earth? Are you sure this isn’t a roman a clef?  To be fair, the little bit of Universe that I watched, no-name characters didn’t die in the first three minutes before the commercial break. When a character died, it was someone who had been developed, and that death was a loss, with ripples into future episodes. And that really, those ripples, is largely what Redshirts is about.

And it’s about 230 pages of giggles, snickers, snorts and the occasional guffaw.

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