REDSHIRTS by John Scalzi

Tor Books
June 2012

There are times when books are just what they seem. When laughs come fast and easy. The quips are quick. The jokes are set up and knocked down with lighting speed. But sometimes, things are not always what they seem, and if you look a bit closer, you will find real depth of emotion.

This is what you will find in John Scalzi’s REDSHIRTS, winner of the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novel. What starts out as a sidesplittingly funny love letter to sci-fi television, ends up as an exploration of the soul and how far the bonds of love will reach. The premise is simple: Ensign Andy Dahl has scored a peach of an assignment, working the xenobiology lab aboard the Intrepid, the flagship of the Universal Union fleet. What at first glance seems like the opportunity of a lifetime soon becomes a deathwatch as he watches his comrades-at-arms die in increasingly bizarre ways.

Andy is a smart guy. He soon notices that the number of crewmember fatalities on Away Missions is incredibly high, and the causes of these deaths tend toward the ridiculous. The missions of the Intrepid are exploratory in nature and sometimes confrontational when necessary, so a certain mortality rate is to be expected.

Pulse gun battles. Sure.

Death from space decompression when the ship is damaged in battle. To be expected.

Borgovian Land Worms. Wha?

Ice Sharks. Wait. Huh?!

As things get more and more ridiculous, they also get more and more dangerous for Andy and his friends. The rest of the crew seems to be little more than cannon fodder for the increasingly dangerous missions, while the senior bridge officers are next to invulnerable and oblivious to ever-increasing body-count. What’s happening here? What is the underlying secret to who lives and who dies aboard ship? And really, what exactly is “The Box”?

As one of the premier science fiction writers working today, Scalzi takes the Redshirt trope (the idea that anyone wearing a red shirt on the original Star Trek television show is doomed to die) and crafts a masterpiece. What could very easily have been a one-note joke of a book genuinely took me by surprise with the brilliant second half. Scalzi shows amazing depth as a writer here, probing the extremes of human emotion in ways I wasn’t expecting.

And no, I wasn’t crying. I always wear sunglasses inside. So shut up.


Dan Malmon