My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Imagine Luigi Pirandello is trying to write a Rashomon style plot set in the universe of a hack SF TV show– not Star Trek, that’s too obvious, but one of the really horrendously bad ones like Space Rangers (1993). And instead of focusing on the lead actors, he inexplicably creates POV characters out of all the extras standing around the bridge looking busy or the cannon fodder from “away teams”– once you wrap your mind around that scenario, you’re pretty much picking up on the vibe that is REDSHIRTS.
(VERY minor spoilers follow)
John Scalzi’s new novel hits on all 8 cylinders. REDSHIRTS is a recursive, philosophical, fourth-wall breaking funfest that loosely surrounds the activities of a group of allegedly minor characters that are always conveniently in the background of major actions that formulate hack SF plot points. What happens when they start to compare notes about the casualty rates among red-shirted ensigns? What happens when they realize their reality (and more importantly, their personal fates) are inextricably linked to that of a crappy TV show redolent with bad writing and plot holes all the other tropes one would expect from a bad basic cable SF show? REDSHIRTS is a story told in three parts (or “Codas”) where the POV shifts from a particularly intelligent Redshirt who figures out the connection between the inexplicable number of deaths on his ship to a bad television show, to writer haunted by the spectre of the consequences of his bad writing, to a young man who is given a second chance by the intrusion of the show’s reality into our reality, to a woman who gets a glance at an alternative reality starring herself. All of the Codas are part of the same sequence of events framing the same central characters; what transpires in the first Coda effects them all in very different ways. As always, Scalzi demonstrates wonderful, adroit skill with the dialogue pen. His snarky dialogue is the best thing about this book– even in the oddest situations the characters seem natural, believable, and above all, funny.
REDSHIRTS is an outstanding idea and hugely creative, one of the most interesting works of SF (sort of SF?) to come along in a while, and wonderfully executed by Mr. Scalzi. Bravo, Sir.