Redshirts by John Scalzi
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, with the chance to serve on “Away Missions” alongside the starship’s famous senior officers. Life couldn’t be better . . . until Andrew begins to realize that (1) every Away Mission involves a lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s senior officers always survive these confrontations, and (3) sadly, at least one low-ranking crew member is invariably killed. Unsurprisingly, the savvier crew members belowdecks avoid Away Missions at all costs. Then Andrew stumbles on information that 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.
Of course Star Trek fans immediately recognize the “Redshirts” reference, but this is not a spoof as some might think. If you want a spoof, it’s hard to beat Galaxy Quest anyway. Instead, Scalzi has created a similar universe to Star Trek (where the redshirts are seemingly expendable to the point of absurdity) with a metafiction twist. The flagship of Universal Union (or Dub U) is the Intrepid, a ship where all the crew members are terrified of away missions and mysterious and all-too-convenient technology that comes in handy in dire need. But the command crew seems oblivious to the extreme situations surrounding them on such a frequent basis.
Anyone who has watched Star Trek will appreciate the humor and reflection that follows. The science fiction stretches into fantasy-like alternate realities and takes a suspension of disbelief beyond just an exploration of space. I’m finding it hard not to give any spoilers! While not what I expected or was hoping for, the big twist was surprising and quite funny. This was certainly a switch from Scalzi’s other science fiction stories. Redshirts is full of continuous light-hearted humor, amusing (though not overly complex) characters, and a heartwarming drama. While it seems necessary to have at least watched several episodes of Star Trek to at least appreciate the humor and many references, readers do not need to be Trekkies to enjoy this latest inspired release from a talented writer.