(2012) John Scalzi, Gollancz, trdpbk, £14.99, 309pp, ISBN 978-0-575-13429-4
In the future the Earth is one of the major forces within the Universal Union, or Dub-U (Double U). And in the Dub-U's impressive Space Fleet there is none more impressive than its flagship Intrepid led by its brave Captain Abernathy.
The Intrepid's on-going mission is one of a mix of exploration and sensitive political duties when something as grand as a flagship is required: it gets difficult tasks as well as to boldly go where no man has gone before So, you would think that being a member of the Intrepid's crew would be something of which to be proud in front of the anyone else in Space Fleet. However its latest crew member, Ensign Andrew Dahl, finds that the rest of the Intrepid crew live in a constant state of unease. They go out of their way to keep away from half a dozen of the ship's most senior officers. Never to be on the bridge especially in battle (something always explodes despite circuit breakers), and also in battle stay away from decks six through to twelve as they always get hit. Above all, avoid getting to take part on away team missions, as the odds are that one or more junior officers will die.
Ensign Andrew Dahl discovers that these guidelines are followed as much as possible by all the Intrepid's junior officers: officers whose uniform is characterised by red sweatshirts. For these redshirts following the guidelines is literally a matter of life and death. And then Andrew Dahl and his crewmates discover what is going on. The question then becomes one of whether they can rid the Intrepid of this apparent curse?
This is, as far as I am aware (and I may be in error), author John Scalzi's second humorous novel, his first being Android's Dream. Scalzi has an established SF portfolio that includes the hard SF, gung-ho, space opera Old Man's War that was in 2006 nominated for a Hugo. He also was a 'creative consultant' on the US sci fi show Stargate Universe and makes plain in Redshirts afterward that this novel is in no way based on that show. In fact as far as anyone who is aware of Anglophone sci fi if not SF of the past half century, Redshirts is clearly a nephritic take of another enterprising sci fi show but the author does not state which, probably due to legal reasons (you know what it is like in the US).
As an SF comedy Redshirts works rather well. This is not because Scalzi is a brilliant comedy writer Android's Dream demonstrated his (ahem) talent there but because in this case Redshirts humour rides alongside such a well known, late twentieth century dimension to SF synergistically. Furthermore without giving a spoiler Scalzi then goes on to subvert the form and does so in a hard SF way that it becomes nigh impossible for a seasoned fan not to raise a smile. In short, this novel is hugely entertaining.
Criticisms, well the novel ends on page 223, with the last quarter of the book being devoted to three codas. Entertaining as these are (and these do have interesting SFnal further explorations of possible consequences behind the novel's premise), none are worth more than five or six pages each. Having said that, do not let this put you off a story that contains bags of charm as it delightfully subverts science fiction's sci fi form. It really is rather fun.
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