Saturday, May 20, 2017

REVIEW: Redshirts (book) by John Scalzi

Redshirts is science fiction. My review includes a few slight spoilers, but they start off with a warning so they should be skippable. If you're worried, I'd suggest reading this review on Booklikes, Goodreads, or LibraryThing, where I'm able to use spoiler tags.

Review:

Redshirts stars Ensign Andrew Dahl, newly assigned to the starship Intrepid. It doesn’t take long for him to notice that something weird is going on. Everyone reacts strangely to any mention of away missions, and the Intrepid’s crew has a much higher than normal mortality rate. In an effort to avoid a dramatic and untimely death, Dahl works together with several other new crew members and discovers things that seem too impossible and bizarre to be true.

I went into this book expecting it to be a combination black comedy and Star Trek parody. It started off that way, but then it morphed into something that packed more of an emotional punch than I expected.

This is the third book by Scalzi that I’ve read, and I think it’s the best of the bunch. The premise was interesting and fun, even though the characters themselves admitted it wasn’t terribly original. As with Scalzi’s other books, I felt that the characterization was very thin - I kept forgetting who certain characters were and had to flip back to their introductions for reminders - but even if I had trouble caring about them as individuals I was still riveted by their situation. Was a solution even possible? I couldn’t stop reading because I just had to find out.

I spent most of this book approaching it like a weird adventure, which is part of the reason why the “ending” threw me off so much. My copy of the book was 317 pages long, and the story’s apparent ending happened on page 230. Honestly, readers could technically stop at that point. It’d leave a few questions unanswered, but the result would be an okay sci-fi adventure with a reasonably happy ending. (The brief fake-out pissed me off. I wish Scalzi hadn’t done that - it was upsetting and annoying.)

I vaguely remembered hearing about the Three Codas but, since I’d read reviews ages ago and hadn’t bothered to look any up prior to starting the book, they still took me by surprise. They dug a bit deeper into characters I hadn’t expected Scalzi to spend much time on, and answered a few questions I had thought Scalzi would avoid dealing with. Then again, I’d also thought he’d avoid any direct mention of Star Trek and the Enterprise, and I was wrong about that too.

I can’t say too much about the codas without including major spoilers, so please excuse the vagueness from here on out. I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about them. I enjoyed them, I think, but aspects of them also annoyed me. The first one was my favorite, because it answered one of the questions that had been foremost in my mind. The answer the character arrived at in order to keep functioning and moving forward didn’t quite work for me, but it was better than “he quit” or “these discoveries had zero effect on his emotions or behavior.”

All three of the codas had some amount of emotional manipulation in common, but the second and third codas were the most obvious about it. I was relatively okay with the second one, because it at least gave me a peek at how one aspect of the big plan had worked out. The third one struck me as being more forced. This woman had a complete stranger show up on her doorstep, give her something that was either highly creepy (if she viewed it as coming from a deeply obsessed fan) or impossible (if she believed it), and then leave without an explanation. She handled it all way better than I felt was believable.

One thing in particular that bugged me about the second and third codas (and here I get into “unavoidable spoilers” territory): the way they emphasized that the connection between the characters and their actors went deeper than surface level. I don’t have the words to fully explain why it bugged me, but the idea that the characters and their actors were essentially the same person didn’t sit well with me.

All in all, I liked this book a lot more than I had expected I would. Although I’ve seen quite a bit of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Voyager, and Deep Space Nine, I don’t consider myself to be a Trekkie and was worried that that would impede my ability to enjoy this book. Happily, that wasn’t the case.

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