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An uneasy marriage of novel and coda.,
This review is from: Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas (Hugo Award Winner - Best Novel) (Hardcover)
John Scalzi's "Redshirts" is two approaches to the same meta-concept uneasily grafted together. The first is a breezy, slight, but often fun screwball comedy about the titular characters, who discover that their coveted jobs on the flagship for the Federation,... er, Universal Union are in actuality just cannon-fodder sacrifices on a cheesy 21st century television program. As I said, it is slight, and the characters are cookie-cutter, perhaps intentionally, given their true nature, but there are many clever moments, especially late in the story where the characters take the initiative to change their lot in life. After the novel proper, there are three codas, taking characters we meet very late in the "novel." (SPOILER ALERT: They are all people from the present day, and all involved with the TV show that is killing off the redshirts). These stories are unexpectedly moving, and take the loose ends cast aside frivolously in the novel proper to more cathartic, and occasionally philosophical ends. It was a nice surprise after the early hijinks, but I couldn't help feeling that I much rather would have seen these stories play out at novel length, more than the stories of the redshirts.
These two approaches to the material sit side by side, and I understand and appreciate Scalzi's commitment to both the pulpier first part and the more literary second, but something about it doesn't quite work for me. The revelatory moments in the codas feel like afterthoughts, and unearned. Possibly an approach similar to David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas," which mixed up styles, eras, and characters, and split them into intermingled chapters, and created a structure that made sense of it all. Or Tom Stoppard's play "Arcadia," which ends up playing past and present simultaneously, might have made an interesting approach. As it is, it feels too much like John Scalzi had the original story, then thought about a few repercussions, fleshed them out a bit, and stopped there. A little more work, and he might have had a tale to rival the above mentioned works. Some stories don't know when to quit, but I think "Redshirts" maybe quit a little too fast in the process.