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Customer Review

298 of 336 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A cute idea that struggles to sustain a novel, July 22, 2012
This review is from: Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas (Hugo Award Winner - Best Novel) (Hardcover)
"Redshirts" is founded on a fairly clever conceit. Anyone even vaguely familiar with the original "Star Trek" television series is surely aware of the disposable crew members who were slaughtered in sordid ways when the Enterprise visited strange, new worlds. They were frequently ranked "ensign" and clad in red shirts. In each episode, the viewer could reliably predict the fate of the "away team" members, often by shirt color alone. Scalzi affectionately lampoons this and various other conventions of the sci-fi television series.

In his novel, new crew members aboard the Universal Union flagship Intrepid recognize some alarming patterns, not the least of which is that those of their ilk don't tend to live long... or prosper (sorry!). They slowly discern that there's a "Narrative" dictating the outcomes of their missions. While the more senior crew members have adapted by avoiding recognition and staying off the proverbial radar, the new crew members decide to challenge the "Narrative".

While Star Trek provides fertile ground for this type of satirical treatment, there really isn't enough substance for a novel. The primary narrative of "Redshirts" is only 231 pages, but that's at least a third longer than necessary given the story. The plotting is uncomplicated and straightforward despite the metafictional elements which Scalzi, to his credit, took a bit farther than expected. Characterization, another good potential use of space, was nonexistent. This wasn't a clever metaphor on Scalzi's part (i.e., symbolic that "redshirts" aren't fully-fleshed out characters in the series) but because, rightly or wrongly, he chose to focus on the ideas underpinning the story instead of character-building. Additionally, the dialog was largely stilted and awkward, blatantly contrived to demonstrate Scalzi's sardonic, snarky wit. Practically every conversation was a succession of setups and one-liners. Admittedly, they could be funny, but the overall affect was ruined by the unnatural delivery. It was also distracting that each quotation ended with "he/she/[name] said". I tried to discern some clever motive for this but couldn't escape the conclusion it simply resulted from laziness.

After the overly long principle story is finished, three codas follow. They're short stories told in first, second, and third-person respectively concerning minor characters from "Redshirts" proper. In these short stories, Scalzi chooses to deal with some heavier themes. In fact, there are several powerfully written and affecting passages.

The first coda is similar in tone to the standard narrative. It takes a shotgun approach to humor and tries way too hard. It's occasionally funny, but the effort's too transparent. And, although it can be easily overlooked, the story doesn't logically flow from the earlier narrative. That said, it does provocatively assert the need for artistic integrity.

The final two codas are much more successful, the last near flawless. Given the light and jocular nature of the rest of the work, the emotional punch these stories deliver is all the more jarring. Eschewing humor entirely, the tone is much more serious as Scalzi considers life and its choices and obligations. In the final 26 pages of the book, he suddenly and unexpectedly humanizes the story, concluding the book on an exceptionally high note. While Scalzi deserves considerable credit for the final two codas, one can't ignore that the bulk of the work, though clever and moderately amusing, was mostly mediocre.
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Showing 1-10 of 27 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 2, 2012 1:17:24 AM PDT
Decent review.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 2, 2012 7:04:58 AM PDT
K. Sullivan says:
BIGFOOT - Thanks for the glowing praise! ;)

Posted on Aug 6, 2012 8:29:08 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 6, 2012 8:30:56 AM PDT
MJM says:
Basically I agree with everything the reviewer said. And the last coda was, as he pointed out, extremely well written with a great emotional ending.
However, I probably enjoyed the humor far more than this reviewer. I laughed loudly and often, and for me, it was what drove the first part of the book. It was an superb change of pace over most of the lengthy, heavy, and ponderous sci fi books that dominate the market.

Posted on Sep 6, 2012 9:45:37 PM PDT
Serai says:
"Away team"? You're clearly not that familiar with the original series if you're using that term. It was NEVER used then; it's a Next Generation term. The original series used the term "landing party".

/geek

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 7, 2012 5:16:52 AM PDT
K. Sullivan says:
Serai - Scalzi uses the expressions "away mission" and "away team" in the book, so can I deflect your criticism to him? ;)

I emphasize Scalzi's affectionate lampooning of the original series, but, in fairness, he's satirizing those that followed as well. He takes aim at the genre as a whole.

Posted on Dec 18, 2012 12:54:40 PM PST
I saw this book at the library where I work, and was tempted to pick it up (being a big sci-fi fan myself and, while not a huge Trekkie, being passably familiar with the material being satirized). Your review and others like it has prompted me to set it aside and direct my reading time elsewhere. Thank you.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 18, 2012 3:35:07 PM PST
K. Sullivan says:
Kenya - You're welcome and I hope whatever book you choose in its stead is well worth your time!

Posted on Dec 19, 2012 11:08:50 PM PST
BarryR says:
I'm not familiar with Star Trek nor other works by this writer. I liked the idea for the book but didn't find much humour in the telling.
One big problem for me was the author's constant use of: he said/she said. With other books under his belt, surely he knows how to avoid this. And I don't mean using whispered, shouted etc.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 20, 2012 5:25:53 AM PST
K. Sullivan says:
Barry - This was my first exposure to Scalzi's writing. I was impressed enough by the final two codas to resolve to sample another of his novels. I chose "Old Man's War" because it seemed the most universally praised. I thought that novel too was just okay. About halfway through I decided just to skim to the end. I suppose it's possible I may try another of his books somewhere down the road, but I have no present desire to do so.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 20, 2012 1:57:22 PM PST
BarryR says:
To K.S
Unfortunately, the codas didn't clarify the odd situation for me. I must admit, though, that by the time I read them, like you, I was reduced to skimming.
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