Customer Reviews: Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas
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VINE VOICEon July 22, 2012
"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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on June 14, 2012
John Scalzi has some great stories, but Redshirts is not one of them. When I heard about Redshirts last year, I was very psyched. A typical Scalzi novel is filled with wit and humor and given the premise, Redshirts sounded like it was going to be full of that and so much more, while potentially delivering a fascinating story. Instead, we are treated to a curse laden short story that got stretched into a novel, and because it was still short and lacked depth, had three afterthoughts attached. What does it say when the codas contain more character depth than the novel itself? Sad, but true.

A Scalzi protagonist is typically consistent between his novels: pun master, sarcastic, stubborn, and usually acts on behalf of the greater good. With Redshirts, all major characters felt like they were the same person because they all acted the same. Despite the novel's short length and that I read it in two days, I found myself getting confused with some of the main characters, not only because they all acted the same, but also because several names started with the same letter. Some disparity would have been appreciated.

I really had high hopes, and while Redshirts is a very quick and easy read, ultimately it is only mildly amusing. It does not feel like Scalzi put as much focus as he has with his other novels. Redshirts is a respectful nod to Star Trek, but it constantly separated itself from any Star Trek kind of atmosphere with the often unnecessary and excessive swearing. Despite that, I welcomed the absurdity of the story's twist, which handily added to the attempted humor of the story, but it is still that same story that ultimately fails to deliver. Compared to Scalzi's other works, it is pretty easy to recognize why Redshirts falls short with the story, characters and humor.
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on July 5, 2015
This story is not worth reading. It won a Hugo, I think. I would fact check that guess, but I don't want to waste the ten seconds it would take to find out. If it did earn that award, I can't fathom what the judges were thinking. Anyway, here it is in brief - there were lots of characters and all of them were flat. Part of the problem is that Scalzi focused on dialogue in this book. It's impossible to develop characters when you attempt to flesh them out with nothing but dialogue. Maybe he didn't care. Maybe he overused dialogue because it's a cheap, quick way to push a story along. Whatever the case, the characters, quite aside from overstaffing this tale and never shutting up, are insubstantial and not worth knowing. One other significant problem - metafiction. The story ends abruptly en media res and abruptly transits to an egregious foray into stream-of-consciousness metafiction. Gad. Hate to give such an unhappy review for this author as I liked his Old Man's War stories. With this one, however, he appears to have run out of steam.
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on October 21, 2012
Redshirts by John Scalzi tells the story of the support crew onboard the Universal Union Capital Ship, Intrepid, and all the perils they face on a daily basis. I've been sitting on this review for a while, partly because I've not had much time to write but mostly because it has taken me a long time to come up with the right words for it. I'm a relative newcomer to Scalzi, having heard lots about him and his various sci-fi works but having never sat down and read anything of his until Redshirts. My first impression - if his other work is anywhere near as good as Redshirts then I can see myself devouring the rest of his bibliography in no time at all.

The story follows Ensign Andrew Dahl, newly assigned as a junior scientist onboard the Intrepid, complete with red shirt. Almost immediately he notices something strange - the support crew are very good at hiding, the away missions have an obscene amount of fatalities, and the officers always seemed to survive the most horrific of injuries and are back up within days ready to face the next away mission. Dahl is determined to find out what is going wrong on this ship, before the next away mission becomes his last. This is a book that exploits the concept of the Redshirt, that guy on the away team in Star Trek that you knew was going to die because he was wearing a red shirt. It pokes fun at all those 70′s - 90′s sci-fi TV shows in a number of overt and subtle ways. Decks six through ten always suffer from explosive decompression during a fire fight, consoles on the bridge blow up in a shower of sparks every time the ship is hit by an energy weapon, you know, the little things that make sci-fi TV unique. Redshirts is a book that feels more like a tribute than a parody - I found the whole story heartwarming, and never condescending. There are a couple of problems with the story, the first being that the whole story feels like a running gag and by the end you are just looking for the next punchline. The other is that the entire story feels like an in-joke, and I feel like anyone who hasn't ever watched those 70′s - 90′s sci-fi TV shows will be excluded from enjoying the majority of the story.

Looking at the characters, it is very easy to dismiss them at first as being cardboard cut-outs. The nature of this story is to look at the Redshirt concept, so every main character plays a stereotypical Redshirt who is trying to avoid their likely fate of either dying on an away mission or on deck six. There isn't a great deal of depth or complexity to these characters, but this has been done deliberately, fits within the context of the story, and has been executed perfectly. For those who love their characters, it will mean the book is less than accessible for about the first 30%, but once you get to the first major plot twist it all makes sense with the characters taking on extra layers of complexity because of the bounds by which they personalities have been artificially confined. That said, despite these characters being perfect for the story Scalzi wanted to tell, they are just lacking, and to be honest I can't remember any of the Redshirt's names except for Ensign Dahl and Jenkins!

The writing style for this whole story feels like a script, which again fits in with the context of the story. This can be jarring to read during the early chapters, especially during some of the rapid-fire dialogue that goes on between the characters. Almost every line of dialogue is followed by `said Dahl' or `said Jenkins' or `said...' for whichever character just spoke. As I said, just like a script / screenplay. I'm not sure if this is typical of Scalzi's writing, or if he just wrote it that way because it made sense to the story, but once you start to realize what is going on the narrative style almost becomes a character itself and I found myself laughing a few times at the way the scene was written, not just how funny the content of the scene was. After the completion of the main story, there are three `Coda's' that act almost like short stories set within the same world. Each one is written with a different point of view style - the first is written in first person, the second is written in second person, and the third (my favourite) is written in third person. All three Coda's have a completely different voice and style but they all work perfectly and help to bring this story to a fitting conclusion.

Redshirts is a book where your mileage will vary based on how familiar you are with sci-fi. I also picked up a copy of the audio book (read by Wil Wheaton, and in my opinion the best way to consume this story) so my wife and I could listen together during a long trip, and we were both in stitches the whole way. But when I played it for a friend they were less than impressed, especially since they just didn't understand a lot of the set-up material or the punchlines. Redshirts gets a 9.0 from me, but I completely understand if you cant get into it and don't like it.
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on October 12, 2012
Interesting but not engaging

Facile but not funny.

I heard John Scalzi read an excerpt from this book, at Worldcon, before it was published. I have read 7 previous novels by John Scalzi and I loved 6 of them and liked the 7th. His reading at Worldcon sounded like it had potential, so frankly, I was hoping for more. But now that I have read the novel, it seems to me, that he got off on the wrong foot starting with the 'Prologue,' which really had no good reason for existing, and then he remained entirely too cerebral and 'conscious' through the rest of the book. Darn it. He is known for his characters, but it turned out that his characters were mostly flat, and the most engrossing part for me was actually found in 2 of the 3 Codas added to the end of the book. Yet even these would actually have been better done if they had been woven into the rest of the novel.

This book is one of those 'fun' ideas that people come up with, that would have been better off left alone. It has been done before, and done better, in both written and video form. It is the stuff of comedians, "You, unnamed crewman, look behind that rock." There was some mildly entertaining existential content and a perhaps more interesting hint at an extension of the concept of the Anthropomorphic Universe, but that part wasn't really pursued.

All in all, I felt that this book was mostly a waste of my time, and I NEVER thought I would say that about a John Scalzi book. Now that it is over, I wish he had skipped it and gone on to its sequel. Now THAT would probably have been an enthralling book. I look forward to it, alas, probably in vain.

ADDENDUM: Reading some of the other reviews, I note that some people like the 'Codas' but others don't. Personally, I think that the first Coda of the 3 was really very poor, and totally uninteresting. The other two were much more interesting and meaningful to me, and I do recommend them, but, as I suggested above, if the Codas are really of value, then they should have been written into the novel itself. And if they are not of sufficient value, then they should have been left out. It makes me wonder whether John Scalzi is just getting lazy, or if he was trying out (and failing at) some experimental technique in this book.
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on February 26, 2015
I liked the vague idea I had of what this book was about.

I LOVED the actual book far, far more!

A group of new recruits to the starship Intrepid come to the alarming conclusion that they are characters on a science fiction television show. A bad scifi show. And they're, at best, bit characters. Every mission they go on, they risk death, and every moment on the ship, the Narrative could take over, pulling them into conflict or--awkwardly--romance. There's only one thing they can do: travel to the world of their creators and TELL THEM TO STOP KILLING EVERYONE, GOSH!

Scalzi is quickly growing to become one of my favorite writers. I believe I'll be picking up his whole collection as the years go on.
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on August 14, 2012
Set on a bad 21st century rip-off of Star Trek, the young ensigns aboard the starship Intrepid discover that their ship has an astonishing turnover of junior officers. They soon set out to investigate why so many of their shipmates are destined to die, while the senior officers (and one dashing young lieutenant) survive unscathed. The answer leads to a breaching of the fourth wall and a quest that draws its cues from a certain Star Trek cliche that I won't reveal here.

There were two ways John Scalzi's Redshirts could have gone: 1) it could have been a brilliant and clever deconstruction of the plot contrivances of Star Trek; 2) it could have been a one-note satire, too smug and self-satisfied for its own good. Unfortunately, Redshirts takes path #2.

I really wanted to like the novel (and three codas) -- in the hands of a stronger writer, this idea could have become a multilayered satire, but Scalzi is unfortunately not up to the task. Instead, the Star Trek jokes are obvious, and the pseudo-Trek universe of the Intrepid is significantly less inspired than the film Galaxy Quest, to which the novel has more than a passing similarity. Unlike Galaxy Quest, which was a loving send-up of Star Trek (and indeed is more entertaining than the Next Generation films), Redshirts seems at times to have a smug contempt for the source material. It focuses on the bad science and plot problems of Trek, rather than the sociopolitical commentary and iconic characters that made Trek great.

In many ways, Redshirts feels like something Scalzi wrote for fun and never intended to publish. It lacks the creative heft of much of his other work and is probably not worth purchasing at full price. It's not terrible, but it's not worth the brief amount of time it takes to read it.
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on October 14, 2012
Redshirts is a story about other stories. It's a humorous framing of the question asked by every TV drama viewer (in this case, every Trekkie) at some point in his life when a character does something insanely foolish and gets killed for it: "Why would they *do* that?" Andy Dahl is a young ensign assigned to the flagship exploratory craft of the interstellar galactic alliance (or whatever it's called). His initial excitement turns to paranoia when he discovers that, with the exception of a few executive bridge officers, no-one who goes on an away mission survives for long: other young ensigns are regularly exploded by terrorists, eaten by horrible monsters, chopped to bits by alien warriors, or turned into goo by some interstellar pandemic. He's been tapped to go on away missions, and he and his friends are quickly possessed with finding a way to escape what seems to be certain doom and to understand how it has been happening for all these years.

Great premise, isn't it? I thought so. I thought enough of the premise (and the awards that Scalzi had won) to buy the book - in fact, to pre-order it. More fool me. This book disappointed on every level. The plot is deeply unsatisfying. That whole great setup? Want to know what's really going on? Here it is (SPOILER!):

... the lives of the main characters are being controlled by the writers of a Star Trek knock-off TV series that was popular a thousand years before the characters lived. In order to prevent their horrible deaths, the characters travel back in time and negotiate with the writers and producers.

I guess it could have been funnier in its execution (a la Stranger than Fiction), but it wasn't. I smirked a time or two while reading the book, but that's it. And it definitely wasn't funny enough (in fact, I don't think it could possibly have been funny enough) to offset the constant cursing and filthy talk that continues to build throughout the book. It's hardly what I expected from a Star Trek send-up, working as it does off of family entertainment. Not funny. Not interesting. Not recommended for anyone.
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on March 29, 2013
"Redshirts" was an attempt to parody an old television show that was already almost a parody of itself. The premise is not hefty enough to make it worth reading and John Scalzi's normally excellent dialogue, which is the main reason I read his books, seems forced here. I deleted it from my Kindle about 1/3 of the way through.
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on May 26, 2013
I was looking forward to this book and came away very disappointed . If you made a drinking game out of every time a line ended with "Dahl said" you would pass out in the first few chapters. I hardly ever critique grammar or sentence structure, but the sheer laziness of the overuse of the same words over and over grated on my nerves and kept me from becomming immersed in the story. No big loss though, because the story was lame. This book was such a great idea but the execution was underwhelming. I felt like I was reading a high school writing class assignment. No character depth. No investment. And the audiobook version was even worse with Wil Wheaton's cheesy delivery. As the voice of this character, he just emphasizes the problems and sounds annoying. Irritatingly overpriced even after reduced to $8. the irritation over the price was of course after reading.

One of my favorite authors, Rothfuss (a witty genius), reviewed this book as one of the funniest he had ever read. After reading the book, I have to conclude he was amused at the attempt rather than the intended humor.
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