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“Gripping… A perfectly executed plot clicks its way to a stunningcourtroom showdown in a cathartic finish.” ―Publishers Weekly, starred review, on Fuzzy Nation
“In a genre flooded with bloated epics, it's a real pleasure toread a story like this, as compactly and directly told as a punchto the stomach.” ―Kirkus Reviews, starred review, on Fuzzy Nation
“If Stephen King were to try his hand at science fiction, he'd belucky to be half as entertaining as John Scalzi.” ―Dallas Morning News on The Ghost Brigades
“ Scalzi's captivating blend of offworld adventure and political intrigue remains consistently engaging. ” ―Booklist on The Last Colony--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Ensign Andrew Dahl looked out the window of Earth Dock, the Universal Union’s space station above the planet Earth, and gazed at his next ship.
He gazed at the Intrepid.
“Beautiful, isn’t she?” said a voice.
Dahl turned to see a young woman, dressed in a starship ensign’s uniform, also looking out toward the ship.
“She is,” Dahl agreed.
“The Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid,” the young woman said. “Built in 2453 at the Mars Dock. Flagship of the Universal Union since 2456. First captain, Genevieve Shan. Lucius Abernathy, captain since 2462.”
“Are you the Intrepid’s tour guide?” Dahl asked, smiling.
“Are you a tourist?” the young woman asked, smiling back.
“No,” Dahl said, and held out his hand. “Andrew Dahl. I’ve been assigned to the Intrepid. I’m just waiting on the 1500 shuttle.”
The young woman took his hand. “Maia Duvall,” she said. “Also assigned to the Intrepid. Also waiting on the 1500 shuttle.”
“What a coincidence,” Dahl said.
“If you want to call two Dub U Space Fleet members waiting in a Dub U space station for a shuttle to the Dub U spaceship parked right outside the shuttle berth window a coincidence, sure,” Duvall said.
“Well, when you put it that way,” Dahl said.
“Why are you here so early?” Duvall asked. “It’s only now noon. I thought I would be the first one waiting for the shuttle.”
“I’m excited,” Dahl said. “This will be my first posting.” Duvall looked him over, a question in her eyes. “I went to the Academy a few years late,” he said.
“Why was that?” Duvall asked.
“It’s a long story,” Dahl said.
“We have time,” Duvall said. “How about we get some lunch and you tell me.”
“Uh,” Dahl said. “I’m kind of waiting for someone. A friend of mine. Who’s also been assigned to the Intrepid.”
“The food court is right over there,” Duvall said, motioning to the bank of stalls across the walkway. “Just send him or her a text. And if he misses it, we can see him from there. Come on. I’ll spring for the drinks.”
“Oh, well, in that case,” Dahl said. “If I turned down a free drink, they’d kick me out of Space Fleet.”
* * *
“I was promised a long story,” Duvall said, after they had gotten their food and drinks.
“I made no such promise,” Dahl said.
“The promise was implied,” Duvall protested. “And besides, I bought you a drink. I own you. Entertain me, Ensign Dahl.”
“All right, fine,” Dahl said. “I entered the Academy late because for three years I was a seminary student.”
“Okay, that’s moderately interesting,” Duvall said.
“On Forshan,” Dahl said
“Okay, that’s intensely interesting,” Duvall said. “So you’re a priest of the Forshan religion? Which schism?”
“The leftward schism, and no, not a priest.”
“Couldn’t handle the celibacy?”
“Leftward priests aren’t required to be celibate,” Dahl said, “but considering I was the only human at the seminary, I had celibacy thrust upon me, if you will.”
“Some people wouldn’t have let that stop them,” Duvall said.
“You haven’t seen a Forshan seminary student up close,” Dahl said. “Also, I don’t swing xeno.”
“Maybe you just haven’t found the right xeno,” Duvall said.
“I prefer humans,” Dahl said. “Call me boring.”
“Boring,” Duvall said, teasingly.
“And you’ve just pried into my personal preferences in land speed record time,” Dahl said. “If you’re this forward with someone you just met, I can only imagine what you’re like with people you’ve known for a long time.”
“Oh, I’m not like this with everyone,” Duvall said. “But I can tell I like you already. Anyway. Not a priest.”
“No. My technical status is ‘Foreign Penitent,’” Dahl said. “I was allowed to do the full course of study and perform some rites, but there were some physical requirements I would not have been able to perform for full ordination.”
“Like what?” Duvall asked.
“Self-impregnation, for one,” Dahl said.
“A small but highly relevant detail,” Duvall said.
“And here you were all concerned about celibacy,” Dahl said, and swigged from his drink.
“If you were never going to become a priest, why did you go to the seminary?” Duvall asked.
“I found the Forshan religion very restful,” Dahl said. “When I was younger that appealed to me. My parents died when I was young and I had a small inheritance, so I took it, paid tutors to learn the language and then traveled to Forshan and found a seminary that would take me. I planned to stay forever.”
“But you didn’t,” Duvall said. “I mean, obviously.”
Dahl smiled. “Well. I found the Forshan religion restful. I found the Forshan religious war less so.”
“Ah,” Duvall said. “But how does one get from Forshan seminary student to Academy graduate?”
“When the Dub U came to mediate between the religious factions on Forshan, they needed an interpreter, and I was on planet,” Dahl said. “There aren’t a lot of humans who speak more than one dialect of Forshan. I know all four of the major ones.”
“Impressive,” Duvall said.
“I’m good with my tongue,” Dahl said.
“Now who’s being forward?” Duvall asked.
“After the Dub U mission failed, it advised that all non-natives leave the planet,” Dahl said. “The head Dub U negotiator said that the Space Fleet had need of linguists and scientists and recommended me for a slot at the Academy. By that time my seminary had been burned to the ground and I had nowhere to go, or any money to get there even if I had. The Academy seemed like the best exit strategy. Spent four years there studying xenobiology and linguistics. And here I am.”
“That’s a good story,” Duvall said, and tipped her bottle toward Dahl.
He clinked it with his own. “Thanks,” he said. “What about yours?”
“Far less interesting,” Duvall said.
“I doubt that,” Dahl said.
“No Academy for me,” Duvall said. “I enlisted as a grunt for the Dub U peacekeepers. Did that for a couple of years and then transferred over to Space Fleet three years ago. Was on the Nantes up until this transfer.”
“Promotion?” Dahl said.
Duvall smirked. “Not exactly,” she said. “It’s best to call it a transfer due to personnel conflicts.”
Before Dahl could dig further his phone buzzed. He took it out and read the text on it. “Goof,” he said, smiling.
“What is it?” Duvall asked.
“Hold on a second,” Dahl said, and turned in his seat to wave at a young man standing in the middle of the station walkway. “We’re over here, Jimmy,” Dahl said. The young man grinned, waved back and headed over.
“The friend you’re waiting on, I presume,” Duvall said.
“That would be him,” Dahl said. “Jimmy Hanson.”
“Jimmy Hanson?” Duvall said. “Not related to James Hanson, CEO and chairman of Hanson Industries, surely.”
“James Albert Hanson the Fourth,” Dahl said. “His son.”
“Must be nice,” Duvall said.
“He could buy this space station with his allowance,” Dahl said. “But he’s not like that.”
“What do you mean?” Duvall said.
“Hey, guys,” Hanson said, finally making his way to the table. He looked at Duvall, and held out his hand. “Hi, I’m Jimmy.”
“Maia,” Duvall said, extending her hand. They shook.
“So, you’re a friend of Andy’s, right?” Hanson said.
“I am,” Duvall said. “He and I go way back. All of a half hour.”
“Great,” Hanson said, and smiled. “He and I go back slightly farther.”
“I would hope so,” Duvall said.
“I’m going to get myself something to drink,” Hanson said. “You guys want anything? Want me to get you another round?”
“I’m fine,” Dahl said.
“I could go for another,” Duvall said, waggling her nearly empty bottle.
“One of the same?” Hanson asked.
“Sure,” Duvall said.
“Great,” Hanson said, and clapped his hands together. “So, I’ll be right back. Keep this chair for me?”
“You got it,” Dahl said. Hanson wandered off in search of food and drink.
“He seems nice,” Duvall said.
“He is,” Dahl said.
“Not hugely full of personality,” Duvall said.
“He has other qualities,” Dahl said.
“Like paying for drinks,” Duvall said.
“Well, yes, but that’s not what I was thinking of,” Dahl said.
“You mind if I ask you a personal question?” Duvall said.
“Seeing as we’ve already covered my sexual preferences in this conversation, no,” Dahl said.
“Were you friends with Jimmy before you knew his dad could buy an entire planet or two?...
- Publication Date : June 5, 2012
- File Size : 890 KB
- Publisher : Tor Books; First Edition (June 5, 2012)
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print Length : 316 pages
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Language: : English
- Screen Reader : Supported
- ASIN : B0079XPUOW
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #26,118 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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If that isn't meta enough for you, the later sections of the book only take this to excess. This book was published by Tor. Will Scalzi mention the anonymous browsing network Tor in his books by Tor? You bet he does. It's that kind of book.
It should have been a good match for me, since I enjoy Scalzi, heady SF, and Star Trek (which is not so heady SF)... but it was an uneven read and I can see how the bad can easily outweigh the good for some.
By way of clarification I should first retract "bad". Redshirts is not bad, not even parts of Redshirts is bad. Scalzi spends the entirety of Coda I expressing the difference between good, bad and just uninspired, which I partially agree with, but which unfortunately is an awkward meta conversation to have in a book that has some of the same issues it brings up. Bad is the show the characters are in. A large part of Redshirts is just uninspired.
Many of the other 3-star reviews here have got it right. If the book consists of a main novel with three acts, followed by three extended codas (really just connected short stories), and if I were appraising these each separately, I would have to put it like this: First act is great, everything working together from humor to tempo. Second act, really pretty competant, but not satisfying, if only because it is here that you see everything that is going to happen in the last third of the book and how that's going to resolve, and that is the weakest section of the entire thing (including the last three stories). The pacing is perfect in the first part, drags in the second, and is rushed in the third. Even the humor seems to work better in the beginning than the end. The only thing that's constant is the quality of the dialogue. It is a quick read, though. If you enjoyed at least the first part, you'll likely finish it in a single sitting.
The codas are even more uneven, but the most problematic thing about them is each follows characters introduced in the last third of the book, some of them only having a couple of lines. It is awkward for characters like that to each have their own short story - and really these are all the codas of their stories. It isn't "a novel with three codas" as in codas to the novel, the codas are caps on the ends of three individual but interconnected stories whose first parts are either present in the novel proper or merely inferred.
Coda I is separate from the others because it doesn't exist to give us closure or detail about its principal character. It exists to discuss the bad name SF has acquired for itself in television over the last fifty years or so. It is an especially unfortunate problem to have since we live in an age where smarter, tighter audiences are starting to go looking to television for quality and films and books are becoming broader and dumber (something I believe is equal fault viewers, exec groupthink, and because challenging scripts play poorly when subbed in Southeast Asia, but that's getting off the point). In fact all of Coda I is off the point, other than being conceived as a humor piece, and I really think should have been omitted. It is neither the complex discussion it should have been about where SF is going and why, nor does it give us anything useful or new about its principal character. I would have been much happier if Scalzi had left the character out of it and written an updated multimedia counterpart to Michael Swanwick's A User's Guide to the Postmoderns. Definitely the most 'meta' of the sections (yes, I use Scrivener, too, man, probably shouldn't have compiled this part).
Coda II was my least favorite. It has nothing much to say, and what it does have to say I really don't think is worth saying. In keeping with the meta-theme, Coda II actually tells you it has nothing to say that you haven't already heard from overbearing relatives, in almost those words, no less.
The plot of Coda III, which has the most minor character in the entire book as its subject, is the most nonsensical and belief-unsuspending section, and this beats out even a fictional unvierse co-existing with a fictional universe co-existing with a 'real'-er one, flying a ship into a black hole, wishing bits of a narrative into place, and living like a yeti in a tunnel for years with a portable potty as your only friend. The end wraps up nicely. It is a bittersweet, satisfying conclusion that makes you go "Awww." But the character's motivation to do any of the things she does still makes zero sense to me.
This book is so short, that it's honestly still a fine introduction to the author. The central idea and novel proper work well enough that I don't see how it will really turn anyone away who would be interested in his more well-received titles.
If you’re going to read one story by John Scalzi, I recommend you read Old Man’s War (2005). It’s one of my top five favorite military science fiction adventure stories. The story is told first person, past tense, from protagonist John Perry’s point of view. I’ve read a handful of Scalzi’s other books like Fuzzy Nation, Lock In, The Human Division, and The End of All Things. All of them were good, entertaining, but they didn’t knock my socks off like Old Man’s War did.
Starship Troopers (1959) (not like the movie) by Robert A. Heinlein is the book that got me started in sci-fi adventures, and has remained one of my top five favorite military science fiction adventure stories for decades. The Forever War (1974) by Joe Haldeman, Armor (1984) by John Steakley, and Ender’s Game (1985) by Orson Scott Card, round out my top five military sci-fi adventure stories.
If you like any of the above you might also like Jack Campbell’s The Lost Fleet series, Taylor Anderson’s Destroyermen series, Andre Norton’s Star Soldiers, Andy Weir’s The Martian, or Frank Herbert’s Dune. Other sci-fi and fantasy authors I like include Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, Paolo Bacigalupi, Arthur C. Clarke, Earnest Cline, Suzanne Collins, Abe Evergreen, Terry Goodkind, Hugh Howey, Robert Jordan, George Martin, Larry Niven, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Other reviewers go into depth about the plot and premise, so I'll just focus on how this book made me feel.
To put this in another context, I love comedy movies of all types except slapstick/stupidity. This book is the latter, which means I think the agreeable audience (those who read fiction *and* like slapstick/stupidity) is quite small.
IMO, this is a "burner" book. You take it on vacation, burn through it at the beach/pool while having (many) drinks, and leave it behind. There's no depth and the plot lines and dialogue are weak, so being tipsy makes it tolerable. Unfortunately for me, I didn't read this at the pool/beach. If I had found it in a take-one/give-one library and not known the author, I would have stopped reading when it went fully ridiculous, which is somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 of the way in, depending on your tolerance for nonsense. Don't hope it will get better and plow through; it gets worse.
So, I'll keep reading Scalzi, but I'll be a lot more suspect about the other books from him I read.
Top reviews from other countries
“Every battle is designed for maximum drama... This is what happens when the Narrative takes over. Things quit making sense. The laws of physics take a coffee break. People stop thinking logically and start thinking dramatically.”
Now this whole idea of a future powered by a Star Trek rip off, might seem extremely unlikely. But before we get too dismissive, let’s remember the past, where leaders and politicians, in the interests of a heroic narrative, have often sent rationality on repeated and lengthy coffee breaks. Much of what we know as history is less a succession of facts, more a narrative designed to support political considerations of the present day. Just a few examples - Hitler made up stories of persecuted German minorities to get World War 2 going. Churchill, in retaliation spun a stirring tale in which 1940s Britain, a dour place, short of money, remains a superpower where Henry V is continually winning the Battle of Agincourt. And as of late 2019, a prime minister carries on with Churchill’s narrative, which makes him look like a strong leader, at the cost of creating destructive trouble and drama in our relationship with Europe where none need exist. Looking at the past and present we see storytelling impinging on real life all the time. There is no reason to think that the future will be any different.
So the idea of Redshirts does have its own veracity. It might be unlikely that present day television could directly influence events hundreds of years hence, or that characters could freak out their LA screenwriters by taking on a life of their own, but reality and drama do exist in an odd relationship. The stories which people find compelling might be corny, unlikely, over sentimental and confusing, qualities which all apply to Redshirts at times, but they are still powerful enough to frequently win out over mere facts.
In summary, this is an ambitious book, looking at the various ways fiction and real life collide. It is generally written in an attractive, humorous style, although there is a strange approach to dialogue. There are dialogue tags - as in, Dahl said, Duvall said - after virtually every line of speech which makes for a stilted feel. Also, given that the novel’s characters are causing their author a bit of a breakdown by taking on a life of their own, some of them are not clearly drawn. They all tend to communicate in the same quippy style, which sometimes makes it hard to tell one from another. But apart from these reservations, I would recommend Redshirts as an interesting and amusing meditation on fiction.
You will probably get more out of this book if you are familiar with original series Star Trek. But anyone who picks it up probably will be, so that shouldn't be a problem.
The book runs for three hundred and six pages. It has a prologue. Twenty four chapters. And then three long codas to finish it off.
It does contain some strong language and adult references.
Main character is Ensign Andrew Dahl. Just assigned to the starship Intrepid. The best ship in the fleet. Seemingly the best posting. But one where strange things happen. Every away mission, a low ranked crew member dies. The senior officers always survive. And strange solutions can be found to scientific dilemmas.
Andrew might be done for. But then comes up with a plan....
The prologue is a pitch perfect parody/pastiche of Star Trek, getting laughs out of a perfectly created Star Trek style scene, playing that just right but picking at it at the same time.
The main narrative starts after that. The prose is short and sweet, and there are a few characters to get used to quickly. But it sweeps you along, occasionally coming back to the style of the opening but steadily developing it's plot as it goes. And getting the occasional laugh out of that.
That kind of parody pastiche can only go so far, before needing something more to keep things going. And the plot does then develop very nicely about a third of the way in, moving the story up to a different level.
What happens is an idea that is a tiny bit familiar. But the story still keeps you interested. And comedy does still come along, well done out of character interaction.
All this time though it is playing with some very big philosphical questions, and making the reader think about them as it goes.
All of which leads to a satisfactory conclusion. In a book that's only as long as it needs to be. Which is nice to see, in these days of long series and trilogies.
The familiarity of that second half does stop this from going up to five stars. But then along come the three codas. Which wrap things up for certain characters. These are superb. Really well written. Really thought provoking, and very good character drama with it. They have a power that the second half of the main narrative slightly lacks.
Perhaps 4.5/5 is the best rating to give. Ultimately there is a lot to like in here, and it's a very good read. So it's well worth a look.