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Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas Paperback – January 15, 2013
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“John Scalzi sets his imagination to STUN and scores a direct hit. Read on and prosper.” ―Joe Hill, New York Times bestselling author of Heart-Shaped Box
“I can honestly say I can't think of another book that ever made me laugh this much. Ever.” ―Patrick Rothfuss, New York Times bestselling author of The Name of the Wind
“Scalzi takes apart the whole Star Trek universe and puts it back together far more plausibly--and a lot funnier too.” ―Lev Grossman, New York Times bestselling author of The Magicians
“A real joy to read… It's hard to imagine a reader who wouldn't enjoy this one.” ―Booklist, starred review
About the Author
- Publisher : Tor Books; First edition (January 15, 2013)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0765334798
- ISBN-13 : 978-0765334794
- Item Weight : 9.3 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.88 x 8.17 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #67,833 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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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.