I'm a recent introduction to the mind of John Scalzi, one of modern sic-fi's masters. His Old Man's War series was successful, I think, in that it served as an easy "gateway" series to newcomers of the science fiction genre. Whereas most sci-fi series are for hardcore fans who fancy themselves "experts" in all things technology and xenobiology, Scalzi takes a light-hearted approach. His characters never take themselves or the world around them too seriously. There's a lot of friendly banter and comical monologuing, not to mention the occasional swear word or two to add shock value.
In Redshirts, Scalzi creates a parody of that legendary TV show..you know, the one with the captain and the ear-lobed guy, and the ship that went all over the universe to explore new worlds, seek out new lifeforms and new civilizations...to boldly go where no man has.....
Oh wait, this isn't that story.
It's about the crew of the Intrepid. Namely, Andy Dahl, a new ensign aboard the flagship of the Universal Union who quickly discovers that not all is well within the corridors of the ship. He and his fellows are quickly introduced to the dangerous life of a "redshirt"--think interns with a very short life expectancy, who almost always die on away missions with the ship's five principal characters. There are several analogues to characters in that famous tv series I mentioned earlier, but the real stars of the show are of course the redshirts. Andy and his friends survive numerous near-death, and pointlessly dangerous missions before taking action against the sinister "Narrative" which threatens to kill them off one bloody redshirt at a time.
Much of the satirical writing from Old Man's War appears here. I easily fell into the rhythm of the story, recognizing much of John Perry in Andy Dahl. Though I have to say I was expecting something a bit different. The big reveal about what's killing the crew was kind of a downer for me. I was kind of hoping to see the redshirts rise up against their apathetic commanders, throwing off the shackles of canon fodder and stepping up to become the heroes. The time travel trope makes a big entrance here, and while I appreciate its use in the plot, it's not all I expected it to be.
Still, it was a fun trip into AU territory. Redshirts is another great gateway novel for those who never read sci-fi or are want to get into it. Welcome aboard the Intrepid, but pay no attention to the Box.