Book review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

Published: June 2012

Where I got it: started reading it on my lunch at work and then had to take it home. You know how it is.

As geeks, we sometimes take our fandoms too seriously. That said, we are also quite capable of making fun of our obsessions. John Scalzi, a master of witty dialogue, does exactly that in his latest novel, Redshirts. It is a bona fide feast of geekery, starting from the title itself and ending with coda number three (it made Wil Wheaton cry, according to The New York Times. May I say this again: THE NEW YORK TIMES, which usually shuns genre like it’s an alien plague, had a piece on John Scalzi and Redshirts?).

Scalzi is obviously not the first person to think of a story told from the point of view of expendable little guys whose only purpose is to die in the name of drama (see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead). Quoting from the novel itself, ‘So same concept, different spin’. He does it quite well, however — it’s a great story full of narratives within narratives and (intentionally) terrible science that will either make you laugh or make you nostalgic (admit it, you are on Netflix now, adding all of TNG to your queue). It is more than just a satire — there are some emotional moments and forays into ideas about the nature of reality and existence.

And yet it is not my favorite Scalzi book, and I wouldn’t say it’s his best. First, I am not sure how much bang for your buck you’d get if you have never seen Star Trek or deeply don’t care about that particular part of geekdom. Second, while at times it is indeed hilarious and brilliant, at other times it just feels padded and even a bit dull. The problem, of course, is this — take out some parts and the book becomes a novella, which I don’t think was the goal here. It has three codas and, while I understand the reason for their existence, I think they are all too long. They also, in my opinion, wrap up everything too well. My feeling is that this particular book would have benefited from leaving some threads untied and some things unsaid.

I’ll give it 3 out 5 phasers set to stun. It did entertain me quite a bit, but I would have preferred a tighter book.



  1. I’m excited to read this one. I’ve had a copy since June, but was a bit worried that I wouldn’t get all the Star Trek references so I didn’t read it immediately. However, over the past month or so I’ve been watching an inordinate amount of Star Trek after discovering that it’s on Netflix and that it’s awesome, so I think it might be time to read it now.

    1. I am actually not a hardcore Trekkie myself, so I think it works even if you haven’t seen all the episodes in the world. I saw the original series, and now I’m still watching TNG and DS9 on Netflix when I feel like it.

  2. Well, that just knocked my interest down a few pegs. I’ve never watched Star Trek, and not particularly interested in it, especially these days when it’s a struggle for me to watch any TV. Great review, though!

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