I wanted to like Redshirts by John Scalzi. I loved the redshirt themed satire. I enjoyed the campiness of the dialog when the Narrative took over. I enjoyed the cheek. I loved the last Coda—completely loved that last coda. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy the book overall.
The tone of the book was too jocular for me to worry about the characters. They never felt real or in real danger, which I suppose was the point in the end. After a few pages on the Intrepid, I was aware that the characters were part of a work of fiction. Maybe it wasn’t supposed to be a surprise, so I found the GIANT hint when the yeti warned Dahl about the Narrative a bit obvious and unnecessary.
I also felt the story skipped parts that Scalzi deemed unnecessary because he became more interested in the dialog and meta nature of the story after the first third of Redshirts. For example, the characters hatched a plan to go back in time to stop their own TV show, took off on their shuttle, then voilà! they were back in time with the turn of a page. There was no description of the trip into the black hole.
There was plenty of bad time travel material in that sequence to mine for laughs, never mind the need for continuity, but it felt as if Scalzi was in a hurry to get the story to 2012. Once they were there, I was treated to endless navel gazing. Suddenly, the story had become a melancholy and cautious event. It was as if Scalzi was afraid to do dangerous things with his characters. Hence, perhaps, the first Coda.
To find out that we were in a story in a story was something I already suspected because Dahl was the main character, but he was so much more interesting in the beginning of the book than the end. Perhaps this is what disappointed me much more than the copious f-bombs: the book didn’t live up to its promise.
I can write about tone inconsistencies and implausible dialog, but it could all play into the fact that the story was about a character who realized he was in a story playing a character who discovered he was in a story. That the characters’ lives were scripted was an interesting concept, but that didn’t mean it was entertaining to read. After the redshirts joke had been mined plentifully, there didn’t seem to be much spark left to the tale.
Fans of Scalzi may see the book differently. There were many funny moments in the book and a lot of witty dialog. In fact, the last Coda featured some delightful writing. It was sentimental without being maudlin. In the end I didn’t mind reading Redshirts, but I didn’t find it as praiseworthy as others have. The first part of the book and the last Coda elevated my rating to three stars, but overall I felt it was a bit of a dud.
Release Date: June 5, 2012 (USA)
ISBNs: 0765316994 (9780765316998)
Publisher: Tor Books
Alcohol/Drugs: 3 (social drinking, bars)
Language: 4 (course language, frequent f-bombs)
Sexuality: 2 (subject of conversations)
Violence: 3 (deaths, or were they just fictional?)