John Scalzi,
(Tor, 2013)

In terms of labels, John Scalzi is one of those tricky authors. He is billed as a science-fiction writer, but he's not -- he's a comedy and action writer that uses sci-fi as his backdrop and setting. By no means should this make anyone question Scalzi's legitimacy to write science fiction -- he's got the hard science and pseudo-science chops, for sure. But they're only aspects of his stories -- Scalzi pushes characters and their motivations to the forefront of every story. That approach arguably makes him one of the most accessible science-fiction writers on the shelves.

In Redshirts, we are taken aboard the Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union, with Ensign Andrew Dahl and a ragtag assortment of friends and fellow crew members. Ensign Dahl notices odd behavior at times, especially when the captain or other senior officers are around. This behavior, coupled with a high mortality rate of low-ranking crew members, pushes Dahl to investigate just what is going on with Intrepid's crew.

The cliched follow-up to this would be: and hijinks ensue ... and they do, of a sorts.

Between action and comedy, Redshirts falls in the middle. It doesn't have the pulse-pounding adrenalized action of the Old Man's War books, yet it's still loaded with excitement. The sarcastic dialogue hits the right amount for a comedic tone, yet the use of humor is not nearly as heavy-handed/hamfisted as Agent to the Stars. Well, sometimes the use of humor, pacing of the dialogue and plot contrivances are groan-inducing, but they are supposed to be -- that's where the metatextual nature of this story comes to light. I refuse to spoil the hows and whys of this story going meta, but the manner and situation utilized avoids being seriously ludicrous (or ludicrously serious?) and completely works. This book does a fantastic job of blending the use of humor, especially in a metatextual manner, without removing investment in the characters.

Redshirts is a novel approach to the Star Trek/space crew theme and its portrayal. Scalzi could have made this a straight-up parody and still have told a story worth telling, but he doesn't seem satisfied with that. While the main part of the novel is an enjoyable blend of action and comedy, the three epilogues/codas infuse emotion and sincerity to the narrative. Scalzi uses the right amount of gravity and perspective to hit home the motivations of each character and why we should care that it happened. It's a very satisfying way to send the reader off.

book review by
C. Nathan Coyle

27 April 2013

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