I recently finished reading Redshirts, by John Scalzi. It’s actually the first Scalzi I’ve read, but I kept hearing how good he is. As a Star Trek fan, the premise of Redshirts just seemed too good to pass up, so it seemed like the perfect place to start.
Redshirts is the story of those nameless crew members on a spaceship who, on away missions down to planets or space stations, die. It’s a parody of this phenomenon that happened a lot in Star Trek – especially the original series. It’s also a much larger meta tale, but I can get into that more below…
The long and short of it is, I’m glad I read this! Is it the best parody of Star Trek ever? No, Galaxy Quest still takes that cake. Is its commentary on lazy storytelling biting and awesome? Yes, yes it is. Hidden in this story about the hapless, no-name characters doomed to die to add a bit of drama to a scene is a commentary on how relying heavily on this trope is not good storytelling, is not fair to your characters or your audience. You should have to earn character deaths, make those characters real and meaningful. Because in real life, that’s what people are.
The book closes beautifully with, as the cover says, three codas. After arguing that in storytelling you should have to earn your emotional payoffs, and that your characters should be more than bit players, he goes back and gives us a perspective from three characters, telling us what happened to them because of the plot. This is Scalzi, after telling us about earning an emotional payoff, showing us how it’s done. These, in many ways, take this story from a fun comedy parody with a bit of a message into a deep, impactful story that’s worth far more to the reader.
So that’s my spoiler-free review and thoughts on the book. As a writer, or reader, or TV viewer, or TV criticizer, or a Star Trek fan… I would say for sure read this book. And if you somehow read the novel and skipped the codas, my goodness, go back and read the codas. Go now, I’ll wait. Oh, and if you’re curious still or want to move on to some spoilers… let’s do that below!