Well-Worn Pages: REDSHIRTS by John Scalzi

REDSHIRTS is actually the first Scalzi that I’ve read. I’ve loved his blog and twitter feed (@scalzi) for a long time. However, I hadn’t been driven to read any of Scalzi’s books until I heard the theme song that Jonathan Coulton wrote for REDSHIRTS.

Spoiler alert for the Star Trek illiterate – the term ‘redshirt’ is a reference to the nameless and soon-to-die extras who accompany main characters when they embark on ill-fated away missions. A redshirt’s sole reason for existence is to die a sudden and tragic death in some alien setting. They make their dialogueless sacrifices for us, the audience. They selflessly up the stakes for the imperiled – yet destined for future greatness – main characters.

Coulton captures the tragic absurdity of that meme perfectly. The song rocked. I loved the quirky play of an away mission gone bad story told from the point-of-view of a doomed, red-shirted nobody. I bought the song and learned the lyrics and how to play it on guitar. Eventually, Kindle decided that I should probably buy the novel that inspired the song. On a whim, I clicked on the recommendation and downloaded a copy. Having now read the book, I realize that Coulton had an awesome platform of inspiration for his song.

Turns out, I’m a Scalzi fan.

I don’t think I can give much more than the premise of the book without spoiling the story. Like the song, REDSHIRTS is a story about the universe’s expendable extras. I will say that Scalzi does a wonderful job of casting the unsung, the JV, the underdog. Of weaving the hopes and dreams of the unremarkable into the small, empty spaces that remain between lives of greater significance. He takes what is at heart an absurd premise and gives you a set of innocuous but motivated underdogs to cheer for.

It’s well worth the read.

I will say that I wasn’t a big fan of the codas. It’s nice to have a little glimpse into the story after the story. I’ll grant that. Also, the codas are an absolute clinic in first, second, and third person writing. However, I found them unnecessary and felt like they detracted from the story. I don’t know, maybe I was just worn out and ready for a break. I moved through the second half of the book at a bit of a sprit. Maybe I needed a little timeout before tackling the trio of epilogues. Despite that, I liked REDSHIRTS well enough that I went right out and picked up a copy OLD MAN’S WAR.

I finished OLD MAN’S WAR a couple weeks ago and will probably blog about it here in the next post or three. Right now, I’m treating myself to Scott Lynch’s RED SEAS UNDER RED SKY, sequel to THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA. Lamora, incidentally, might just be the best book I read in 2012.

So many good books to read.

So many…

Let me know if you read REDSHIRTS and what you thought about the book in the comments.

UPDATE 2/22/13 – Check out Scalzi singing REDSHIRT with Jonathan Coulton and his band. I have no words. John Scalzi…. you, sir, are a trooper. 

2 thoughts on “Well-Worn Pages: REDSHIRTS by John Scalzi

  1. I loved the premise of this book and the set-up, but I felt like the ending was a little bit of a let down. I couldn’t tell you what I expected instead; I just thought the execution was less impressive than the original idea.

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