You already know what this book’s about, right? I mean, it’s called Redshirts.
And if you know why that’s funny, and you’re a fan of the genre that made it so, John Scalzi’s new novel will make your day.
In Redshirts, which will be released June 5 by Tor Books, Scalzi combines straight-up science fiction parody with his signature fast-paced storytelling and quick-witted characters, and I think it’s up there with The Ghost Brigades, my favorite of his books.
Set in the 25th century and centered on the crew of the Universal Union flagship Intrepid, Redshirts is all Scalzi in tone and style, right from the outset. In the excerpt below, ensigns Andrew Dahl, Maia Duvall and Jimmy Hanson regroup after their first few hours aboard the Intrepid:
“So, did you guys get asked about away teams?” Duvall asked, as she brought her mess tray to the table where Dahl and Hanson were already sitting.
“I did,” Hanson said.
“So did I,” Dahl said.
“Is it just me, or does everyone on this ship seem a little weird about them?” Duvall asked.
“Give me an example,” Dahl said.
“I mean that within five minutes of getting to my new post I heard three different stories of crew buying the farm on an away mission. Death by falling rock. Death by toxic atmosphere. Death by pulse gun vaporization.”
“Death by shuttle door malfunction,” Hanson said.
“Death by ice shark,” Dahl said.
“Death by what?” Duvall said, blinking. “What the hell is an ice shark?”
“You got me,” Dahl said. “I had no idea there was such a thing.”
“Is it a shark made of ice?” Hanson asked. “Or a shark that lives in ice?”
“It wasn’t specified at the time,” Dahl said, spearing a meat bit on his tray.
“I’m thinking you should have called bullshit on the ice shark story,” Duvall said.
There are dozens of such moments that capture the inspiration and the in-jokes that help build the world of Redshirts – in an interview with GeekDad, Scalzi talked about his approach to the project – and while they’re hilarious, they are also surprisingly effective at drawing you into a story that’s more than just a spoof. As Dahl, Duvall, Hanson and their fellow low-ranking shipmates begin poking further into their disproportionate mortality rate, their tale briskly moves the action forward and keeps your attention well beyond the usual capacity of a pure send-up.
What Scalzi does, somehow, is explore the absurdity of the redshirt trope without making a mockery of the protagonists themselves, despite the fact that, well, they’re redshirts. It’s a brilliantly funny book with an unexpected amount of emotional heft, and I liked it an awful lot.
In terms of content, Redshirts faithfully adapted for the screen would earn a solid ‘R’ for language and some sexual references, but the truth is it’s probably nothing more explicit than you’d hear in a high school hallway. Readers old enough to understand and appreciate the book are probably old enough to handle the sort of profanity to which most of us would resort while facing angry Borgovian Land Worms.