Redshirts by John Scalzi
Synopsis from GoodReads:
Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.
Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that:
(1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces
(2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations
(3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.
Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.
I read this for a Sci-Fi Book Club at my local library, but I’m the one who suggested it at the last meeting (a few months back, when we discussed Ready Player One, which they all liked more than I did), which is also, as far as I know, the only meeting to date. As a fan of Star Trek, Stargate, Andromeda, and the like, I’ve wanted to read this book for years, but kept putting it off thanks to the too-long TBR, so thank you to the book club for giving me an excuse!
Small confession: this book wasn’t as funny as I was led to believe it would be. I laughed at several points, sure, but I felt the humor was often understated or absent.
Don’t let that lead you to think that I didn’t enjoy it, however. Because I did. Pretty much every single trope you can think of from a space adventure sci-fi show, bad or otherwise, was thrown in. There are a couple I can think of that were, mercifully, left out, but not many. Which was exactly what I was looking for in this novel.
I liked most of the main characters, although I wish we’d seen more of some of them. We got plenty of Dahl and Kerensky more than I wanted of Q’eeng, and a decent amount of Hester, but I would’ve liked to see more of Duvall, Finn, and Henson. The fact that the majority of the book is third-person limited centered on Dahl restricts that, I get it, but for so-called ‘ensemble main characters’, we didn’t really get that much of those last three.
While I enjoyed the book’s structure – main story followed by three codas, each with a different protagonist and in a different POV – I wish that there hadn’t been such an abrupt ending to the main story. I get why that is – the plot practically demands it, but Dahl and Henson end it by discussing a really interesting topic that could’ve been a whole ‘nother section all on its own.
In the end, however, I felt that each section was wrapped up pretty satisfactorally given its interior main plot, while leaving enough hanging to drive home what I found to be the specific theme of the novel.
4 out of 5 stars, and highly recommended.