Have you ever loved something so much, I mean head-over-heels in love with it, that you were at a loss for words? No matter what could be said about this something, have you ever felt that it wouldn’t be enough? No words could do it justice? And, as a result, you are terrified to say anything because you think you will fail miserably when trying to convey thoughts and feelings that have no words in the English language?
That is how I feel after reading Redshirts by John Scalzi.
If you are unfamiliar with this title, the synopsis reads:
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, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.
Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expendedon 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 think Redshirts can be best described as a love letter, in book format, to the science fiction television genre. Even more specifically, it is a love letter to Star Trek, a television series that decided to boldly go, paving the way for many future science fiction television series. Because, at least in this reader’s mind, Redshirts can be described as a love letter that both spoofs and pays homage to the genre, and because I’m find myself lacking words for a proper review, please indulge me while I write an open love letter to John Scalzi.
Dear John Scalzi,
First, I would like to thank you, from the very depths of my soul, for writing this book.
Second, I think it is important to know that from the day I returned home from the hospital after my birth, I watched Star Trek: The Original Series. Star Trek was my very first love. It is responsible for creating the nerd and geek writing this letter to you today. When Star Trek: The Next Generation appeared on my television almost 25 years ago, I could have cried. It was the most important thing to happen to 11-year-old me. So important, that year, it was included in my science fair project. I have watched both TOS and TNG more times than I can count. Star Trek, at least Gene Roddenberry’s vision of Star Trek, is the only thing of which I consider myself to be a true fan: FANATIC!
As a result, I am very protective of her. While it is safe to say that if something is Star Trek related, I will automatically love it and squee in the most inappropriate ways when seeing it, there is always the risk that I will loathe it with every fibre of my being and, subsequently, I will rip it to shreds – like a certain MMO that shall not be named.
Even though I have always enjoyed your writing, even though I know you are also a fan of Star Trek, even though I know you were a creative consultant for a science fiction television programme, there was a small part of me that was hesitant to read Redshirts. There was that miniscule chance you’d get it oh-so-very-wrong and then I’d have to become all nerd rage-y and rip the book apart, because that is something unfortunate we fans have a habit of doing. We love these things so much, when we feel they are not being treated with the respect they deserve, we tend to become irrational jackasses in an effort to protect whatever it is we love.
In writing Redshirts, you met every single one of my expectations for a book that both parodies and pays tribute to a genre that has shaped the lives of many a nerd and geek. It was like you entered my brain and highlighted every aspect of this genre that we fans love to pick apart – the plot lines that make no sense whatsoever, over-the-top technobabble, science that is actually magic and so beyond unrealistic it should probably be in a fantasy show instead, brain hurting paradoxes, some of the predictability within the series, namely red shirts, and “The Narrative.” DUDE! THE NARRATIVE! Your use of each of these elements, and more – so as to not spoil the book too much, let me just say Mirror/Mirror, Time Squared, Second Chances – perfect. It is all there.
As much as we love to pick apart those elements, we also adore them. They are some of our favourite things to lovingly mock. Redshirts is to Star Trek – and the science fiction television genre as a whole – as the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Naked Now is to the Star Trek: The Original Series episode The Naked Time. It is absurd and ridiculous but filled with the utmost respect and love.
From Borgovian Land Worms and ice sharks, to killer robots and unexpected shuttle malfunctions when every thing should otherwise be hunky dory, they were all perfect, right down to the very last beat. I would be remiss if didn’t mention, the reverse Fibonacci spiral. I don’t know why, but out of all the superb bits of technobabble you included in Redshirts, the following completely-elegant-with-its-simplicity bit of technobabble shouted to me the loudest:
[...]Kerensky said, and threw the shuttle into a reverse Fibonacci spiral[...]
I really have no idea why, but for me it invoked my favourite line of technobbable from Star Trek: The Next Generation:
Come off the main lead, split off at the force activator, then reversing the power leads through the force activator, repulsor beam powers against Tsiolkovsky!
Wesley Crusher – The Naked Now
Now, it is wonderful that there is a lot of fun and games, with so many laugh out loud funny moments in Redshirts, but, John, please excuse me while I bow down before you over the following: You made me care about the characters, much like the writers of Below Decks made us care about normally auxiliary characters in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Not only did you make me care about these characters who are fated to die, but you did the thing that I strongly believe should be in all good science fiction. If the following is not found within a work of science fiction, automatically I consider it to be bad science fiction. What is this thing? There was an overall message in the story. There was a moral. Redshirts caused me to seriously contemplate, yet again, a life situation that, as someone who lives with a potentially fatal illness, I have to contemplate every single day of my life. I really hope that isn’t a spoiler. But I needed to let you know that I am so very grateful for this. It made reading this book all that more fulfilling.
I would have probably loved the book regardless, because, let’s face it, sometimes it is very difficult to find the human story in some Star Trek episodes. We have to stretch our thinking much like the science can be stretched – Red Matter anyone? Sometimes, even if rarely for this reader, fun is all that is needed. But I always love it so much more if it is more than just simple fun. Science fiction is my favourite genre because, as a rule, it is suppose to be more than just fun. But who am I to tell you what science fiction is suppose to be? You’re a genius when it comes to this genre and you may very well think that I’m wrong on this issue.
While I am sure there will be some who take issue with how you ended this book and it may be problematic for some readers who loved the book until the ending… DUDE! Genius! That is all I can safely say about that.
I am currently re-watching Star Trek: The Next Generation for the umpteenth time. The other night, as I was watching Unnatural Selection, I found myself, exclaiming out loud, “THE BOX!” when Data explains his findings. Yesterday, as I was watching Time Squared, again out loud, I exclaimed, “THE NARRATIVE!” when O’Brien appeared in the shuttle bay for no apparent reason when it was Dr. Polaski who was called down.
It may be funny to note that, just like Data corrected Riker in The Naked Now when Riker used “sucked out” instead of “blown out”, I found myself saying the same thing, again out loud, while reading your book. But I suspect, you did that on purpose, didn’t you?
I apologise for my inability to write a proper review and the lack of one sentence take-away. This book deserves so much more than a ridiculous letter. But as I already said, I’m at loss.
In closing, I want to thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU, for this book. Thank you for sharing your love of science fiction, the science fiction television genre, and Star Trek with the world. This book will be one of the few books I will treasure forever and will re-read multiple times. There are only a handful of books that have made it into the, “OMG! I’M SO IN LOVE WITH THIS BOOK! I WANT TO NEVER FINISH READING IT AND THEREFOR WILL RE-READ IT UNTIL THE PAGES FALL OUT!” category. Thank you for sharing your weird and wonderful brain with the world. Thank you for this gift.
With deepest apologies for being unable to write a proper review,
PEOPLE! I’M SO IN LOVE WITH THIS BOOK. RIDICULOUS TECHNOBABBLE. THE NARRATIVE. THE BOX. A CRAZY PARADOX. A SHUTTLE GOING INTO A REVERSE FIBONACCI SPIRAL! YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK WHEN IT IS RELEASED NEXT WEEK!!! JOHN SCALZI’S BRAIN IS A WONDERFUL PLACE. READ THE BOOK, DAMN IT!
Redshirts by John Scalzi will be available on June 5, 2012. You can pre-order now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indigo Books & Music. You can purchase it Tuesday, June 5, 2012, where ever books are sold. You can read the first five chapter on Tor.com. You can download the first four chapters, free, at Amazon, Kobo Books and Barnes & Noble.
Tomorrow will begin the giveaway of two copies of Redshirts, courtesy of Tor.
A copy of this book was provided for the purpose of this review.