My rating: 4 of 5 stars
(warning: This whole review is full of spoilers!) When I first heard about this book I thought about it in the same way that I thought of the Battleship movie. The Red Shirt joke is a fun joke that’s been parodied endlessly. But is it enough to sustain a book? Yes, and it works because of the way that Scalzi does it. He essentially turns it into a space version of Stranger than Fiction. The characters learn quite quickly that things are a little off and that some of the individuals on their ship appear to be impervious to death. They act with a realistic amount of skepticism until too much evidence mounts for them to be able to ignore the idea that something screwy is going on.
Eventually they figure out that there’s another world (presumed to be ours) in which there is a TV show that details their exploits. When that show needs people to die, they die in our characters’ world. So they set off to try and convince them to either end the show or stop killing people off.
The book ends up being a fun examination of Star Trek tropes such as why a blast from a ship would cause a panel on the deck to explode or how characters can have backstory appear when it’s convenient. But it also ends up being a bit of a meditation on death and what it means for death to be both predetermined and accidental. It also delves into the concept of alternate lives and realities as is the case when they meet their “real world” counterparts. Unless I misunderstood the last chapter, it also toys a bit with the self insertion trope as well as the author as god trope. Also, I’m not used to joke endings in books – that ending was magnificent. I almost fell out of the bed when I read it.
I think the book would probably have been a nice, comfy 3-star book (neither shining nor sucking) if it hadn’t been for the three epilogues. The first deals with the writer of the TV show and his quest to find out if other authors also create realities when they write. It was memorable for two reasons. It gives Scalzi an outlet to meditate on anonymity on the Internet in a way that will seem prescient for the non-technorati. I’ve already known about how easy it is to give your identity away, but most of the non-techie public doesn’t realize it. Second, it allows Scalzi to both point out that his book shares a lot with Stranger than Fiction as well as point out that THAT movie wasn’t original either – that concept goes back through at least a half dozen movies and books.
The second was a neat look at how the scheme to change the producer’s son’s chances of living had consequences in our real world. I saw this as a deconstruction of the whole quick-heal in his book and in Star Trek. (As well as comics) It needs to happen so that we can have dramatic moments with our main characters. But they can’t truly be in danger or the franchise would be without its money-making characters. However, throw that voodoo medicine into our world and it can have some weird consequences.
The third story was the sweetest and it must be me getting older and really enjoying marriage. It followed the consequences of the actress who played the crazy guy’s wife as she dealt with the fact that in an alternate universe “she” had been married. I was happiest that the author had included this epilogue.
If you’ve read this far, but are one of those people for whom spoilers doesn’t destroy the enjoyment of art – definitely read this if you’re into science fiction. If you buy it from Amazon you help support this site. Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas