Monday, November 25, 2013

Hugo Winner Review: 2013 Redshirts

John Scalzi
Completed 11/19/2013, reviewed 11/25/2013
4 stars

“Redshirts” is a lot of fun.  It’s an extrapolation on the observation that in the original “Star Trek” series, one of the ensigns on an away team, often wearing a red shirt, is usually killed on the mission.  A group of redshirts figure this out and try to outsmart their destiny. 

What’s most fun about the book is that it’s a kind of meta-meta.  The reason the red shirts are dying is because their fate is determined by fiction.  Somehow, their universe has overlapped the fictional universe of a “Star Trek” rip-off.  When an episode of this series is produced, the narrative dictates their circumstances and action, and they are compelled to follow it.  Their mission is to destroy this link between fiction and reality.

The book is a light romp, full of action and comedy.  If you know about the original “Star Trek” series, you’ll understand the premise.  The dialogue is fun and tight.  The characters are light, but well-developed.  I read this book in two short sittings.  It’s a quick read, with fast-paced scenes.  There were a few times, particularly in the beginning of the book, where I burst out laughing.    I usually don’t laugh out loud while reading a book.  I surprised myself when I did, particularly because I was reading the book in public in a coffee shop amidst the clicking of laptop keyboards, the buzz of multiple conversations, the hiss of the espresso machine, and the pacifying notes of the light R&B station playing in the background. 

When I finished this book, I thought it was a great read.  Worthy of a Hugo?  I wasn’t sure.  I liked the fact that the fans had picked a fun light book.  It was a deviation from the massive space opera, deadly serious cyberpunk, and gritty urban fantasy novels that have dominated the award for the past few decades.

What really convinced me that the book was award-worthy was the inclusion of the three codas at the end of the book.  They were short accounts of three people whose lives were affected by the efforts of Dahl and his red shirt pals.  Each one was poignant and profound.  It provided depth to the light-heartedness of the main story.  Maybe Scalzi was trying to add some weight to the story.  But it didn’t feel forced.  It demonstrated the simple premise that our actions affect others, sometimes in profound ways, without our realizing it.  I also thought that there was another point here.  That the people in all aspects of the medium of television need to be aware of how it affects people lives.  Because even the shortest-lived character on a trite space opera on basic cable can have an affect on someone somewhere. 

I gave this book 4 stars for its fun, inventiveness, and for the awesome three codas. 


  1. I'm a huge fan of John Scalzi's work and this is actually my least favorite of his. I was frankly surprised by all the pre-release hype which may have negatively colored my reaction to the book. Don't get me wrong, I *liked* it, but certainly don't consider it his best work. I felt that the idea wore too thin but do agree that the codas, at least two of the three, anyway, add something worthwhile to the overall story. I don't mind meta, but this all just felt, as Bilbo Baggins once said, "like butter spread over too much bread" (or something like that). I'm not sure I find it Hugo worthy.

    1. This was my first Scalzi. I look forward to reading more. I think I was just so pleased to have something comical, with all the weighty books I've been reading. But I have several friends who completely agree with you. Sometimes I wonder if the Nebulas are a better indicator of excellence, since any given Hugo seems to be a slave to a fan-base. But with any award, there's favoritism, politics, etc. If nothing else, this reading challenge has opened me up to so many authors I may not have read for one reason or another.

    2. I'm sure that plays a part, but I'm with you in that sometimes it is refreshing to get a good solid sf comedy. I don't so much mind that the awards can have a degree of favoritism built in simply because they cause me to think about books I might not otherwise have considered, but I do think this one felt more like an award for the body of work up to this point that had earned him a big fan base vs. this work itself being award worthy. But hey, its just one opinion.