Review: Redshirts / Author: John Scalzi / Publisher: Gollancz / Release Date: Out Now
Redshirts flies its geek flag right from the start; anyone who has ever seen a classic episode of Star Trek (or in fact, is even slightly familiar with it), will recognise the source of inspiration for the book title. Redshirts does indeed feature crimson-clad security officers serving aboard an intergalactic starship, and the running gag is that the poor saps are utterly aware of their disposable nature – as soon as the starship captain does anything heroic, the guys in the red are going to get killed by the baddies. Obviously the red-shirted protagonists aren’t up for that, and wackiness ensues.
When I say wackiness, I really mean it. Redshirts may be wearing a vermilion top but it’s also sporting a comedy moustache and clown shoes. The style of humour reminded me of ‘throw as many jokes against the wall and see what sticks’ features such as Scary Movie, Vampires Suck or Meet The Spartans. This works because of Scalzi’s incredibly clever and easy-flowing style. It’s effortless to read and should take most people only a few hours. That said, many of the gags are very obvious, and sci-fi fans shouldn’t expect any surprises in the comedy department.
To be fair, the book does contain a number of interesting plot twists, which in theory should transform the novel into something greater than the sum of its parts. Sadly, because the story leading up to the first major plot turn is so terribly knowing and so enchanted with its own cleverness, this twist falls flat. Because of this, all subsequent changes and innovations also fail. Scalzi is an innovative, sharp and very witty writer, but Redshirts feels like he either isn’t trying or simply doesn’t know what he wants to say. There are some excellent ponderings on the nature of life, the universe and everything, but it’s all drowned out by the wacky nonsense and the overly contrived framing.
Despite all this, it’s a good read. But you can almost see what it could have been, and it’s a pity that it fails to produce the sort of wit and sparkle that it promises.