Book review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

I’m quite the sci-fi-fan, so this book appealed to me before I’d even heard the title. I put it on my list as it was brought to my attention by my friend Hannah (a properly proper computer scientist, she teaches stuff to other people and gets excited about robots, and stuff). As I put it on the list I read the other reviews in Goodreads, which were quite scathing. Some stuff about the author being very pleased at how clever he is and how the book read a lot like a series of blog posts. At least, I think it was this one they were talking about: that’s how I remember it, anyway.

The premise draws on the well-known sci fi lore that any un-named redshirt who goes on a mission to a planet’s surface with named characters who feature regularly in the narrative in any film or series is doomed. The book starts by describing the back story and current predicament of a red-shirt who is on a planetary mission with the captain and the chief science officer of _The Intrepid_. Take a wild guess what happens. For a moment, I had a strong fear that this book was going to be a long series of very short stories with a lot of back-story explanation. I didn’t want to read *that* book. It was all fine, though, that was effectively a prologue. The main character in *our* narrative, one Andy Dahl, joins _The Intrepid_, and it doesn’t take him long to work out that there’s something odd going on. His colleagues in the ship’s lab disappear whenever any senior crew appear, people seem super-reluctant to go on surface missions, he’s warned off going to the bridge by someone that looks like a Yeti, and one of the senior crew members seems to get horribly injured and near-death, and then make an amazingly quick recovery, only to go on an off-ship mission and be injured/infected again.

I like this idea, and I enjoyed Scalzi’s take on it. The book is divided into sections – the main narrative, which concludes neatly, followed by two codas. I had (another) moment of fear when the main narrative completed with about a third of the book to go. Previously I read a book that was crowd-funded on a Kindle, and the last nearly 20% of the book was a long list of credits naming contributors. It’s fair to say I felt utterly cheated on that occasion – I was expecting 20% more book, and it just ended. I don’t think the narrative was incomplete in that case, but I was enjoying it and my device told me there was more. I was ready to get really cross at the ridiculousness of wasting trees on a third of a book of people’s names, when I turned the page to find the first coda. It took me a short while to settle back down again, but I did, and managed to get quite into it before we switched to the second coda. While some might find this “overly clever” and “showing off” I think it was a neat way of extending the story beyond the obvious frist narrative.

I found this to be readable, and the story moved on at a good pace. The only “violence” was fairly cartoony (“and he got eaten by space worms with sharp teeth”), there’s no hanky panky (not on-the-page, anyway) and although in my head it was quite sweary I’m writing this a week later and I can’t remember if it actually *was* sweary or if I thought the characters should be swearing in the context they were in.

I’d recommend it for any sci-fi fan, but this is not my new favourite book.