Redshirts by John Scalzi

Redshirts_John_Scalzi1Redshirts
by John Scalzi
2012

First off, this is an extremely meta novel. It doesn’t so much break the fourth wall as it goes right up to fourth wall, run tests on its density and permeability, and then proceed to report the results to the reader.

The story is set in a quasi-Star Trek universe, from the point of view of one of the ubiquitous “Red Shirts,” wondering why there’s such a high fatality rate among his compatriots and such a low fatality rate, given the exact same circumstances, among the command staff. Anyone who watched the original Star Trek series will understand why this premise made me giggle. Plus, I’d read The Android’s Dream by John Scalzi before, and it was awesomely, ludicrously hilarious.

I intended to read this as a bit of a palate cleanser to my Atlas Shrugged marathon as well as a less controversial book to take with me and read in waiting rooms. It worked beautifully for the second intent, but turned out not to be nearly as light-heartedly fluffy as I had been expecting for the first intent.

It does start out fluffy and funny. The first half was straight up silly. Then it begins to really break the fourth wall and the plot is resolved by three-fourths of the way through the book. Then the final quarter deals with the fall out. Most books have, at most, a short epilog summarizing the foreseeable future. This book, on the other hand, spends a significant amount of time confronting issues of self-agency and choice and worth.

While it’s nowhere near a perfect match, in some ways it makes an interesting compliment to the movie Inception.

It was a good book and I do recommend it, but go in realizing that it’s going to wind up more serious than it starts.

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