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a torso wearing a wearing a red shirt with a yellow collar with the author name John Scalzi in black bold letters above additional graphics and text and the title of Redshirts in bold white lettering

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.

Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.

Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives. (source)

SPOILERS: I am conflicted about this book. I know! I'm never conflicted about anything I read, ever. This is extremely surprising (sorry I ruined the end of this post for you).

Disclaimer: Internet, I love John Scalzi.

I am really not alone. Many people love John Scalzi. Among his many talents is that he has legitimate bromances. Somewhere on the internet there has to be a Star Trek AU fanfic featuring John Scalzi and Wil Wheaton and the tags are Angst, Dubious Uses of Phasers, UST, and Snark (and if there's not, there probably should be, and someone should link me)1. He writes a great blog and I am a fan of him for that more than his books, but I have a feeling I am not alone there, either.

Basically, in the John Scalzi fanclub, the first FIRST! was uttered back in the early aughts. Now it's just a matter of getting in line and taking a number. And yes, there are eight digits in it. Deal.2

I discovered Scalzi when (I think?) offered Old Man's War as a free download. I am pretty sure it had been traditionally published at that point. I read it and then I may or may not have purchased all other books in the series, and then had a explosion of feelings when Zoe's Tale came out in hardcover. I shared that ebook with everyone who then also read his books, either through buying them or the library (which is also useful, because we want libraries to love authors we love). I was really excited and was determined everyone else be excited with me. I have sinced calmed down a little, although there is a fan letter I try not to think too hard about. (Oh please let it have been eaten by his spam filter). His books were light and entertaining enough that they made science fiction accessible to me again in a way it hadn't been since I connected with Ender in Speaker for the Dead, which I read first, because high school libraries in the rural South blow for continuity in SF/F book series. The only thing with any continuity in my high school library was Goosebumps and the Bible. But I digress. The point: after Old Man's War I stopped being afraid of science fiction (again, it's a phase I go through when I consider the size of the canon) and dived back in.

I often think about the complicated relationships we develop with authors that have a large social media presence. I know I interact differently with books by John Scalzi and John Green especially. When you spend most of your time engaging with content authors create outside of books, it can be difficult to set it aside. Do I love the book because it's good or do I love the book because it's by Author Whom I Would I Would Like to Read RPF Where They Have Adventures Fighting Space Dragons3? I struggled with this here, too.

So far, this entire post has been a disclaimer. Yet another failed attempt in Renay's ongoing quest to write the most complicated non-review reviews in the history of the internet.

Here's my history with Star Trek: never watched the original show (I can't look at William Shatner's face for prolonged periods of time unless it's this vid, I'm SORRY) and only watched a bit of Next Generation when I was younger. I watched some episode where Geordi got turned into some weird glowy creature and freaked out my kid self, quit with extreme prejudice and fear of things in the dark, and only finished when I was older and more critical (and therefore less interested). Then I watched the reboot and promptly started shipping Kirk/Spock and Kirk/McCoy 500 years after everyone else.

Note: when I watched the reboot, I did not catch the redshirt reference immediately. Kirk and Sulu were standing, looking down and said, "HE HAD THE CHARGES!!" Oh, I said. Ha ha ha. I was only fifteen minutes late to that joke. NEW RECORD.

All this to say that Star Trek isn't my fandom (science fiction isn't my fandom, even). I don't get a lot of the references and I have a complicated relationship with regards to the author of this story. So how accessible is this book to someone like me? Fairly accessible, but ultimately lacking in something that made it similar to Zoe's Tale or The Android's Dream in my ~heart~: where I phase out, become one with the story and don't surface until every single bit of it is directly funneled into my brain. I kept putting Redshirts down, picking it up and reading a chapter, putting it down, on and on in a loop until I finished. I didn't feel a pull to finish, I didn't really "get" what was happening at first, and my emotional connection to the book didn't kick in until two characters met each other later in the story and then there were inappropriate sex jokes. This was, for me, the best scene in the whole damn novel. I didn't love this book at all: the writing choices didn't bug me (then again, I've spent the last few months reading The Best of The Worst of Derek/Stiles, so I'm biased), but the array of cut and paste characters (even if it was probably on purpose), the way certain stereotypes were upheld (Smurfette principle), and the references I knew were going over my head simply made it...okay.

I can't even accurately choose a word or phrase from the Book Blogger Bag O'Cliche Phrases to describe how "meh" I was for the first half of this novel, because it was just there. It's a book and it's fairly entertaining. I feel like it wasn't written for me at all (which is fine!). It's like when you're flipping through channels and that show you're sort of interested in is on so you watch it but then you find yourself flipping back and forth between it and and a crime show? This was me with this book. Redshirts was an episode of CSI: Miami with Horatio Caine in fuck-you sunglasses but meanwhile everything else in my life was like a special marathon re-run of Teen Wolf Season Two in HD.

Redshirts was fun, although I felt like it was a love letter to a fandom that's passed me by, a parody of an entertainment culture where we accept a lot of mediocrity while continually trying to find the sweet spot of engaging and resonant to human experience without becoming too twee. It was a meta conversation about television shows being read by a lady who missed out on a lot of those shows and never caught up, and a rabbit hole of intertextual relationships between the different story paths.

The characters often waffled between complicated and one-note, but as I read along I began to expect this because of the nature of the tale. The second half of the novel made me like them a lot more, although I grew frustrated with Duvall's place in the story, even knowing that it was largely intentional and on purpose. I know that in the grand scheme of things, I can't go Feminist Rage Monster on things that are Feminism DEFCON 5, when the whole point of them being horrible is that they're horrible, duh. Way to misunderstand meta commentary, Renay. Great job, bravo. That's not the book's fault, but rather mine, just because I'm tired (so tired) of wasted potential of lady characters or problematic plot choices that make me feel skeevy and gross. Cry more, etc.

I could talk go on and on about the spoilers, but I think they're more interesting to discuss in context. As per usual I want everyone to read the book and then come argue about it with me — Jodie, I think this might be right up your alley. Once the actual plot kicked in, beyond the initial diagnosis of human-expendables and their scramble to solve their mortality problems while avoiding Away Missions of Woe and Misery, it was great. It was way more awesome than Wormhole X-Treme!, that's for sure.

My feelings about this novel change depending on the part I'm thinking about: it's great! No! I love this! WHY? That was super funny! Oh my god why does this part exist? Awesome! Stop punching me in the face with terrible writing, book! And so on and so forth. I could have just loved it or hated it! But no. I feel about Redshirts like I feel about Jerry O'Connell's performance on Sliders. Which is to say: complicated.

One thing I did love with very little reservation were the codas, or, in fan terminology that I am aware of, the Episode tag. Whatever; I'm fannish in a very particular way, coda are dear to my heart and have been since I stumbled into the Stargate Atlantis fandom and needed so much healing fanfic after some of those episodes (Trinity, anyone?). I have no clue if Scalzi was writing within this context at all when telling these stories in order to pay homage to the fandoms SF shows can have (was this practice something done in non-fic fanzine culture?), but I found all three codas wonderful without the hit-or-miss parody hanging over them, thought-provoking, and heartbreaking in their own distinct ways. I love them because of my personal history with episode codas, because think they are a brilliant, interesting look at the impact of our main characters attempting to save themselves and each other and inadvertently saving other people, and because they invite a thematic exploration of what it means to be "real". What is real, anyway, when talking about a person versus a character? Redshirts and its codas doesn't answer it for me, but it at least poses the question and asks me to consider my conclusions. Although I still hate second person. NO EXCEPTIONS.

Well, anyway, even if this book wasn't my favorite, I'm still totally shipping Dahl/Kerensky. If I were a Yuletide girl, I know what I would be requesting4.

Also: Forshan. Ha.

1 I would totally read this, by the way, if anyone is feeling adventurous.
2 56119203 if you're wondering. Don't cry if yours is higher. We all have to start somewhere.
3 This, too. Okay, there officially needs to be an SF/F Geek Representative RPF short story collection. That should be a thing.
4 Well, that's probably a lie. I'd probably request John Scalzi and Wil Wheaton fighting space dragons. Let's just be real.

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers, The Literary Omnivore, Susan Hated Literature, Intergalactic Academy, The Written World, Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Reviews, A Dribble of Ink, Genre Bending, yours?

Supplemental Material

Date: 2012-08-30 12:22 am (UTC)
owlmoose: (athena)
From: [personal profile] owlmoose
I enjoyed Redshirts a lot, but then Star Trek is dear to my heart, and I appreciated the ways in which the book was both a love letter to and critique of it. I'd wondered how it would feel to someone who wasn't a fan, so it's good to see your take on it.

All of my other intelligent commentary on either the book or your take on it is now distracted by my desire to see RPF of John Scalzi and John Green fighting space dragons.

Date: 2012-08-30 05:26 am (UTC)
owlmoose: stack of books (book - pile)
From: [personal profile] owlmoose
I liked the codas and the way they rounded out some of the stories, although like you I prefer to kill second person with fire.

And, I mean, come on. The Johns Scalzi and Green and space dragons? How am I supposed to resist that? ;)

Date: 2012-08-30 01:50 pm (UTC)
owlmoose: (Default)
From: [personal profile] owlmoose
No no no you misunderstand me. This is not a thing I could possibly write, not in a million years. I want YOU to write it. ;D

Date: 2012-09-05 10:15 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
'Jodie, I think this might be right up your alley'

Ha, like pretty much all SF visual canon media I have seen a lot of Star Trek (films and TV, even quite a bit of Enterprise, because hey that guy from Quantum Leap was in it) enjoyed a lot of Star Trek but absolutely do not feel like I am part of the fandom because I do not know, oh say words in Klingon, how many tribbles were ever made or even what order the different Star Trek incarnations go in. Let us weep out our complicated feelings about the giganticness of SF canon and the extreme brain storage seemingly required for official SF fandom membership together some day.

All to say, Redshirts is on my list, but it's pretty far down just because I'm not sure I will get lots of it and not getting it will make me sad, because I very much like Star Trek. If it comes to the library though I will bump it, so we can talk about it, because talking about books with you is excellent and will disperse the sads.
From: [identity profile]
I have a bit of an odd relationship with Star Trek. I love the idea of it. Was never a fan of the O.S., although I do watch the odd episode now, and I enjoyed the films. The Next Generation was always my favourite (I remember that episode with poor Geordie, although I can't quite recall all the details) although I haven't watched all of its films.
DS9 was fantastic and dark and awesome, but it clashed with Buffy on the telly and Buffy won. I always meant to go rewatch the series because it did some really interesting things with the Star Trek 'verse.
Voyager was rubbish. It got way too caught up in the fact that Janeway was a woman and therefore the Mother to the Crew to have her be a decent captain. And the plots were silly. I never watched Enterprise. I enjoyed the first film reboot, hated the second.

Okay, so that's my backstory to Redshirts, and I have to say that I liked it, it was enjoyable, but no way did I even come close to loving it. It passed the time. I did enjoy the codas although they didn't feel like they fitted, despite providing some continuation of plot.
I do need to read more Scalzi though, I've only ever read Old Man's War, which I did enjoy a lot. I have Android's Dream out from the library but am looking for a non sff book for my next read.


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