Book Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

redshirts-coverThose of you who have been following this blog for the last few months, know that I have been unable to read much of anything lately due to issues caused by my bout with Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Those of you who have read this blog for the last couple of years, know that I am also a huge fan of John Scalzi’s writing. So when Scalzi released his latest book, Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, I found myself with a dilemma: I could forgo reading the book for months, hope that I didn’t stumble across any kind of spoilers, and I could refuse to talk to my wife (who is also a big fan) about it. Or I could read it at a ridiculously slow pace, hope I didn’t damage my eyes any further, and hope that the slow pace didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.

I split the difference.

First, I delayed starting the book until I had talked to my vision therapist about how to go about reading when I absolutely had to. He gave me a few tips and a device that allowed my eyes to focus on a single line of text at a time. This miracle tool? A colored piece of translucent plastic attached to a piece of cardboard. But even with this device, I could only read for ten minutes at a time, and at most, a half an hour a day, and only on days where I wasn’t already fatigued from my day job. Which meant weekends only. Ten minutes is barely long enough to get comfortable in a chair, let alone get engrossed in a book—especially a fast paced book like Redshirts.

And Redshirts is fast paced… driven by witty dialogue that probably accounts for 90% of the text. This science fiction tale is based on the legacy of the Star Trek, and it’s tendency to make the junior—and very unknown—away-team members, expendable. They always wore red shirts, and while the main characters came back with a few scratches, many of the ‘redshirts’ never came back at all. But in Redshirts, the redshirts start to notice this pattern, and in doing so, become the story.

Redshirts is a bowling ball that rolls right down the center of an alley filled with ComicCon goers and cosplay enthusiasts, spinning hard and fast, with a little English on it at the end to take their feet right out from under them. Other folk (i.e. people not previously aware of the term ‘redshirt’), can enjoy this book, but there are definitely Easter eggs hidden about for the more-than-casual fan of the genre. While I have seen most of the episodes of the various Star Trek series and spinoffs, I wouldn’t call myself a true-Trekkie. I’m sure I missed a few things a more die-hard fan would have picked up. Scalzi didn’t write this just for Trekkies… but there is no doubt they will get the most out of this book.

The dialogue in the book does tend towards, well, “adult-realistic”, so be a little bit careful giving this one to someone who may not be completely up on the birds-and-the-bees. Read it first, then decide if it is appropriate for your youngsters. Otherwise, you may find yourself being asked a few questions you weren’t quite ready to hear.

I have no doubt that I had I been perfectly healthy the day this book launched, I would have finished it before bedtime. Spreading out the reading did, probably, taint my enjoyment of the book. Perhaps ‘taint’ is too strong a word. I just wasn’t able to connect with it as well as I wanted to because I couldn’t stay in the story due to my condition. It took me over a month to read it, ten minutes here and ten minutes there, weekends only. And there were definitely days I regretted reading because even those few minutes hurt.

But I did enjoy it, and if Scalzi released another book tomorrow, I’d buy it, and start reading it next weekend. I’m a fan, and he writes good stuff. If you’ve ever enjoyed an episode of any Trek series, I think you’ll enjoy this one too.

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