Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

Book cover of Redshirts by John Scalzi

I bought this off the back of Ready Player One, which I loved and I’ve been trying desperately to find something similar ever since. I haven’t quite managed but I have found some really interesting books along the way. Redshirts is one of them and definitely one of the best – I completely fell in love with its geeky sci-fi tone and little nods to pop culture.

Plot summary:

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 even more delighted when he’s assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory. Life couldn’t be better … although there are a few strange things going on:

(1) every Away Mission involves a lethal confrontation with alien forces

(2) the ship’s captain, the chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these encounters

(3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.

Suddenly it’s less surprising how much energy is expended below decks on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned an Away Mission. Andrew’s fate may have been sealed … until he stumbles on a piece of information that changes everything … and offers him and his fellow redshirts a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives …

So I’m going to sit here with my blue hair, my large black glasses and my 50s dress and cringe a little as I talk about how ‘totally meta’ this book is. Apparently I’ve morphed into a fully-fledged hipster and I now loathe myself a little bit. Still, there’s no getting around it – Redshirts is meta, I do love it and I am going to talk about it.

I love books like this. The Thursday Next books, Between the Lines books where you’re involved in the storytelling or where the creation of the book is part of the whole plot.  I was instantly, totally and absolutely hooked about three pages in.

Essentially, it’s a sort-of-but-not-really parody of Star Trek and those other futuristic sci-fi shows, where dramatic events continuously unfold but every episode is always self-contained. There are four people, main characters, who always survive, possibly injured, but they recover ridiculously quickly and then there are the redshirts. The expendable crew members, a few of whom die every episode just to point out to you how dangerous the mission is. Redshirts is their story.

Let me just say first of all that you don’t need to have seen Star Trek to love this book. You only need to know what I’ve just said – that the main characters always survive and and someone expendable always dies. Oh, and there’s usually some dubious science kicking about as well. It’s self-explanatory and I assure you it it’s hardly a difficult concept anyway.

As befits the genre it’s parodying, it does sometimes take a second or two to work out the ‘science.’ I mean, the writers of Star Trek didn’t exactly put a lot of effort into making their sci-fi logical or rational (and it was fine, it worked regardless) so a similar style has been recreated here. Either that or I’m giving John Scalzi too much credit and his knowledge of physics is just rubbish!

I admit that it lost me a little bit when I reached the epilogues. Well, they’re called ‘codas,’ but they’re essentially epilogues. Which I hate. I have incredibly mixed feelings about these chapters. First, I accepted their existence as they do sort of add something new to the story, although I wasn’t sure if they quite fit the theme. Then I basically turned into Hanna Hulk because one of them is written in the second person and this infuriates me. Then the last one is quite deep, quite philosophical and I really enjoyed it and started wondering if maybe I just hated them on principle? Confusing.

Redshirts is so much more than a parody. It’s funny, clever, occasionally philosophical and really made me care about characters I expected to be two-dimensional and flat. I loved this book an awful lot more than I expected to, and I can’t recommend it highly enough, regardless of whether you’ve ever seen a Star Trek episode in your life.

Read Katie’s review of Redshirts at Katie Who Can Read.


  1. Ellie says:

    I bought this because of Katie and it's on my shortlist for Books To Take On Holiday. I'm glad to hear I made the right decision, it sounds so much fun! 🙂

    1. admin says:

      I bought it on a whim but actually picked it up off the shelf because I knew Katie liked it. Prioritise Ready Player One though!!!

      Hmm, I need to start thinking of MY holiday list, although I'll probably Kindle it. The only time it gets dusted off, bless it.

  2. Ellie Warren says:

    Ooo I have this on my wishlist but had seen a few meh reviews so have kept putting this off. But I think you've convinced me it has its rightful place on my list.

    Hipsterism seems to be catching at an alarming rate these days. We mock them and then we look at ourselves and go, oh god, not us too! 😉

    1. admin says:

      Don't get me wrong, it's hardly a literary masterpiece, but I really did enjoy it. It's just something a little different 🙂

      I know. You scowl at them in Starbucks and then read an old blog post and wonder how your own hipsterdom slipped past you.

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