Today I’m doing something a little different and going after something I actually like. John Scalzi’s Redshirts is a book I picked up after listening to one of the promotional songs for it. I am very much a Star Trek fan, so it was a no brainer that I’d read a comedic interpretation of the show, using the red shirts always die first cliché (which is actually false, someone did the math and found out yellow shirts died more often.) In the book, we follow someone assigned as a red shirt, which is basically a death warrant, yet he survives several close calls, and eventually meets a guy who knows they’re on an old TV show being stretched past its lifespan. Then they kidnap the book’s version of Spock, and head into the real world. They find a writer’s comatose son looks exactly like one of the main character’s friends, they strike a deal, replace him with the comatose one, bring him back to their dimension, and if you got lost reading my synopsis, then you can imagine how lost I got reading this.
The book, as enjoyable as it is, is ridden with flaws that needed to be addressed before publication. The first is that the main characters are indistinguishable. They all speak the same, don’t have physical descriptions, have the same motives, and ultimately come off as the same character unless their name is placed directly after the dialogue.
The characters left so little an impression on me that I cannot for the life of me remember their names, it took a trip to Wikipedia to jog my memory. I often found myself getting lost in the dialogue and having to start over because I forgot who was speaking.
The next bit is how overly complex the book quickly becomes. Scalzi attempts applying hard science fiction to what should have remained a simply comedic sci-fi novel. The plot becomes enough to make Asimov go cross-eyed from confusion, and Asimov wrote The Gods Themselves. Do you know how fucking confusing that book is?
It ends up making very little sense towards the end, mixed with the bland characters, you lose yourself in the plot in all the wrong ways.
When writing comedic science fiction, one should always look towards the genius himself, Douglas Adams, who created one of the most well-known space romps to ever exist. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was both creative, entertaining, and never confusing. Adams actually hated science fiction, and that’s why it never delved into trying to scientifically explain what is in reality just a technological fantasy novel. Asimov was able to apply real science to his writing because Asimov had studied biochemistry, so he had a grasp. Scalzi’s novel falls closed to The Hitchhiker’s Guide than The Foundation, and his flaw was trying to mix elements of the two. But at least it wasn’t a time travel story.