Posted by: Gary Niebuhr
Would you be surprised if the best work of science fiction in 2012, according to the Hugo and Locus Award voters and the reviewers at Romantic Times, was a comedy?
Don’t be. The recognitions went to John Scalzi’s Redshirts (2012). Scalzi is a novelist from Ohio who also has written many nonfiction books and articles as well as published a very popular blog called Whatever.
This story begins with an away mission by the crew of the Universal Union starship Intrepid, heavily laden with senior offices and one ensign in the wrong colored uniform. Readers familiar with the science fiction cliche already know who is going to get it before this adventure ends. After the inevitable happens, we are introduced to the newest additions to the Intrepid’s crew including the main character in this novel, Ensign Andrew Dahl. New additions are needed because of the continuing high casualty count on the Intrepid.
The hook in this novel is that eventually Dahl and the characters that surround him are going to become self-aware that their kind is an endangered specie. To tell more about what is going to happen would only spoil the surprise of what Scalzi has done to earn these major awards.
The book is oddly structured. It does have a 230 page novella about the characters that is fast paced, humorous and captivating in how it tells their stories. The novella contains many appealing elements for a science fiction reader including alternate worlds, time travel, space technology and space opera elements.
Then there are three long codas attached to create another 90 pages of reading. The codas have a radically different pace then the novella but can be captivating to those who want to know more about the characters. In a sense, the three codas are almost like those scrolling film credits at the end of a movie that tell you the future fate of the movie’s characters. They also add pathos to what had been a fairly broad approach up to this point.
The reviews at the time of publication on this novel were mixed in part because I am not sure the “idea” was fully appreciated that the dialogue and action in this novel are driven by the underlining plot device (which will not be revealed in order to allow full access to the author’s manipulations of the reader).
This title was selected by our staff as our October Reader’s Advisory genre read. Most of us are not science fiction readers while we are almost all science fiction watchers. The book found universal (ha-ha) appeal amongst our staff and we would recommend it to libraries with adventurous book clubs, science fiction readers and for teens.