Book Review “Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas” by John Scalzi

I recently enjoyed the book by John Scalzi called “Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas” which I want to talk about and totally ruin with spoilers for anyone who will listen, so I’m going to put a spoiler bar in here. If you click to read more, you’re agreeing that I am going to be giving you some plot points and you can’t get mad at me for doing it because this is your warning, I’m going to be talking about the plot and spoiling it.

You’ve been warned.

The Good

This book was good because it was basically a fan-fiction for Star Trek begging the question, how do the redshirts feel? Now, if you’re unfamiliar with the concept of redshirts, that’s too bad.

Both Images are From Here

Now that we’re all caught up on the concept of redshirts, lets move on to why that’s such a fascinating concept and why I liked it so much. First off, the number of people who died in the series would definitely raise suspicions among the ranks, and the psychological affect of could be dramatic, and this book shows that.

The book delves into the consequences of crew death every time someone is on an away mission and how the crew would catch on to that. This book is a book instead of a fan-fiction because it doesn’t deal with the Enterprise Crew, but the crew of a completely different science fiction show made up for the purposes of the book with Star Trek in it’s history of television shows. Talk about a genius way to cue in the characters that they are characters, sometimes.

I really like how the book uses the idea of a “narrative” which breaks into their reality and controls them as an explanation for how people end up dying, forgetting about technology they could or should be using, and the unreasonably short turn around times on some problems. The narrative created a problem solving microwave to fix these problems, how great is that?

Moreover, I enjoyed the book because the characters themselves had many a thought about how unrealistic things were during the narrative and how frustrated they became with some of the plot choices the narrative took.

The Improvements

Just like any book, it could use some improvements. First and foremost, “he said” and “she said” were strongly featured in this book and if we did a word-cloud of the text, would be among the biggest words in the cloud.

  • Writing tip, if you ever want to know what words you should use less, copy all of your book into a word cloud and make it, then if any word that shouldn’t pop out does, like “sadly” try finding different adjectives for those words. The biggest words should be your characters names, places, and close classed words like ‘the’ which you should tell the word cloud not to use.

Speech tags can be good if you can lose track of who is speaking when, but in this book, they were overused at the beginning and by the end, I was able to tune them out, luckily. I listened to this book being read by Will Wheaton and the “he said” and “she said” got very old very quickly.

The next improvement is rather minor both comparatively and overall. The book’s descriptions of things were rather here and gone again rather than embedded into the conversation and action. There’s this thing with writing where you try to create a picture through action, like “she sat down on the rickety wooden chair and shoved some unpaid bills farther into the pile of junk on the table to put down her crusty plate with the Styrofoam take out set on top.” You write that rather than “The room was a mess. The two chairs around the dining room table were old and rickety, and the table itself was piled with crap. She hadn’t done her dishes in well over a week, so when she needed a dish to put her take-out dinner on, she was going to have to use a dirty one.” Both of these descriptions work well to describe the room, and have their own benefits and risks, but the active description is often considered more interesting.

There were some scenes where this could have been done really well, like when they were shoved into Jenkins’ hide away but instead of having people shuffling around during conversation to break up the talking heads, they were situated and then talked with “he said” and “she said” unless it was a question or had some other potential descriptor. This meant there was no chance to break up conversation with visuals which would have given the reader more of a movie-esque feel, and broken up the speech tags.

The Ending

This story ends with three stories which, by all rights, could have stood alone. I really enjoyed the first one where the script writer for the science fiction show was coming to grips with his reality of having met the characters he was writing and killing. That was a really well done first person narrative through a blog.

Personally, I didn’t like the second coda with the second person point of view because I’m not a fan of that even in poetry. I don’t like feeling like I’m doing things as the reader, I like to watch other people doing things. It really was a good addition to the book, however, because it cleared up the plan that brought the director’s son back to life and in good health since it wasn’t clear to me that the son wasn’t going to be on the ship, but that his brain would be transported into the crew’s body by the narrative’s powers. With that clarified, the book’s ending made more sense.

The third story was interesting because it tied up the loose ends of Jenkins and his wife by allowing a vicarious living experience through the actor of the wife. It was a nice final touch and a good note to leave on.

Conclusion

Overall, the book was a lot of fun to listen to and I enjoyed the plot as well as how the story handled psychology and physics. It made fun of the sci fi shows and how far off they often are from the reality of technology on the day they say they’re in, either because they didn’t know about a future technology invented which could still be utilized, like phones, or because they over-estimate the advances we might have. That’s the risk of writing science fiction.

The book was mostly a story about what we do to our characters though, and how secondary characters are primary characters in their own books, but we often treat them as second-rate and ignore developing them as people, or giving them deaths that make sense because it’s more dramatic for them to die in a fiery explosion despite that being unlikely in the context of the show.

In other words, it’s a great read if you can ignore ‘they said’.

Here’s a link to the book on Amazon

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