Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas

Reading this science-fiction-skewering novel recalls past sci-fi metanarratives such as the cult parody Galaxy Quest and Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “Lower Decks” episode. Redshirts wants to be the perfect hybrid of these examples—providing humorous insight into the deus ex machina tactics sci-fi writers cling to—but while John Scalzi deliciously lampoons the illogical fallacies and cheap tricks that fill our favorite sci-fi stories (like the stock “redshirt” character doomed to die early), he fails to remember the rich characters and settings that originally drew us into those stories. It’s fun to see how far Scalzi pushes the metanarrative, and readers will enjoy recalling multiple incidents across multiple series that are guilty of Scalzi’s accusations of lazy writing. The problem here is that Scalzi points out these shortcomings by embracing them himself. It succeeds as satire; it fails as storytelling. Blank faces devoid of characterization provide excellent commentary on the expendable redshirts, but Scalzi asks them to be main characters in a non-descript sci-fi setting. He does drop the lazy-writing tool during the three codas, but by then it’s too little too late, and more redshirts have senselessly died.