Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi, read by Wil Wheaton

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas By John Scalzi

Narrated by Wil Wheaton for Audible Frontiers

Length: 7 hrs and 41 mins

Release Date: 06-05-12 

Review by Dave Thompson: “Stay off the Bridge! Avoid the Narrative!”

“Is it just me…or is everyone on this ship monumentally fucked up about away teams?” asks one of the Redshirts early on in John Scalzi’s latest.  Redshirts is funny, exciting, and gets emotional and pretty heartfelt in the most surprising places. But what’s really unique about this one is how Meta it gets.  If you’ve ever been frustrated with some of the bad science in your science fiction, you’re going to get some good laughs out of this one. Scalzi plays with his narrative like a phaser set to disintegrate and aims it at all the tropes, poor logic, and shoddy science that badly made genre TV, film, and fiction have conjured for “dramatic purposes.”

There’s a twist early on in Redshirts that could be pretty divisive among the audience, and will make or break this story from some, but if you can go with it, it’s a very fun ride – even an inspiring one.

There are a lot of characters, and as a result, some of them feel a little more cookie-cutter than I’d prefer. Scalzi’s characters are never terribly complex, but the protagonist doesn’t stand out as much as some of the others he’s written. However, the way this story’s set-up, it can certainly be argued that that is the point. They are generic Redshirts after all, right? Still, I wish they could’ve been a little more distinct. (And the usual Scalzi stuff applies – the constant dialogue tags, the characters voices, etc.)

That said, Scalzi’s characters warn each other about being “Under the Influence of the Narrative” and “Death by Away Team” – and I have little doubt will become shorthand for all sorts of creative types in the future. And through it all, Scalzi throws down a challenge to not only live long and prosper, but to stop wasting time – to take advantage of your life and really live, and to do something worthwhile.

There’s been a decent amount of talk about the three Codas that conclude this book. My own reaction to them is somewhat mixed. They’re well-enough written, and the second and third hit emotional points I wasn’t expecting. The first coda, however, seems to be at direct odds with the end of the novel proper (as well as some of the main ideas) – to say more, I fear would be treading into spoiler territory.  

Wil Wheaton once again does a very strong job with the narration – and really, who else would you pick to narrate this book but the once and future Wesley Crusher? It’s great to hear him reading another Scalzi book, and one can only hope that if this ever gets made into a movie, Wheaton will get to play one of the lead roles (though I’m personally hoping he gets the part of poor Lt. Kerensky).

For Star Trek and SF fans, for creative types, for anyone who has ever watched a SF TV or film and wanted to throw something at the screen because it all suddenly stopped making sense – this is worth checking out. There’s a good chance you’ll be laughing while you do so.

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Dave Thompson is the host and co-editor of PodCastle, the fantasy fiction audio magazine. His own fiction has been published by Bull Spec and Apex Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @krylyr.

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