Redshirts was recommended on so many of the blogs I follow, so when I saw that the author John Scalzi was going to be at the Festival of Books, I picked up a copy at his publisher’s booth and started reading. It really only took about two nights to finish, and that’s because I had schoolwork to do.
Normally “adult” books take longer to read because the author tries to be fancy with their prose and make it more literary or something. Scalzi writes in pretty much spoken English so I didn’t feel like I was struggling through a philosophical science fiction book, though there was plenty of philosophy behind all the jokes.
Redshirts is set in a Star-Trek-like universe, with the protagonists being low-ranking, probably red shirt wearing crewmen of a ship very much like the Enterprise. There’s something weird going on on the ship though. The crewmen keep dying on away missions and on certain decks when there is a battle, but certain high-ranking crewmen seem to be immune from damage, or have unnatural healing powers. There's also some dubious "scientific" machines that even the characters can't explain. It turns out that the whole setup is a tv show from the early 21st century, and the crewmen who can't die are the main characters, and the dubious science is the writers having stuff happen off-screen that they don't want to/can't explain. So a few of the red-shirt-wearing crewmen time travel to present-day Los Angeles to get the show shut down, and convince the writers to stop killing off extras in their scripts so unnecessarily.
It's like if JJ Abrams made a scifi Stranger than Fiction with a budget smaller than the original Doctor Who and added in some Princess Bride humor. Which is like combining a bunch of my favorite things into one fairly short book. It sounds ridiculous, and Redshirts was definitely ridiculous, but here's the thing: it worked. Scalzi was able to take all the most ridiculous parts of bad sci-fi and self-aware literature and make an awesome book that’s not bad sci-fi anymore, though it is very self-aware. The fourth wall is broken a couple of times at least, depending on where you want to draw the fourth wall.
If you’re not afraid of making fun of classic tv scifi a little, the humor is spot on. I didn’t know much about Star Trek before the 2009 movie got me into the fandom, so I’m not sure I got all the jokes, but I was laughing most of the time. There were also some pretty good zingers about Los Angeles. The genre criticism ala Princess Bride or Douglas Adams was perfect. I feel like Scalzi would be a great guy to hang out with and criticize the Hobbit or the Ender’s Game movie with.