Saturday, 12 October 2013

'Redshirts' by John Scalzi

Redshirts is  a relatively short novel by American science fiction author John Scalzi, best known for his 'Old Man's War' military science fiction novel and its sequels. The book is about 300 pages, but the last 80 or so pages actually form three 'codas', linked short stories that add extra content to the book. The book won the 2013 Hugo Award, arguably science fiction's greatest accolade, but reader reviews on Amazon are decidedly mixed and some think a book as light and frothy as this shouldn't have won a Hugo.

Redshirts follows a group of junior Ensigns on a starship, the flagship of the United Union fleet. The main character, Andrew Dahl, is a new crew member who gradually realises that being an Ensign or 'redshirt' on the ship is a very dangerous occupation, as people keep dying horrible, meaningless missions on a seemingly endless stream of away missions. Senior officers never die however... What is going on?

The book starts off as a spoof on Star Trek - even referencing it in a couple of places. It gradually develops a rather interesting storyline. It's also rather funny, I laughed out loud in a few places, and quoted several bits to my wife - much to her delight! I read a few reviews of this on Amazon before picking it up, the most helpful of which said something along the lines of: 'If you read the first couple of chapters and think it is a really badly written story, then persevere. It intentionally starts out like this, and is an important part of the story.' Good advice, because this is exactly what happens.

A final note about the 'codas' at the end of the book. I got to about page 220 and went 'huh?'. The story had ended and what were these things at the end. Should I read on? I actually googled it and found a blog post from the author explaining about them. I did read them. The first was quite interesting, but not spectacular. The final two were shorter, and really good. The first coda adds a funny, interesting perspective. The other two add quite a touching, emotive and thought provoking element to the book and round off the whole thing nicely.

Overall I really enjoyed this book. It a good story that had me hooked, it was very funny and also touching towards the end. While I see why some people complained, I feel it is a worthy winner of the Hugo Award, and am going to give it 9/10.