If you’re a sci fi buff looking for a book recommendation for the new year, I suggest John Scalzi’s Redshirts, which was published in 2012 but which I’ve just discovered. It’s fast-paced, well written, laugh-out-loud funny — and I’m not somebody who use “LOL” very often — and it addresses an important issue.
It’s an issue that any fan of Star Trek, the original series, recognized long ago : namely, the appalling mortality rate among the member of the away team that were sent down to the surface of the planet with Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy. Those poor anonymous red-shirted bastards — because typically, they wore red shirts identifying them as members of the Security department — were lucky to be given a name or have even one line before they were blown up, devoured by beasts, ravaged by rapidly accelerated old age, cut down by phaser fire, reduced to a cube and then crushed into dust, or otherwise knocked off in painful, embarrassing, and inexplicable fashion before the first commercial break.
Even worse, as the episode went on, you learned that the red-shirted deaths were the result of some colossal misunderstanding or bad decision by Captain Kirk, and the misunderstanding would be resolved, and at the end of the episode Kirk would make some funny comment as the Enterprise left orbit. And, even as you chuckled at Kirk’s witticism, it became all-too-clear that nobody gave a a second thought to the red-shirted guy who met his maker on Planet Albatron 4. You couldn’t help but wonder if you thought about it: how do these red-shirt guys even get insurance? How much is the United Federation of Planets paying in widows’ and orphans’ benefits, anyway?
This issue has been explored before — Galaxy Quest does a pretty good job with it, through the ruminations of Sam Rockwell’s character Guy Fleegman — but Redshirts takes it to a different level by imagining how the rest of the crew in a similar circumstance in a different TV universe might react to the constant rain of death that was befalling randomly selected “away team” members. It’s hysterical, and the clever ways in which the desperate crew members try to deal with the issue tell you a lot about Scalzi’s creativity. He’s a good writer, too.
It’s always fun to find a new author and work your way through his catalog. I’ve been enjoying Scalzi’s truly excellent Old Man’s War series, too, but Redshirts was a special comedic treat.