You know, I typed up a whole paragraph explaining what a Redshirt was before I remembered, firstly, that Wikipedia could probably do that for me nearly as well as I could, and secondly, that’s something I already decided not to do last time I needed to address the concept when reviewing Gardner’s Expendable, so…let’s proceed.
Our old friend Mr. Scalzi has asked us to wonder about a lot of things in his Hugo-nominated novel Redshirts, beginning with…how dumb would those guys have to be, anyway? I mean, really, you’d have to be crazy to take a job on that ship, right? What if you took the job and only then found out how crazy it was, though? Wouldn’t you try to figure out what was going on, and do everything you could to prevent it from happening to you? And that’s our basic premise, and if that was all this book had going for it, well, then you’ve already read my review of Gardner’s light but fun book, right? So what elevates this to Hugo status?
Well, a number of people I know have said “nothing,” but I disagree. See, after he lays out the questions above, he starts answering them, and things get really meta, really fast. What we wind up with is something that’s very difficult to talk about without spoiling the fun of reading it, but raises new questions about what it means to be a storyteller, and whether a storyteller has a duty to be as excellent as their abilities allow, not just for their own sakes and the sakes of those who are consuming their story, but for the story’s sake itself. It asks you to consider identity, and the power of fiction to change lives, the power of fame to destroy or create, and a few other things besides.
A brief note: this book doesn’t follow the same structural rules as most modern novels. There’s a main body of the novel that wraps up the major plot arc, and then three “Codas,” of novelette length. The Codas are not to be skipped, and are where a lot of the meat of the books themes really come out, so keep that in mind. Anyway, I really liked this book, and I’ve liked it even more with some distance and contemplation from when I read it. I hope it wins the Hugo; it’s got my vote.