Scalzi's Redshirts: existentialist comedy space opera

By Cory Doctorow

John Scalzi's new novel Redshirts starts from a a well-worn, but clever premise: what if the characters in a hackneyed genre story realized that they were trapped by the poor imagination of a hack writer? In Redshirts' case, the prisoners of destiny are the red-shirted ensigns assigned to the flagship of a galactic federation in a derivative, B-grade Star Trek knock-off, whose cohort dies in great number on every mission. The ensigns begin to suspect that something's amiss when they discover that all the ship's old hands run and hide every time the members of the first-shift bridge crew come by, and after a few grisly deaths from their number, they begin to work it out, with the aid of a reclusive bearded prophet who hides in the ship's maintenance corridors, and who believes that they have been trapped in something called "The Narrative" and has even worked out its rules.

The premise has been considered before, and Scalzi's handling of it is deft, likable, and funny without sacrificing suspense or characterization. But, this being a Scalzi novel, quickly transcends the mere conceit and begins to consider the existential, human implications for both the characters and the 21st century actors who portrayed them, and before you know it, we're off on a provocative and heart-tugging philosophical meta-novel.

Redshirts both realizes and transcends its premise, and is at once a tribute to, and a piss-take on, the best and worst that space opera has to offer. It's the sort of thing that science fiction is especially good at, and the sort of thing for which Scalzi is justifiably loved.


Published 7:10 am Tue, Jun 5, 2012

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About the Author

I write books. My latest are: a YA graphic novel called In Real Life (with Jen Wang); a nonfiction book about the arts and the Internet called Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age (with introductions by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer) and a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.

17 Responses to “Scalzi's Redshirts: existentialist comedy space opera”

  1. Simon Cohen says:

    Very excited to read this. Scalzi is more addictive than bath salts.

  2. Gbaji says:

    “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Disintegrated”

  3. Astragali says:

    I would love to get both the print version, and the audiobook (read by Wil Wheaton, no less). Perhaps one day…

  4. RedShirt77 says:

     We are not just intergalactic cannon fodder!

  5. Sean Murphy says:

    There’s even a Jonathan Coulton song written specifically for the novel!

  6. No Kindle version in the UK till 15 November 2012? No DRM but Amazon enforced artificial scarcity?

    • Mickey_disqus says:

      I wonder how the net-savvy readers of BoingBoing, familiar as they are with the world of (illegal) file-sharing, will react to that…

  7. privatedick says:

    After much thought I bought the dead tree version. You know, so I can LEND IT TO WHOEVER THE HELL I WANT.

  8. Chuck says:

    I keep reading that TOR books is going DRM-free.  When is this happening? All I can find is Redshirts on Kindle or Kobo.

  9. Karen Davis says:

    The book is DRM free regardless of where you buy it – now. A few vendors didn’t get the memo, but TOR has arranged a replacement copy for anyone who got a DRM’d one. See Whatever for details.

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