The failure of Armada, for me, was the recursive and self-referential style of Ernest Cline, which ended up feeling like a crutch rather than an addition to the fairly straightforward plot. Unbeknownst to me, this book is in a similar vein to my previous read. Redshirts is about the “red shirts” from the original Star Trek series. They were characters used to create dramatic tension by dying early in episodes (typically on away missions). These were characters with no backstory, and the most basic of character descriptions. John Scalzi has built an entire book around them.
But that’s not what this book is about. Not really. This book is about identity. Fundamentally, this book poses the question, “who are we?”. The last act, the three codas, is tonally very different from the rest of the novel, and is almost solely focused on this question. The narrative itself is suspenseful and somewhat comical, with an underlying flavor of campy absurdity. But the codas are more contemplative and philosophical. It was a surprising and welcome addition to a story that I enjoyed.
The meta-ness of Redshirts isn’t a schtick, it’s the very foundation of the novel. It’s the substance that gives the story it’s meaning. I hate to keep comparing it to Armada (because the two books are very different in numerous ways), but what frustrated me so much in that book is demonstrated so masterfully here. I can’t recommend this book enough.