Bingo Review 17: Red
Red Shirts (‘red’ is in the title, and occasionally referenced in-text) is basically Star Trek gone meta, really meta. I would divide the story into two parts: the part where certain members of the crew of the Intrepid start to notice some strange patterns surrounding the away missions: certain crew members always are fine (relatively) while certain others are nearly guaranteed to end up dead. But why is that? Ensign Dahl is the driving force behind trying to solve this strange mystery; he’s a new science-type officer although his personal background is of a more spiritual-linguistic nature. About half of the novel is him and a few friends trying to work out what is going on aboard their ship. This part of the novel got kind of boring, since it was more like a series of the more mundane and less interesting Star Trek episodes; this is definitely intentional and very much the point, as the second half reveals, but that didn’t make it any more interesting or fun to read the first time through. I suspect this might be one of those times where now that I know what’s going on, going back and looking for the potential hints might be more interesting.
The second part of the novel is what the crew members who figure out the mystery decide to do about it once they know. This bit involves some conventional sci-fi tv show tropes including and especially the trip into the contemporary world of the viewer/reader. This part is actually kind of funny, since you’ve got a bunch of tv show characters and a bunch of real people, but who’s who and what’s what, and which storyline is the “real” story and what’s the “Real world” etc.? Meta-metaness. Kerensky’s role in this part might be my favorite; he’s the officer on the mission who always gets hurt or sick or cursed etc, but somehow manages to survive. More than this would be spoilers, but it’s actually one of the more interesting and entertaining parts of the whole thing.
The last few paragraphs of the main novel get a little more meta, and takes the whole thing just a tad bit too far; this part gets into eye-rolling territory. And the Coda add-ons that explore a few of the suggested backstories are hit and miss; only one of them really had much interest for me, and even that one could have been left to the imagination.
This was actually my first time reading John Scalzi, although I’ve seen him on social media and have heard of some of his other works. If Red Shirts is indicative of his work overall, then it appears to be kind of thing where something sounds interesting but turns out to be kind of a blah experience so you decide to not follow up for the time, and then later try again; repeat the cycle. Not bad, definitely some interesting ideas and moments, but not something I ever really got into.