Cover image of "Redshirts," a diabolically clever novel byJohn Scalzi

Redshirts is the most diabolically clever science fiction novel I’ve read in a very long time. It’s also uproariously funny all the way up until . . . it’s not funny anymore, just brilliant. No wonder this book won the Hugo Award, the genre’s top prize.

In his acknowledgments, author John Scalzi goes out of his way to insist that Redshirts is not based on Stargate: Universe, the short-lived TV sci-fi series for which he served as creative consultant. Funny: I didn’t detect any resemblance to any TV sci-fi series except the original Star Trek. That resemblance is unmistakable. Even if it was unintentional on the author’s part (which I seriously doubt).

Redshirts begins as a conventional science fiction adventure. It’s set in the mid-25th century (even though most of the cultural and scientific references appear to reflect the 21st), the setting the “Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, Flagship of the Universal Union” (read: the Starship Enterprise). The protagonist is Ensign Andrew Dahl, fresh out of the Academy when he joins the crew.

Dahl and his gang of young newcomers don’t call to mind any obvious characters in Gene Roddenberry’s classic sci-fi series Star Trek, but the same can’t be said of the ship’s senior officers: Captain Lucius Abernathy (read: Captain James Tiberius Kirk), Science Officer Q’eeng (Mr. Spock), and Chief Engineer Paul West (Scotty), in particular. You’ll also find a similar array of deadly off-world creatures, beginning with the Borgovian Land Worms in the opening chapter (which go off-script to channel the sandworms of Frank Herbert’s celebrated novel, Dune).

Redshirts: A Novel With Three Codas by John Scalzi ★★★★★

Scalzi is particularly skillful at dialogue, which few writers truly master. (The late Elmore Leonard comes most readily to mind.) Most of the chatter that dominates Redshirts is spoken among Dahl and his four close companions, whose irreverence and wit clearly come naturally to Scalzi. Much of the novel’s humor emerges in dialogue.

John Scalzi is a prolific writer. In addition to his widely followed blog, “Whatever,” and a slew of nonfiction, he has written seventeen science fiction novels as well as a book of novellas and novelettes. His best-known works are the nine novels in the Old Man’s War series. He’s only forty-six at this writing, so we can expect a lot more from his keyboard.

For more reading

I’ve reviewed a number of other John Scalzi novels. They’re a mixed bag. For example, I despised The Kaiju Preservation Society (John Scalzi goes wild. Very wild.).

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