“When you create a science fiction show, you create a new fictional timeline, which starts just before the production date of that television show. That show’s ‘past’ doesn’t include the television show itself.”

“Because that would be recursive and meta,” Duvall said.

As a science fiction fan, I take solace in the fact that John Scalzi is an author that continues to write new books on a regular basis. He’s one of the writers on the good side of the force and puts out a new, often delightful, novel each year. In Redshirts, Scalzi is back, this time with an ode to the eponymous expendables, giving them a voice in rebellion against their careless creators.

Read the last Book Smugglers on books by female authors inspired by 'The Killing Moon.'

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Assigned to serve as grunts on the Universal Union flagship Intrepid, Ensign Andy Dahl and his friends know almost immediately that there is something terribly wrong with the ship and her crew. When Captain Abernathy, Chief Science Officer Q’eeng, or the perpetually injured Lieutenant Kerensky walk by, crew members have the uncanny ability to scuttle away and hide. For, aboard the Intrepid, getting noticed by these main officers—and thus by The Narrative—means imminent, certain death (if not by way of heinous flesh-eating plague, then via Borgovian Land Worm, or Ice Shark, or Venomous Alien Monkey, or so on).  As it turns out, the entire crew of the Intrepid is living out the poorly written plot of a Star Trek- knockoff TV show—a show that has inexplicably been written a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. (Yes, I know I just mixed my Star Wars and Star Trek allusions. So what.)

In order to survive, Dahl and his fellow ensigns must travel back in time, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home-style, and convince the TV-show writers and creators to stop killing low-ranking crewmembers off as a means to create dramatic tension. Time traveling, paradox-inducing, supermetafictional hijinks ensue.

Redshirts is a tongue-in-cheek love letter to sci-fi staples of old, paying homage to the likes of Roddenberry and Whedon, but also drawing heavily from large canon of metatextual genre fiction with references spanning from Galaxy Quest to Slaughterhouse-Five. At its best, Redshirts is an expertly written comedy that manages to be fun, universally appealing and old-fashioned, light-hearted entertainment. Sure, there isn’t much in the way of thematic depth, and the book isn’t particularly memorable, but there’s a large amount of fun to be had with Scalzi’s latest novel—provided that you don’t take things too seriously.

It is precisely when Redshirts starts to take itself seriously, in fact, that things go off the rails. The three codas that close out the book attempt at Serious Message-making and put a damper on the zany fun of the primary plot. Rather than deep, Scalzi’s exploration of metaphysics and its implications in these codas comes across as indulgent. Hell, the reason why Redshirts is so endearing is because of its inherent, equivocating silliness, and when the book tries to assign gravitas and significance to a purposely silly plot, the thrill is gone. Because, time travel and alternate universe-creating aside, Redshirts is far more “The Trouble with Tribbles” than it is “The City on the Edge of Forever.”

Despite the sour tang the codas leave following the conclusion of the story proper, Redshirts is a delightful space romp that works because it unabashedly wears its geek-loving heart on its sleeve. Stay for the hapless ensigns. Leave before the Codas.

In Book Smugglerish, Redshirts gets a rousing 7 Borgovian Land Worms out of 10.

Thea James is half of the maniacal book review duo behind The Book Smugglers  and a newly minted M.S. in digital publishing graduate. When she isn't voraciously devouring the latest and greatest in speculative fiction, or swamped in papers and proposals, she can be found blogging, watching bad horror movies and concocting general plans toward world domination.