Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.
Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.
Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.
I’ve read quite a few reviews for this book, most of them written with more eloquence that I can summon that give you a better feel for the piece (here for one). I had written out whole review for this piece, but I don’t think it truly does it justice, so today (for once), I’m going to keep it short. This book, like so many of Scalzi’s books, hit a soft spot for me. Let me tell you why.
You see, when I was little my dad used to let me watch Star Trek: The Next Generation with him. I’ve come to cherish the simplicity of that time. I don’t recall ever feeling frightened of what I was watching. It was more a sense of profound awe that these people could forge their way through space and leave it a better place for them having been there and that I got to experience their stories curled up next to my dad on a well worn velvet couch. It’s defined my life in ways that I don’t think I’ve come close to realizing.
The reason I bring this up here is because every time I pick up a Scalzi book, Redshirts in particular, I feel like I get to worm my way back into that space, sitting next to my dad, watching people fly through the stars. There’s this odd sense of familiarity. (I feel compelled to specify that I find the universe to be familiar, not the author. I’m not a stalker.) I think that what Scalzi has done is tapped into a very realistic view of what the future would look like. It feels like it’s my universe, just really far in the future. It’s not that he’s showing me the future with Captain Picard forging his way through the galaxy. It’s that he’s showing me the real people who report to the Captain and how their lives had meaning beyond the ten second cameo necessary to communicate the damage to levels 7-11. He’s giving me the story of the people I would be sitting with at the mess hall and he makes it heart-wrenching and compelling. He takes ordinary people and elevates them without taking away their mundane worries and cares.
In the end, of course this story will entertain you. There will be some smiling and some shaking of the head in happy understanding, but really Scalzi speaks to the eight year old in you who read comic books or played D&D or watched Star Trek and it will be glorious.
4.5 ink bottles.
Character Investibility: 4 Buffys
Character Believability: 4.5 Doctors
Pacing/Tension/Urgency: 4.5 Dresdens
Worldbuilding: 4.5 Snyders
Language: 4.5 Feegles
Mystery: 5 Sherlocks