Writing about Reading: Redshirts

September 22, 2012 § 4 Comments

Someone tells you a very funny story. You laugh several times — really laugh, not just chuckle — and when he finishes the story, he punches you in the stomach.

Ever had that experience? Then you know what it’s like to read John Scalzi’s novel, Redshirts.

Redshirts is a fantastic piece of writing. To continue the punching metaphor, it’s a rope-a-dope book; it seems like one thing, and when you least expect it, POW! It becomes something completely, powerfully different. Something beautiful and funny and sad and true.

Redshirts starts off as a hilarious send-up of Star Trek. I laughed aloud several times, as my wife can verify. Any other writer might have been satisfied with creating a pastiche, as so many writers have done in the past. But Scalzi is a master, and very quickly turns Redshirts into something bigger. It’s still LOL funny, but the punches start to hit a little harder.

And then, somewhere around page 200, Scalzi delivers the first blow that sends you reeling. You realize you’ve been had, and that this “funny story” you decided to read as a sorbet between Olen Steinhauer novels is, in fact, a novel with depth.

Just about the time you’re recovering from that initial wallop, he lands another, and another, and another.

There’s a roundhouse I can’t talk about, because it’s a potential spoiler.

There’s an uppercut for those coasting through life on autopilot, waiting for something to grab us and tell us this is why we’re here. To tell us our purpose in life.

And there’s the coup de grâce, which knocks you out with its beauty and humor and truth and heartbreaking sadness. It made me cry, which is something a “funny story” isn’t supposed to make you do.

I can’t tell you anything more about the Redshirts without spoiling it for you. I’ve probably said too much already, truth be told. Just trust me when I tell you that this is more than just a parody of a science fiction TV show; this is a great fucking book.

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