Book Review: Redshirts

What: Redshirts
Who: John Scalzi
When: Released June 2012

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 expendedon 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. 


As I mentioned in my “anticipatory” preview, I had been waiting for the release of this book for some time. I was so enthusiastic about it that I even bought the first edition hardcover assuming that I’d reread it many times as I have done with most of Scalzi’s other books.

After having read it I do not think I’ll be reading it for a second time. Sorry Mr. Scalzi, I feel a bit mean even saying that but I’ll try to explain why.

I ripped into the book with gusto and immediately enjoyed more typical Scalzi characters and dialogue. After a couple of chapters I got the sense that all was not well and things seemed to be a little “ridiculous” in places, kind of weird. Well things on the Intrepid aren’t normal, and that’s the whole point of the story.

What transpired was a well written story that was a real surprise for sure. Full credit to John Scalzi for his writing skills. Excellent. However, I found the whole thing a little bit (okay, a whole lot) like an academic exercise in story telling, like Scalzi was merely flexing his writing muscles while chuckling over some sci-fi community inside joke.

The story is clearly a piss-take of a sci-fi TV show or shows – I get that bit, but I can’t really say much that won’t spoil the story for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, but suffice to say that there’s a sort-of Truman Show “big brother” vibe going on that I found to be a real yawn. Well done I must concede, but boring.

The best piece of the whole book was the last two of the three codas at the end of the book where we can at least get in alongside a character for an emotional ride so to speak. That part was interesting at least. 


Like I said the quality of the writing is excellent, but the story? Hated it. Sorry but I really was disappointed with this one. Lots will love it I’m sure. I’m not an expert (other than about what I like) and I think this book might actually do well. But it’s not a good science-fiction book for people like me. I prefer a good gritty story more like the Old Man’s War series. Scalzi is a far, far better writer than this.

With all that said, it wasn’t a hard book to read and I was able to finish it.

Give it a go and see what you think. Hopefully you’ll disagree with me. My NZ$40 would’ve been better spent elsewhere this time I reckon.

Seems that Mark at Walker Of Worlds agrees. 

Writing quality 9/10
Storyline 1/10
Overall 4/10 
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