Is there anyone on the web who doesn’t know what a redshirt is? Back in the day, when you didn’t need to suffix “Star Trek” with “The Original Series” to mean that ’60′s show with Kirk, Spock, and the gang, and our heroes sallied forth onto a planet’s surface, they always took along a crew member or two in red shirts. You only saw them once, because their sole purpose was to die horribly, amping up the dramatic tension. See, you’re paying a lot of money for Kirk, Spock, and the gang, and fans get invested in them, and so Rule #1 is that you don’t kill them off.
Well, not permanently, anyway.
And yet, there’s dangerous creatures! And dangerous aliens with bumpy foreheads! And people need to die! And hence, there are redshirts beaming down to the planet with our heroes.
John Scalzi has written a book about this, from the point of view of the redshirts. It doesn’t take place on the U.S.S. Enterprise; rather, it takes place on the U.U. Intrepid, flagship of the fleet of the Universal Union. Our hero, Ensign Dahl, is young, ambitious, and unless things go completely right, tomorrow’s dogmeat. What’s going on here? And why is the fatality rate for the Intrepid’s crew so much higher than for any other ship in the fleet? Why do the bridge crew sometimes pause dramatically, as though holding for a dramatic fade out? Why do some of the crewmen have backstories, while the others don’t? Who’s in charge, here?
Scalzi has written a delightful book that lovingly pokes fun at Star Trek while including a plot that’s wholly Star-Trekkian (if that’s a word), and that also makes us think about fate, free will, and taking charge of our own lives.
There’s some language, and a certain amount of what I guess I’d call sexual frankness, if that bothers you. And if you’ve never gone in for Star Trek, you might as well skip it. Otherwise, highly recommended.
(Actually, I’d like to register one tiny complaint. The window at the P.F. Chang’s at the Media Center Mall in Burbank most certainly does not look out at a parking garage.)