Redshirts by John Scalzi - The Redshirts win in a most unexpected way
Typically this blog is about music, but there is more to my life than just music. So, today I branch out into discussing a book I just finished Redshirts by John Scalzi. It is a wonderful read, even for people who aren't Science Fiction fans, those who have no knowledge of Star Trek and the related issues with unexplained deaths of those who wear red shirts, and even people who prefer reading gritty crime novels, present day character studies or sappy romance books. Redshirts is a thought-provoking romp, with lots of comedy, philosophical questions and the appropriate number of tugs on the heart strings. In the end, the "Redshirts" win in more than just they get their own story — they get a back story we care about.
Redshirts are the people on the television show Star Trek who, for one reason or another (and often really lame reasons) end up dying, to give a sense of potential danger to the situation. "What's going to happen to the main characters is such a minor character can die so easily." They are there to set up the hero trope where Captain Kirk eventually triumphs in the face of adversity. But, because the Redshirts die, they never have much (if any) back story, they seldom have names and the actors who play them get the weeks paycheck and then get back to looking for work (as they can't appear on show again; they're dead).
John Scalzi doesn't just give back story to some of these characters—although he puts them in a different universe (a different television show, where their eventual demise is just as certain)—he makes them the heroes-the people who save the day. And then he goes the next step.
Redshirts is about the minor characters on a fictitious Sci-Fi television show and more. John takes his story, twists it about and puts one of his minor characters into the one we care most about, the one whose story makes the most difference. When you put down the book (if you're not grabbing for a box of Kleenex to wipe away the tears), you ponder what role you play in your own story. Are YOU a redshirt in your own narrative? What are you doing with your life to make your eventual death — we all die in the end — have some meaning?
Redshirts is also about relationships, as they are how we are defined in the end. Our relationships with friends, co-workers, loved ones are really what we leave when we depart this world. How we effect their lives is really what defines how we are remember in the future. John Scalzi examines this question for people who realize they are simply Redshirts, destined to die and they want their deaths to have meaning.
Don't let the deep subject matter throw you off. Redshirts is a hilarious book. There are parts that had me in stitches to point I couldn't continue reading I was laughing so hard. It is just this delightful humor to the story that allows John to reach further into questions we don't like thinking about. Yet, by the time we're thinking about them we hardly realized how many galaxies we've crossed to get there.
Will Redshirts change your life? I don't know. I guess it depends on when you get through it whether you feel like you're living your life as a Redshirt or not.