Redshirts by John Scalzi (9780765316998): 2012 (Tor Books)
It is the far future and Ensign Andy Dahl has been assigned to the Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union fleet. What should be a plum position turns into a fight for survival as it becomes apparent that the Intrepid has the highest mortality of any ship of the line. Ensigns avoid their commanders like the plague, hoping against hope that they will not be selected for away teams. But why are Intrepid away missions so dangerous? Why don’t the commanders seem to notice or acknowledge the patterns? These are the questions to which Dahl and his fellow newbies want answers.
Redshirts is easily the most “meta” novel I have ever read. What begins as a mildly amusing satire of Star Trek quickly becomes a much more complex endeavor, with Scalzi breaking not only the fourth wall but a fifth and sixth while he’s at it. Each meta layer is skillfully applied, never losing the reader and never allowing the narrative to slow its breakneck pace. Scalzi always provides a deft and funny read; it is apparent that he was striving for something more here and largely succeeds. He has created a novel of surprising depth and a wry commentary on storytelling, characterization, and the creative process itself. But most importantly, it’s just a fun ride. Highly recommended.
I love metafictional science fiction — my favorite has to be Spinrad’s The Iron Dream (1972) — which is an alternate history where Hitler goes to the US (WWII never happens) and writes a science fictional novel, The Lord of the Swastika, which comprises most of the book. So, you read what Hitler would have written if he had written a sci-fi novel. Spinrad uses Hitler’s novel to level a ferocious critique against sword and sorcery fantasy and pulp sci-fi… Which he argues is racist.
I’ve not read any Spinrad–but that book sounds as interesting and provocative as I’ve heard that he is.
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