John Scalzi is one of those writers who just seems to be having way too much fun. After last year's lovely "reboot" of H. Beam Piper's classic Little Fuzzy (in Fuzzy Nation), he's now taken on classic Star Trek, with a delightfully crazy twist.
Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas (Tor Books, 2012. Editor: Patrick Nielsen Hayden) explores in a loving, fannish way the crappy worldbuilding, bad plotting, and ludicrous science of a lousy science ficton television show...but from the point of view of some of the characters, who gradually come to realize that quite a few things about their entire world are seriously wrong: impossible physics, knowledge suddenly appearing in their heads, ridiculous coincidences, officers who are injured every episode and make miraculous recoveries, normal people suddenly changing speech patterns, crazy tasks always successfully accomplished at the most dramatic possible moment, and a major problem with low-level crew members dying at a horrendous rate on away missions. Since the protagonist, Dahl, is a low-level crew member himself, that last particularly captures the attention of him and his friends.
The parallels with classic Trek will be hilariously obvious to anyone who watched the original series, and the title, obviously, is a hat-tip to that show's disposable extras in their red uniform shirts. This is sort of a literary version of Galaxy Quest, turned inside out and twisted a few times, and it's every bit as funny, particularly with the characters channeling Scalzi's trademark wit and deadpan humor. No one is ever at a loss for a good line.
And then it gets, to quote the characters, "recursive and meta". Because sometimes bad science and bad plotting have their uses, and people can adjust to living in a poorly constructed world and learn not only to predict how the Narrative will go, but how to manipulate it in their favor. And off we go on a recursive and meta adventure that makes perfect sense within a completely nonsensical premise -- in other words, with precisely the suspension of disbelief necessary to enjoy a bad science fiction television show.
To say any more would be completely unfair, but I just have to make one little comment that will go completely over the head of anyone who hasn't been reading fan fiction forever. It's rot-13'd because for anyone who has, it's a major spoiler: Fpnymv bjrf Wrna Ybeenu naq Jvyyneq Uhag zbarl.
I laughed a lot reading Redshirts. Having been a fan of classic Trek helps, but I think anyone who's seen any bad science fiction TV show or movie will catch the jokes. But it's more than a parody or comedic exercise. A few times, especially in the codas, I cried.
You simply must read this one for yourself: