Friday, July 20, 2012

John Scalzi's Redshirts


Summary: Redshirts begins as a funny action packed story, but develops into deeper territory. Recommended for everyone, not just scifi fans.

There can be no argument that John Scalzi is a clever writer. His latest book, already number x on the NYT Best Seller List, is a fast paced action satire sure to please most fans of the scifi genre. However, Scalzi is more than just a clever writer, and Redshirts reveals his ability to write emotionally moving prose.

Scalzi worked on the TV series Stargate: Universe, and this background shows in the structure of the main story. It conforms to the three act structure of the Hollywood screenplay (see Sid Field's Screenplay, the Bible of screenwriting). This is not a bad thing, when used by someone who writes well. And Scalzi certainly does that. If nothing else, Redshirts is a rousing yarn (but so much more, I will argue).

I had encountered criticism of Scalzi that he is weak on character development in favor of the plot. Not having read his earlier novels, I was curious if this was the case for Redshirts. I think the criticism is true to a certain extent, however, it seems to me that this is not a defect; it is actually integral to the plot! I think the careful reader will find clues that this is intentional. Example: there is no description of the actual uniforms of the Starship Intrepid's crew. This can hardly be an oversight, given the name of the novel. Let me be clear on this. There is character development, there are character arcs, they just aren't fully formed or are superficial.

Scalzi turns all the criticism on its head after the resolution of the main story. Diverging from the three act formula, the author has added three Codas, and this is where he demonstrates his ability to pluck at the reader's heartstrings and where he goes beyond being a competent and clever writer. The codas are vignettes of a few of the minor characters, told in the first, second, and third person narrative voices, respectively. Even a hard headed critical reader such as myself will find their eyes tearing up, such is Scalzi's skill in fleshing out these characters and making the reader care about them. So much for the aforementioned criticism!


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