Riddle: Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to a planet. Who dies before the commercial break?
Answer: The red-shirted security guard standing behind them.
Welcome to the life of redshirts.
I didn’t expect to review another book so quickly after Down the Mysterly River, but then I found Redshirts. Have you ever finished a book and had to get your thoughts down on the page while your neurons were still all drowning in fireworks? Besides, it continues the theme so it’s practically fate.
Good fictional characters are real. First, they are real in the mind of the writer, then if they are well written enough and strike fire in the minds of enough readers, they become real to a whole universe of people who reread and reread their stories, who eagerly await the next book in their series, who may even–in genre fandoms where it’s acceptable to wear prosthetic ears or wave dangerously pointed sticks–even dress up as them and write fanfic of varying degrees of quality.
Then there are the other characters, the redshirts, the Lieutenant Expendables, the collateral damage strewn in the wake of any action plot. Star Trek was, of course, notorious for this: redshirts were the mostly-nameless crewmen killed off in every away-mission or space battle to establish the danger faced by the main characters. The unsung, the unmourned, and now the seriously pissed off.
Imagine being a new crewman aboard the Starship Free Enterprise, bright and shiny-new from the academy, gradually realizing that 1.) you are a character in a badly written and wildly unrealistic science fiction series, and 2.) that you’re Lieutenant Expendable: the first to die to advance the plot. And there’s nothing you can do about it–you’re stuck on a ship where the bridge crew constantly risks themselves on away missions that in a sane universe would be performed by insanely well-trained specialists, where in every space battle the inertial dampers (which can normally keep you from feeling a thing when accelerating from 0 mph to Ludicrous Speed) will be overloaded and knock the aforementioned bridge-crew about like eggs in a basket (and nobody will ever reinvent the safety harness), and universe-shaking scientific or engineering advances will be made on the fly with bubblegum and bailing wire Just In Time To Save The Ship.
But not on time to save a lot of nameless crewmen.
So what are you going to do? What any worthy protagonist would do. You’re going to Fix It.
Redshirts is an amazing book on so many levels. It’s sci-fi humor. It’s deep deep deep meta-humor. It’s actually a fun adventure story in itself. And then it switches masks and tells you something serious about the link between fiction and life. Or not. But it’s a page-turner for all Star Trek fans, especially those of us who grew up with it before moving on to written science fiction and, coming back to it, recognize the hackery lovingly ladled over nearly episode and yet still love it anyway.
How good is it?
I expect to see UU Redshirts, Dahl and Finn and Duvall and Hanson, at future sci-fi conventions.