There’s a great country song written by Steve Goodman and made famous by David Allen Coe called ‘You Never Even Called Me By My Name”. The Coe version is best known for the satirical recitation and final verse appended to what up until that point had been a rather typical country song. Coe begins his monologue by stating that Goodman believes he has written “the perfect country and western song.” Coe disagrees, however, because he “hadn’t said anything at all about mama, or trains, or trucks, or prison, or getting drunk.” Goodman responds by writing a final, comical and irrelevant verse to the song that includes all those five missing things after which Coe concludes that Goodman had indeed written “the perfect country and western song.” It’s so ridiculous it’s brilliant and makes the song.
This book is the exact opposite of that. In the first ¾ of Redshirts, John Scalzi has written the perfect science fiction satire. Then, as if a close friend pointed this out to him and suggested it was a mistake, he proceeds to add three codas that make this book most definitely not the perfect science fiction satire. I can’t impress upon you enough how disappointing that was to me.
I’m a Trekkie at Heart
I consider myself a Trekkie. I love all most of Star Trek. I love the original series. I love The Next Generation, which was my wheelhouse series of the franchise. I watched much of Deep Space Nine. I even religiously watched and liked Enterprise. Only Voyager managed to not earn my affections. I’ve seen all the movies, some many times over. Hell, I even think Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a great movie (no comment on Star Trek V: The Final Frontier). I may not dress up and go to conventions but I did own a STTNG tie that I actually wore to job interviews. And while I can’t recall episode titles based on brief plot descriptions I certainly can give those brief (and sometimes not so brief) plot descriptions from memory.
As a Trekkie I am well versed in the mythos of the “red shirt” so when an internet search led me to this book, Redshirts, by John Scalzi my interest was quickly and firmly piqued. A quick read of the book description confirming my hopes and I knew I absolutely had to read it. After reading a mere dozen pages or so I knew that everyone with even the slightest familiarity and enjoyment of Star Trek needed to read it too.
This book is the kind of parody of a beloved science fiction franchise that only a true fan of the original could write. Scalzi pulls no punches in mocking every silly tradition of Star Trek which could easily have fallen flat or even offended the intended audience. There is no shortage of critics, amateur or professional, willing to disrespect the entire genre. But Scalzi deftly does so without malice. It’s a good-natured ribbing of Star Trek. Like an old Dean Martin Roast; nasty, but with love.
The book is based on a simple premise; what if the red shirts that are so unceremoniously killed of in seemingly every episode of Star Trek (it’s not actually Star Trek in the book) were aware this was happening and attempted to change the situation. From this simple launch pad, Scalzi leaves nothing sacred, riffing on the most obvious absurdities and the obscurest quirks. It’s great fun and I literally laughed out loud many times reading this book and I don’t do that often (I’ve now said that in two successive book reviews which seems to refute my own statement. Then again, hundred year floods can occur in back to back years so I remain statistically valid. I expect a dry spell on laughing out loud coming.) I won’t include any spoilers as these spoofs are best experienced firsthand but trust me, this is a terrifically, funny book.
I Don’t Know Why The Codas Are There
And if it had ended at page 231 it would have been the perfect science fiction satire. I would have enthusiastically given it 5 Baby Dill Pickles out of 5 and raved incessantly about it to Trekkies and non-Trekkies alike. But the book doesn’t end on page 231. Instead, Redshirts culminates with three codas (a word I humbly admit, was not one I had any familiarity with outside of the Led Zeppelin album). And frankly, I don’t know why they are there.
These three final vignettes to the novel are related to the story but are not directly part of the story, if that makes any sense. They are written from three different character’s perspectives and each has its own unique feel different from the other codas and different from the main story. My complaint is not regarding the quality or enjoyment of these codas whatsoever. They’re interesting and good and each addresses a thread of the core story. The first is quite funny; the second is a bit heartwarming and a bit cheeky; the third is downright Emmy worthy as if Scalzi was channeling Alan Alda in the later years of M.A.S.H. They even sent me on a wild goose chase seeking an author that doesn’t exist. They just seemed out of place to me and messed with the tone of the book up to that point; a book I was really enjoying as a satire. The codas didn’t fit with that atmosphere and the altered writing styles were a bit jolting. It was like having three shorts by Judd Apatow, Stanley Kubrik, and Steven Spielberg tacked onto the end of Spaceballs.
All that said, I still highly recommend Redshirts by John Scalzi but I’m forced to give it a rating of 4 Baby Dill Pickles out of 5 which hurts me a lot. It’s a fantastic book, but the Codas, all three of them, just didn’t work for me and so I’m docking a third of a pickle for each. Now go read it!
Northern girl says
Nice comparison with “You Never Even Called me by my Name”. Right on.
I of course didn’t hate the Codas like you did, and thought they added a neat extra dimension to the novel. Much like I think most country songs are one dimensional, (to continue with your comparison), the satire was hilarious but relatively straightforward. I liked the depth the Codas gave.
Ah, but like alcohol, mixing is a dangerous game and can often make a mess of the whole situation. If it’s a beer night, stick with beer. Don’t be getting shots, mixing in a few highballs or finishing with scotch.