John Scalzi’s novel Redshirts is pretty close to what you expect from the title, assuming you know the pop culture reference. In the original Star Trek series a group of main characters would go on an away mission and bring along one or two ensigns, typically dressed in red shirts. Often enough for it to be a seeming pattern, these ‘redshirts’ would die in some horrible way. You always knew who was going to die because it was never one of the main characters (killing main characters is incredibly trendy now with TV series,but back in the 1960s it was relatively rare). Redshirts is set in a Star Trek-like universe where a group of ensigns aboard the Universal Union’s flagship Intrepid begin putting the pieces together and realize that they are all in danger of expiring in horrible ways if they don’t do something.
That something comprises the bulk of Redshirts’ story, one told in a fast-paced style with characters volleying witty rejoinders like phaser fire. Although there are some obligatory touching moments, most of the story is played for laughs and succeeds thanks to a consistent stream of absurdities and the ensigns’ collectively deprecating reactions. Naturally there is also time travel and the story ends with a series of codas that wrap things up in a somewhat gimmicky but still effective manner.
It’s a short, light read and just about the perfect summer book to lose yourself in for an evening or two. Recommended.