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Bookends: Did you Ever Feel You were Living Out a Script You Didn’t Write? December 29, 2013

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Bookends: Did you Ever Feel You were Living Out a Script You Didn’t Write?

By Dan Davidson

July 17, 2013

– 802 words –

 

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas

By John ScalziRedshirts

TOR Associates

317 pages

$28.99

 

It all started with Star Trek, the Original Series. Even though a lot of us first saw it in black and white, we were still aware that Starfleet uniforms were colour coded and that lower ranks who weren’t command, science or engineering, often wore ensign red. And we knew that on “away missions” there were often a few casualties among the nameless ensigns who accompanied members of the central cast, and that these people generally wore red shirts.

So “red shirt” became a synonym for expendable nameless cast members who died, often just before a commercial break, to ramp up the drama and entice the audience to come back from the trip to the fridge.

This book is and isn’t about Star Trek necessarily, since the same sort of thing happened on the Star Gate franchise and Babylon 5 and regularly happens in all manner of detective series, but life on the Universal Union Capital Ship (UUCS) Intrepid in the 25th century is a lot like life on the United Federation Starship Enterprise.

Thing is, the crew have noticed that the command officers rarely even get injured on away missions, and when they do, they heal up really fast, but the casualty stats for ensigns is pretty much off the charts and varies directly with the number of bridge command staff who are along for the mission.

Some of them have figured this much out and have begun making sure they avoid going on away missions, making sure the newest crew members get picked. Brand new ensign Andrew Dahl notices this fairly early in his new assignment, and also notices that in tense situations it’s very much as if something he comes to call The Narrative takes over the scene and his actions, even feeding him things he didn’t know he was going to say and information he didn’t know he knew until just that moment.

It’s damn near as if those moments have been scripted and he has no choice in what he says or does.

With the help of the mysterious Ensign Jenkins, who lives in the utility conduits and avoids any interaction with the bridge crew, Dahl figures out that some parts of the life of the Intrepid’s crew are in fact playing out as if they were the script of a badly written television show, that somehow a program written and broadcast centuries earlier is governing their lives at critical moments.

With the aid of the some of the other newer members of the crew, he manages to figure out a way to cut the ties that mind them to the past and return them to a world of free will, even using some of the faux science written into the scripts to make his plan work. It involves time travel, (you all saw STIV: The Voyage Home and STNGII: First Contact, right?) black holes and making sure they have at least one member of the bridge crew along so they will survive the experience.

I’ve written this as if it were all deadly serious, but I assure you, one of the reasons that Redshirts was the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, the RT Booklovers’ Critics Choice Award, and was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in the year it came out, is that it is that rare bird, a really funny science fiction novel.

There were episodes in all five variations of Star Trek (Original Series, Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager and Enterprise – I’ve seen ’em all) that used time travel as a plot device and, of course, the J.J. Abrams re-boot of the movies absolutely relied on it to reset the clock.

So this book works that way, but it does it in a slightly tongue-in-cheek, but still reverent, manner. If the author had written himself into the story as well, it would fall into the category or meta-fiction but to me, at least, it doesn’t quite get there – well not in the main story. Well, maybe, in those 14 words on page 231. You decide.

After that, you see, there are those codas. Following the main narrative, which runs to page 231, there are three additional narratives, each told in a different person (first, second and third person – and they’re actually titled that way) and each revealing more about one of the secondary characters who were a part of the main novel. The codas all take place in 2012, after the crew of the Intrepid has returned to their time. It’s an odd way to wrap up a story, but it was strangely satisfying.

 

-30

 

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