Even if it wasn't apparent from the title, the prologue of Redshirts gives you a good idea of the central conceit of the novel. Taking the well-known trope and viewing it from the inside, through Dahl's eyes, makes it equal parts ridiculous and terrifying. Dahl moves from being bemused by his co-workers pulling disappearing acts whenever one of the senior crew comes around or the seemingly over-the-top dramatic of events to being threatened by the same co-workers in the belief that if he dies, they will be safe. Eventually, he comes into contact with a secretive crew member who explains his theory behind it all, one that has far-reaching consequences for Dahl and his friends.
As unbelievable as it initially seems, the idea that a fictional reality (specifically a TV show) overlays their own gradually gains traction with the group. Possibly my favourite chapter of the novel occurs during a space battle, where Dahl watches events unfolding, cataloguing plot points and dramatic contrivances. And while a good deal of it is played for laughs, I can't help finding the notion of having someone else's narrative taking control of your voice and actions horrifying.
Redshirts is really a book in three parts. The first deals with the gradual discovery of the character's situation, the second focuses on what they do as they try to escape their situation and the third (or the codas, as the book calls them) shows some of the knock-on effects their actions have had. As it moves from one part to the next, the book becomes more and more meta-physical but without ever sacrificing the humour at its core.
Being a Scalzi book, there are plenty of snarky one-liners and adult language, which might mean it won't appeal to everyone. If that doesn't put you off, this is a fast-paced and fun read with more depth than expected.
5 out of 5 Borgovian Land Worms