Jean, 39, lover of sci-fi, horror and fantasy, reader of comic books, conqueror of genre fiction.
A story first: In the 90's, I had a bumper sticker on my car, right next to my Picard/Riker '00 election sticker. On the right side of it was a line drawing of the Star Trek classic series transporter, with an outline of a crew member, the only thing solid about him being his red shirt. The text beside it, in the Star Trek font, said, "I'm not stupid. I'm not expendable. I'm not going."
Long-ish story short: The joke of the book is one I'm not only familiar with, but I enjoy very much.
And I couldn't even predicted the success with which Scalzi pulled this off. This is my first of his books, so I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, though expectations were high because of his strong reputation. And the fact that my best friend, also a Trekkie, adored this book. He has a light touch with his writing that never sidles into glib, which could happen very easily with another writer. His dialogue is clever and fast (my friend called it Whedon-esque, and I agree, except that I think he still grounds it, where as "Whedon-speaks" can go off into la-la land all too easily) and while the characters could become generic (there are no physical descriptions, for instance) they never do; they develop on the strength of their actions and interactions.
And while the book is, by definition, a one-joke sort of thing, it never gets tired. He surrounds it with enough other shiny things, like humor and interesting twists, that I never felt, "Yeah, I got it! The red shirts die!" And the three codas at the end, cleverly entitled First Person, Second Person and Third Person, about three people affected by the knowledge of the outcome of the book, and how it changes their lives, and also written in those styles of narration, add an emotional weight to the proceedings.
And while it does focus on the one joke, it does explore deeper implications, like if killing characters off in fiction is really just a lazy way to create dramatic tension, and what death and loss mean to people in real life.
If I had one small, niggling complaint, it would be that I feel as if maybe Star Trek itself didn't have to be mentioned or talked about; it'd be like Galaxy Quest referencing Trek, slightly out of place and just a bit world breaking. I do get the point of it, that their own show cannot exist in their own continuity, so Scalzi uses Trek as a way of discussing the ideas, the tropes, but that's a strange, roundabout thing, isn't it? A reality based upon a fictional-fictional show, using a real-fictional television show as a touchstone to understand their fictional-fiction televised program. Galaxy Quest assumed you'd get the joke.
Is Redshirts for everyone? The writing is tight enough, and clever, humorous and fun. But I'd limit my recommendation to Trekkies/Trekkers; I think they'd be the ones to get the most out of it, hands down.
One of the easiest five stars I've ever given.