Reading Week #5: ‘Redshirts’ by John Scalzi

Hello.  Thank you all for attending on such short notice.  I’m sure you’re all extremely busy preparing for the maiden voyage, but a matter has arisen that directly affects the Security Division, especially Ensigns such as yourselves.  We are establishing a new set of guidelines, and you are one of the groups that will be most impacted by the changes.  While it is highly unusual for a Rear Admiral to address a group of Ensigns, the nature of the situation we may be facing makes it imperative that you understand the gravity of the changes we are instituting.

In order to explain the changes, I need to inform you of recent developments.  To that end, I’m sending all of you a copy of a book, Redshirts, which was authored in the early 21st century by John Scalzi.  You should all have copies on your PADDs now.  Please read it at the earliest possible time.  To summarize, the book concerns the actions of a group of ensigns on the Intrepid A under the command of Captain Lucius Abernathy in the mid-2460s.  The ensigns, newly arrived on the Intrepid, discover that many odd things are happening on the ship, not least of all a very high mortality rate for ensigns that accompany the senior staff on Away Missions.  Other highly anomalous events are described, such as miracle cures formulated within hours for lethal plagues never detected prior to that time nor ever observed subsequently.  The group begins to suspect that the Senior Staff is being taken over by outside influences, and then are alarmed to discover that the same thing can happen to them.  The book goes on to detail how the protagonists deal with these anomalies, and includes time travel, meetings with duplicates of various Senior Staff and other crew members, and a race against time to save many of the crew of the Intrepid A.  The main part of the book is followed by two codas which give supporting information that reinforce primary aspects of the main narrative.  On the whole, the Ensigns’ story is compelling, easy to follow, and very enlightening.  It is a very quick read, with characters that are frighteningly authentic. I expect that Scalzi’s Redshirts would have won numerous awards when it was initially published.

However, that is the main problem with this novel, and the reason behind this meeting.  Prior to four days ago, this book did not exist.  The seven year tenure of Lucius Abernathy on the Intrepid A is one of the most studied captaincies of the Universal Union.  The breadth of the ship’s experiences is to this day unrivalled in scope and consequence, not to mention mystery.  The Intrepid under Abernathy met and documented hundreds of new races, planets, and stellar phenomena, but some of the events recorded are completely mystifying.  Everyone here is likely to be familiar with the events related by the Intrepid at Marindala Prime.  Very few know that subsequent visits to those coordinates failed to reveal any trace of the planet, or even its solar system, but all records from the Intrepid, from every department and from all personal records, are completely consistent with the events detailed in the ship’s log.  Redshirts covers a number of seminal events that have been widely researched, yet no academic paper on the Intrepid references Redshirts even though the book is accurate to a frightening degree, especially for a work written more than 400 years earlier than the events it describes.  Librarians and database managers swear that the book did not exist prior to the arrival of a single copy addressed to the High Admiral of the Dub U.  Yet now there is a document record going back to 2012, the date of initial publication, that appears in all known databases.

A hoax was suspected, but analysis of the affected databases revealed no possible mechanism.  Instead we are left with a number of troubling possibilities.  It is possible that our timeline has been merged with another timeline, and this book is the first anomaly to be detected from that merger.  Frankly, as scary as the idea of a timeline merger is, we prefer it to the second possibility – that the events of the Intrepid under Abernathy occurred for the reasons given in Redshirts, and that the Intrepid D may become targeted in a similar manner.  It has not escaped our notice that the book appeared exactly one week, to the minute, that the Intrepid D is scheduled to begin its maiden voyage under the command of Captain Leroux.

Thus, we are instituting a new set of procedures – the Scalzi Contingencies.  You should all be receiving these new standing orders on your PADDs.  Please immediately familiarize yourself with them, especially the sections concerning Away Missions and the activities of the Senior Staff and bridge personnel.  In addition to instituting the Scalzi Contingencies we are placing some safeguards within the Senior Staff.  A new senior-level ranking has been created for an empath, ostensibly to aid in First Contact situations, but also to detect any modification of the behaviour of the Senior Staff.  Finally, the Senior Science Officer position will now be held by Lieutenant Paradigm, the first, and only, autonomous artificial intelligence that the UU Science Division has been able to develop. We hope that he will prove immune to the type of manipulations described in Redshirts.  While we feel that these alterations will prevent any repetition of the types of events experienced by Abernathy’s Intrepid A, we are relying on the ensigns of the Security Division to protect the integrity of the Intrepid D‘s mission.  You all have my confidence, and my best wishes.

One last word of advice – read Redshirts as soon as you possibly can.  Your life may depend upon the information contained in that novel.


Prior Reading Week Reviews:

#1:  Ernest Cline’s ‘Ready Player One’ – Mike’s Review – David’s Review

#2: Daniel O’Malley’s ‘The Rook’ – Mike’s Review – David’s Review

#3: Ted Chiang’s ‘The Lifecycle of Software Objects’ – Mike’s Review – David’s Review

#4: Joe R. Lansdale’s ‘Edge of Dark Water’ – Mike’s Review – David’s Review

#5 Prologue: Scalzi’s Redshirts Prologue – An Away Mission


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  1. Rosencrantz and Ensign Ricky Are Dead « 5 x 2 - July 17, 2012

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