Picture this, you are fresh out of the academy, with the choice posting to the fleet’s flagship. You chat with other new crew mates about how your position opened up and it’s a frighteningly similar story, the person who held your job died in the line of duty. John Scalzi crafts a charming Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Space story about the lower deck officers who may not be the main characters. It starts off as a fun sci-fi romp, then gets a little existential, a little weird, and then heartwarming as well.
Meet Andy Dahl, the newest member of the Intrepid’s xenobiology lab. He has noticed that anytime a senior officer walks through the lab door everyone else in the department has suddenly vanished on a coffee run or an inventory of the supply closet. Comparing notes with the other junior officers that have come aboard the Intrepid it seems like every single mission a few things happen:
- At least one junior officer is killed. It could be from an enraged Borgovian land worm, a freak shuttle door malfunction, or an ice shark (it’s not specified if the shark lives in ice, or if the shark is made of ice).
- Someone important (usually Lt. Kerensky) is gravely injured. But they always get better by the next week.
- There is a problem of some sort that comes with an impossible time limit. It could be it a virus that needs curing, tense negotiations that comes to violence, or impossible science that needs sciencing.
After the characters become convinced by the resident loon/hermit of the ship Jenkins that they are aboard a star ship not unlike the Enterprise (litterally pointing out that the only ship in any context that has a similar fatality rate is the ‘fictional’ Enterprise). The first 2/3’s of the book is then the crew members of the Intrepid using the somewhat bent logic of their universe to jump back to the present day. They find out that they’re extras. On a Star Trek rip off. That airs on cable. That’s on the verge of being canceled because the writer is in a funk.
It’s very meta. I like how fresh John Scalzi makes this homage to Star Trek. The first 200 pages is a tight story, well paced (some of the names can be confusing). Then you get to the codas, and Scalzi turns it on a dime and gets really out there. There is the coda where the writer is experiencing the writer’s block from hell because what he is writing on the page is literally killing people, but at the same time if he doesn’t write anything their universe may come to an abrupt end. There is the coda about the son of the writer who wakes up from a coma and is trying to figure out what happened to his life in the meantime. And the last coda wherein an extra who barely remembers being on the show is exposed to the whole life of the character she doesn’t remember. They are all great short stories about the minor characters of this book about minor characters. I wish that I could see more stories like these about characters in other books.
Great read, can go really quick. The audiobook is read by Wil Wheaton, who conveys real emotion with some of the subject matter that he is familiar with. Not necessarily only for sci-fi fans, but plenty of nods and winks to the faithful.
By John Scalzi
Sci-fi, humor, Star Trek, metafiction