Though John Scalzi is an established and respected science fiction author, I've not read much of his work. I enjoyed the one book of his I have read and at the time said I'd keep my eye out for more. The title I was particularly interested in was Redshirts, which made a bit of a splash when it came out, and I'd heard good things about. Last week I was pleased to find a copy in a charity shop.
The premise of the book is simple. Five new crew members join the Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union and soon find things are a little odd: normal procedure isn't followed, the crew - especially the senior officers - act very strangely, and unexplained scientific and medical breakthroughs are commonplace. More worryingly, the casualty rate is ridiculously high - every encounter with an alien species results in the (often horrible) death of a member of the away team (always a junior member - if a senior officer is injured he recovers remarkably quickly). Slowly, our protagonists come to the only logical conclusion: that they are extras in a TV show. Worse than that, they are extras in a badly written TV show. They may at any minute be maimed merely to create a little tension before an ad break.
Scalzi does a good job setting this up and addressing how the team might set out to change the Narrative. I must admit though that about half way through I was close to deciding that this was a one-joke story that wasn't going anywhere. Yet it's more than that. After the story proper, Scalzi adds three codas, exploring the impact that the events have had 'in the real world'. For me, this is the best part of the book.
I'd be more than happy to recommend this book to anyone with more than a passing interest in Sci-Fi.