Redshirts, despite all the obvious science fiction elements, isn’t actually science fiction. It’s part fan-fiction, part well-meaning satire of elements of Star Trek and similiar science fiction shows, that sacrifice no-name characters in the name of dramatic appeal. Also it calls out all the stupid plots, character motivations or the overall inanity that plague bad science fiction shows from time to time.
It’s an eminently readable book (even compulsively so) but to me it also highlights the problem I have with Scalzi’s output specifically and similar writers like him in general. We all have our own categories for various stuff, I have three big ones into which I sort most of the writers I read (can’t write but talks about stuff I’m interested in, writes perfectly fine about nothing interesting at all and those that can do both).
Scalzi is firmly in the second category. If you look at the worlds and characters he writes about, you’ll realize that apart from a few neat ideas, it’s all fluff. Likable but entirely generic characters with no edge, plots that follow simple formulas, settings that either don’t make much sense, or are proposterous at best (and not in a good sense, more like Saturday morning cartoons). Yes, well written fluff all in all that is fun to read, but nothing that even for a moment engages your thinking facilities.
Take Redshirts. The whole problem of sacrificing no-name characters for drama is merely a problem in the sense of telling good stories, as people either don’t appreciate being manipulated or at least see it as the cheap, bad writing it is (Joss Whedon, someone called your name). But apart from that, it isn’t all that important or interesting at all. Even as meta-fiction it’s far too sanitized, too cute to offer anything more than it’s surface. Even the final three codas offer life lessons you get cheaper from any self-help book.
There’s nothing for your mind to chew on. It leaves you with a good feeling, fluffy and all, and then exits your memory forever.