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Literature / Redshirts

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Maia Duvall: Within five minutes of getting to my new post I heard three different stories of crew buying the farm on an away mission. Death by falling rock. Death by toxic atmosphere. Death by pulse gun vaporization.
Jimmy Hanson: Death by shuttle door malfunction.
Andy Dahl: Death by ice shark.

Redshirts is a Hugo Award-winning novel by John Scalzi which takes the concept of the Red Shirt, examines it, deconstructs it, and tears it inside out, taking an in-depth look at what would happen if the eponymous expendable extras ever discovered why the universe treats them as its own personal Chew Toys.

Ensign Andrew Dahl, fresh out of the Academy, has received his first assignment on the Universal Union’s flagship, the Intrepid. His excitement at this very prestigious posting quickly wanes as he discovers something odd about his new ship. His shipmates seem terrified of Captain Abernathy and his senior officers, and do everything in their power to avoid the dreaded "Away Missions." Ensign Dahl’s suspicions come to a head when a mysterious figure approaches him in the corridor and warns him to "avoid the Narrative."

Redshirts is very trope heavy, and many of them are Played With, Parodied, Lampshaded, Zig Zagged, Subverted, or Double Subverted. Naturally, the examples below contain many spoilers, so tread carefully.

The book even has its own theme song, written by Jonathan Coulton, no less.

In February 2014, a television adaptation of Redshirts was announced. (We'll wait while you untangle the levels of meta involved at this point.) However, it seems to have since fallen through.

Compare and contrast with RWBY Emergence, Free Guy and Re:CREATORS.

Redshirts contains examples of:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The Intrepid responds to a distress call from an independent space station that had been taken over by killer machines.
  • Accidental Misnaming: Abernathy is prone to doing this to Dahl. "Dill" is a favorite alternative. He also refers to an Ensign Jacobs as "Jackson" after he's injured by an exploding console, so Abernathy may be having trouble keeping up with turnover among his bridge crew.
  • Acoustic License: During a battle, Chief Engineer West replies to comments by Abernathy and Q'eeng just after entering the bridge, meaning he was somehow able to hear them through a door, with red alert sirens blazing. Justified by the Narrative being in control at the time.
  • Alternate Timeline: Discussed. Jenkins theorizes that the creation of The Chronicles of the Intrepid created an alternate timeline in which they existed, but the show never did, but everything else that happened before that point in the two universes is the same. He bases this entirely on sci-fi show conventions.
  • Ambiguously Human: Q'eeng. His appearance is never described, and he's never explicitly said to be an alien. But his name is suitably "alien"-sounding, and he's a transparent ripoff of a character who's (half-)alien, so it does seem likely.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Was Mbeke drawing a gun to shoot Dahl or to back him up right before being killed? She'd seemed torn and indecisive throughout Dahl and Cassaway's argument about whether killing Dahl would satisfy the quota of a Red Shirt dying on every mission.
  • And the Adventure Continues: Throughout the book, characters speculate on whether they are a "real" universe that the Narrative occasionally intrudes upon, or if they sprung into existence when the show was created, and all their lives and history are fabrications. This is unresolved by the end, and is indeed further compounded by Dahl's realization that he's the protagonist of the novel itself. Regardless, the narration assures us that our heroes go on to live happily ever after, masters of their own destiny for possibly the first time ever.
  • Angst? What Angst?: Lampshaded in-universe in regards to Kerensky. Dahl points out that, never mind Kerensky shouldn't be alive after all the crap that has happened to him, he couldn't possibly still be sane after it all. He barely gets better from one thing before he gets sick from another. It's later played with as a drunk Kerensky goes on a rant about all the crap that happens to him.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: When Jenkins and Dahl argue about how the warning system favors veteran crew members over rookies, Dahl suggests to Jenkins that his wife may have died because veteran crew members let her go on a dangerous mission in their stead.
    Dahl: Jenkins, how long were you and your wife stationed on the Intrepid before she died?
  • Artistic License – Biology: Davis notes that the mouths of the Borgovian Land Worms are rather evolutionarily suspect.
  • Ascended Extra: Hester. Originally no one knows his first name. At the end he gets a short arc, with a nonfatal end.
    Dahl turned to Paulson. "Hester stays behind," he said. "We take your son with us. We go back to our time and our universe, but he" — Dahl pointed at Weinstein — "writes that the person in the shuttle is Hester. We don't try to sneak him in or have him be another extra. He has to be central to the plot. We call him out by name. His full name. Jasper Allen Hester."
  • Bait-and-Switch: The Narrative does this with Finn's death. At first, they all think it's Duvall's death episode, because she had been previously stationed on the Nantes, but as soon as Finn knocks her out to take her place on the away mission, we find out he knows the perpetrator of the hijacking from his last posting.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: The Forshan, who are stated to be xenomorphic.
  • Bizarre Alien Reproduction: In chapter one, Dahl remarks offhand that he never rose very high in the Forshan religious hierarchy because full ordination requires some physical requirements he wouldn't have been able to perform.
    Duvall: Like what?
    Dahl: Self-impregnation, for one.
  • Black Box: The Box, a device resembling a microwave oven that, if given a sample of any xenobiological problem, will hum until it's dramatically appropriate, then go 'ding' and provide the solution. Truly unusual, considering the writer for the show doesn't even know about it, since it never appears in any scene that is filmed. It just appeared out of nowhere so that all the miraculous cures needed in the show, often for Kerensky, are possible.
  • Blood from the Mouth: McGregor, right after he was harpooned by a killer machine.
  • Book Ends: A character on the verge of death has an epiphany, catching a glimpse of the Narrative's plan and the dramatic effect their death will serve, only to declare they want to live anyway. In the prologue, Davis dies anyway. In the ending, Dahl does not.
  • Brick Joke:
    • Later on in the story, we find out Ensign Davis died in the prologue just so the uncle of the executive producer of the show could renew his SAG insurance.
    • And in the first of three epilogues, Davis turns out to be the only dead redshirt among hundreds who's infuriated at the fact of his death rather than the pointless stupidity of the cause of death.
    • Further, it's revealed eventually that Weinstein has gotten no end of backlash over the landworms that killed Davis. He finds this infuriating because he didn't write that episode, couldn't veto it because he was on vacation at the time, and the studio got sued by the Herbert estate over them. He doesn't want to hear about the worms.
  • Captain Obvious: Davis thinks this about Captain Abernathy when he starts spouting exposition in the prologue.
  • Cargo Cult: Some of the veteran crew members have noticed the effects of the Narrative but don't understand it, regarding it as some sort of malevolent force that must be appeased by regularly killing a Red Shirt on an away mission. Because of this, they've started ensuring that new crew members are always the ones on away missions, and when they end up on a mission anyway, they decide that what they really need to do is murder Dahl in order to appease the Narrative. It's not really a spoiler to say that they're promptly killed.
  • Cartwright Curse: After saving his life from some killer robots, Duvall starts dating Kerensky. Once she understands what's going on with the ship, she comes to the conclusion that her purpose is to make Kerensky depressed after she gets killed in some unlikely manner.
  • Catchphrase: Mbeke mocks Captain Abernathy's overusage of, "Damn it, man! There is no try! Only do!" when under control of the Narrative.
  • Celebrity Paradox:
    • All the characters have doppelgangers in the real world: the actors who play them. Most of the resolution to the book's plot consists of them finding various ways to exploit this.
    • At one point one of the characters searches through the Intrepid's database to find out what show they're on, but can't find it. He and his cohorts assume this is because the show itself wouldn't exist in the universe in it.
    • In a more metatextual sense, Star Trek is shown to exist in the universe of both the writers of the Bland-Name Product Chronicles of the Intrepid series as well as that of the characters. The characters briefly discuss the possibility of an inversion of this, thinking that Star Trek might just be a joke inserted into their history by the writers, but this idea is later dismissed.
  • Celibate Hero: Dahl is aptly described by Duvall as a prude - especially so for a sci-fi action-adventure protagonist. Duvall's distinctly flirting with him once or twice, but his tendency to end up recovering from severe injuries prevents a relationship. Once they learn that The Narrative and its thousands of voyeurs could kick in at any moment, some hesitation is understandable.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • In-universe it's Hester, in that he doesn't have an interesting background or much character development, nor does anyone know his first name, yet in the "real world" he's played by the producer's son, who also happens to be in a coma. Through the liberal application of Hollywood Science and Deus ex Machina, Hester and the son are able to switch bodies, leaving the son healthy once again and Hester healed once he's back in the ship's sick bay.
    • Hanson, who seems to be a mere tag-along for the other three until the last chapter (of Part One), in which he turns out to be a Fourth-Wall Observer who's aware that Dahl is the main character of the book.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Characters, particularly the senior officers, tend to do this when under control of the Narrative. Lampshaded, as the other crew members tend to mock them for being "particularly dramatic."
  • Clarke's Third Law: Collins refuses to call The Box magic and says they must have just found a piece of technology that was so advanced that they could not understand it.
  • Comically Missing the Point: In the prologue, Davis explains to Chen the potential danger in their situation:
    Chen: It's just a cave. What could possibly be in there?
    Davis: Bears? Wolves? Any number of large predators who see a cave as shelter from the elements? Have you never been camping?
    Chen: There are no bears on this planet.
  • The Complainer Is Always Wrong: Finn is the most vocal about how batshit insane everyone's explanations for the weirdness around them. He ends up being wrong about the notion that a redshirt must die on the away mission that he ends up dying on.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Several of the "episodes" run on this, the characters even sit around talking about the coincidences that led to Finn's death. Of course, this makes sense given the low quality of the show their universe 'hosts'.
  • Courtroom Episode: Right before his death, Davis envisions that the entire point of his life was to die right at that moment, just so Captain Abernathy could be court-martialed on trumped up charges and defended by Science Officer Q’eeng.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: The crazy predicament the crew finds themselves in requires a similarly outlandish solution.
    Jenkins: I want to warn you that this sounds like a crazy idea.
    Hester: I'm amazed you feel the need to say that anymore.
    Narration: Jenkins nodded, as if to say, Point
    Jenkins: Time travel.
  • The Cuckoolander Was Right: Jenkins has crazy theories about what is happening to all of them. He is not only right but comes up with a successful solution to their problem.
  • A Death in the Limelight: Finn is killed by a former crew-mate he helped catch.
  • Deconstructed Trope: The plight of Red Shirts is heavily explored and broken down in this book.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Ensign Davis gets a lot of POV time in the prologue but he fails to survive it.
  • Dirty Coward: This is what the veteran crew members have become due to a nasty bit of natural selection. The only way to survive is to avoid going on away missions and the experienced crew members have learned how to be conveniently absent when an officer is looking for away mission personnel. However, someone has to go on the mission, so many decide to sacrifice the New Meat by not giving them any warning about what is going on. Those that refused to do so ended up dying on away missions and thus only the cowards remained. When Collins is ordered on an away mission she gets out of it by 'volunteering' her two friends instead. When Dahl calls her out on it, she transfers him to the bridge crew — which she knows full well means that the Narrative will eventually destroy Dahl.
  • Distress Call: The crew follows what they think is one of these to a space station. It turns out they were following a Warning Beacon, and the machines had come alive and killed everyone on the station.
  • Doom Magnet:
    • Captain Abernathy, Chief Science Officer Q’eeng, Chief Engineer West, Medical Chief Hartnell, and Lieutenant Kerensky, who seems to get nearly-fatally injured every other week. Heavily lampshaded and discussed by the other characters.
      Jenkins: Statistically speaking there's something highly aberrant about them. When they're on an away mission, the chance of the mission experiencing a critical failure increases. When two or more of them are on the same away mission, the chance of a critical failure increases exponentially. If three or more are on the mission, it's almost certain someone is going to die.
      Hanson: But never any of them.
    • West, in particular, is described as "a goddamn deathtrap". Something around him always explodes; and while Redshirts might be able to survive being around the other main characters, being anywhere near West is treated as a death sentence.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Jasper Allen Hester. Amusingly, Hester was angsting that nobody knew his first name. When asked if he wanted them to use his first name moving forward he declines.
  • Everyone Meets Everyone: The five Ensigns all meet on the Earth Dock before boarding the Intrepid.
  • Excuse Me, Coming Through!: Justified, in that the crew members will start rushing away looking busy whenever a senior officer draws near, in order to keep from being picked for away missions.
  • Explosive Instrumentation: Lampshaded when the captain calls down to Engineering to get some surge suppressors on the bridge consoles and complains that there is no reason the bridge should look like a fireworks display every time the Intrepid gets into a firefight. This is after the Narrative has released control of him.
  • Expy: Abernathy, Q'eeng, West, Hartnell and Kerensky for Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Bones, and Chekov. Justified in-universe since Chronicles of the Intrepid is pretty much a Star Trek ripoff/remake.
  • Fantastically Indifferent: Hester gets annoyed that they're all just sitting around calmly talking about being fictional characters as if it was normal.
  • The Federation: The Universal Union is pretty much exactly the Federation from Star Trek with the serial numbers filed off.
  • Friend in the Black Market: Finn. In his previous posting, he was known as the guy who could get you technically legal drugs, until his XO had a bad reaction to a fungus and he was transferred.
  • Gag Echo: When Kerensky and the actor who plays Kerensky wake up, they notice they've been undressed and the first thing they say is "Where are my pants?"
  • Genre Savvy: Jenkins is inadvertently this, as he has divined the reason behind the anomaly that is the Intrepid: Namely, that they're inside a (badly written) TV show. He tries to use this knowledge to assist the crew, but as is pointed out to him later in the book giving the senior crew knowledge of how to avoid dying as Redshirts just meant that they were throwing the new meat under the bus. Keep in mind, his wife died because she was a victim of this attitude.
  • Good Bad Girl: Duvall is the hedonist of the group, and her casual fling with Lt. Kerensky becomes important to the plot.
  • Guns Are Worthless: Pulse guns only drive Borgovian Land Worms crazy. And if they malfunction as often as they did in the original series, this doubles.
  • Handsome Lech: Kerensky, this may or may not apply to his actor as well.
  • Happily Ever After: The real ending has them living happily ever after. This was after the author jokingly killed everyone off the page before.
  • Hero of Another Story:
    • The entire concept of the book is to tell that "other story."
    • The whole thing gets turned on its head at the end, as Dahl discovers that he is the main character of the metanarrative (that is, the book itself, not the tv show in the book), and Abernathy, Q’eeng, West, and Hartnell are the real Heroes of Another Story.
  • High Turnover Rate: People assigned to A: the bridge, B: away missions, or C: anywhere on decks 6-12 who are not senior officers have a very high casualty rate, which results in more people being transferred in to replace them.
  • Hollywood Healing: Kerensky, as part of his constantly getting injured. Again, lampshaded. Literally in the case of Paulson's son.
  • Hollywood Science:
    • Anytime the Narrative takes control, the science team pulls out the Box, which ignores any and all laws of physics to find the solution to the problem, oftentimes producing results that cannot be replicated under any other circumstances. Also, using black holes to travel back in time/to the real world.
      Trin: Counter-bacterial? Don’t you mean a vaccine?
    • A weird recursive one in the quote above, which is a short running joke; vaccines are useless to someone already infected, and "counter-bacterial" is just an overly technobabble way of saying "antibiotic", which is exactly what they need.
  • I Lied: This exchange before the mission to the Nantes:
    Dahl: What did you do?
    Finn: Quite obviously, I knocked her out.
    Dahl: I thought you said the pill was very mild.
    Finn: I lied.
  • Identical Stranger: The result of going back in time to 2012. The character's actors are of course 100% identical, but they are completely different people. Justified, as the crew of the Intrepid are played by the actors on their television show.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The three codas are written respectively in first, second and third person, and are named as such.
  • Idiot Ball: The Narrative passes this from character to character for dramatic effect. Lampshaded in that most of the characters realize their actions are completely stupid — if not at the time, then after — yet are unable to help themselves.
  • Idiot Plot:
    • In-Universe, the Narrative forces the characters into these, forcing them to situations that they know are completely moronic. Explained when Jenkins concludes that their show is not a very well-written one.
    • invoked Lampshaded by Hester during the killer machine away mission, where he screams, “What sort of assholes encode a message about killer machines?” when they discover that there was a hidden signal inside the distress call warning them to stay away.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Naturally, most specifically being the converted cargo carts on the Nantes.
  • In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous: The aversion of this trope is used to identify when their show was made. Two years before, several characters used a black hole to travel back to 2010. Jenkins realizes that this trope would have been used if they had traveled into the show's past, but that it would have just distracted the audience from the characters' Fish out of Temporal Water experiences if they were going to the show's present.
  • Iron Butt-Monkey: Lieutenant Kerensky, who is used by the show writers to demonstrate that, if main characters can't quite die, they sure can suffer.
    Dahl: In the past three years, Kerensky’s been shot three times, caught a deadly disease four times, has been crushed under a rock pile, injured in a shuttle crash, suffered burns when his bridge control panel blew up in his face, experienced partial atmospheric decompression, suffered from induced mental instability, been bitten by two venomous animals and had the control of his body taken over by an alien parasite. That’s before the recent plague and this away mission.
  • It's a Long Story:
    • Dahl, to Duvall, when she asks why he went to the academy late. Subverted in that they immediately go and get lunch and he tells her the story.
    • Used several times in the codas, by people who want help or advice without having to explain the events of the main book.
  • Killer Robot: On one of the away missions, the characters investigate a space station, the crew of which has been taken out by killer machines.
  • Large Ham: Captain Abernathy, naturally. But only when under the Narrative. Otherwise, he's a very normal guy, and appears confused as to why he was so over the top a little while before.
  • The Law of Conservation of Detail: At the end of the book, Dahl figures out that Hanson, to that point, had been a completely pointless character who had done little, if anything, to further the plot, and therefore must solely exist in the story in order to tell Dahl that he was the actual main character. He was right.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The entire book has the characters keenly aware that some piece of media is affecting them. Only Dahl and Hanson realize that they are participating in another story, in which Dahl is the protagonist.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: How Kerensky describes being under the influence of the Narrative. He gets a sudden burst of confidence where he forgets he's the astrogator, and just rushes into dangerous situations without a second thought.
  • Made of Explodium: Chief Engineer West obviously isn't explosive... but anything else in the area he's in becomes explosive when the Narrative takes over. Even the other four 'main characters' are considered safe compared to this 'goddamn deathtrap'.
  • Magic Mushroom: Xeno-pseudoagaricus, the alien fungus Finn was caught dealing. It gives an officer a really bad allergic reaction.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Several characters, including Kerensky himself, complain about the absurdity of Kerensky, an astrogator, being sent on away missions that have nothing to do with navigating through space.
    Kerensky: I get all confident and it seems like there’s a perfectly good reason for a goddamn astrogator to take medical samples, or fight killer machines or whatever. Then I get back on the Intrepid and I think to myself, "What the fuck was I just doing?’ Because it doesn’t make sense, does it?
  • Mauve Shirt: Jenkins points out that Dahl, Duvall, Finn, and Hanson all have interesting backgrounds to give their characters more depth, and therefore cause the audience to care when they die.
    • Mbeke, Cassaway and New Meat Lieutenant Fischer also count as characters who die on away missions but receive a little prominence either during or before said missions.
  • Meaningful Name: Dahl is a pun on "doll" — as in, something being controlled by someone else. In his case, the Narrative. His first name, Andy, is shared with the popular doll, Raggedy Andy. Dahl being a pun on "doll" also helps to explain his curious sexlessness — just ask Ken what male dolls are most famous for not having.
    • Finn may well be a reference to Mickey Finn, the namesake of the phrase Slipping a Mickey, given his drug dealing and how he gets Duvall out of the away mission.
  • Meta Guy:
    • Jenkins at first, then Dahl joins him, followed by the rest of the ensigns.
    • Hanson and eventually Dahl take this to an even greater level by working out that they're not "really" in a TV show, but a book that happens to use a TV show as an element.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: Lampshaded. Kerensky has caught a flesh-eating disease on a planet which is suffering a deadly plague. Captain Abernathy is concerned about Kerensky. Oh, and also the planet. Abernathy isn't ordinarily this callous — it's another sign that the Narrative, which considers Kerensky important and millions of offscreen aliens completely expendable, is in charge.
  • Mind Screw: The characters actually get tired of saying "This is/sounds insane" and switch to wistful wishes that they could punch whoever is behind it all.
  • Monster Munch:
    • Ensign Davis in the prologue exists purely to be eaten by a Borgovian Land Worm. Another unnamed ensign got eaten by an ice shark off-screen.
    • In the first epilogue, many of the dead characters complain about how often this card gets played.
  • Mr. Exposition:
    • Several characters, though Ensign Tom Davis in the prologue in particular. Lampshaded in that, whenever the Narrative takes control, random information about the plot at hand will pop into a character's head, whether or not they have any way of knowing that information, and they will even sometimes automatically say it out loud to their own surprise.
    • Jenkins and later Hanson take this role for the Ensigns, being the people who tell them about the sci-fi tropes they're experiencing.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Nick Weinstein has a small breakdown when he realizes that the universe for the sci-fi show he writes is real and that every pointless, stupid death he writes actually happens there.
  • My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: After learning that newly arrived Ensign Dahl spent time on Forshan, Science Officer Q'eeng attempts a traditional Forshan greeting. He makes two mistakes. First, he uses the greeting of the rightward schism in the language of the leftward schism; and second, his appalling accent turns "I offer you the bread of life" into the nonsensical "Let us violate cakes together".
  • Narrative Backpedaling: The second-to-last chapter before the three epilogues ends with the Intrepid, finally free of the Narrative that both endangered and preserved it, being destroyed by a random meteor strike. The last chapter is basically, "Just kidding, they all lived."
  • No OSHA Compliance: Hester rants about how badly wired a space station is after Dahl shooting out a control panel causes the fire doors to close.
  • Nominal Importance: Hester points out that he has neither an interesting background nor do his friends even bother to find out his first name, and is therefore just there to be a placeholder character.
  • Occam's Razor: The Universal Union's explanation for why so many deaths occur on the Intrepid:
    "What we’ve been told," Collins said, "is that as the flagship of the Dub U, the Intrepid takes on a larger share of sensitive diplomatic, military and research missions than any other ship in the fleet. Because of that, there is commensurate increase of risk, and thus a statistically larger chance crew lives will be lost. It’s part of the risk of such a high-profile posting."
  • Oh, Crap!: The general reaction of most crew members when they got assigned to an away mission.
  • Only Sane Man: Finn describes himself as the "lone voice of sanity" when trying to convince his fellow redshirts that they can't really be characters in a science fiction TV show. He's wrong. "Dead" wrong.
  • Plot Armor:
    • Abernathy, Q’eeng, Kerensky, West, and Hartnell. They're not invulnerable to harm, but they are essentially unkillable.
    • Dahl figures this out, and exploits it by kidnapping Kerensky for their trip to the real world, knowing that a main character would never die off-screen during an unimportant scene, therefore allowing them to break the laws of physics and use a black hole to travel through time. He uses this again after coming back, taking Kerensky with him to feed Hester's data to the Box and return the extracted MacGuffin: because Kerensky's a major character, he's guaranteed to live long enough to deliver the MacGuffin and save the day while the redshirts aren't.
    • At the end, it’s Dahl’s sudden realization that he has his own Plot Armor that helps him figure out he’s the main character of another story.
  • Poor Communication Kills:
    • This is a major source of the deaths and is an Enforced Trope due to the Narrative.
    • In the prelude, the command staff know all about the deadly worms, assume that the ensigns also possess the knowledge and thus see no reason to tell them about the danger. The ensigns have no clue those things even existed, screw up and die messily.
    • Dahl lampshades the fact that it is pure idiocy to encode a "Killer Robots. STAY AWAY" warning message in such a way that it looks like a distress signal instead.
  • Postmodernism: The main characters figure out they're characters in a television series and things only get more meta from there.
  • Prescience by Analysis: A possible (but non-mathematical) example. The first battle after Jenkins tells the protagonists that they are bit-characters in a TV show plays out exactly according to his predictions, which are based on previous events and what would best follow the Rule of Drama.
  • Rage Against the Author: The characters consider this before deciding that they'd be better off politely asking the creators to knock it off.
  • Rank Up: Near the end of the story, Dahl is promoted to Lieutenant.
  • Real-World Episode: Dahl and the others travel to the real world in order to get Chronicles of the Intrepid cancelled. Later subverted when Dahl realizes the people in the "real world" are also fictional and they're all inside another story.
  • Really Gets Around: Kerensky, as attested by the three STDs in his recent history.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Believe it or not, Captain Abernathy. When the Narrative stops controlling him, he visibly becomes much more sensible and caring towards the people under his command.
      Abernathy: [during a commercial break] And see if we can't find some power spike dampeners or something. There's not a damn reason why everything on the bridge has to go up in sparks anytime we have a battle.
      Narration: Dahl made a small choking sound at this.
    • In fact, this is part of what clues the main characters that their situation is abnormal; checking their archives, they determine that Abernathy has a solid service record and is not particularly incompetent or reckless except when the plot calls for him to be.
  • Red Shirt: Obviously.
  • Retirony: Poor Ensign Grover, his tour of duty was over in a couple of days. He didn’t stand a chance.
    Kerensky: A shame, really. He was going to be married, too...
    Finn: Oh, please, stop. Otherwise I'm going to have to frag you.
  • Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies: The second-to-last chapter has the Intrepid suffering a systems failure and plowing into a small asteroid. The last chapter is just fourteen words, retconning that last part, and Scalzi saying he was just fucking with the reader.
  • Romance on the Set: A bizarre In-Universe example: Jenkins, whose wife had been Redshirted years before, sends all his old photos, videos, and love letters to the actress who played her in Chronicles of the Intrepid when Dahl and the others go to the real world. In one of the epilogues, it is implied that she then ends up in a relationship with the actor who played him.
  • Rule of Drama: More fundamental to the rules of the Intrepid's universe than physics.
  • Running Gag:
    • Decks 6-12 are lethal for people without Plot Armor.
    • Some of the more ludicrous sources of death are commented on a few times, in particular the "evolutionarily suspect" land worms in the prologue. The head writer would like it known he was on vacation that week and was not responsible for the land worms. No word, however, on his level of involvement with the infamous "ice shark."
  • Russian Guy Suffers Most: Of the major cast of Chronicles of the Intrepid, Kerensky is the one who gets injured the most often. He says his fast healing is a "family thing" and mentions an ancestor who took twenty bullets at Stalingrad without going down.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Ensign Finn dies due to some stupid contrivance and proves that not even the book's protagonists are safe.
  • Sand Worm: Borgovian Land Worms, which eat two ensigns in the Prologue. The head writer would like to remind everyone that he was on vacation that week and the staff writer who did that script was a Dune fan. And the Herbert estate sued them for it.
  • Science at the Speed of Plot: The Box allows the science team to accomplish this.
  • Science Is Bad: The planet Merovia as a whole is superstitious of any sort of medical practices, and therefore the Intrepid is there to help them deal with a plague.
  • Screen Shake: The Intrepid has a bad habit of its inertial dampeners failing whenever it would be most dramatically appropriate, in true Star Trek Shake style.
  • Screw Yourself: They get the actor who plays Kerensky to help them by having Kerensky seduce him... or not. He actually had a deep and meaningful conversation with him, and is disgusted that the others thought they had sex.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: Lampshaded during the killer machine away mission, when Dahl got the fire doors to close by shooting the control panel.
    Hester: Shooting the panel? That was your big idea?
    Dahl: I had a hunch.
    Hester: That the space station was wired haphazardly? That this whole place is one big fucking code violation?
  • Shout-Out:
    • The name itself is a shoutout to the Trope Red Shirt, codified and named by Star Trek. In addition, this very site itself got its own shout out in a New York Times article advertising the novel, claiming that the author had himself gotten the name from... TV Tropes!
    • The senior staff's names are all shout outs to SFF works or writers — Captain Abernathy to Robert Abernathy (A golden age scifi writer), Q'eeng to Stephen King, West to... several individuals with that same last name (Most likely Billy West, but could also be Adam West or Herbert West), Chief medical officer Hartnell is named after the First Doctor's actor, and Lieutenant Kerensky shares his name with the Kerenskys of BattleTech.
    • The references to Finn's trade in illicit drugs are a reference to Harlan Ellison's original script for "The City On The Edge Of Forever".
  • Show Within a Show: The final twist of Part One. Dahl, putting the hints together, realizes that Chronicles of the Intrepid is a Show Within A Book and that he's the main character of the book. Hanson admits that he's been inserted into the story specifically to confirm Dahl's guess.
  • Slut-Shaming: The group tries to do this to Duvall for sleeping with Kerensky, but she just counters by saying that none of them had stepped up to the plate to serve her "needs." To be fair to the guys it's not so much she's having sex as her choice of partner that makes them doubt her good sense.
  • Super Window Jump: Abernathy does this on the Nantes when he was getting shot at by converted cargo carts. He used the window instead of the door to save time.
  • Standard Time Units: The Universal Union uses the same universal time across all ships and bases, but Dahl still has to work out local time when calling a friend on Earth to avoid waking her in the middle of the night.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Most of the Intrepid's crew has learned to do this out of necessity, to avoid assignment to deadly away-missions.
  • Suddenly Always Knew That: Lampshaded, the Narrative will insert info into a character's head as the plot demands it.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Alien: Collins accredits the Box to a race of these, just so that she doesn't have to think of the other implications of such a device.
  • Take That!: Wikipedia gets a dubious nod.
    Kerensky: For all we know, this "Wikipedia" database is compiled by complete morons!
  • Techno Babble:
    • Anything scientific said under control of the Narrative. Also, everything put out by the Box until Q'eeng gets a hold of it and it's put in the ship's computer.
    • One of the first clues about what's going on is when Dahl brings up how no-one can reproduce any of the scientific breakthroughs the Intrepid comes up with in these situations.
  • The Teaser: The prologue plays out as this both for the book itself, and as The Teaser for an episode of The Chronicles of the Intrepid. Several other scenes play out as teasers for individual episodes as well, such as when they are attacked by the Calendrian rebel ship, setting up Finn's Death in the Limelight.
  • This Is Reality: Because what's more likely, that the flagship of the Universal Union happens to have a higher than average death ratio and some crew members continue to survive by luck, or you're bit characters in a weekly sci-fi action show?
  • Threatening Shark: Ice sharks.
    Hanson: Is it a shark made of ice? Or a shark that lives in ice?
    Dahl: It wasn’t specified at the time.
  • Trolling Creator: Invoked in the last two chapters, when Scalzi kills off all the characters by having the Intrepid hit an asteroid, then immediately retcons it by saying he was just fucking with the reader.
  • Unnecessary Combat Roll: Kerensky does one of these after being kidnapped to the real world.
  • Walk and Talk: Dahl's first conversation with Science Officer Q'eeng becomes one of these.
  • Walking Disaster Area: As Dahl points out, an entire planet had to suffer a plague of flesh-eating bacteria just so Kerensky could be saved at the last moment for dramatic effect.
  • Weirdness Censor:
    • Averted with the crew. Everyone on the Intrepid knows something weird is going on, and when they realize they can't do anything about it, they choose to avoid it instead.
    • Played straight with the officers. Anyone other than the crew who is told about the Intrepid's high mortality rate not only ignores the statistics, but simply cannot process the information, and so the crew just stops trying.
  • Wham Line:
    • The first time Dahl meets Jenkins, and is told, "Stay off the bridge. Avoid the Narrative. The next time you’re going to get sucked in for sure. And then it's all over for you.”
    • Later on, Jenkins gives another one with a solution to their problem: Time travel.
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: Some characters are not able to avoid Tempting Fate.
    Chen: It's just a cave. What could possibly be in there?
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: Quite a large one, when the mooks are the focus characters. The head writer for Chronicles of the Intrepid suffers a Heroic BSoD over this when he learns that people actually die when he writes death scenes. He gets over it after a dream in which all the Redshirts he's ever killed talk to him and explain that what they hate isn't the fact that he killed them, but the fact that he killed them in idiotic ways and that their deaths served no purpose except to up the dramatic tension.
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: Jenkins concludes that not only are they all stuck in a sci-fi TV show, it's not even a very well-written one. Ironically, Jenkins had been played by the show's head writer in a cameo appearance.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: A rare heroic example in the prologue, as Davis wonders why he hasn't thought to shoot the Borgovian Land Worms with his pulse gun. It turns out there was a pretty good reason, as pulse guns just drive Borgovian Land Worms crazy. According to the officers, this is common knowledge, but Davis was caught up in the Narrative's plot at the time.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: The xenobiology veterans who are aware of the perils of away missions seem to believe that one person has to die each time, so killing Dahl will let them live. They are wrong.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Finn's death. He doesn't believe in the Narrative, but Duvall is freaking out about it, so he drugs her and takes her place on the away mission, but it turns out the Narrative was targeting him instead. With his last breaths, he admits that Dahl was right and tells him to stop the Narrative.