If you're familiar with Star Trek at all, the title of Redshirts probably sounds familiar to you. This isn't an accident: A young man enlists on a spacefaring vessel, only to find that the low-level crew members—the ones in red shirts—often go on away missions with senior staff, only to die with disturbing frequency. It begins as a cute Star Trek riff, an obviously affectionate tweak on the many conventions of the original series. But then it goes weird, embracing big questions of storytelling and becoming a metafictional quest to break free from the pages of the book. I can't tell you much more without spoiling the surprises in the book—and this is a novel packed with surprises—but I can tell you that it clamps down on your attention and doesn't let go. Just when you think Scalzi has written himself into a corner, he hoists himself up and starts wreaking havoc on a whole higher level.
The structure of Redshirts is necessarily warped—its full title is Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas—and Scalzi makes it mostly work. But after a certain point, the curse of the repetitive false endings starts to kick in, and the book gets a little too intent on wrapping itself up. But better that Scalzi has erred on the side of too much story, here; his commitment to exploring (and adding layers to) pop culture is commendable. It's a hell of a lot of fun and you should give it a try—especially if you're going on vacation.