I could summarize the plot of this novel in a short paragraph, but I won’t because if I did, you won’t have the “Oh, that’s different” experiences I had reading it, and I quite enjoyed them. I wouldn’t want to ruin those for you.
At one level, this is obviously a parody of Star Trek, The Original Series, told from the perspective of the poor unfortunate crewmembers sent on away missions for the sole purpose of dying in interesting and dramatic ways to advance the plot. As such, it’s a hoot. It has aliens, space travel, split realities, and inexplicable tech stuff. It also has additional layers that make it more than a comic ride through the galaxy aboard the Universal Union Spaceship Intrepid. These layers provide depth and make this a solid, thought provoking read. But even with all the philosophical and existential brain-bending, it is still a lighthearted and charming book.
When I started reading this, it reminded me of the movie Galaxy Quest. Then it became more like Star Trek IV. Then it turned a corner and seemed a bit like the Thursday Next books (by Jasper Fforde) with maybe a touch of The Never Ending Story. (Yes, I confess to being something of a geek, but who else would be reading stuff like this?) My point is that there is more than one story being told here. It’s rather like a thought experiment in novel form. I loved it.
The story has interesting, likeable characters, witty dialogue, and a very Star Trek-like setting. But if you’re looking for a mindless action adventure with a few jokes, this isn’t for you. If you’re looking for a simple slapstick parody of Star Trek, this isn’t it. It is also nothing like Scalzi’s Old Man Goes to War books (which are also very good) or even Fuzzy Nation (also a winner for me). Scalzi continues to grow as a writer, and this book proves it. I won’t say it’s better than his other books, but it is definitely different. What I will say is that I thought it was so good I wished I wrote it.