This is the tale of those poor schmucks in red who always seem to die just to prove how serious things are for Captain Twerk and Mr. Smock. Their situation is exactly as ridiculous and lethal as you would think. These poor blokes beam down with the landing party, and the killer robots announce their presence by shoving a jagged spike through some poor bastard’s red-shirted back. Or maybe it’s the subterranean sand sharks, or the exploding instrument panel. Whatever the threat, stage-left of Captain Twerk is probably the most dangerous place in the universe.
In short, it’s a hellish life filled with random brutality, and there is no way to transfer off this ship unless you’re fated to be killed in the exiting shuttle. There’s nothing they can do about it, and they can see the statistics on the wall just like anyone else – anyone except the dashing officers, of course. But then, one day, the find out why this is happening to them.
The why, of course, is the big reveal of the novel, and if you haven’t already heard it, it’s worth letting the book reveal it in its own way. But that’s not the end of it. Nope. The real tale is what these unlucky corpses-to-be decide to do about it, and I have to admit that even though I saw where it might be going, I was impressed by how they pulled it off.
Now, this novel also has three “codas”, and it gets a lot of grief over that. These are basically three short stories that follow the natural consequences of what happens in the main novel. They’re not properly part of the same conflict and climax, but they are necessary collateral storylines that would have normally been left hanging. Instead, Scalzi wraps them up and does a good job with them. My only complaint was that he got a little too artsy in his choice of POV. That the first and third stories were in first person and third person respectively was just fine. But telling the second one in second person was a contrivance too far. I got what he was doing, but I felt it was unnecessarily awkward.
Overall, I really enjoyed it. I don’t think it’s Scalzi’s best work by far, but I won’t begrudge it the Hugo award.