The newest John Scalzi novel, Redshirts, is both a very funny spoof of space opera television shows like Star Trek and a genuinely touching observation on how we should appreciate the lives of ourselves and others. (Click here to reserve a copy.)
Sometime in the mid 25th century, Ensign Andrew Dahl gets assigned to the starship Intrepid, the proud flagship of the Universal Union. As he makes friends with his fellow crew members and get used to his duties, Dahl discovers a bizarre secret. If any crew member is assigned to accompany Intrepid Captain Abernathy, Science Officer Q'eeng or other high ranking officers on an "away mission" to unknown planets or other areas, they're likely to get killed.
Worse, some strange force is manipulating Dahl and his fellow crew members into getting into situations they know would be dangerous, as well as coming up with weird, unscientific rationalizations (like searching for a "counter-bacterial" to cure a crew member of poison) to justify their actions. Pretty soon Dahl discovers the incredible truth..... Which I'm not giving away.
Star Trek fans of course get the reference to the title and plot. Basically, in the 60s Trek TV series, any security officer (red was the color of their shirts) who appeared with Kirk, Spock and the rest of the regular cast, usually got bumped off before the end of the first act. It quickly became a cliche.
With some hilarious dialogue and situations, Scalzi sends up that old cliche, as well as also parodying other conventions made (in)famous by bad science fiction TV. I loved the bit when the crew members always fall to the floor when the Intrepid makes a hard left turn despite having inertial dampeners, as well as how one particular crew member, Lt. Kerensky. keeps getting seriously/near fatally injured every week.
However, in an inspired plot twist late in the book, Scalzi also makes us realize, through the near loss of one character, that our lives and those of our friends and family (and coworkers) deserve more than to be treated like cannon fodder. That plot twist helps give Redshirts it's heart.
I could have done without the three extraneous codas involving supporting characters' various viewpoints on the story's events that show up at the end of the book, but you may disagree. Redshirts is still a fun and moving book that you'll enjoy.