Tor Books, 2012
Andy Dahl and his fellow new crewmembers on the Intrepid, a craft very much like the Enterprise of Star Trek, begin to notice that something is very wrong with their ship and its crew. The fatality rate on away missions is astronomical, and free will and the laws of science tend to suspend themselves at dramatically appropriate moments. Once they can bring themselves to accept the fact that their lives are being controlled by the scripting of a low quality Sci-Fi TV show on which they’re little more than extras, they have to find a way, within the low quality Sci-Fi rules, to stop it.
It’s a one-joke book. If you want deep and character-driven, this isn’t it. If you’re not familiar with Star Trek, don’t bother. The loosely drawn redshirts jump through whatever hoops the joke requires for the equivalent of about three quarters of a novel. The remaining pages of the book are devoted to the three “Codas,” supplemental shorts that read like writer’s workshop exercises. Speaking as a writer, they’re mildly interesting, particularly the one written from the perspective of one of the scriptwriters, but with the story already perfectly well wrapped up, reading them has the aimless, extraneous feel of chasing videogame bonus material once the storyline has been played through.
For those who do know Star Trek, it’s a pretty good one joke. Whenever it gets tired, there’s another laugh-out-loud twist on a standard trope, another inventive loophole noted in the rules of surviving an episode. The one character who could be called “main” in both the book and the show within the book is a fascinating study, his offscreen personality so deluded and warped by onscreen time that he has to struggle to think or be anything real, not just to win the freedom to do so. If you can handle maybe one too many “writers are god” quips, it’s an enjoyable exercise in metafiction.