Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas is brilliant. It's brilliant laugh-out-loud satire at first, but then morphs into a brilliant heartfelt meditation on, well, the meaning of life a love of all things.
There's even an equally funny and touching song for the book written and performed by Jonathan Coulton!
Even if you've never watched an episode of all the various iterations of Star Trek you probably know what a Redshirt is. In the original 60s series there were different colored shirts depending on your job. Red shirts indicated that you were part of the security team. On the show if there was ever an away team that beamed down to a hostile planet that consisted of three main stars of the show and one guy in a red shirt you didn't know, it was highly probable that the red shirt was going to be the one to bite the dust if any sort of violence took place.
In the book, there is a star ship called the Intrepid that is the flag ship of the Universal Union. Some new transfers to the ship are realizing this same problem. They are also noticing that whenever members of the bridge crew go looking for other crew members to accompany them on away missions, all the other crew are really good at suddenly disappearing off to "do inventory" or some such so that the newbies end up having to be cannon fodder on these missions.
There's more to this riff on cheesy weekly television science fiction, but then it turns out that a crew member has been hiding in the crawlspaces and hidden compartments and trying to figure out all the weirdness and lets these new crew members on his theory. They may actually be the victims of a cheesy weekly television show from back in the early 21st century.
Turns out whenever we create a fictional universe, there is a split in the multiverse and that fictional universe actually can come into being. (Hey, it doesn't make sense to them either, just go with it.) So in our present there is a television show called Voyages of the Intrepid or something like that that is an updated rip-off of Star Trek-type shows. But, as our shadowy- hidden compartment friend Jenkins says, "I'm afraid it's a very bad show."
So our characters figure out a nice science-fiction-y way to go back in time and try to convince the Executive Producer to stop killing off extras and just try to have a better show. Due to various wonderful twists it turns out to be easier than expected.
So they live happier ever after. But that is not the end! There are three codas to the novel. One from the first-person point of view of the head writer of the show who now has writer's block because he writes a science fiction action show but is afraid to kill anyone else off. This will put a crimp in the drama and he just doesn't know what to do. The second coda is in second person. "You" are the son of the Executive Producer and are slowly becoming aware that there is evidence that something amazing has happened due to the previously mentioned wonderful plot twists and that you've somehow gotten a second chance at life and now need to figure out what to do with your life.
The third and final coda is in third person and is concerns a woman who was once, for a brief period years ago, an extra on a television science fiction show. In the show she was killed off so decided to try a different career. Now she finds out that somehow the character she played was real and alive and married to a man named Jenkins. He contacts her now in the early 21st century and it is a magical and heartrending ending to what started out as something I thought would be a lark to read. And then I end up crying like a baby!
I need to read more John Scalzi. Luckily he has a ton of great-looking books out there and an amazing blog to keep me going. I mean read this: "Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is." Or this: "Who Gets to Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants to Be" and tell me he's not just plain awesome.