The Cephalopod Coffee House is a monthly meetup hosted by The Armchair Squid. We meet on the last Friday of the month to write about the best book we've read in the past month. Click here for a full list of participants.

This month I'm reviewing Redshirts by John Scalzi, a choice which is particularly poignant considering the news of Leonard Nimoy's death earlier today. Redshirts owes its existence to Star Trek and it's many spin offs and imitators. Although the minor character of Commander Q'eeng is obviously the Spock proxy in the novel, he is nothing like the Vulcan that Nimoy brought to life. I'm not the first to say this, but I'll say it again: Leonard Nimoy as Spock was the heart and soul of Star Trek, and without him it would never have become the phenomenon that it did.

So, before I get sad again, I'm going to move on to the review: newest crew members to the Intrepid, the flag ship of the Universal Union’s space fleet, quickly learn that their vessel has a shockingly high death rate amongst the junior officers. Even more perplexing is the ridiculous and nonsensical ways in which people die. They begin to notice that veteran crew members steer clear of the senior officers, going as far as to hide in store rooms when the senior officers come around looking for away team members. After several increasingly bizarre and deadly away missions the new ensigns begin to look for answers, and what they find has the potential to literally destroy their world.
Anyone with even the slightest connection to pop culture knows that a “red shirt” is an expendable character – barely a character really, they usually don’t even get names – on a TV show or in a movie, who dies in order to create drama and up the stakes without endangering the lives of the main cast. Scalzi takes the trope and asks “Who are these people, and do they deserve better?”

Redshirts is presented in three codas: The first follows the adventures of the Intrepid and its red shirts, and the following two are concerned with the fallout from their plot. The change in tone between the codas (especially the final one) is a bit jarring, but it serves its purpose. While the premise may seem silly at first as it gleefully wallows in the tropes and lazy writing of bad science fiction, it quickly turns towards exploring the ideas of identity and free will.

This book may not be for everyone. Some people may find it too silly, or take offense to its critiques of certain television shows, but if you’re looking for something a little meta, that reads fairly quickly, and brings a smile to your face every once in a while, give Redshirts a try.


  1. I remember Star Trek the first time around and goodness the poor Red Shirts.
    I haven't read and Trek books but your review makes me want to read it.
    Sad news about Leonard Nimoy.

    cheers, parsnip

  2. Thanks for the Nimoy reference. It's a sad day...

    Redshirts sounds like fun.

  3. I was very sad to hear about Leonard Nimoy; he totally made Spock his own. Red Shirts sounds like fun.

  4. I had planned to read Redshirts, but I haven't been crazy about Scalzi's other writing, so it's currently on the "maybe" list.

  5. Redshirts was a fun, very meta book. My kids still enjoy leaning toward me during movies and whispering "red shirt" when some character is obviously there simply to kick the bucket.

  6. A timely read, for sure! Leonard Nimoy touched an entire generation. I never really watched sci-fi but it was hard to avoid seeing it around.

  7. I would give this a spin. Metathings usually engage me.
    Leonard Nimoy was awesome.

  8. Sounds like a fun one for my teen son. He's into sci-fi shows and pop culture references...
    Thanks for sharing!


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