This one time at Writer's Camp…
Red Shirt Birthday!
Today is Joe Buckley‘s birthday!
Why is that special, you may ask? Well, Joe and I go way back (2002? 2003?) and despite all the times a character named Joe Buckley has died in a book, the original copy of Joe Buckley lives on. And Joe Buckley is to a good book as Ensign Roberts was to a good Star Trek episode. Yes, today I’m going to wax poetic about redshirts.
The classic redshirt was created during the original Star Trek television series, though I’m tempted to suggest it started before that even. However, if you watch old episodes of Star Trek you’ll see that whenever an away team goes to a planet’s surface, there’s Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, perhaps McCoy or Chekov and… Ensign Roberts. Ensign Joey Roberts, Starfleet Class of 2280, brother to Samuel, son of Joseph and Margaret Roberts.
Take a guess as to who is going to die on this away mission*.
So how do you redshirt people who are COMPLETELY fictional and a product of your imagination? They are a product of your imagination, believe me. It says so right on the inside copyrighted paper. It says “No person, persons or places in this book are real (Take that, Germany!). All situations, characters and concepts are the sole invention of the author.” So yeah, my ass is metaphorically covered here. Ha!
Of course we writers use people’s names. You know how hard it is to invent a pronouncable name for characters in your book? I’ve railed on and on about how I hate reading a book where I have no idea how to pronounce their names**. So to avoid this, I turn to people I know… Mark Morgan, Leo Champion, Jade Hsu, Raul and Stephanie, etc., were all people I know in meat space. Granted, they were nothing like the character I portrayed (mostly), so nobody go off on Mark for being a douche, okay?
Oh, and the whole “Gav Thorpe” thing? TOTALLY accidental. That I swear. How was I supposed to know I was making a villain out of the guy who totally screwed up Warhammer 40,000 for all time? I didn’t mean to do anything like that! I swear!
But yeah, we use people’s names, especially if they’re cool. I’ve seen my name in two books (One Day On Mars and The Tau Ceti Agenda) and was killed in one of them (In The Tau Ceti Agenda, I got Goose’d). I heard that Sarah Hoyt is redshirting me in one of her upcoming books, which is a little exciting.
But in Joe’s case, being redshirted has become an art form. He’s been…. drowned in a giant vat of crap, eviscerated by a covert agent of a foreign power, repeatedly killed while being a smartphone, had a building dropped on him, nuked in space (multiple times), and electrocuted. I think there’s others but I can’t remember all of them.
But the whole point of this is… Happy Birthday, Joe.
*(brief aside: I always wondered just how they managed to get the graduating students from Starfleet on the Enterprise anyways. Can you imagine that assignment moment? “Simms – Excelsior (“Yes!”); Soo – Deep Space Four (“Ooooh yeah!”); Ribaldi – Excelsior (“All right!”); Roberts – Enterprise (“Son of a bitch…”)”)
**(another aside: I’d been saying en finite in Corruptor as “en fee neat”. However, Miriam was reading it as “en fin neat a” while Melanie had it as a proper French pronouncement that I have no idea how to type out. So the story is always different in everyone else’s head)