Tag: Star Trek (page 1 of 6)

Thinking Trek

There’s an article on Grunge that posits that living on the Enterprise-D, setting for ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’, would absolutely suck. I read through the article a few times, gave it some thought in my off-hours, and I want to refute some of its points. I mean, I list all of the points, but to be honest, some of them aren’t completely wrong.

Just most of them.

The transporter killing you: “death” is too strong of a term. Yes, the matter of the body is broken down and then reconstructed elsewhere, but the neural energy of the person is stored and then transmitted into the reconstructed body. This is the ‘consciousness’, ‘soul’, etc — scientifically speaking, it’s the firing of neurons in the brain and the engrams stored within it, held in suspension by the computer. It’s possible that a glitch in the transporter’s functionality can create a copy of this energy pattern – see the introduction of Thomas Riker in “Second Chances,” and why he’s less morally inclined than William (DS9 episode “Defiant”). There’s more to this, but suffice it to say that “the transporter kills you” is way too simplistic an interpretation. Don’t get me wrong; I love CGP Gray and all he does. Including his video on the transporter being a “suicide box”. I feel this is the best refutation I can offer.

Bathrooms: The Galaxy-class definitely has more than one bathroom; we see Matt Frewer using a ‘refresher’ in the episode “A Matter of Time”, and there’s a ‘head’ specifically on a bridge layout I saw just off of the Ready Room and, iirc, the conference room. The design team for Star Trek are very smart folks; to claim that this meeting of the minds would put a ship populated by hundreds if not thousands has only one bathroom is ludicrous. Funny, but ludicrous.

Cabin Fever: Again, let’s consider that Star Trek has its own internal logic and structures. In this case, there isn’t just one counselor aboard the Enterprise. Commander Troi is the head of the counseling staff, she’s its senior officer. Sure, she could be a ‘senior officer’ because she is the one person on the counseling staff, but what sense does that make? Sources on this may not be ‘canon’, but it makes sense to have more than one therapist aboard the ship, just like it makes sense to have more than one bathroom. Let’s also consider that all of our real-world space-faring experience has been in very, very cramped quarters. A ship the size of the Enterprise affords plenty of opportunities for privacy and a break from contact with the usual coworkers or family members. There’s artificial gravity, fresh food, amusements & physical activities… many things current astronauts, unfortunately, do not have.

Spandex: No. There is no way they’re wearing spandex in the 24th century. It looks futuristic to our eyes, or at least it did in the late 80s/early 90s, but… just no.

Families: Yeah, it’d be really awful if your family was in the section the Borg cut out of the saucer in “Q Who” or died at some point during the events of “Cause and Effect” and, despite the time-loop shenanigans, stayed dead. I’ll grant this would suck.

Holodeck sex: This one’s probably true too. Thankfully, I suspect that there’s technology that can clean the place after things are over with. Some sort of technobabble pulse that scrubs the place down in a split-second.

No Time Off: See the Cabin Fever entry.

Holodeck Glitches: Cars glitch and crash, too. As for the consciousness of holographic characters, some are probably no better programmed than NPCs in Skyrim, and others are complex enough to evolve a form of consciousness yet do not simply cease to exist when the program is shut off. So no, they don’t ‘die’ when the program is ended.

Being Insignificant if you’re not on the bridge: We’re pretty insignificant on the whole as it is. This isn’t any different. … Let’s move on before that goes anywhere darker or deeper.

Replicator Breakdown: There are hydroponics labs for a reason, people. Medical science has probably progressed to a point where food allergies are cured via hypospray. So kale, soybeans, and other superfoods will be available. And speaking of eating in space, remember what Shepard Book said in Firefly? “A man can live on packaged food from here ’til Judgment Day if he’s got enough rosemary”. And you can grow rosemary in the hydroponics labs, too.

Wesley’s your superior: Wil Wheaton’s cool and Wesley got a lot less insufferable and a lot more human the further the show got away from its smug first couple of seasons. Let’s face it — everybody was an arrogant snot for a while, there. Once Wesley was humbled and managed to man up in Starfleet Academy (“The First Duty” is a great episode), he makes for a great officer. I’d be fine working with him.

Evil Bosses: This is, again, art imitating life. Many of our workplaces suffer from horrible bosses. We manage to make do, alien parasites notwithstanding.

Our Friend The Computer: So the idea of a computer listening for commands at all times is, on its face, pretty creepy. But the computer is not recording anything unless its told to do so. Now, it’s possible that someone with nefarious designs can hack the thing to record and then use those recordings, but given the fail-safe procedures built into just about everything Starfleet touches (I don’t know if I ever heard the term “tertiary backups” before O’Brian on DS9), Engineering or Security is likely to get pinged if such a breach of protocol is even attempted. And speaking of Security…

The Worf Effect: Let’s look at the facts, here. Next Generation ran for 178 episodes, and only 150 or so of those saw Worf as chief of Security. 150 days is just over half of a year. The show ran for seven years, and even if the Enterprise wasn’t active for that entire length of time (someone would have to collate the stardates), chances are Worf was in that position for longer than 150 days. So I imagine that for the rest of the time, he did his job well enough to hold the position. When we see Worf in action on Next Generation, it’s usually against pretty damn huge threats. Klingons are strong and fierce, but Kahless himself would not be able to overcome every Borg in his way.

The Timeline No Loner Exists: Temporal mechanics is a very odd thing. Be it the “fixed points in time” as explained by the Doctor, or “multiverse theory” that’s been used in places other than Star Trek, a lot of thought on temporal mechanics argues that original timelines, as well as branches, continue on in their own continuity. This, unfortunately, implies that there exists a timeline in which the Earth was destroyed because Kirk and crew did not get back to the 23rd century with George and Gracie.

Being Boring: while Gene Roddenberry brought a great deal to the genre of science fiction, and nobody can deny his accomplishments, the idea of a future without conflict was not one of his better ideas. Which is why subsequent writers ditched that idea entirely.


I know that normally I post a bunch of political stuff on Wednesdays, but I think we all need a break.

The Lived-In Universe

Couretsy LucasArts

For a long time, space travel in fiction was predominantly shiny. Long, slender, cigar-shaped rockets predominantly made of chrome blasted off towards the stars. More often than not, equally shiny flying saucers spun their way towards our suburban homes to shower our Sunday barbecues with death rays. I am exaggerating a bit, but what I’m driving at is there was an aesthetic that remained largely untapped until 1977.

Just before then, the shiny sci-fi aesthetic extended to both realistic films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and episodic television such as Star Trek. Roddenberry, in particular, envisioned the future as a utopia, peaceful and squeaky-clean. Then along came a little movie called Star Wars. From the very beginning, it was something different. The Star Destroyer was enormous, imposing, and definitely not peaceful. The Tantive IV, said Star Destroyer’s prey, was battered and utilitarian. Mos Eisley was both visually and ethically dirty. And the Millenium Falcon? What a piece of junk!

The galaxy far, far away as envisioned by George Lucas is the result of literally thousands of years of history. The worlds and ships are used and lived-in. Even callbacks to earlier times, the tales set in the Old Republic, have worn edges and is painted with shades of gray morally and aesthetically. It was this, not the shiny utopian vision, that informed the immediate followers of Star Wars, such as the original Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

Gene Roddenberry tried to resist this trend. Star Trek: The Next Generation was a big, bold utopian statement, to the point that Roddenberry himself said that there should be no interpersonal conflict on the gigantic new USS Enterprise. This lead to early seasons of the show often feeling pretentious and sterile. Thankfully, later seasons moved past this to have the crew behave more like real people than Federation pontificators, and Deep Space Nine pushed things even further. That show was concurrent with shows like Babylon 5 and FarScape, both of which introduced universes that were both brand new and familiar in their dynamics and feeling of history.

As fun as it is to envision a shiny, utopian future, the fact is that a more lived-in universe is more accessible to a wider audience. We picture ourselves more easily in a galaxy with some history, some mileage, and some rough edges, because it’s closer to the world we actually live in. We’ve walked down a street like the one we see in Mos Eisley. We’re familiar with being elbow-deep in our vehicle trying to get it to behave. We’ve had conversations with very stubborn, well-reasoned people, and tried to fight back against things that we feel are wrong, even if it’s an uphill battle. These are universal elements to good storytelling, no matter what the ‘verse in question might be – looking at you, Firefly.

What are some other instances of science fiction feeling lived-in and familiar, despite being set in galaxies far, far away?

From the Vault: Everything Old Is New Again

A post from last year: updated to reflect the fact that my memories of both Man of Steel and Star Trek: Into Darkness have soured considerably.


Courtesy Relativity Media

I’ve been blogging for years. I’m not sure if you’d call what I’ve done or have been doing successful or not, when it comes to blogging and other areas of my life, but what I keep coming back to is the fact that old stories still have something to tell us. I have no problem, on a fundamental level, with something getting a reboot or a re-imagining, as long as the core of the story remains intact and the talented people telling the story are either plying close to that core or going in an entirely new direction with it.

The problem, as I see it, is that it is far too easy to stick to the old story points and simply apply modern thinking to them, rather than take a tale’s themes or characters or message in a new direction. What really bothers me about the practice is how lazy it seems. If you want to use an old tale or property to tell a story, go for it; all that I would ask is that you do something new with it. Another example would be the difference between Immortals and the Clash of the Titans retread: while Immortals had a little trouble staying on-point with its storytelling, its visual imagination and portrayal of ancient Greece felt unique and striking, while the new Titans felt drab and lackluster on pretty much all fronts. I mean, sure, it was still fun to see Sam Worthington fight giant scorpions, and Liam Neeson was born to play gods, but the thrust of the story felt weak because there was nothing new about it.

As scarce as new ideas tend to be, it’s no wonder that older stories often come up for a rehash now and again. As I’ve said, I’m all about old stories getting told in new ways. The emphasis here is on ‘new’ – a good storyteller should try to do something that hasn’t been done before, or mix things together that haven’t been mixed. Any idiot with a keyboard can bash out a story about a superhero or vampires or old myths – the question is, what makes your story about a superhero or vampires or old myths stand out? What will make people want to read it? Why, at the end of the day, do you have to write it?

2013: The Disappointments

Man of Steel by Rudyao
Man of Steel, by Rudyao

2013 was a year that was mostly populated with sequels, and sequels are a double-edged sword. You have an established world and characters to work with and build upon, and an audience already interested in what you’re doing. However, you also run the risk of undoing good work done in previous installments, watering down the message previously established, or alienating the audience, or at least some of it, when you move in a new direction. The two movies that disappointed me this year demonstrate these pitfalls extremely well, and I’m going to take some time to detail what I feel went wrong in both cases.

Let me clarify something, however, before we begin. I enjoyed watching both of these movies. I will admit there’s great stuff in both of them. At no point during either one did I throw up my hands and storm out of the theatre, feeling I’d been spoken down to or that the filmmakers had pulled an untoward bait-and-switch. These are high-quality films with great casts and interesting ideas. But I’ll be honest: both of them really disappointed me.

When JJ Abrams took the helm of Star Trek, I was curious. After the first movie under his command, I was intrigued. A fresh new cast inhabiting the classic characters in a new timeline with new aesthetics had me highly anticipatory of the direction they’d go in. Unfortunately, the direction they chose was back to the past. Star Trek Into Darkness did quite a few things right in executing one of the best-known storylines from the classic era, but as well as those things were done, they could have been done just as well with new characters unconnected to the previous tales. What’s disappointing to me about this is that its demonstrating a trend towards pandering and fanservice. These things aren’t necessarily bad, but when they’re the core of your creative endeavor rather than a fringe benefit, the entire work can suffer for it. I know this creative team is capable of better. I’m cautiously optimistic that they will learn from their mistakes and give us something new.

More than Into Darkness, however, I was deeply disappointed by Man of Steel. Again, we have a very talented cast working within a fascinating aesthetic that breathes new life into a world we already know. However, rather than utilizing these high-quality tools to provide a counterpoint to Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of Batman, as Superman is almost always Batman’s counterpoint, I can’t help but feel like these characters have somehow become virtually one and the same. Where Star Trek leans towards pandering, Man of Steel was more concerned about Superman’s messianic overtones and the tendency lately of superheros being dour, grim, stoic miseryguts rather than concentrating on using their abilities to help people. The titular character in Thor: The Dark World acts more like Superman than Superman does in Man of Steel, a clear indication that something’s gone wrong with our friends Nolan and Goyer. There are moments in the film where something truly exciting in the world of Superman can be glimpsed, but it gets overshadowed by the darkness and seriousness that dominates the film. It smothers the fun we could be having, it undercuts the talents of the cast, and just leaves me feeling irritated and frustrated. This could have been so much better!

What disappointed you the most in 2013?

Everything Old Is New Again

Courtesy Relativity Media

I’ve been blogging for years. I’m not sure if you’d call what I’ve done or have been doing successful or not, when it comes to blogging and other areas of my life, but what I keep coming back to is the fact that old stories still have something to tell us. I have no problem, on a fundamental level, with something getting a reboot or a re-imagining, as long as the core of the story remains intact and the talented people telling the story are either plying close to that core or going in an entirely new direction with it.

It’s why I can’t bring myself to full-on hate or even mildly dislike the new Star Trek films. The settings and characters I and many others grew up with are being taken in a new direction. The storytelling stumbles here and there, and I’m not quite convinced that that Abrams and his crew can, in fact, give us something entirely new out of these old and familiar trappings, but I am cautiously optimistic. In fact, if I were to put Into Darkness and Man of Steel side by side, I’d say that Abrams and company are doing more right by the Starfleet folks than the current bunch at the helm of the DC film universe are doing in terms of breathing new life into their given amphitheater. At least Into Darkness didn’t rehash any of its narrative within the film and infused its characters with humanity and charm within the writing, rather than relying on the actors to do that stuff.

The problem, as I see it, is that it is far too easy to stick to the old story points and simply apply modern thinking to them, rather than take a tale’s themes or characters or message in a new direction. What really bothers me about the practice is how lazy it seems. If you want to use an old tale or property to tell a story, go for it; all that I would ask is that you do something new with it. Another example would be the difference between Immortals and the Clash of the Titans retread: while Immortals had a little trouble staying on-point with its storytelling, its visual imagination and portrayal of ancient Greece felt unique and striking, while the new Titans felt drab and lackluster on pretty much all fronts. I mean, sure, it was still fun to see Sam Worthington fight giant scorpions, and Liam Neeson was born to play gods, but the thrust of the story felt weak because there was nothing new about it.

As scarce as new ideas tend to be, it’s no wonder that older stories often come up for a rehash now and again. As I’ve said, I’m all about old stories getting told in new ways. The emphasis here is on ‘new’ – a good storyteller should try to do something that hasn’t been done before, or mix things together that haven’t been mixed. Any idiot with a keyboard can bash out a story about a superhero or vampires or old myths – the question is, what makes your story about a superhero or vampires or old myths stand out? What will make people want to read it? Why, at the end of the day, do you have to write it?

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