Posts Tagged ‘Star Trek’

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Alternate Universes that we don’t think of as alternate universes

December 5, 2013

There are many books and short stories having to do with”alternate universes” – timelines similar to our own but in which a single historical even changes, and over time the results of that action have large consequences. There are the Sidewise Awards, given in both long and short form.

I won’t bore you with a history of alternate history. You can google it faster than I can write about it. However, you might want to check out the work of Harry Turtledove and Robert Conroy, at least.  Maybe one of these days I will list some of my favorites.

But here I’m talking about something else, primarily television shows. Almost all political series that take place in the present day could be called alternate history. Take “The West Wing,” which was running when the 9/11 attack took place. There wee references to it, but not much, and it did not profoundly effect the timeline in the show after that – even though it did in our timeline.

But here’s my favorite: “In the universe of “Star Trek,” no “Star Trek” ever aired.” I don’t remember where I first read that, but I’ve pondered it over the years in idle moments. For example, apparently manned space exploration continued in ST timeline more extensively than in ours – it was good enough to loft a sleeper ship in the late 1990s to get rid of Kahn Noonian Singh and his motley crew. There was that pesky nuclear war around that time, or after; and the Genetics War before Kahn was exiled, but even that didn’t keep Zephram Cochrane from building a warp ship from an old Titan missile.

Phoenix_launch (1)

 

Some like to say that ST inspires us toward that sort of Utopian vision apparently held by Gene Roddenberry. It’s more complicated than that, but I think it is safe to say that ST didn’t really inspire us to maintain manned exploration of space – the Trekkers couldn’t even get NASA to name a real space shuttle after the Enterprise. (The one they named was a test article used for glide tests.) Perhaps a series taking place in the nearer future would have done so more effectively.

Sherlock Holmes, in all his manifestations – novels, stories, films, plays, radio shows, television – existed in a particular world. Usually, as in the original, it was very close to actual history. Later versions had him fighting Nazis and working in a more steampunk Victorian England. The two contemporary versions – “Sherlock” in the UK and “Elementary in the US – apparently take place in a world in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about other things. Perhaps his medical practice took off faster, or maybe he decided to stay in London rather than moving to Southsea, and became involved in other activities.

Still, every time someone in “Elementary” is introduced to Holmes, their lack of surprise at the name, except for its odd sound, seems very strange to me.

Some interpretations of quantum physics imply that there is a multitude of universes. Maybe in one of them Barak Obama lost the Senate election to Jack Ryan, and he stayed in the Illinois General Assembly…

 

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Build the Enterprise – in 20 years, for cheap!

May 21, 2012

Build it in orbit, where it belongs…

A gentleman who calls himself “BTE Dan” has put up a very deep web site called BuildTheEnterprise.com. He envisions building a spaceship capable of reaching Mars in 90 days, within 20 years, for roughly $ 50 billion per year. That works out to a trillion dollars! (But that’s in today’s money, and I expect that $ 50 billion even ten years from now might not have the same buying power.)

I’m not going on a rant about how we spend billions each year on stuff not nearly so awe-inspiring, or any of that. I just wanted folks to see what Dan was doing. He has a somewhat unique vision, I think: would it be more inspiring to build a spaceship that could travel throughout our solar system if we named it “Enterprise” and made it look like a TV spaceship from 50 years ago? How would you do it?

While his Enterprise is not warp-capable – he’s basing it completely on technology already in place or in development today – he may have a point. I remember the elation in the “Trek community” when the first Shuttle to be rolled out was named Enterprise. Then we found out that it would never go into space – that it was a “test article.” We watched it fly around on the back of a 747 and do some glide tests, but I know many of us felt our dream had been crushed again – held out, then snatched away by realists at NASA.

The name Enterprise has a history unique in our culture. Of course Gene named his after the aircraft carrier, the first nuclear carrier in the world. By the time “The Next Generation” rolled around, rather than trying to use a different name, it was updated but called the Enterprise-D; the continuity of the name was deemed important.

And it is; symbols mean things. I’ll be “Star Trek” inspired hundreds of thousands of young people to become scientists and engineers over the years. (I think “Star Wars” is looked at rather differently, but I’m not ready for that argument!)

And I think Dan is right: the ability to build an “Enterprise-like” spaceship is now technically within our reach. Getting to orbit is getting easier, and over the next three or four years it should get easier still. By the time components need to be put in orbit – and that’s where you build it, J.J. Abrams, not on the ground! – access to orbit will be easier and more reliable, and somewhat less expensive. Such a program might even encourage the commercial space access companies to move faster. Part of the reason they aren’t moving faster now is that the market is too small and too variable. Does any other company have a backlog of 20 missions or more, like SpaceX?

So read through Dan’s pages. I would love to think this would be the start of something really big!

 

 

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Why you should never wear the red shirt

October 27, 2011

Never wear the red shirt!

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Dang! Worf is a psychiatrist!

September 22, 2011

Just saw the season premiere of “Castle” – grittier than usual, with the followup on Kate’s shooting. But at the end, she goes back to see the police psychiatrist after she’s been cleared for duty, because she still has “issues” – and it’s Michael Dorn.

Tell your problems to the Klingon. That’s the way. Actually, with the way Kate Beckett usually acts on the show, as the hard as nails cop, maybe a Klingon is the best choice to tell your problems to…

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Happy 45th birthday to the best split infinitive ever!

September 8, 2011

On September 8, 1966, Gene Roddenberry’s “Wagon Train To The Stars” premiered on NBC.  It had a difficult birth and sputtered out after a kind of embarrassing third season and should have disappeared into TV oblivion…but it didn’t. Star Trek became the great syndication TV success story of all time, spawning four spinoff series, an animated series, eleven feature films, several web-originated spinoff or extension series, games video games, and the Great Bird of the Galaxy only knows how many books and other print materials. Even  those who have never been science fiction fans at all in their lives have probably said a catchphrase from one of the shows, like “Beam me up, Scotty.” (Which Captain Kirk never said, actually.)

The debut episode was “The Man Trap,” after some problems with the network not liking the original pilot. There’s a great story in that. There are great stories in a lot of things having to do with Trek. One of the best, of course, is David Gerrold’s journey into writing the episode “The Trouble With Tribbles.” I think it, far more than his subsequent work as a science fiction writer, made him known to a wide audience and a success as a writer. Even though it’s out of print it’s apparently still available from a number of vendors. If you are interested in TOS (The Original Series) Star Trek at all, you should read it. It’s a great story of a young writer and his first big break.

See lady in image above. Yep. Same chick.

I could go on and on and on, and many people have. All I’m going to say is Happy Birthday to Star Trek, and may it boldly go on another 45 years!

Like the changes made by George Lucas in the upcoming Blu-Ray versions of the Star Wars movies, the original special effects have been enhanced in some current versions of the original series episodes. Netflix has those enhanced episodes available for streaming. Unlike Lucas’ work, however, the modifications have been subtle, and if you never saw the originals you would never know there was anything done to them. It was done  to clean up the messiness of early TV EFX, not some kind of revisionist history! And the CGI-enhanced Enterprise looks very much like the original effects crew would have wanted her to look, if they could, in my opinion.

Enhanced Original Enterprise

(The episodes are also available on DVD.)

It’s amazing how this little idea grew into such a huge shared universe. Gene Roddenberry wasn’t even that much of a science fiction fan, if I recall correctly. He did have definite ideas about the direction the series was to go, and he had some fights with the network – and particularly with the network censors. Things that seem tame today were groundbreaking in the late 1960s. Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura shared the first interracial kiss on network television. The costume designer, William Ware Theiss, tried to get some pretty racy (for the time) outfits past the censors, and usually succeeded. There were many veiled and some not-so-veiled parallels to current events, particularly the Vietnam War and the fight against Soviet Communism.

I think few television programs from the same time period would hold up nearly as well as Original Trek today. And of course, Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner became huge stars because of the show – to the point that, to a degree, they found it difficult to get other work. Today, I think Nimoy is considered practically a national treasure. Shat, well…Bill Shatner is a legend. The guy got a freakin’ Emmy, fer Crissake!

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Awwww….cute!

August 16, 2011

You have to watch it until the end. There’s a reason for the cropping. These science-fiction convention kids, ain’t they romantical?

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The continuing story of “V”

January 8, 2011

And who might this be? Hmmm?

Apparently the second-season premiere of “V” didn’t catch on with viewers, no matter how much advertising the ABC network put into it ahead of time.

I watched it last night. I have to tell you, there is some interesting stuff now on the show, but not enough. I think I know what would help, too:

Get some writers who know science fiction!

I mean, really – everybody thinks they know enough about aliens, and that aliens can be and do just about anything. No knowledge  of physics is required, no chemistry or biology either.

Every science fiction TV show, story, or novel requires some suspension of disbelief. Most kinds of fiction require it in some way. Do you really believe that all those crazy kinds of murders go on in Las Vegas, one a week?  Who would go there on vacation? Or that the CSIs in Miami have computer technology 20 years ahead of what we have in the real world?

Those writers know just how to walk the fine line so viewers stay interested but don’t sit back and say, “That’s just too freakin’ outrageous! I can’t watch this any more!” (Well, all of them but the writers on “CSI: Miami,” in my opinion. They’re waaaay over the top now, and I can’t watch it.)

Incidentally, I think there are two reasons why the original CSI has been better for the last two years: Lawrence Fishburne joined the cast, and they hired David Weddle and Bradley Thompson to exec produce. They were Ron Moore’s secret weapons running the writers’ room on the recent reimagined version of “Battlestar Galactica.” (Even though they made their writing chops on “Deep Space Nine.” But then, Moore came from “Star Trek: Next Generation” himself. Both of those shows, of course, made most aliens humans with latex heads.)

But back to my point. Most TV writers see aliens as either humans, usually with British accents and latex heads (see above), with usual human motivations and emotions, or as sort of the ultimate deus ex machina – they can do anything, be anything, and their motivations need no consistency. (See the film “Star Trek V” for one of the worst abuses of this idea.)

Our societies and cultures ares dictated by our environment, sure, but first and foremost by our biology. The built-in dual-sex mammalian  makeup of humanity imposes certain restrictions on our behaviors and motivations, whether we be tenth-century Mongols or present-day Americans. Human behavior for the last three or four thousand years has been more similar than different, when viewed from outside of humanity by aliens.

The V aliens ares supposed to be lizard-like, but we see them covered with a blanket of something similar to human flesh. Even the humans who know what the aliens really are tend to look at them as humans because the speak our language and look like us. (And they have one working with them…and he’s too “human” to be believable to me.)

Hopefully the writers will use this to their advantage this year. The idea that we are completely suckered by the aliens is an old one, but can be useful to this show if they can then show the incredible alienness of their real selves. In the old series there was some business about them needing water, then really wanting us as food; neither made any sense. (For water, go get a comet; it’s closer than going to another solar system. And why would we be food compatible with their biology, anyway?)

So what do these “pseudo-lizards” want? We don’t know yet. They’ve had advance teams here for quite a while – generations, perhaps. This merging of human and lizard doesn’t make any biological sense unless there is something else that went on in the past of which we are not aware. And the little bit of terraforming the red rain is supposed to be doing may be making the Earth more congenial for them, but do they need us for something? If not, why not just kill us all off and be done with it? Why the infiltration and deception? Slavery?
They can’t be “lizards” because they didn’t evolve on Earth. We have less in common with them than we do with bacteria.

So the job for the writers is to give the aliens motivations that ring true with the audience while not being human motivations. They have to do this while making the humans people we care about. So far I think they’ve had trouble with both of these. They need to make the aliens alien enough and give the humans a bit more humanity.