A eclectic blog about a few things Star Trek
So before I get started, I should warn you that I am a Star Trek fan, not a Star Trek fanatic.|
Except for Discovery, I've seen every episode of every Trek series at least once. I've got my favorite episodes and I've got the ones that make me cringe. I've seen all the movies, including the reboots. I've read a few Star Trek novels, both novelized versions of movies and TV episodes, as well as original fiction set in the Star Trek universe, though most of that reading was done years ago. I've even watched one or two "independently produced" Star Trek episodes.
I haven't been to any fan conventions, though, and I've never written any fanfiction. I have participated in "sims," which are a combination of joint writing ventures and RPGing. But, to be honest, I would have been happy participating in a sim set in a number of science fictional universe. And, if you were to tell me you didn't like a particular series, as long as you didn't try to say that your opinion was the only valid one on the issue, I'd be willing to let your opinion go unchallenged. And the only time I've argued "canon" is when it came up on one of those sims I talked about earlier. Otherwise, as long as you respected my opinion and let me lay out my argument on the matter, you could disagree and I wouldn't consider it major or minor issue between us. Strictly trivial. As long as we can politely discuss it, we can agree to disagree.
So why write a blog on Star Trek then, if I like Star Trek, but it's not an "end all be all" for me?
Well, it's part of a requirement for a class the US Smithsonian Institute is holding online.
But wait, you ask. If I'm not a Star Trek fanatic, why take a class on Star Trek?
Well, it all has to do with archaeology.
Bear with me.
A few months ago, I was reading an article about on online course on archaeology being conducted in Israel and Jordan. The article was talking about how the class had attracted people from all over the world. So I investigated it, and end up enrolling. And while I was enrolling, I saw an advertisement for a class on Star Trek. And, though I'm not a fanatic, I am a fan. And you'll see a lot of television shows that are pronounced as historic and culturally significant But Star Trek is one of those shows that actually was historic. There was the write-in campaign that saved the show, of course. But the show inspired literally thousands of people. Consider the fact that no less a person than Martin Luther King convinced Nichelle Nichols to remain on the show when she was thinking of quitting. And look at the number of engineers and scientists were inspired by the story. Star Trek does indeed qualify as a phenomenon that has inspired a countless number of people.
Now, are there some things that are, well, just silly about Star Trek fandom? Of course there are. When someone announces that this series was better than all others, and to think otherwise is heresy, or that to argue a certain point is a seditious attack on canon...well, it's just ridiculous. But as a fan, even though Star Trek could be a little heavy handed in its pronouncement of morality from time to time, it was an optimistic look at the future. It was a promise that, struggle as we might, humanity could indeed rise to its best nature. And in time of history, that's a message of hope to embrace and strive for.
|Before I start my blog, let me get a few "housekeeping" things out of the way.
First, I have a new rank promotion:
And WDC sent me a reminder to update my blog. Which got me thinking, when my Smithsonian online course is over, how often will I be updating my blog? Will I even keep up with this blog? I'm inclined to say yes, because there are a lot of interesting ideas about Trek, and we do have a current series on Star Trek (Discovery), and I understand there might be another movie in the making in the reboot series, and Sir Patrick Steward will be reprising his role as Picard, though after he's left Star Fleet. As I understand it, the series is supposed to be rather dark, but we'll have to see.
So, my assigned questions are:
Why is it important to see yourself on television? Why is television an important subject for scholarly study and how does what we watch shape the world we live in? Are we getting closer to realizing the Vulcan philosophy of IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) here on Earth. What would it take for that to happen? What would it look like? How might things be different?
Now, this is actually two different assigned groups of questions, but they do flow into each other, at least as far as Star Trek is concerned. If a society advances, but not everyone in that society reaps the advances of that society, can the society truly have said to advance? So if Star Trek is promoting the idea that there is room for everyone in the future, then it is important that it shows everyone on the set. If you are on a series that is supposedly saying that the reality you are set in is diverse, but everyone looks the same, than it's hard to accept your premise.
A few years back, someone sent me a picture of a conference to discuss women's rights that was held in Saudi Arabia. All the attendees were men. So it's hard to seriously take such a gathering as a serious effort to promote the rights of women. In the same light, if the original Star Trek had been all men who looked to be of Western and Northern European descent, it would have been hard to accept that their vision was a diverse one. Instead, you had an Asian Man at the helm who took the con whenever Kirk and Spock were off the bridge, a black woman at Communications who was cross trained at Navigation and an alien as first officer and science officer. And, in the second season, during the height of the first Cold War, you had a Russian on the bridge as well.
You know, all of these characters are ones I'd like to come back and discuss at length, especially Chekov. Chekov was Russian and very proud to be Russian. I think that's what a lot of people---well, American people, anyway---don't understand about Russians. They come from a different background and have a different outlook on things. There is a group called ***** Riot (and if you look them up, be forewarned, their name does include an anatomical vulgarity) which represents itself as representative of the anti-Putin coalition. There was a lot of support, both in Russian and internationally, to have them released when they were first jailed. Here's the thing, though. Internationally. there was a feeling of support for the group as dissenters against Putin. In Russia, the group had very little support among the majority of Russians. Most people felt that for things the group had done in the past, that they deserved to go to prison. They just didn't want the group to disappear. They felt the group deserved the time they had served in prison, and should be released.
In America at least, people have very strong opinions about Vladimir Putin. And those people who oppose him keep on expecting the Russian people to oppose him too. But here's the thing. A majority of the people in Russian like Putin. True, those numbers are slipping, but to find approval ratings higher than Putin for the American presidency, for instance, you have to go back eighteen years, to 9/11,
So what does that have to do with IDIC in the modern world? I think that, even in "liberal democracies" which promote themselves as tolerant, there is a tendency to be tolerant to those you agree with, or try to include in your group. As Tocqueville once noted, "in America, the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them." I think we see that in modern societies that describe themselves as inclusive. They are inclusive only to the point of including those that they want. A people are oppressed only if the majority of that society sees them as oppressed. And recognizing the rights of an oppressed people is put the side if another group with higher political standing asserts rights that are in opposition with the oppressed people.
A good example of this is the right of tribal sovereignty among the indeginous peoples of the United States. This means that federally recognized tribes interact with the US government on a "government-to-government" basis. So if a non-governmental organization wants something done a certain way on tribal lands, they're supposed to deal with the tribal government directly, not go to the Federal govenment and try to enforce the NGO's will upon tribal governments.
Except American Labor Organizatons have done just this. They have done their level best to hem in the concept of tribal sovreignty the best they can, including threating the political careers of US Senators who support the concept, and going through state governments to do an end run around federal law. And the same people who cry out the loudest about the names of professional sports teams are very, very quiet when it comes to major issues such as tribal sovereignty and the right of indigenous people to identify themselves.
So, do I think that humanity as a whole has moved forward in embracing IDIC? In some ways, yes. But in some cases, even those societies that promote themselves as tolerant only give lip service to that tolerance in certain cases. And there are other cases where the society turns a blind eye toward intolerance, if it comes from a certain sector. So I think we have a long and bumpy road to work things out. And its not going to be done by letting one group decide they're the tolerant ones, and enforce their tolerance on everyone else.
|Before I get started, I have another promotion from my Smithsonian online course, so let me post it here:
They've been a little off with their ranks, skipping a couple and even starting off with a warrant officer's rank, rather than a commissioned one. But other than that one detail, the course has been interesting and enlightening.
So, our discussion question is, should money be invested in Space exploration when there are problems on earth that could be addressed?
I always thought that questions like this present a false dichotomy, that money spent on exploration takes money away from earth-bound programs. Research always pay off. Technology used to achieve a goal in space has applications on Earth. Think of how satellites have benefited every community on earth, through meteorology prediction, telecommunications, etc. Think of the boost to a nation's supply of engineering expertise and talent that gearing up to achieve a goal like landing a man on the moon produces. As President Kennedy said, we got to space "because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept."
|First of all, I was going to limit myself to one blog entry a day, but my last entry go derailed by myself, and it was supposed to be answering an assigned question in my online class, so I said, you know what, let's break my own rule. And I'll add in some other stuff to get my self-required word count met! LOL!
So, the question I'm supposed to answer in my blog is:
Think of a global issue that we are facing today that causes fear or concern. What would be the plot of a television show that depicted a utopian and optimistic vision of the future of that issue?
Now, I'm about to begin discussing climate change. But before I do, let me say this. It drives me nuts when people say, "I believe climate change is real" or "I believe climate change is false." What I believe or don't believe about a situation is inconsequential. A thing is as it is. I can alter it by observing it, but my beliefs do not have a direct effect on a situation one way or other, save perhaps in how I react to that situation. I can say I don't believe in gravity all I want, but if my canopy fails to open if I jump out of an airplane, gravity is going to smack me hard, regardless of what I think.
So please don't say you believe or don't believe in climate change. I'd rather hear anything than the word "Belief" in a sentence discussing facts.
Okay, what kind of show would I envision dealing with a future society that had dealt with climate change? Nothing dystopian. Perhaps a world that came together because of one really, really nasty climate incident. Maybe something along the lines of "Mother of Storms", about a hurricane created by a blast on the Arctic Ice Shelf creates a Superhurricane that refuses to die, even when it hits land.
On a side note, I think there have been seven hurricanes that have crossed from the Atlantic to Pacific, or vica versa, over the Panama isthmus, and regained their storm strength when they got to the new ocean.
Okay, in my television show, the new post-Climate Change society has emerged. So what issues do they deal with? Well, they've been united over having to deal with Climate Change for awhile, but now that that problem has been dealt with, divisions that were set aside begin reemerging. What do they do about that? And perhaps they have encounters with mini-societies that went underground or off planet in the face of impending climatic doom. How are these groups dealt with, in the face of the society that dealt with the problem, rather than taking cover from it?
To give the Next Generation due credit, they've actually dealt with that question before. The episode The Masterpiece Society touches on the issue of part of humanity separating itself from the rest, though it's not the first fictional look on the issue.
Have I got to my self-imposed word count minimum yet? Probably, but there a couple of other things I thought I'd bring up, which are more of the "that's kind of neat" category, and not the "Let's ponder that for a little bit" category.
Years and years ago, when they first came out, I played a couple of online games with mass participation. One was based on Star Wars, and it was kind of neat. One of the things about the game was, if you wanted something advanced, you had to get it from another player who made it. And the player versus player was limited to certain areas. Oh, you could still get killed. But not by another player, unless you specifically went into an area where you knew you could get killed. So I became a cook, and had a friend who was architect set up a building for me. Most of my time online was hunting down ingredients for stuff other people wanted to eat/drink.
Then there was a superhero based online game where you joined up with other players online, and battled the bad guys. I started creating healer type characters because they were easy to power up. The reason was that very few people actually wanted to be the guys who could heal. They wanted to blast and bash and brawl. So it was always easy to find a group to join.
The bad thing was is that I couldn't tell you if the graphics on those brawls were awesome or disappointing. I monitored the party's stats, not what was going on around me. I waited for certain powers to regenerate and, as soon as they were available, used them on the character in the most need. I had no idea what was going on.
I coldn't tell you why I dropped out of the Star Wars game. I think it was because everyone I knew had moved on to something else. But that superheroes game? It was because I wasn't playing a superhero. I was watching stats all the time.
So fast forward twenty years later and I'm watching an interview with the business head of IBM's Watson division, and he's talking about Sta Trek: Bridge Crew. This isn't the first computerized Star Trek game, or even online game, but it is the first one where you interact with other players as a character, be it a bridge officer, first officer, or the Captain. I haven't played it myself, but the people I've talked to about it who have talk about an immersive experience. Sounds like its a lot better than watching to see if someone's life level is dropping and they need to be healed as soon as you recharge.
And speaking of immersive experiences, let me talk about Star Trek simming again.
One of the things I like about writing in a universe created by another author is that it can let you know what's happening in another part of the universe than is told in the main story. For example, the one author who I feel has dealt with the Sherlock Holmes' character Irene Adler faithfully is Carol Nelson Douglas. Irene Adler was never meant to be a love interest to Holmes. She already had her own love interest. She was supposed to be "The Woman," the person who bested Sherlock Holmes. And Douglas is true to that them in her books.
So I do enjoy a good anthology of various writers who create stories in the universe established by another author.
And that's what a good simm is. It's a group of writers who create a continuing a continuing story in a universe created by someone else. It's like if you're reading a history of the American Revolution, and you wonder, what was Russia doing when the British were recognizing American Independence? What's happening in Japan?
So a good simm answers the question when the Enterprise was doing this, was there anything else going on in the Federation? Is there any place to go besides Risa to relax? Whatever happened to that giant probe that waned to talk to the humpback whales?
So I bring this up because a friend directed me to a long and well established simming community:
They seem like a fun and organized bunch. So I've signed up. I'm back in the simming business, baby! I'll let you know how it goes in future blog entries.
|You know, when I mentioned on a Discord chat channel dedicated to Star Trek simming that I was taking an online course on Star Trek from the Smithsonian Institute, I had quite a few people who, not having had an prior knowledge about the course, already knew its contents. Or thought they did. Of course, this was the same Discord chat channel where one of the administrators lambasted another chatter for his "Seditious Attack" on Star Trek canon. Seriously, the words "Seditious Attack" were used.
Anyway, I wasn't sure what to expect, though I had a general idea. There would be some chat areas, questions would be posed, and most of the topics would be about people inspired by Star Trek, ideas discussed by Star Trek and technology predicted by and shaped by Star Trek.
And there has been some of that. There was also some interesting discussions about the various mediums that Star Trek has appeared in (broadcast television, cable television and streaming), and how Star Trek has taken advantage of those mediums and even helped shaped them. One of the stories I had never heard was the one where Lucille Ball went down to the sets of the original series to help them break down the sets to keep the costs down. Another was the head of IBM's AI division talking about how excited they were to help the game developers of the Star Trek Bridge Crew game. So it was the "little things" that I wasn't expecting.
Ah, but then the course breached the political and philosophical questions that Trek brings up, and the fun begins.
I've mentioned Simm writing before, and chat channels such as Discord have aided them immensely. People can tell you what positions are available on simm, their upcoming story arcs, how these story arcs tie in with the story arcs of other simms, etc. But the one rule most discord channels have is no discussions about politics and religion. Which is not a bad idea, considering how bloody things can get when just discussing canon.
But the things is, most people can actually discuss canon. Well, on some channels, you will get the "We have decided this, and the decision is final" by the administrators of the channel, and the threat of excommunication is visibly hanging about you like Damocles' sword.
But let's be honest. We can't discuss politics anymore. Our political discussion is, this is how I see it, this is the facts, if you don't agree with me, it's because you're ignorant and bigoted. And we can't take criticism, or criticism of the people we support. There is one politician I know, who has falsely claimed association with a group of people, and the complaints of those people are minimized by her supporters.
Okay, I'm trying to be vague about how I described that, because I'm trying to get a point across. We should be able to discuss issues without getting distracted about "personalities."
So why am I discussing political discussions? Well, this blog entry was supposed to answer a question posed by the course, and my first thought was, hoo boy, I know what kind of discussion I would get if I answered that question on a few social media platforms. Because we don't see the possibility of discourse with "The Other" as possible. Our side has the right solution, and we must beat the other side down until they accept the Solution.
Except Star Trek didn't see it that way. Take Chekov, on the original series. Back in the early sixties, during the Cuban missle crisis, nuclear war wasn't only a real possibility, it was an imminent threat. I grew up near an Air Force Base, and I was told a story about how, during that time, a transport plane blew up in the air, and people who heard it thought it was the prelude of a nuclear attack. And yet, at the beginning of the second season of Star Trek, we meet Pavel Chekov, a proud Russian, who is part of the Enterprise crew. Who is one of "the Others", but also a part of humanity's combined effort to explore and adapt to the universe around them.
We see in the original series and subsequent series of Star Trek (except for Discovery which, except for the pilot, I haven't seen, and therefore won't try to comment on) that the Klingons are still the Klingons. And yet, Klingons and Humans have worked time and again to face threats together. And let's be honest about the Klingons. They'll tolerate a lot that happens outside their borders, but what happens inside their borders is a different story.
So, this blog entry was going to lead up to a answering question for my course, but I got distracted. But I would like to, and will, discuss the political and philosophical issues Star Trek raises. If only to complete my course requirements. But it would also be nice to discuss issues in a setting where one side doesn't feel the need to beat the other side into submission, and a call to tolerance isn't a code word for intolerance and marginalization of everyone who isn't in lockstep with your belief.
|Before I get started, let me share my latest "promotion" from the Smithsonian online course that has spurred this blog
On a side note, it's kind of nice not talking about politics, isn't it? Though Star Trek..classic Star Trek, not reboot Star Trek, does like to touch on political and philosophical issues of the day. Take, for instance, this exchange between Riker and Pulaski in the episode "Up the Long Ladder," which takes place almost immediately after Riker destroyed a growing clone of himself:
RIKER: I want the cloning equipment inspected. Who knows how many tissue samples were stolen. We certainly have a right to exercise control over our own bodies.
PULASKI: You'll get no argument from me.
Yeah, that was as subtle as the proverbial sledge hammer.
But I digress.
Okay, the question I am examining today is, where is Artificial Intelligence going? Will it be Data, The Doctor or something new? Do we need to fear it, embrace it or something in between?
First, I don't see a conscious artificial being. Or if there ever is such a being, how will we know?There's a joke about a speaker at a convention of philosophers, who announces that he is a solipsist, and everyone else there should be one too. We take it as an article of faith that the people we interact with everyday are "at home," and experience the world more or less the same way we do. But we can't even agree on how conscousness is achieved, or what it actually is. I'm an adherent of the theory that consciousness is a quantum state, but as of yet, I can't point to something and say, that being has achieved a state of consciousness. We develop Turing tests to detect "bots" online, but that only results in more sophisticated bots that have to pass more sophisticated Turing tests, ad infinitum ad nauseum. Short answer, I don't see machines, no matter how sophisticated, developing true consciousness. Or, if they do, I don't see a method to distinguish between a truly conscious machine and with "merely" sophisticated programming.So I don't think we'll ever see a Data or a Doctor.
So, does artificial intelligence present an existential threat to humanity? There are quite a few things that threaten humanity. Nobel thought his invention of dynamite was a threat to mankind, which is why he sponsored a prize for Peace.
Most of the technological genies we've let out of the bottle are of a two edged sort. But it's not the technology that's the threat, it's the individuals utilizing it. I'm not so much worried about Skynet waking up one morning and deciding humanity is a threat to machinekind, as I am somebody hacking into Skynet and introducing a subroutine that nobody can foresee the ultimate consequences of, including the person who introduced the subroutine. As Dr. Martin Luther King once noted, "Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men." Technological advances are not bad in and of themselves. It's the people who use them who have to change. And I like to think that's the underlying them of the original series and its sequels. Humanity can change, and is striving to change. Whether Life will imitate Art in this case, we will have to wait and see.
|So today's question is:
What Star Trek technology is on your list of must-haves? Could the Star Trek universe exist without this type of technology? How would it be better (or worse) with (or without) this technology?
Now that first question can be taken in two ways. If I looked at it without the following questions, I would read it as "Which Star Trek technology would I personally like to have access to?" But if you read it in the context of the following questions, it would read "What technology is necessary for the Trek universe to exist as it does?"
So let's tackle that second question first, because to me it seems the easiest. The answer would be warp travel. The drama, the space opera if you will, that is Star Trek is made possible because of faster-than-light travel. Everything else is just window dressing. Transporters, for instance, came about as a way to save money. In the new sci-fi drama "The Orville," the only time you see someone use a transporter is when Ed and Kelly are kidnapped by the Cavilon and put in an interstellar zoo. Plenty of space operas don't have transporters or their equivalent. So when you see a new piece of technology, be it Tholian web generators, holodecks or terraforming, the new technology is used in a single episode or story arc, but isn't what makes the series possible. If Star Trek was confined to slower than the speed of light travel, with nothing like wormholes that allow instantaneous travel across light years, than the nearest store takes four years to reach, and probably longer if we seriously take in the rate of acceleration and deceleration. And you don't have a crew visiting a new planet every episode. You have the eighteenth century British Empire, where things happen in months, not days or hours.
So what would be my must have technology, the one I would personally like to have access to? That becomes more problematic. What if, for example, Fermi's paradox can be explained away by the possibility that we are alone in the universe. The sci-fi series "Firefly" is set in such a universe. Not saying that there isn't life out there, but it would be pretty depressing if we could leave our solar system, only to discover that the most advance life out there are fungus and mold.
And then there is the question of whether faster-than-live travel is possible. So, for the moment, let's set warp travel and transporter technology aside and ask, Of the Trek technologies available and achievable, which ones would I like to see right now, rather than seeing them two centuries from now. That's another easy one. Holodecks would be fun, and potentially addicting, but Star Trek medical technology would be the super bonus. I can imagine as a kid how much better it would have been to have a laser or other device instantaneously knit a broken bone, rather than put a broken limb in a cast and wait a few weeks. Surgeries which instantly heal life threatening injuries and let you get back to duty by the beginning of the next episode are much more preferable than surgeries which leave you medically disqualified for weeks, if not months.
So my must have tech would be Trek medical advances. Ah, but to have your own holodeck. I think I'll discuss holodecks at another time.
|Warning! As I answer a question put to me by my Smithsonian course, I may be able to answer it in one blog entry! (GASP!). And, by the way the question is phrased, you already know it's going to be my opinion, based on my likes and dislikes!
So the question(s) is/are:
“Who is your favorite Star Trek character?” Feel free to discuss any character from the franchise. Why is this character your favorite? Is it someone you personally connect with? Is it someone who played a particularly powerful role in the franchise? How is this character grounded in the social or political time of his or her creation?
I like the first question. Who is MY favorite Star Trek character. Not, who is THE BEST Star Trek Character. But who is MY favorite Star Trek Character. And then, why is that character my favorite character.
So this question is asking my opinion. Now, you, the reader, may not agree with my opinion, and you may even feel that my opinion is wrong, and based on faulty conclusions. But that's not the question. The question is who is my favorite character.
If I seem to argue a little too much about my right to have my own opinion, even on something as minor as a favorite fictional character, it seems to me that in our present environment, there are too many people who take umbrage at others having differing opinions. as will give you a verbal broadside when every you do so, no matter how major or minor the difference in opinions is.
Well, for the moment, we don't live in in the anthill described by T.H. White, where "Everything which is not forbidden is compulsory."
So here is the list of my favorite characters.
Yeah, I know, the question is who is my favorite character, singular. But it's like Lay's potato chips. I just can't pick one.
So, my favoroite characters can be divided into two categories. Engineers and non-engineers.
Okay, my favorite engineers are, in no particular order, Scotty, LaForge and O'Brien. I like them because they're no drama kind of guys. When the Command Staff needs a solution, they provide it. If they get into drama, it's not of their own making. And these three are more or less happy with their lot in life. Take Scotty, for instance. He had his engines, and he had his drink. Occasionally, he would chase after a female crewmate, which never seemed to work out for him, but otherwise, he had a good life. Whenever Kird needed something from Scotty, Scotty gave Kirk everything he could, and was straightforward when he couldn't. O'Brien's domestic drama was the sort that most families faced, but nothing serious, and O'Brien was another sort you could trust to get his job done. LaForge was another I could also identify with. I especially cringed for him when the real Brahms encountered the holodeck Brahms LaForge had created to help him identify a problem in another episode. Especialy her biting "Was it good for you?"
Every four years in America, the question is inevitably asked "Which candidate would you want to have a beer with?" Other Star Trek characters are just a little too...well, something or other for me to feel comfortable sitting down with. The three engineers I listed above, I'd be more than comfortable sitting in a group with as we drank beers together. I'd even include "Reboot Scotty" in that mix, as long as he left his acid sneezing sidekick at home.
So why not include B'Elanna or Trip in that mix? B'Elanna comes with too much drama, and Trip is sort of on the bubble. Most of the time he comes of as a regular guy, but maybe I'm a little put off by his relationship with T'Pol, which seemed a little forced to me. And since I'm unfamiliar with any of the characters on Discovery, I couldn't include any of them on this list.
So my favorite non-engineer characters? Worf and Guinan.
Okay, I'm going to say that the character Guinan herself is not my favorite characters, and some scenes with her make me roll my eyes, like the faceoff between her and Q. However, I generally like Whoopi Goldberg, and when Whoopi has talked about her involvement with Star Trek in the past, and why she was enthused about it, that struck a chord with me. Whoopi is a few years older than me, but we both grew up watching the Original Series, and it was kinda nice hearing her talk about what the series meant to her.
As for Worf, I didn't like his character at first. He was a little too stereotyped for me. It was like the writers were grabbing me by the back of my head and forcing me to pay attention to what their idea of Klingon culture was like. But then Worf began to evolve. You learn that, even though he was raised among humans, he became almost obsessed about adhering to an idealized version of a Klingon warrior culture. What was really interesting was watching Worf react to when the ideal didn't match up to the actual. And then watching Worf having to adapt, and more than occasionally grow, after such encounters.
Well, there you have it, gentle readers. My favorite characters, and answered in a single blog entry!
And here's a link to my new "rank", which indicates my progress in that online Smithsonian course I'm taking!
|So as I've mentioned in previous entries, the primary purpose of this blog was to fulfill a requirement for an online class I'm taking through the Smithsonian Institute about Star Trek. And, as the course progresses, they will ask a question, and expect you to answer it on your blog.
So, one of the questions asked was to rank the pilot episodes of the various television incarnations of the Star Trek megatext (and megatext is defined in an earlier blog entry), and rank them according to how they used their medium (i.e., network television, cable television, streaming), and how they addressed current societal issues.
And if you read my Part I on this subject, you know I watched the pilot episode of Discovery (The Vulcan Hello) for the first time, with this question in mind. And I decided to sidestep ranking that episode, because I was still mulling it over. And I will admit, my past career had instilled enough "political correctness" in me that I was hesitant in drawing parallels between the pilot episode of Discovery and the real world. And part of me wondered, was I projecting my real life experiences on the pilot episode of Discovery. Seeing something there that the people who made that episode never meant for a viewer to see.
So I'm going to duck answering that question about Discovery for now, and kick it down the road. Instead, I'm going to discuss why I ranked the pilot episode of DS9 second to last.
First of all, let me state that, with the exception of the animated series, I've enjoyed all the iincarnatoins of Star Trek. And there were episodes of the Animated series that I enjoyed, such as the episode where Spock used the Guardian of Forever to travel back to his own past. And, as I understand it, that was the single epislde of the animated series that Roddenberry considered 'canon.'
So why rank DS9's pilot episode second to last? Because in light of the questions (Which pilot best addresses the contemporary societal issues from when it was produced while taking the most advantage of the television format on which it was shown?), I felt that's where it belonged.
Now, don't get me wrong, I loved DS9. Although The Next Generation and the original Series had there dark episodes, there was always the "silver lining in the dark cloud" feel about it. The "things were going to work out." Yes, a borg cube or a giant whale talking probe or a mutated twentieth century sublight probe were bearing down on Earth and planning to blow it to its component parts, but you knew things were going to work out in the end, everybody would rebuild and be stronger than before and there might even be a closing musical number on planets inhabited by musically inclined species.
You knew DS9 was going to be different when Sisko is having to discuss his new command with the man responsible for the death of his wife. As the occupying power retreats, you're having to deal with the people left behind who, to varying degrees, colloborated with that occupying powers. And the resistance, having won, is going to have to deal with success, and how they feel about a Federation that stood by and let all this happen to them.
You could possibly draw parallels between the pilot episode and several situations of rebels dealing with a withdrawing occupying force, but I don't think that was ever the intention of DS9. I think the original series and the Next Generation had the message of, the Universe is a great place if we don't lose our focus, and eventually everyone will come around to that view. I mean, how many omnipotent beings have we won over to our side just by showing them how great humans can be?
DS9 projected the view from the beginning that the universe was a pretty dismal place, but it was the only one we had, so we better slug our way through things and have fun while we can, because the best we can hope for are a few laughs along the way.
So in answer to the question, although I think DS9 was a great show, when you compare its pilot episode to that of the other shows, I would have to say that DS9 did nothing groundbreaking as far as the mediums that were available at the time, and though the pilot episode did address some broad philosophical questions, it didn't address any specific societal issues of the time.
|Before I start, I thought I would define a word I've used in a past blog entry,
Megatext -- /ˈmeɡ-ə-tekst/ -- Continuously unfolding narrative that is at least relatively coherent across different aspects of the franchise. Use in a sentence: Star Trek is a classic example of a megatext, as it is a fictional continuity that extends across seven television series and thirteen feature films.
So, as you have probably guessed by the title of this blog entry, I'm going to be discussing the subject of canon. Specifically, I'm going to be attempting to answer the following questions put to me by the online class from the Smithsonian Institute on Star Trek I'm taking.
1) In your opinion, what are the benefits of adhering to canon?
2) What creative potential exists in jumping off from it?
3) Where has Star Trek (or other similar franchises) done it well or poorly?
I like how that first question starts of. "In my opinion." Because, gentle reader, whatever my answer is on this matter, it is indeed "my opinion." It is not fact, it s opinion. If you and I share the same opinion, it is a shared opinion, but it is still opinion. One of us may even become angry at the other because one of us holds that opinion stronger than the other, and feels the other should be more fervent in expressing and supporting this shared opinion. But, at the end of the day, it is still an opinion and not a fact.
And if we have differing opinions on this matter? I remember years ago when I was talking with a coworker, and expressed my opinion on French beers and German wines. A colleague, whom I'll call the red-headed stranger, because no one was as strange as her, started screaming at me for the opinion I had expressed on this matter. Not yelling. Not raising her voice. Not shouting. Screaming! As in everyone in the room immediately looked over at her, wondering if a snake had gotten into the room somehow and bit her. Nope. She was mortally offended that I had expressed an opinion on French beers and German wines. To this day, I couldn't tell you if she was offended that my opinion differed from hers, or that I had tried to express my opinion amusingly, or that I had even formed an opinion and had the audacity of expressing it.
So if we have a differing opinion on the subject of canon, then we have differing opinions. One of our opinions might hold more sway than the others. One of us might have the ear of a major studio decision maker, or is head of a major fan group that others listen to, or is a screen writer, or something similar. But at the end of the day, they're both just opinions. And, to be honest, they're opinions on a subject that is supposed to be a pleasant pastime, and not a life or death subject.
But that's just my opinion.
Okay, in and of itself, how important do I consider canon to be? If you're writing/creating in a fictional universe, I think you ought to try to remain canon. It makes it more enjoyable to the viewer if something that happened in the first installment, be it novel, movie, episode or whatever, is still in place in subsequent installments. If someone dies in episode six of season two, they shouldn't just magically appear in season four without some kind of explanation. Of course, if you're the head writer of the show and pull such a stunt, the harshest reaction you'll get from me is that I stop watching your show. I'm not going to start an online campaign calling for your head.
Now, I do get...not upset, but willing to make commentary, on some issues of canon. In the various incarnations of Sherlock Holmes, writers invariably try to create a romantic connection between Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler, aka "The Woman," even though Arthur Conan Doyle specifically wrote that Adler had a love interest, and that Holmes' admiration of Adler was strictly because she had bested him. Otherwise, Holmes was strictly asexual. Watson even remarks in another story that he thought Holmes was interested in a woman who was their client, but that all interest in the woman faded as soon as the case was solved.
In my opinion, Carole Nelson Douglas is the one writer who has done justice to Doyle's vision of Irene Adler. But that's just my opinion.
So what are the benefits of staying within canon? Number one, is you keep your fan base happy. And the most fervent part of your fan base isn't going to be happy unless you keep everything just the same as it was in the original installment of your fictional universe. There was a petition on Go Change or Change Org or whatever the petition website is, to have a recent Star Wars installment declared "non-canon."
Continuity ties into this. If Captain X is dead at the end of Installment One, and then shows up in Installment Two with no explanation or internal reasoning given, it turns off that fan base. Also, I think if you keep a certain internal consistency in your storytelling, it makes it easier for future contributors on the matter. If Captain X is dead in Installment One, then mysteriously and unexplainably alive in Installment Two, if I'm the writer of Installment Number Three, I'm forced to wonder if I need to stay true to Installment One, or continue with the facts as present Installment Two.
Of course, this leads to the question of whether someone has broken canon or not. Take the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Within the film franchise itself, I believe (i.e., my opinion is) that the MCU has done a very good job of adhering strictly to its established internal logic. Canon is established by the initial movies, and added to and enforced by subsequent movies. I do know that there were complaints about some of the original movies. For example, I know a number of fans were upset that Heimdall was black. My thought on this was, since the Marvel Cinematic Universe is inspired by, but separate from, the Marvel comics universe, then the Asgardians aren't Nordic, but advanced aliens who interacted with ancient Nordic people. Of course, I say this as someone who hasn't picked up a Marvels comic in a couple of decades. So my opinion is going to differ.
So my opinion is that canon is important for a franchise that expands over several movies, books, television episodes and other mediums. But it's not something to develop an ulcer over.
But that's just my opinion. And on the other two questions, I'll tackle them in later entries.
|When I first started my job in Houston, I made a few friends at work. We hung out together, went bar hopping together, and played board games together. Most of the board games were of the competitive sort, where you ran competing civilizations, tribes, railroads, etc.
One of the games we played was a tabletop RPG that I vaguely remember was called Dungeons. It was an uncomplicated sort of game. The characters were premade, the dungeon was premade, it had a board with the dungeon printed on it, and you didn't have much choice about the ways you could advance the characters. It was one of those games we played early in a gaming session that we didn't take too seriously, and the way we played it had more in common with National Lampoon's take on Lord of the Rings rather than Tolkien's. We had a few games they were perennial favorites among the gamers who assembled, but Dungeon wasn't one of them.
So, as you can imagine, no one became particularly attached to any of the characters. In fact, the only character I remember from any of those games was the wizard, and that only because he had earned the nickname "Love Buns" for rather ribald reasons.
So, you're probably wondering how this could possibly relate to Star Trek simming? Well, as I've written earlier, simming in any genre is a combination of RPG and group writing. You do usually have a gamemaster, and in some instances, some type of random number generator is use, be it physical dice or a computer program. Most of the time, though, it's strictly a cooperative writing experiment, with one or more individuals guiding/controlling the writing group.
And, as I've said before, if done right, simming is a great experience. For one thing, you get instant feedback to your writing style. You think you're writing one thing, for instance, and you see where one or more readers is interpreting it a different way.
Or you enter a scenario thinking one thing, and somebody throws a light on it, and you think, hey, I never even thought about the situation unfolding in this fashion. Cool!
And I think you learn things you can then apply to your own solo writings.
So simming can be a good thing, if done right.
But, as with most things involving other people, a lot of things can go wrong.
Let's go back to our wizard, "Love Buns." If the guy who was "playing" that wizard saw the wizard killed off, he'd be disappointed. Not because he identified with the wizard, but because he wanted to complete the dungeon and win. Having the wizard die before getting out of the Dungeon meant the guy who was playing the wizard lost the game.
Now, yes, writers do become attached to their characters. I read somewhere that J.K.Rowling became inconsolable when she had to write the death scene for Harry's godfather. When you write, characters become real to you (almost like in the movie "The Man Who Invented Christmas" or the Twilight Zone episode "A World of His Own"), and you can't help but become attached to them. So you see this happen in Sims too, especially with writers who see their character as an idealized version of themselves. This, unfortunately, can cause problems and hard feelings with the other writers, and with the writer of the character in question.
So, if you were creating a character (or two or three) to participate in a group writing project, what would be my advise to you? I'm glad you asked!
1) Remember other people in that sim/group writing project are there to have fun, too -- When I write in a sim, I do so to have fun. I want to meet other writers, and stretch my writing muscles. I have some idea about how I want my character (or characters) to develop in the environment he or she is being written in. I will try to be flexible, though, because I'm not the only writer in the environment, and my character is not being written in a vacuum. If you write in such a way that other people are uncomfortable or unhappy, you will drive them away, and that collective writing project will collapse.
2) Be kind to the newcomer -- I was on a cooperative writing project years ago, where the ship I wrote the helmsman for always had a contingency of soldiers aboard. The writer of the commander of these soldiers would cooperate with established writers in the group, but was always rude to new writers. When the writer for our ship's Captain tried to get the writer for our ship's naturalist involved in a plot, the writer for the soldiers' commander abruptly told her that he had already written out the scenario, and didn't want to have to change it. The naturalist writer left soon afterward, and our ship got a reputation for not wanting new writers. We eventually folded.
3) It's often, not orphan -- There's a line from the operetta Pirate of Penzance, where William is lamenting about how the pirates are being lied to all the time. He makes the comment that "Half the Royal Navy must be made up of orphans!" I have seen so many characters written up that either one or both parents died in the character's childhood, or they came from a broken marriage, or they were involvecd in a broken marriage, or their spouse was killed in a border raid, or...well, you get the idea. When I wrote a character who had a happy childhood and was in a long term committed relationship that had weathered the years, very often that character was in a subset all by themselves. Tragedies happen, both in real life and in fiction, but not every character has to be an orphan!
4) El-Aurians. El-Aurians as far as the eye can see. -- The recurring character that Whoopi Goldberg plays in Star Trek: The Next Generation is one of my favorites, not least because of the story Whoopi tells about why she loved the Original series and the connection she felt to the genre as a whole. That being said, to my knowledge, there have been a total of three named El-Aurians across the entire Trek megatext. I think there were twenty El-Aurian refugees rescued by Enterprise-B at the beginning of Star Trek: Generations. Maybe not that many. And never have I seen an El-Aurian serving as a uniformed member of a crew. Whoopi's character was only serving on the Enterprise as a personal favor to Picard.
But if you were to begin looking at the rosters of various Star Trek sim, at least a quarter of them will have an officer who is at least part El-Aurian. And half of all sims will have an officer who is a) at least part El-Aurian, b) a reformed Borg (a la Seven of Nine), c) a holographic being (a la the Doctor from Voyager), d) a joined Trill or e) a Vulcan whose background, for some reason or another, has made them one who eats meat and is emotional.
My point? Except for b and e, these characters were fine in the Trek universe because they were like Data from the Next Generation. One of a kind. Or close to it. But your writing a character in a collective writing experience who has centuries of experience to draw from, or the collective knowledge of the Borg, or is basically impervious to harm while having almost instantaneous knowledge of anything that could be conceivably stored in your ship's computer, or gets all the benefits of being Vulcan while not having to conform to the canon of what is basically a joint written fanfiction.
(And what's wrong with reformed Borgs and emotional Vulcans in the Trek universe? I've got nothing against Seven of Nine myself, though I know a lot of folks weren't happy with the character in general, or the hurried way she replaced Kes. And as far as emotional Vulcans, I think Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and the Enterprise episode "Fusion" have taught us that no good comes from Vulcans who don't keep a close lid on their emotions!).
So, let me wrap this up by saying, writing in a sim of any kind is supposed to be fun. And if you find ourself in a collecting writing project that has a writer who is making it miserable for you and the other writers, it's not the end of the world. It's not anything worth losing sleep or developing an ulcer over. But if you do join a collective writing project and want to have fun participating, be the kind of writer other writers want to write with. And don't write a super-powered character with all the standard tropes.