Email: darkblogules at yahoo dot com
All email will be assumed to be for publication unless otherwise requested.
What's in the banner?
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
For the first time in almost twenty years, there will be no Star Trek series in production. I loved the original series, used to have the episodes almost memorized. In later years I found better uses for the brain storage space. And while I liked the subsequent series all right, I thought they never came close to capturing the sense of wonder of the original.
(Remember: the Golden Age of science fiction is twelve.)
Anyway, famed science fiction writer Orson Scott Card weighs in on the loss in the LA Times.
So they've gone and killed "Star Trek." And it's about time.
Surely there speaks a man who's never seen Lost in Space, where they headed toward the nearest star and somehow managed to visit a new planet every week or so, without ever getting to Alpha Centauri, and whose idea of cool aliens was space cowboys, space Vikings, space pirates, space Arabs, space royalty, space department stores, talking vegetables, and Satan.
Now this is a good point. It's tough to remember how it was in those days. I remember being thrilled by the brand new thing that was a Next Gen story arc. So when you think about all those chicks that Kirk had, remember that they wouldn't let him have the same chick more than once, or fondly remember a woman who'd already been on the show. For "Shore Leave" they had to dredge up the youthful memory of "Ruth" (who looked, in the way of women of the Sixties, about 45).
This makes me sad, because I like that kind of science fiction. Not too many people write it these days, people like James H. Schmitz or H. Beam Piper.
But besides that, it simply wasn't true. Here's a sampling of the "deeper ideas" in the original Star Trek, in chronological order:
Whew! And that's just the first season! I could've gone on (and on). There are also plain old sensawunda episodes which explore questions like, "What if there were an alternate universe in which we were all really different?" ("Mirror, Mirror", 2nd season), "What would a 20th century Roman Empire be like?" ("Bread and Circuses", 2nd season), "What would it be like to be the only immortal?" ("Requiem for Methuselah", 3rd season). (Note: Check this site for all your Star Trek episode needs.)
It would have been difficult to explore some of these themes in an episode of, say, Bonanza, or Dragnet.
OK, hold on a damn minute here. Ellison through Moorcock were entirely different types of writers than Bradbury through Clarke. The latter four (not so much Clarke, maybe) were much more into those nasty old 1930s type stories. And while the first six produced many fine works, the nature of some of those works was such that they would not be palatable to a wider audience. (In fact, you can argue that this was the very purpose of "New Wave" science fiction, much of which frankly strikes me as being created expressely to epater le bourgeoisie. Oh, how original.)
Besides which, the original Star Trek had episodes by actual science fiction writers, like Norman Spinrad, Ted Sturgeon, Robert Bloch, and (oopsie!) Harlan Ellison.
Er, possibly. I, personally, was still in grade school when the original Star Trek was dewy fresh, and so would not have been reading The Left Hand of Darkness and its exploration of human sexual roles, thanks very much. (I will confess to you that I was embarrassed enough by the exploration of sexuality in "Amok Time". I was eleven, I think.) Most of Star Trek's fans weren't much older than I (up to college age, say). They probably hadn't had much of a chance to experience the "science fiction revolution".
By the way: eventually, Star Trek led me to Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, et al. But even after I was reading much better writers, I kept watching Star Trek, hoping to recapture the Golden Age (remember: 12). I have to say, none of the subsequent series caught my imagination in the same way as the first one. Next Generation patrolled a galaxy gone too civilized, with the focus on our crew members kicking themselves in the ass to venerate the culture-of-the-week.
Lileks (see below) has oft-praised Deep Space Nine for being gritty, but frankly I get my RDA of grit from daily life, and don't really need any in my Star Trek. TOS promised us that Star Fleet was going to be an organization of bright-eyed explorers, noble soldiers, and dedicated scientists; and the Federation free of the sort of dark governmental machinations that delight the X-Files types. DS9 not only broke that promise, it kicked it to shards and stomped on the remains, laughing maniacally.
I was one of the few who liked Voyager; sometimes it looked as if the sense of wonder from TOS was back. But it was very uneven, and the series lurched from episode to episode without really getting a grip.
Enterprise has been OK, but a bit hampered by having to stay within the history of TOS. Some of the Xindi-chasing episodes were good, and this last season has been darned good.
Now, speaking of Lileks, here he is on the same subject. He gives a capsule reviews of the series (plural), of which the best is:
He concludes with:
Card's conclusion, on the other hand:
This, really, is laughable, as any glance at the Sci-Fi Channel's schedule will tell you. Especially the godawful original movies.
But it's also an awfully dumb mistake for a smart man to make. Something like Star Trek will always be around. It's a retelling of a myth, one that was old when Homer was a pup.
On the other hand, I suspect Lileks is wrong as well. Some of our technology (cell phones, as he points out) has already caught up to Roddenberry's original vision of the 23rd century. As it advances farther, our myths are going to need to be upgraded along with it. What will this myth look like in the 23rd century? Will interstellar travel be possible, or will we still be dreaming of it?
Despite Card, I hope people keep writing space operas until we get there.
And if they don't, I will. And we wouldn't want that, would we? No.
(Card article via Rand Simberg (although it was also in the Houston Chronicle's editorial pages yesterday). Be sure and read the comments.)