Saturday, October 17, 2009

Why Star Trek Sucks

Normally, I would not entertain such blasphemy as Charles Stross' screed denouncing Star Trek. But this is an issue that should be addressed. First, Stross cites Roger Moore's recent speech on the subject:

He described how the writers would just insert "tech" into the scripts whenever they needed to resolve a story or plot line, then they'd have consultants fill in the appropriate words (aka technobabble) later.

"It became the solution to so many plot lines and so many stories," Moore said. "It was so mechanical that we had science consultants who would just come up with the words for us and we'd just write 'tech' in the script. You know, Picard would say 'Commander La Forge, tech the tech to the warp drive.' I'm serious. If you look at those scripts, you'll see that."

Moore then went on to describe how a typical script might read before the science consultants did their thing:

La Forge: "Captain, the tech is overteching."

Picard: "Well, route the auxiliary tech to the tech, Mr. La Forge."

La Forge: "No, Captain. Captain, I've tried to tech the tech, and it won't

Picard: "Well, then we're doomed."

"And then Data pops up and says, 'Captain, there is a theory that if you tech the other tech ... '" Moore said. "It's a rhythm and it's a structure, and the words are meaningless. It's not about anything except just sort of going through this dance of how they tech their way out of it."

Stross then goes on to say:

As you probably guessed, this is not how I write SF — in fact, it's the antithesis of everything I enjoy in an SF novel.

SF, at its best, is an exploration of the human condition under circumstances that we can conceive of existing, but which don't currently exist (either because the technology doesn't exist, or there are gaps in our scientific model of the universe, or just because we're short of big meteoroids on a collision course with the Sea of Japan — the situation is improbable but not implausible).

There's an implicit feedback between such a situation and the characters who are floundering around in it, trying to survive. For example: You want to deflect that civilization-killing asteroid? You need to find some way of getting there. It's going to be expensive and difficult, and there's plenty of scope for human drama arising from it. Lo: that's one possible movie in a nutshell. You've got the drama — just add protagonists.

Actually, I kind of get this. Star Trek could be very technobabble-driven. But keeping a universe going for 27 seasons (not counting the movies and the animated show) requires some formulaic work. A two-hour movie or even a two-season show can create a more coherent, cohesive universe. But it can't produce quantity. And there's something to be said for a steady supply of decent science fiction.

A show like Firefly is glitzy and glamorous, like that cheerleader in high school that you wanted to date, but never got the chance to (and really never had a chance, anyway). Star Trek is the girl you marry. She won't stand you up, she'll be there every night, and you don't have to worry about the relationship getting suddenly cancelled. Sure, she's not cheerleader-hot, but she brings a steady supply of happiness into your life.

And that's not a bad deal.

HT: io9


Jeremy Barker said...

So a sci-fi book writer doesn't like a TV show. Big surprise.

Thanks for the Klenginem links, BTW.

John Meunier said...

To me the tech-babble on Star Trek is like the medical babble on House. The story is not really about the medical facts. The medical mystery is an excuse to have the characters do all sorts of interesting things.

The fact that a Data foiled the Romulan attempt to circumvent the tachyon net by firing low yield photo torpedos is not about whether the physics is plausible. It is about the confict between Data and the first officer.

RevAnne said...

I'm with John Meunier.
Although I would marry "Firefly." Or at least Mal Reynolds. Come to think of it, River's taking over of the ship in "Objects in Space" does remind me a little of Heinlein's Athena and Minerva...

John said...

Glad to, Jeremy.

I don't think that Mal Reynolds is the marrying kind. Or maybe he's the kind that has a wife in every port.

GR said...
This comment has been removed by the author.