Tuesday, May 03, 2005


Star Trek is Dead

Okay, another dissenting opinion, of sorts.

Over on the LA Times website (via Locus) I read an editorial by Orson Scott Card entitled Strange New World: No 'Star Trek', in which the author lays into the long-running TV franchise, and points out all sorts of things wrong with it. All of which are true, more or less. And then he points out all sorts of great examples of SF in TV and movies now, all of which I agree with. But I'm not sure if I buy into his conclusion.

Essentially, Card says that Star Trek is bad television, and bad SF, and that in a world in which Firefly, Lost, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer make it on the air, we don't need bad television SF. (His argument handily lumps all the spinoff series in with the original series, thereby unnecessarily dismissing Deep Space Nine, which for the second through the next-to-last seasons was some of the best episodic television since, well, ever.)

But the example of Ron Moore's Battlestar Galactica makes clear that you can make a silk purse of an SF show out of a sow's ear piece of crap. Well, that metaphor got a little bit away from me, but the basic idea is that you are not limited by your inspirations. Dross can be made to diamonds in the right hands. And the fact that Lorne Green's Mormon Wagontrain to the Stars has served to inspire one of the finest TV series I've ever watched is all the proof I need. (That Moore was one of the creative lights behind the best years of DS9 goes almost without saying.)

I haven't watched Star Trek in years, having sampled only the first episodes of the new Enterprise before giving up in disgust. And I'm the first to say that the current incarnation (that is, the production regime that began with "Encounter at Farpoint" and continued through the last episode of the doomed Enterprise) should be allowed to die a peaceful death and be buried. But that doesn't mean that, in a few years, someone couldn't come along, dig up the bones, and take what worked about the franchise, jettison everything that didn't, and make a silk purse out of Star Trek. Or something like that.

As a thought experiment, consider: The Federation is a post-scarcity economy, with FTL technology and the ability to create AIs. This should be approached as a post-Singularity culture, in the best Vingean tradition. Zipping across the cosmos at superluminal speeds, explorers able to instantiate at innumerable locations on a given world simultaneously, multiple iterations of each individual spawned by the ship's ability to break down organisms into replicatable patterns and then rebuild them from available matter. Whole research teams made up of multiple copies of one scientist, a kind of hivemind working in concert. Human-machine hybrids, augmented humans, and artificial intelligences rubbing shoulders on the bridge. Colonists genetically engineered to survive in adverse planetary conditions, working out the finest details of long-term terraforming projects using holodeck simulations working at accelerated clockspeeds. Oh, and aliens. Of course. But truly-and-deeply-alien aliens, not just prosthetic-forehead aliens. (There is more cultural divergence between the US and an Islamic theocracy, or between the US and Japan, for that matter, than there ever was between Federation humans and Vulcans, or Klingons, or Ferengi.)

Star Trek is dead. And thank god for that. But the day may come when we'll need to dig up those bones and take another look.

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