A Rant about Star Trek

I'd just like to say, "Get a life, will you, people!" -- William Shatner on Saturday Night Live

Okay, let me just say a few words about Star Trek. I grew up with it. I was too young to watch the first broadcasts but saw the series endlessly in repeats. I had the books of stories, and the novels (before they began to be numbered!). After the tenth novel I burned out, and haven't really returned. I've watched some of the Next Generation shows. Here are some thoughts.

  • Would it be so strange to have characters that actually disagree with each other? In Next Generation, the only interesting character was Dr. Pulaski, who was only on for one season. Her independence actually made the show interesting sometimes.

  • Harlan Ellison was right - his script for the episode "City on the Edge of Forever" lost most of its impact in multiple rewrites. Hey, it even lost the city referred to in the title!

  • The various series' crews were multi-gender, multi-racial, and multi-species. There was even an android, a symbiote and part of a group mind. Old Trek even had the first interracial kiss on television (even if it was under duress). So why can't Trek have a gay/lesbian/bi/trans character, even in a small part?

    There's an episode of NextGen that could have been modified simply and cheaply without changing its meaning at all. That's the episode where Geordi finally meets the creator of the Enterprise's warp engines. They don't get on well at first, but eventually are able to work together. Geordi starts falling for her, but she reveals that she's already in a relationship.

    The only time we see her partner is on a viewscreen, at the end of the hour - and her partner is male. It would have been so easy to change the gender of her partner to female... but Trek didn't. It wouldn't have changed the story at all, but it would have at least thrown a bone to the critics.

  • My last gripe really isn't about Trek at all. It's about storytelling.

    I'm not a storyteller. Inspiration doesn't hit me often. But when it does... wow, what a vision. And it happened once during a NextGen episode.

    One of the criticisms levelled against Trek is that it's perfect. The crew doesn't get into fights, morals are unambiguous. The biggest challenges the Federation has are colonial (uplifting "natives" - Klingons & Romulans - to "our" moral standards), morally neutral (the Borg), or clearly evil (the aliens in "Conspiracy"). Without these aliens there's no real scope to the Trek universe. Look at the bland homogeneity of the Enterprise's crew.

    The episode in question could have remedied that. In it, the Enterprise was exploring a region of space which was wearing thin. The hypothesis was that the strain of warp travel was causing the region to somehow change, preventing further warp travel. This of course was a Big Space Danger to the Federation, and it was promptly resolved.

    BING! Inspiration!

    What if it weren't resolved? What would that mean to the Trek universe?

    The answer is fascinating. If you could only travel between locations faster than the speed of light a fixed number of times, that would completely change the nature of the Trek universe. Warp travel would be rationed, and perhaps used only in emergencies. Slowboats would be common, along with relativistic time dilation and/or cold sleep.

    Looking beyond that, the entire balance of power would change. Power would shift radically with the knowledge that no place could be a center of influence for more than decades or centuries. Established worlds, being hubs of travel, would lose power soonest, becoming slowboat backwaters. The first to go would probably be Earth, home of Star Fleet Headquarters. Instead of old institutions, the vital heart of society would be the frontier. Old worlds would have to settle into a static, self-sufficient existence.

    Even further, the entire culture would change. Galaxy-wide institutions would sink from prominence, being unable to hold together the coalition of worlds. Why bother joining the Federation if you're not going to be able to benefit from it in a few decades?

    Here's another consequence: warp travel could be used offensively. Imagine a fleet of ships on automatic pilot, traveling to and from an enemy planet. They wouldn't have to fire a single shot; just the travel itself would be enough to isolate the world.

    This is a much more interesting scenario than the static Trek universe. Even more compelling would be following the societies of the galaxy through this cataclysmic discovery. Suddenly there's an element of tragedy present that is missing from Trek. The limitless, bland future would suddenly become something which everyone must adjust to, though no one can envision. Imagine the tales of opportunity, loss, politics and power that would come from this! The full palette of emotion would be on display.

    But... Trek doesn't work like this. Its world is determined by the actions of beings, not impersonal forces. It's a pity, in a way; the characters never have to learn to live with limitations. They never have to grow up.

    Ever since that realization hit, Trek has been almost unwatchable. It seems so flat.

But hey, why should I expect more? It's only television.

Last updated 2 June 2000
All contents ©1998-2002 Mark L. Irons

Previous: Rants: Soy ··· Next: Rants: Web Design