Archives for posts with tag: Star Trek

Anyone who’s read my musings here for any length of time will have noticed that I’m interested in a very wide variety of topics. That interest in just about everything started when reading classics like Treasure Island and A Tale of Two Cities as a kid. It spread, as opportunities for travel grew as an adult, and became pretty much a cofoundation of my life with writing once telling stories decided to become my life. Today, TV, movies, and the internet, along with books, feed my voracious appetite for information. What better time for an information junkie to be on the planet than during our great Information Age?

Two of my particular sources of fascination have long been medical science and ocean travel. Sailing ships and their adventures are attractive for their drama and romance. The concept of transferring navigating the globe in vessels of canvas and wood lends itself perfectly to extrapolation into space. Trade the canvas and wood for titanium and transparent aluminum, and you’ve hitched your wagon to Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, though he used the analogy of a wagon train traveling the great unknown. Some of us are born adventurers, whose passion for the stuff of myth and dreams leads us to explore space in our minds and on paper…and for some lucky few, in real life. As writers of science fiction, we may invent diseases horrific and space born, but none may be more horrific or devastating than the one I just read about in this National Geographic article.

Often I don’t eat very much at all or enough fruits and vegetables. If left to my natural appetite, I eat one carb heavy meal a day, with a little grazing on the side. I have had the habit of making jokes about it, saying something like: “Time to eat a salad or some fruit. Don’t want to give myself scurvy!” After reading this article, I don’t think I’ll be quite so quick to make light of such a terrible illness.

I’ve known about scurvy since ninth grade general science. Rickets too, which led to a similar joke, because I don’t like to drink milk. The very idea of scurvy carried a slight air of mystery and romance, because of its connection to sailing expeditions. Ninth grade children weren’t informed in their textbooks of just what it did to the human body. Now that I’ve been enlightened, all traces of romance and mystery have disappeared. All that’s left is an education on an obscure medical crisis that was also absolute tragedy.

Some of my favorite fiction to write involves medical backdrops. I have a feeling a space faring version of scurvy now lurks in my futuristic writing future. Anything can be expanded on, tangented from, and transferred to space. Scurvy included, though it’s going to be hard to “improve” on this very real horror from our earthbound past.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/01/scurvy-disease-discovery-jonathan-lamb/?google_editors_picks=true

I can’t let the 50 year anniversary of Star Trek pass without marking it as special to me. I stumbled into The Original Series long after its original run. I’d seen the movies and some franchise episodes. I liked them, but it was reading the novels that made me love them so much that I wanted to write my own Trek fiction. This avalanche of inspiration led me to watch… everything Trek. All that amazing Star Trek goodness inspired me to not only play in Gene Roddenberry’s sandbox, but also to continue what I learned from that into creating original fiction.

The end result to date of falling in love with Kirk, Spock, and Bones is that I won publication in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds anthologies VII, VIII, and Ten. The thrill of seeing my byline on those pro sale stories will forever be a landmark of my life, as a reader, a writer, and a human. That experience instilled in me a great love of writing and a work ethic that has led me this year to another longheld dream come true, being published in Analog.

Today, on the date when Star Trek first aired 50 years ago, I salute The Great Bird of the Galaxy. He enhanced my life in ways he never knew, but that I will treasure forever.

Catching up on some movies again. I’ve heard so much about The Hunger Games that it almost seems like I’d already seen it. Once I had I thought it lived up to its hype, which is a difficult feat. Especially these days, with movies constantly trying to one up each other more than ever before. The glut of big bang franchises makes it ever harder to grab enough spotlight to stand out, entertain, and be memorable. The Hunger Games managed to hit all three.

My favorite thing about this movie was the way the simplistic lifestyle of the regular people was constantly thrown visually against the sleek, modern way of life of the government seat. Particularly during the fight to the death in the wilderness, and the way it would cut to the high tech behind the scenes machinations. That was one of the most shocking  juxtapositions of the haves and have nots I can remember seeing in moviedom. As well as the contrast of the Tributes fighting with blades, bows and arrows, and bludgeons, while the techies sat at their consoles gleefully sending in predatory beasts and finding new ways to pit Tributes against each other. Add in the giant screens the folks back home were glued to throughout, and you have a crazy, relentless, brutal and primal version of The Truman Show, as a peripheral plot.

Some of the violence was shocking, edging into The Lord of the Flies territory. I thought it was very realistic. Take anybody, even children…perhaps especially children…and give them no choice but to fight, little hope of survival, and the promise of great spoils for the victor, and the flight or fight adrenaline rush becomes the driving force of their existence. On some level as well the celebrity status attainable by the victor would be an almost irresistible goal.

Enter Katniss Everdeen. A young girl who impulsively takes the place of her little sister. How unlikely is that? About as unlikely as her progress through the game using her wits, her courage, and her compassion, unlike her tooth and nail opponents. However unlikely, that too is realistic. In most groups of even the most down trodden, forced into ruthless brutality, desperate people, there lurks a hero. It would be easy to dismiss Katniss as a fictional device, but it happens in real life enough to make us proud to be human beings. The funny thing is that true heroes don’t usually set out some day intending to achieve something amazing. They fall into situations that lead them to rise above the circumstances… rise even above themselves.

That Katniss also managed to outsmart the system was the coolest part. Unlikely? Maybe. One James T. Kirk set an impressive precedent, though. That Katniss Everdeen Kobayashi Marued the Hunger Games a la  our beloved captain made her a hero for the ages. Okay, so maybe my enjoyment of the movie  skewed a bit Trekward. At least I didn’t place mental odds on who the Redshirts were. I have actual Star Trek movies for that.

The Hunger Games (2012) Official Movie Trailer

Kobayashi Maru

As soon as I saw the headline of this article, my brain started screaming: Impossible!

No matter how much we may have spent our Star Trek loving years dreaming of an honest to goodness, real life replicator, the concept seemed so far beyond possible that it still lives just outside the realm of possibility.

It’s moved!

Now, according to this article, the impossible may be right around the corner. And in a machine the size of a coffee maker, instead of a wall size apparatus hidden behind the magic food slot. I can’t say I understand the descriptions of  pods and tubes and natural dehydrated ingredients yet. Just as I didn’t understand a thing about microwave ovens when I first got one, except that I could have a baked potato in a few minutes instead of watching one hiss and spit through the glass door of a toaster oven for an agonizing hour or so. What I do understand already about this replicator thingie is the all important information that it will make me chocolate soufflé on demand. One that even chefs can’t find fault with.

And that seems to be just the tip of this culinary iceberg miracle. Not only will it free me to enjoy home replicated food instead of slaving over a not hot microwave oven, it will leave me convinced that a transporter will soon whisk me to any place my wanderlust desires.

Two to beam up, Mister Scott. Me and my chocolate soufflé.

This Entertainment Weekly article about a recent backlash by Star Trek fans against Into Darkness gave me a lot to think about. On one hand it’s reassuring to know I’m not alone in struggling with the new vs old versions. On the other it’s a little disturbing that it means so much to so many of us.

Yes, us.

I am one of those strange creatures with the ability to quote Shakespeare, adore Virginia Woolf’s fiction, write poetry, and all the while carry around a near encyclopedic mental database of all things Star Trek. I came at it sideways, picking up a Next Generation novel on a whim and getting hooked. The thing about Star Trek novels is that they’re not the sweet little Mary Sues or hurt/comfort shoulder patting in space that scoffers think they know about. The crew and relationships are deeper delving than hour long TV episodes allow room for, and the science is, in my opinion, far from the pseudo variety.

In fact, many of the 200 plus Star Trek novels I’ve read have been some of the most challenging reading of my life. Some of it is written by actual scientists, some by knowledgeable laymen, and some by people with the kind of imagination that lends itself to believable scientific adventure. We’re starting to see more and more of the extrapolated science from all the way back to the TOS days of primitive FX and a super franchise in the making finding its feet. Extrapolation that was extrapolated further in the novels. Set that kind of writing down into the middle of the established Star Trek universe and you have books that both entertain and educate. Are they all wonderful? No. But a surprising number actually are.

So then I moved on into the Star Trek televised alphabet, TOS, TNG, DS9 and on to the single word series–Voyager and Enterprise. That lineup is not only chronological, but also lists my favorites in descending order. I loved all the movies to varying extents.

Then along came the reboot. I was thrilled at the prospect of new Star Trek. And equally wary of Star Trek that new. Intellectually, I understand the need to move some dusty franchises into the 21st century. It makes sense as far as demographics and box office potential are concerned. It even has a lot of merit creatively. However, it’s difficult to move fans who have been deeply dug into a decades long franchise on to what feels at times like a betrayal of trust.

The big reboot movie had a lot going for it. It takes advantage of state of the art FX technology to look amazing. It gives us an acceptable new younger version of the old crew, particularly in Zachary Quinto’s Spock and Karl Urban’s delightful channeling of DeForest Kelley’s Bones. I really did enjoy it. It was just unfortunate that Vulcan is my favorite alien world and Amanda my favorite peripheral character.

The pain!

It’s also unfortunate that although I fully understand that Nero’s actions split the timeline, my other timeline loving brain just will not stop trying to analyze the two (while I watch the movies), make them fit like the pieces of one puzzle, and long for the “real” timeline that is, at least for the foreseeable future, lost to us. Except for poor original Spock, who is now part of the other reality.

That’s my problem right there. The reboot, even though it’s the one we “visit” now, is still the other reality to me, while Admiral Sulu carries out deep space missions and Ambassador Spock may visit his father on the Vulcan where he undertook Kolinahr and carries fond memories of his mother’s life well into her old age…in the real reality.

I actually thought I had a handle on it, but when I watched Into Darkness, fully prepared for the other reality, there went my brain again, trying to force it to be what I love. It is not. What it is is a whole nother Star Trek, with delusions of original magic. I miss the Star Trek where Kirk doesn’t defy the prime directive, however noble the cause. Where he doesn’t indulge in threesomes…onscreen anyway. And above all where the  beautifully stoic Spock who is my favorite Star Trek character is not in an everyman romantic relationship.

And there we have the saving grace of the whole Trek-we-know vs reboot thing. Just because there are new movies and their accompanying offshoots about a new timeline it doesn’t mean we have to give anything up. It’s all still there. All the TV, movies, novels, and games set in the original timeline didn’t disappear when the new one formed. The timelines now run on parallel tracks. One a wagon train to the stars, the other a bullet train to distant worlds.

I’ll eventually get my brain to settle down and watch reboot movies for what they are, and not what they might have been. In the meantime I intend to embrace boot up and reboot as equally as I can. I’d rather wrestle with Star Trek’s split personality than have no Star Trek at all.

This article is the kind of thing that makes my brain go all blinky and pingy, like a pinball game that just hit five free plays. I think my favorite the-future-is-now wonder is the small clothes cleaner that uses ultra sonic waves. How much longer until we can hop into a sonic shower and pretend we have to report to the Enterprise bridge, as soon as we’ve grabbed breakfast from a food slot?

The mirror that doubles as a computer display is an intriguing concept. As long as it’s one way viewing. Google Glass’ mobility brings up enough privacy issues. I wouldn’t want to broadcast toothbrushing or just how bad a bad hair day can really be first thing in the morning!

The flying car seems on the brink of causing traffic jams in the sky. I don’t know which worries me more. The prospect of having to learn how to fly one or the knowledge that way too many people currently behind the wheel have yet to master the elusive art of ground travel. People are reckless and roadragey as it is. Flight lane rage doesn’t bear thinking about.

A fridge that can offer me recipes, based on its contents? No, thanks. I’ll reconsider when it can offer me the hot meal of my choice and spit it out of a slot next to the ice water dispenser. Bonus points, if it can make coq au vin and chocolate mousse cake, with raspberry sauce. Hold the seeds.

The pinball brain thing? That comes from all the glimmers of science fiction ideas such articles give me. There are so many new and exciting things afoot in the modder than current con world of invention and awe. It’s exciting for everyone looking for a better tomorrow today, and extra exciting for science fiction fans who have been waiting for the real world to catch up with our expectations ever since Jules Verne’s imagination taught us to believe the impossible just might be possible after all.

Someday.

Someday is now, for a lot of the things we’ve longed for. Jetsons envy may soon fade into the past. Personally, I’m hoping for a Rosie the Robot maid. After all, someone has to remind me where I put my invisible when off TV.

Articles like this are a word-filled goldmine for me. Immediately following that bold statement comes my confession that in no way do I understand a large portion of it. I start reading, and soon detect imminent brain implosion.

While I am endlessly fascinated by science, I have no delusions of being a scientist. That’s why what I love to read and write is called science fiction. Science fiction is born out of real life scientific discoveries, prototypes, and ideas extrapolated into future permutation– The reality is that it’s a way fun game of what if, triggered by whatever may be a budding reality or mere gleam in the minds of people with great big brains.

Nobody ever told me how to do it. Somewhere along the way my brain started thinking extrapolation was what it wants most to do. Honestly, I think it comes easiest to worriers. Let’s face it. Worrying is the ultimate, inherent game of what if. Chicken Little taught it to us as children. What if the sky falls? What if that impertinent asteroid decides to hit us in February? What if we have a secret colony of monkey astronauts on the moon poised to shoot it off its expected orbit with bananas gnawed into delicious pointy salvation missles? Anything is possible with enough imagination and a goofy sense of humor.

So I read stuff and watch stuff and absorb stuff. If I don’t understand every nuance of the science, I get the gist. Several things in this article leapt out at my particular imagination, my sense of humor, and the rubbery, expandable corner of my mind where worry lives.

–The first was the term “propellantless propulsion”. I understand what it means, but it made me laugh. It sounds like something Professor Farnsworth would say on Futurama. One of those nonsensical terms he tosses out like a too skinny Robot Santa from an Xmas parade float.

–The idea of solar sails is fascinating. I first encountered it in an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space 9, involving a father and son journey powered by solar sail. The conceptualization was beautiful, as was the bonding experience. There is no reason ships that sail the depths of space cannot be things of beauty. Just as there’s no reason mere concepts cannot be realized, given enough time, imagination, and technological advancement.

–Continuing the Star Trek theme, I am intrigued by the idea that this solar sail launch would carry some of the cremated remains of The Great Bird of the Galaxy himself, Gene Roddenberry, and his wife Majel Roddenberry. As a long time admirer of their work, I think it’s incredibly touching that technology has advanced to a point that it can actually take them boldly into space. Not many of us can follow our dreams quite so literally.

–And the idea that solar sails may someday be able to help warn us of dangerous near earth objects is reassuring. Just because scientists are certain the upcoming encounter will be but a near miss does not mean they all will be. It seems to me that events like the one depicted in the movie Deep Impact are inevitable, over the long course of earth’s history. I feel better knowing that technological advances are constantly finding ways to keep the sky from literally falling another day.

So from this one article I got an unintended laugh, a bit of relief from the minor worry that distant objects we don’t even know exist may have us in their sights, information about new and improved upon scientific discoveries and advancements that may find its way into my fiction and my dreams, and a reminder that reaching for the stars is never foolish. Even death can’t keep the boldest dreamers tethered to the earth at their feet.

What more can we ask as viewers than a five year long story that has no missteps? At least if Fringe had any I was quickly too deeply in love with it to notice.

I will admit that at times I lost track of not only which alternate universe I was watching, but also on occasion which version of what character as whom. Or something like that. Honestly, I did not think it could get any better than when Olivia carried the katra…er…I mean consciousness, of William Bell. The only way that could have been any better was if a fellow named Leonard McCoy had ambled into Walter’s lab of awesomeness and demanded Walter tell him how to get that pointy eared devil out of his head. Since that’s just the stuff of crossover dreams, I was thrilled with how beautifully that storyline played out.

Even moreso, however, did I adore all things Walter. Almost all things. I think it made the whole Walter/Walternate/other Walter/other Walternate/other…you know how it goes…thing even more wonderful that in the first ep I did not even like him. I didn’t care for John Noble or the bizarre character he portrayed there in the asylum. Shocking to remember that now that he has become one of my favorite actors and Walter among my favorite TV characters ever.

Walter was the child in us all, the genius we all wish to be, the broken megalomaniac with the humanity stirring deep inside that led our final combination of Walters to become more human than most of us are able to even aspire to. Perhaps the most antihero knight in shining wormhole to ever grace the small screen, with his armor of intellect, compassion, and…dare I say it?…nobility, Walter Bishop was a mortal who would be god, then learned such humility that he managed to change the world after all, in a way the shambling old man in the first episode could never have dreamed. And in a way the original Walter…he of the stunning intellect and its accompanying ambition that burned like the sun…would have scorned.

I loved all of Fringe, but it’s Walter who stands apart in my mind. Above. A character that transcends mere entertainment to inform, enlighten, and inspire. I was so afraid the end would disappoint me. Ruin what became the hour of television I looked forward to most. Take away from the whole so much that I wouldn’t ever see it the same way again. Instead, it was a fitting farewell to five seasons of the thinking person’s joy to watch.

Fringe Series Finale Trailer

Bridging the Gap Between Humans and Computers by Heather Kelly, CNN

I just came across the above article on CNN’s mobile site, and think it’s fascinating. It covers all kinds of scientific advancements in the works.  It seems we’re headed to a brave new world that will lie in wait across a continent or just down the street.

According to people in the know, in the not so distant future we’ll enjoy self-driving cars…or be afraid of them. I must admit I like the idea of a car that takes over in stop and go traffic, so I could read or dive into Twitter to kill the time. I’m not yet convinced I’d be comfortable sitting back to relax, while my car navigated a dangerous mountain switchback or raced along at breakneck speed. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather trust my not too shabby driving skills or just plain old human instinct for the dangerous stuff we all find ourselves tooling obliviously into on occasion.

Then there’s the potential for extremely life-like robots. I’ve been trying to decide how far I’d want that to go ever since I started reading, watching, and now writing science fiction. This article says there’s potential for robots so much like us that we might form relationships with them. This has long been the territory of Isaac Asimov, whose robots wreak consternation and fear, yet also acquire love among their humans.

Recently my own science fiction endeavors have focused on the creation of androids all but indistinguishable from human beings and the questions that arise about what makes humanity  human. Is it emotion, empathy, self-awareness, something more? Is it even definable?

I find this train of thought endlessly fascinating, but I must admit that once real life artificial humans arrive in our lives I am not at all certain how I’ll feel. I certainly don’t know how society as a whole will react. For every Data there is the potential for ruthless counterpart Lore. Friend or foe? Friend turned foe? The permutations are endless. For every good Terminator there’s Robert Patrick, metal melty machine man, arms and legs pumping like pistons as he chases his prey to the nonend of his endurance and the end of their frail human stamina. Some scenarios end as dystopian nightmare, instead of glorious future Utopian dream.

In one of my favorite TV series, Space: Above and Beyond, AIs were a formiddable human-like foe.When faced with the question of whether they must be treated in the same manner as the organic people they so resemble, our hero calls a spade a spade and treats them as machines. I fear that this question of just what rights and how much respect would be owed to artificial people almost indistinguishable from the beings after whom they are patterned would be a devisive one.

As much as my brain thrills to the possibility of seeing real life Alvins or Datas or Sharons come to be possible in my lifetime, it also quails a little at the prospect of the kind of ethical dilemmas such technological leaps will usher in. Can humanity rise above such negative and fearful instincts that would bear the potential to turn what might become a bright shining new future into a dystopian horror show with no end credits for centuries?

I choose to believe we can. Not without hellacious growing pains. Not without attitude and perspective adjustments on a global scale. But it’s possible. Mankind has risen above itself on occasion. When the day comes (and that possibility is becoming more real and more urgent than I would have thought a decade ago) that sees us walking this world side by side with people who are of us yet not us, I actually think the stories, movies, and TV shows we love so much will help to remind us of the better path.

Someday, when the impossible becomes reality, I know I would certainly choose the Jedi over the Toasters…the Federation over Sky Net. Every time. Wouldn’t you?

On its surface Fringe is highly imaginative, what iffing TV at its best. The kind I like best. It makes me think, while grossing me out and insisting that Walter desperately needs a hug. That’s quite a lot for an hour (give or take a few thousand commercials) of entertainment in tightly pixelated form.

However.

While it’s always had its darkside, Fringe has taken a decidedly darker turn. It’s slipping down the carefully graded slope into deep dystopia. The Observer invasion and occupation has again turned what we thought we knew on its head. I’m good with that…even as it scares the crap out of me.

As I’ve probably mentioned before, I have possibly too much imagination. Present practically from birth, it makes me mentally time travel in historical settings, and of course sets me off into adventures in other lives lived in my head. Uh, talking about writing and screenwriting here, not mental illness! Sometimes the distinction is too easily blurred from the outside.

This überimagination can keep me awake at night, when it collides with a concept like The Observers. What iffing turns the inside of my head into its own pondered dystopia. What the heck if ideas generated by our incessant need to be entertained someday come to pass for real?

The Observers don’t bother me as a real possibility, so much as set me off into wondering what it would be like to have our entire world overtaken by something so chillingly other? The changes it would cause to our world, our lives, and quite likely our very humanity.

Another series scared me so much, in a subtle kind of way, that it literally did keep me awake at night.  I loved Alien Nation. First the movie, then the TV series. The blending of species and cultures and hearts. Slaves tasting forbidden freedom, while some of their hosts embraced them as others dredged up old prejudices and gave them a futuristic twist.

Then there were those few who in the age old double whammy of greed and power grabs decide it’s a good idea to sell out the former slaves, call out across the stars, and bring down the Overseers on the world’s collective head. How foolish can the quest for money and the soul crushing power it often drags in its wake make the human spirit? Very apparently, if you’re inclined to believe history.

That alone is scary enough, but it got me thinking about what would happen if we were discovered by  galactic slave traders for real. It couldn’t possibly turn out as relatively well as Princess Leia’s barely there bikini and potential life on a leash. There are no guarantees it would end in lifeless life oblivian encased in bronze like Han. No. Such a what if would most likely lead to a lifeless life of misery and pain. An eventual longing for the utopia called freedom, long reduced to vague genetic memory.

So, yeah, I thought about all that too much. The temporary obsession led to one of my Writers of the Future Quarter-Finalist stories, and eventually worked its way to the back of my mind. The place reserved for BEMs, things that go bump in the night, and the fear that Snooki clones will take over the known universe.

It became a mere whispery what if that gathered mental dust bunnies, until not so long ago when Stephen Hawking voiced the biggest what if dampener in recent history and brought it all back out into the light.
The man considered to possess the greatest mind of our time issued a warning.

He said it wasn’t wise to poke the sleeping giant with a stick. That’s the gist. It’s naive to believe there’s no other intelligent life. Out there. It’s even more naive to believe they’re all benevolent. The other evolent is the same one that’s worried me for so long.

Malevolence on a cosmic scale could be so much worse than Overseers and Observers. It could be on a scale we can’t even comprehend. And every time we send out a new invitation like Voyager and the ever more powerful signals we use to reach out toward deep, black, mysterious space, the bell can’t be unrung.

Do I think we should unring it if we could? Stop ringing it altogether?  That’s where I start trying to sweep the dustbunnies back into their designated mind corner. I do not know.

How do we decide to cut ourselves off from what could be unimaginable marvels? Or to continue to risk bringing down the dregs of the universe on our heads? The thing is that I don’t think there will ever be a decision to be made. Human nature demands that we reach. Outward. Inward. Everywhere there’s a question that won’t leave us alone.

Whether we acknowledge its importance or ignore it the fact is that we are seekers. If we think the truth really is out there, we won’t rest until we find it. If it brings joy and enlightenment, we’ll embrace it. Danger and loathing…we’ll fight it.

To. The. Death.

That’s who we are as sentient beings. It gave us Star Wars and Star Trek, the ISS and Hubble, Voyager and SETI. It gives us hope and courage and the indomitable spirit that sets us apart from the amoebas.

And it gives me the Observers and Overseers that terrify me in the dark of night and serve as counterparts to the Spocks and Luke Skywalkers that make me long for those shiny lights up in the darkness of space, and want with everything I am to explore them for myself.

That’s the power we really wield. The good kind. It lives in the place where Fringe and Stephen Hawking can collide and set off imaginings and fears and dreams. It comes from the most mighty machine in existence on this earth.

The human brain.