Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Hard (SF) Look at Star Trek

Because anniversary.
Before anyone asks, I do indeed plan to finish the Stargosy stories I began during the April A-to-Z Blog Challenge.  The story that evolved from my daily nano fic turned into something a lot bigger and more complex than I had time to develop during the Challenge.  As for these first two weeks of May, My lovely wife Debra has changed jobs, which as anybody knows is stressful and tedious and makes keeping up with things like blogs harder than normal.

End of excuses.

This will be the first in a series, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Star Trek.. The title of this post kinda says it all - I intend to look at this most venerable of American SF franchises in various levels of detail and then attempt to re-imagine it in a hard SF sort of way.  I will examine the technology of Trek, obviously, but also the aliens, the timeline, and the general themes of the original show, and if they can be recreated in a more realistic setting.

I want to do this project for a couple of reasons.  First, I love Star Trek, and the scientific inaccuracies make my teeth itch.  It doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of the show, mind you - I fell in love with TOS and TNG at the same time back in ‘87 and haven’t looked back - but anything that makes a setting more plausible, in my opinion, is worth doing.  It is my contention that you can tell a story that is in the best, most worthy tradition of Star Trek without negative space wedgies, technobabble, handwavium, and technology that is only limited by the needs of plot.  Remember Ray’s Rule of Science Fiction:

Soft Science Fiction tries to make technology fit the imagination, and Hard Science Fiction tries to imagine what fits the technology.

So...gauntlet thrown, I guess.

Another reason for wanting to re-imagine Star Trek is more personal and less objective. Namely, I don’t think that the current offerings given us by the owners of the Star Trek intellectual property are worthy of the franchise.  I think the stories could be better, and better done.  The current Star Trek movies, while spectacular eye-candy and rousing action stories, are plots that seem to follow the “average guy bewildered by the future” sort of story.  Those are fine stories, I enjoy them and they capture the feeling many of us have in the face of rapidly changing technology.  

But it ain’t Trek.

Star Trek, if I may be arrogant enough to analyze, tells classic “competent expert using technology to solve a problem” stories.  These types of plots used to be the norm in science fiction, back when ‘Merrica worshiped progress and believed in the technological messiah.  Now, we don’t trust our politicians, our scientists, our teachers, certainly not our bankers, and technology is changing our lives far faster than we are comfortable with.   But for all the chaos of our modern lives,  Star Trek was hardly produced in a time of peaceful living and stable societal institutions.  In the late sixties, when the original series was on the air, things that cause national outrage today were not only commonplace, they were the status quo. And there was Star Trek, breaking social conventions by presenting women and minorities as competent, professional and hin positions of power. The crew of the starship Enterprise treated the unknown like a mystery, not an enemy.  They solved problems without violence more often than not, and the most common conflict was cultural misunderstanding.

So when I watch the current crop of Trek, with it’s whitewashed villians, all-male Admiralty, protagonist that glorifies ignorant instinct and fisticuffs over training and expert knowledge, and faces the unknown with phasers drawn,  I have to say that it is not the Trek I’m looking for.

And because I’m some species of science fiction writer and artist, I can take what I think is important, file the serial numbers off, and make my own damn science fiction setting that has what I love about Star trek without the stuff that makes my teeth itch. Over the coming weeks, I’ll show what I mean.

Our first foray into this world of re-constructed Star Trek will be to establish the scope of our new universe, and decide how we can tell Trek-like stories in a setting that doesn’t flat-out violate physics.  See you then!


  1. I'm definitely looking forward to this. I've occasionally considered a similar project - recreating the themes and as many of the specific tropes as possible using real and theoretical science - but always set it aside as too big for me to handle. It seems to me that there are only a few technologies in the Federation that have to be examined, evaluated, and modified or discarded: warp technology, transporter/replicator technology, reactionless "impulse" drives, gravity control (related to impulse drives?), force screen technology, psionics, and possibly the weapon technologies (phasers and photon weapons). In addition, the history and society should be reevaluated using modern social sciences. But I'm sure that you've already thought about all of this. I'm just expressing my excitement for this series of posts.

  2. I've been making some analyses of my own regarding what is or is not Star Trek, and I've come to the conclusion that all of it is Star Trek, it's just that the in-universe astropolitics are different.

    For example, consider that TOS and TNG are set in relatively peaceful periods in the Federation's history, but are on the verge of war with their rivals (Klingons and Romulans in TOS, Cardassians and Romulans in TNG) - not unlike with 1990s geopolitics where the United States was briefly the world's policeman. Enterprise was set in a similar period, although Earth was only a minor player in the local scene and was still rough around the edges.

    DS9, Voyager, and the prime universe movies are all set in periods where the Federation is in conflict with its rivals (and in the case of the Next Generation-era shows, also the Borg and the Dominion), and Starfleet is much more militarized as a result. They're still venturing into the unknown in the spirit of exploration, they're just more cautious about it because they know about the kinds of threats that await them out there.

    As for the alternate universe movies, the events of Star Trek 2009 decidedly put the Federation on a much more cautious footing (after all, they did just lose a huge chunk of the fleet and one of the founding planets, and the Klingons were only getting more aggressive), essentially because they were exposed to a threat more than a century before they were ready, that came out of nowhere (also, Admiral Marcus naively trusted that Khan would help the Federation better defend itself and not simply drive it into further paranoia, presumably in preparation for his eventual takeover).

    It'll be interesting to see what direction Star Trek: Beyond will take the series, but I think that part of the problem is that Star Trek has been trying to capture the same kind of popularity as Star Wars by becoming more like it, in telling stories about good defeating evil in epic battle, at the cost of shifting away from what is central to the franchise, in which all problems can be solved, and diplomacy is the preferred solution.


Questions, comments, criticisms? All non-Trolls welcome!