Join 3,433 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


What are a few galaxies between friends?
June 25, 2012 7:30 AM   Subscribe

In November 1966, Isaac Asimov wrote an article for TV Guide lamenting the shaky science of Star Trek. Roddenberry replied, arguing that simply knowing about science, and writing sci-fi novels, was not sufficient qualification to criticize television sci-fi.
In all friendliness, and with sincere thanks for the hundreds of wonderful hours of reading you have given me, it does seem to me that your article overlooked entirely the practical, factual and scientific problems involved in getting a television show on the air and keeping it there. Television deserved much criticism, not just SF alone but all of it, but that criticism should be aimed, not shot-gunned. For example, Star Trek almost did not get on the air because it refused to do a juvenile science fiction, because it refused to put a "Lassie" aboard the space ship, and because it insisted on hiring Dick Matheson, Harlan Ellison, A.E. Van Vogt, Phil Farmer, and so on.
Seven months after this exchange, Roddenberry wrote Asimov again, asking for his help with a thorny scripting problem; William Shatner, despite being a fine actor, was consistently getting overshadowed by the more interesting characters of Spock and McCoy. Asimov's response might possibly have been the accidental genesis of slash fiction:
Then, too, it might be well to unify the team of Kirk and Spock a bit, by having them actively meet various menaces together with one saving the life of the other on occasion. The idea of this would be to get people to think of Kirk when they think of Spock.
posted by running order squabble fest (342 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
KHHHHAAAAAANNNNN"T spell galaxies, apparently. Will mail mods.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:30 AM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Not to be nitpicky, but if we're doing spelling correction, Roddenberry has two Ns.

I don't really want to be the kind of person that corrects Star Trek related spelling mistakes, but I guess I am.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:32 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not to be nitpicky, but if we're doing spelling correction, Roddenberry has two Ns.

Roddenbnerry
posted by Greg Nog at 7:35 AM on June 25, 2012 [57 favorites]


Fucking hell, my wife just e-mailed me to point out my mistake.

Two Ds.

They've very much like Ns.

In fact, they're pretty much the same letter, so it's probably not even a mistake.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:36 AM on June 25, 2012 [41 favorites]


"Damn it, Mrs. Pterodactyl, I'm a nitpicker, not a letterpicker."
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:38 AM on June 25, 2012 [19 favorites]


Roddenberry was very much doing the kind of SF where people do the Kessel run in under twelve parsecs. Asimov thought he was arguing for an improvement on that, but I suspect the result would be more like people doing the Kessel run in under twelve parsecs and then having an awful explanation bolted on.

Also I really miss having a Big Spaceship show on TV.
posted by Artw at 7:42 AM on June 25, 2012 [10 favorites]


[Yes, yes, I remodulated the spelling matrix and inverted the phrase inducers. Carry on.]
posted by cortex at 7:42 AM on June 25, 2012 [90 favorites]


It's fiction first. The science tag is there meaning very generally "future". In many ways a lot of science fiction is a return to the mythical mode and a move away from "realistic" fiction. In it we have a ton of out of body experiences, time travel, telepathy, etc.
posted by juiceCake at 7:43 AM on June 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Good teching of the tech, Yeoman Millard.
posted by Artw at 7:43 AM on June 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


Me, I like some plausible hardish SF now and again, but TV hasn't really been the place for it.
posted by Artw at 7:44 AM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah yeah bogus science whatever - before this moment, did anyone know that Asimov was into slash fanfic?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:46 AM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I love the back and forth they had as the correspondence went on, including Asimov's(!) suggestion that Kirk and Spock be treated as a team. That's the coolest bit of trivia. He essentially is responsible for the show becoming more coherent and appealing to audiences in its second season.
posted by zarq at 7:50 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there a general consensus that says the science of science fiction has to be solid? Or is that just the crux of Asimov's approach? I've always found science fiction a little too earnest for my tastes so I don't mind a bit of silliness thrown into the mix as long as it's believable.
posted by londonmark at 7:50 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos: "Yeah yeah bogus science whatever - before this moment, did anyone know that Asimov was into slash fanfic?"

Not surprising. ;)
posted by zarq at 7:51 AM on June 25, 2012


londonmark: "Is there a general consensus that says the science of science fiction has to be solid? Or is that just the crux of Asimov's approach? I've always found science fiction a little too earnest for my tastes so I don't mind a bit of silliness thrown into the mix as long as it's believable."

Depends on the author, and probably their fanbase. For example, Ray Bradbury believed that authors could and should take liberties with science -- the story was important, above all else.

Would love to see jscalzi chime in on this. He was the science consultant for Stargate: Universe.
posted by zarq at 7:54 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


In proto-scifi people would do thinks like capture a bunch of birds and have them fly a basket of people to the moon... In the works of HG Wells he has people traveling in time or flying to the moon via magic paint or crystals. It's really the same thing but he dressed it up more "sciencey" - and that's some core foundational stuff there.
posted by Artw at 7:54 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyone have any tachyons we can spray around or something?
posted by SentientAI at 7:54 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


That said, I like my sciencey SF.
posted by Artw at 7:54 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure that "it could have been worse" is a great defense. Or maybe the point is that Asimov shouldn't be criticizing ST so much as network television.

Also, I don't see the connection to slashfic. Isn't slashfic generally of a romantic/sexual/erotic nature? How does "have your two main characters get into trouble and save each other" anything like that? Seems like pretty basic, sound advice in an adventure show.

Is there a general consensus that says the science of science fiction has to be solid? Or is that just the crux of Asimov's approach?

Asimov would be one to talk if it were.

I think the usual argument is that the science of science fiction should only be wrong for specific, known reasons. Like, don't just have you characters casually mention that the Sun is 1e6 miles from the Earth (if they are supposed to know the real value). But if you need a warp drive to get to planets to have adventures on, add that as an axiom of your system and work it out from there.
posted by DU at 7:56 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oooh, a Star Trek thread. The internet's come such a long way in the past 20 years. ;>
posted by jonmc at 7:57 AM on June 25, 2012 [11 favorites]


Metafilter: We do spend several hundred dollars a week to guarantee scientific accuracy.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:00 AM on June 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


I remember reading an article by Asimov that would have been published in the seventies, so later than the TV Guide article mentioned above, in which he said that it was more likely for a human woman to become impregnated by a carrot than by an alien. At the time, I was not quite at the level of understanding of human reproduction to form the appropriate mental image.

Also, Roddenberry was always pretty frank about when financial or commercial considerations trumped scientific facts or speculation. The transporter (which would become an important plot element in a number of episodes) was introduced purely because filming the effect was much cheaper than filming a new shuttle landing sequence in every episode, and much of the gear (communicators, tricorders, etc.) was developed with an eye toward the potential merchandising tie-ins.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:01 AM on June 25, 2012


I think slashfic emphasises the bond between characters, of one kind or another, and Asimov is saying 'use peril to consolidate the personal bond', not just 'use peril and rescue to move the story along'. And specifically make the potentially bland Kirk character more interesting by bonding him in the viewers' eyes with the more exotic Spock character. Validate him in the viewers' eyes by making him valuable to Spock.
posted by communicator at 8:01 AM on June 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


Scalzi was in Minneapolis all weekend and is touring promoting Redshirts. Nonetheless, I am sure he or one of our other speculative fiction gurus will be diving in soon enough. I'll be here with the popcorn.
posted by Ber at 8:02 AM on June 25, 2012


And if we are being nitpicky, my first reaction reading the title of the FPP was "Well, that cannot be an Asimov quotation because surely he would use 'among' and not 'between'."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:02 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there a general consensus that says the science of science fiction has to be solid?

It really seems depend on who you ask, what works you're talking about, and what you mean by "science", "science fiction", and "solid". Consensus across the whole gamut of the genre and fandom is probably not a realistic idea, no.

I've been watching a buttload of Star Trek the last couple years, doing one full series start-to-finish after another, closing in on the end of Voyager right now and slightly dreading the practical fact of Enterprise on the horizon. And the thing that bothers me most in Trek is not that the science is generally profoundly bullshitty but that the bullshittiness of it so often doesn't get paired with it being kept out of the way.

I don't mind if for dramatic reasons they need to e.g. tech the tech by compensating the prototech in order to give crewmen something to do while advancing the scene, but we all, writers and viewers alike, know it's unfounded bullshit on which nothing hinges, so it'd be nice if we weren't asked to pretend that the details mattered or that the outcome on a hyperlocal level was uncertain, as if each technical crisis were a tightly-played big pot hand at a poker tourney.

We have an agreement, TV show. You can pretend nominally to be sciencey for the sake of a setting that lets you tell human interest stories and do character studies and explore morality plays, and I'll play along with that; but don't constantly remind me that the science is bad or not there by putting the fake science up in my face and asking me to get invested in it. Play to your strengths, don't annoy me with your weaknesses.
posted by cortex at 8:03 AM on June 25, 2012 [23 favorites]


And the thing that bothers me most in Trek is not that the science is generally profoundly bullshitty but that the bullshittiness of it so often doesn't get paired with it being kept out of the way.

This is why Deep Space Nine was probably the best of all the Star Trek series: They avoided getting hung up on techie explanations or plot developments (not all the time, but better than TNG or Voyager), and made clashes between characters and cultures the focus.
posted by Cash4Lead at 8:09 AM on June 25, 2012 [17 favorites]


I think probably more important than a solid foundation is that the universe is both internally consistent AND provides enough basic/general/lay science window dressing for the sufficiently advanced technology to NOT be indistinguishable from magic. Almost all TV/big screen SF fails miserably at this. In fact the only movie that readily comes to mind that manages to provide this window dressing and ALSO manages not to talk down to you is Primer.
posted by legospaceman at 8:09 AM on June 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also, I don't see the connection to slashfic. Isn't slashfic generally of a romantic/sexual/erotic nature? How does "have your two main characters get into trouble and save each other" anything like that? Seems like pretty basic, sound advice in an adventure show.

Make one of those characters a woman, add in a bit of dramatic mid-crisis clutching-close and some post-crisis makeouts and you've got a pretty basic, sound model for a pulp adventure with a sexy ripped-clothing technicolor cover painting. There's plenty of moments exactly like that with Kirk and one or another female crew member or one-off lady alien/doppleganer/mirage/whatever throughout the series; as much as Star Trek was pretty inspirational and aspirational for what it was and was trying to do at the time, its context was very much that pulpy scifi stuff.

So it's not hard to see that "but they're both male and never actually make out" isn't much of a screen from at least making the thematic connection, especially for folks who had to be already pretty familiar with all those structural tropes. The jump to slashfic is a wee one.
posted by cortex at 8:11 AM on June 25, 2012


much of the gear (communicators, tricorders, etc.) was developed with an eye toward the potential merchandising tie-ins.

IIRC, the only TOS item developed with an eye towards merchandising was the IDIC. The rest was a happy accident.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:11 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, I don't see the connection to slashfic. Isn't slashfic generally of a romantic/sexual/erotic nature? How does "have your two main characters get into trouble and save each other" anything like that?

It's at the bottom of the linked article:
I wonder, also, if the sense of camaraderie might be further developed in the Spock and Kirk friendship by including occasional sexual interludes. It's been well-established that the Vulcans must mate when they're caught in the throes of the "Pon Farr" -- perhaps during one of these Pon Farr encounters, Spock might find Kirk to be an acceptable substitute for a Vulcan female? We're so used to seeing Kirk as a strong and masculine figure, but perhaps the audience might be receptive to him instead "playing the lady" in order to satiate Spock's lust. Not to put too fine a point on it, Gene, but perhaps Kirk could fondle Spock's Vulcan penis. Or perhaps put inside him. Just a thought. Perhaps they could make each other sexually excited, and rub themselves up against each other. I do not mean to be excessively explicit, but are you familiar with the term "frottage"? Maybe they could involve themselves in some of that kind of activity. I'm largely spitballing here, but what if Spock kisses Kirk a few times on the side of the neck while pressing his erection against Kirk's lower back? I think the viewers at home might be interested in this new dimension to their friendship.

At any rate, I don't mean to tell you how to run your show! Just throwing out some ideas. Give my love to Mrs. Roddenberry, and I hope to see you both when you're visiting Martha's Vineyard this August.

Yrs,
Isaac
posted by Greg Nog at 8:12 AM on June 25, 2012 [23 favorites]


I always wonder why we don't have more absurdist Sci-fi. Warp drives are basically magic, they could be anything really, Futurama always gets like halfway there but then that show is way funnier when they stick to a single SF concept (say, mind switching, universe in a box, etc) and spend 22 min riffing on it without introducing a whole bunch of new stuff, so maybe it's just difficult to pull off without being Zany SF Wackiness all the time and that's why SF absurdism (or any Sci-fi comedy, really) seems thin on the ground.
posted by The Whelk at 8:12 AM on June 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Well, there's Fringe.
posted by Artw at 8:14 AM on June 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also, I don't see the connection to slashfic. Isn't slashfic generally of a romantic/sexual/erotic nature? How does "have your two main characters get into trouble and save each other" anything like that? Seems like pretty basic, sound advice in an adventure show.

Basically, what communicator and cortex said, but also in reference to the very specific slashfic trope (a subset of hurt/comfort) in which Kirk/Spock is wounded, and their communicators are broken, and they have to shelter in a cave, and the alien night is very cold, and to save Kirk/Spock's life they have to share body warmth... and so on.

This has been written many, many, many, times. That cave needs steam-cleaning at this point.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:16 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The fact that Fringe is still on the air is kind of a miracle, but I wouldn't call it a straight comdey per say.

But then again one of the charms of Fringe is its total throw back version of SF stuffs.
posted by The Whelk at 8:16 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oooh, a Star Trek thread. The internet's come such a long way in the past 20 years.

Yeah, but this is one where Cortex gets stuck in a Jefferies tube.

Reading the letters, what surprises me a little is that Asimov's advice seems to be pretty standard advice for plotting adventure stories—I mean, the heroic duo goes back to Achilles and Patroclus—and also that for all his prolificacy Asimov never wrote more for television.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:17 AM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think the viewers at home might be interested in this new dimension to their friendship.

Un. Der. State. Ment.
posted by The Whelk at 8:18 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fringe very much embraces and approach where all the "science" is complete bollocks though, to the point where it stops being an accident or sloppiness and becomes a stylistic choice.
posted by Artw at 8:19 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of something I swear I read as a kid in some sort of at least quasi-authoritative Star Trek book from around the early or mid 1980s. It claimed that Spock had a forked penis, citing something like personal communication from Roddenberry. Anyone else recall this?
posted by exogenous at 8:19 AM on June 25, 2012


Also, I don't see the connection to slashfic. Isn't slashfic generally of a romantic/sexual/erotic nature? How does "have your two main characters get into trouble and save each other" anything like that?

Asimov seemed to be setting up the deep personal friendship bond which would be called "a bromance" in today's parlance.

However, every fanfic writer worth their salt is capable of spinning something that's a bromance in canon into "proof" that the characters in question secretly want to move to Vermont, get married, and open a bakery called "House of Pies."*




* I'm actually not making that up.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:20 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


From the stories I've heard, Greg Nog's letter actually rings kind of true has something Asimov would say.

Except for this part: I hope to see you both when you're visiting Martha's Vineyard this August.

Asimov hated travel.

Anyway, I'm not really all that convinced about the slashfic. The defining item there is the sex. "Dramaturgical dyads" (in the words of the Itchy and Scratchy writer) are common, gay sex between them less so (on TV, anyway). Asimov may well have created in a world in which slashfic was more likely to be written, but he didn't kick it off or anything.
posted by DU at 8:20 AM on June 25, 2012


Whenever I think of "hard" sci-fi, I think of Cyteen. I never can get past the first couple chapters. I can't imagine trying to televise it.
posted by Brocktoon at 8:21 AM on June 25, 2012


However, every fanfic writer worth their salt is capable of spinning something that's a bromance in canon into "proof" that the characters in question secretly want to move to Vermont, get married, and open a bakery called "House of Pies."*

qv the textual absence but creative inevitability of Gay Watson.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:23 AM on June 25, 2012


for all his prolificacy Asimov never wrote more for television

I never really thought about it before but now that I do I'm not that surprised. Asimov was terrible at writing two things: dialog and sex. That's like 90% of a TV show right there.
posted by DU at 8:23 AM on June 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


Ber: "Scalzi was in Minneapolis all weekend and is touring promoting Redshirts."

I have a bone to pick with him about Chapter 23.
posted by zarq at 8:25 AM on June 25, 2012


Greg Nog's letter actually rings kind of true has something Asimov would say.

In fact, Asimov's unpublished K/S limericks are highly sought after on the collectors market.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:26 AM on June 25, 2012


He had the best facial hair for perving though.
posted by Artw at 8:26 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


It claimed that Spock had a forked penis

This certainly explains why the live long and prosper hand sign would have developed in primitive Vulcan culture.
posted by biffa at 8:27 AM on June 25, 2012 [18 favorites]


Gay Watson is a historical inevitability
posted by The Whelk at 8:28 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Poor old Smart Watson.
posted by Artw at 8:29 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Asimov's advice seems to be pretty standard advice for plotting adventure stories—I mean, the heroic duo goes back to Achilles and Patroclus..

so behind every tortured "NOOOOOOOOOOOO" in the "buddy" driven action movie genre there's a angry gay greek warrior yearning to be free?
posted by ennui.bz at 8:30 AM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Poor Dashing Watson, even in Sherlock he's a cuddly jumper damsel in distress type
posted by The Whelk at 8:33 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ambiguously gay. Achilles and Patroclus/Holmes and Watson/X and Y are sort of like the two women you see shopping for lamps in home furnishing catalogs. Could be lovers, could just be good friends.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:34 AM on June 25, 2012



so behind every tortured "NOOOOOOOOOOOO" in the "buddy" driven action movie genre there's a angry gay greek warrior yearning to be free?


If there was any justice in the world.
posted by The Whelk at 8:34 AM on June 25, 2012


It claimed that Spock had a forked penis

Some googling that I probably should have avoided doing on my work computer led me to this seemingly authoritative source: Vulcan genitalia.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 8:36 AM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I once described the premise of Idiocracy to a bona fide scientist, who replied "I like a little more science in my scifi." I made no mention at all of time travel; her crit was aimed at the concept of the population becoming woefully dumber over time. I'm still not sure what to think of this.
posted by rahnefan at 8:36 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


^cryo, not time travel, yeah
posted by rahnefan at 8:37 AM on June 25, 2012


Some googling that I probably should have avoided doing on my work computer led me to this seemingly authoritative source: Vulcan genitalia.

posted by sevenyearlurk


Eponysterical
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:40 AM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


From Roddenberry's letter:

Again, if we are to believe our letters (now mounting into the thousands), we are reaching a vast number of people who never before understood SF or enjoyed it. We are, in fact, making fans—making future purchasers of SF magazines and novels, making future box office receipts for SF films.

Mission accomplished, I would say!
posted by Simon Barclay at 8:42 AM on June 25, 2012


I made no mention at all of time travel; her crit was aimed at the concept of the population becoming woefully dumber over time. I'm still not sure what to think of this.

Maybe she assumed (like I did) that Idiocracy was based on The Marching Morons.
posted by DU at 8:42 AM on June 25, 2012


The problem with Idiocracy is despite decades of moral panics about The Kids/People getting dumber because of rock and roll, drugs, reality TV, satanism, Pokemon, Harry Potter, Snooki, and what have you, we've been making steady improvements in worldwide literacy. In some countries, the youth literacy rate is higher than the adult literacy rate, meaning in the future we're likely to have a more literate world populace, not a less literate one, even with video games and reality TV(!) or whatever.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:52 AM on June 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


and if you want to watch Idiocracy but without the SF elements or "it's a satire!' escape clause, try God Bless America
posted by The Whelk at 8:57 AM on June 25, 2012


This is the same Asimov who wrote an essay examining all the world's problems and determining that overpopulation was at the root of them. He then examined all the possible solutions to overpopulation and determined that oral sex (used as contraception) was the only workable solution. Thus, widespread practice of oral sex was the solution to all the world's major problems, QED.
posted by straight at 8:58 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm largely spitballing here, but what if Spock kisses Kirk a few times on the side of the neck while pressing his erection against Kirk's lower back? I think the viewers at home might be interested in this new dimension to their friendship.

Umm . . . huh? This opens a new dimension in my view of Isaac Asimov.
posted by birdhaus at 8:59 AM on June 25, 2012


Birdhaus: I think Greg Nog was making that up.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:01 AM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Birdhaus: I think Greg Nog was making that up.
God, I hope so . . . .
posted by birdhaus at 9:03 AM on June 25, 2012


DU: " I never really thought about it before but now that I do I'm not that surprised. Asimov was terrible at writing two things: dialog and sex. That's like 90% of a TV show right there."

I've always wanted to do a post on Probe, the short-lived 1988 series he co-created. But the episodes are unfortunately difficult to find online.
posted by zarq at 9:10 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I went to the Probe page to mention it in that comment but he only "created" the show and apparently didn't write for it. I was the biggest Asimov fan in the world at the time that came out and I don't think I lasted more than a couple episodes. I only remember one that had something to do with a computer that controlled the elevator system.
posted by DU at 9:14 AM on June 25, 2012


I think that Sarek knew that they were mind-melding a little more than would be normal for your average Commander/Science Officer team, if you know what I mean.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 9:27 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there a general consensus that says the science of science fiction has to be solid?

The problem is that what is to some people an Obscure Science Fact is to other people just basic knowledge about the way the world works.

Would you be happy about stories that featured, without explanation or any hint that they were being purposely weird, but rather the implication they thought the world really worked this way:

* Landing a space ship on the sun and getting out to walk around?
* People swimming around underwater for 20 minutes without an air supply?
* A girl getting pregnant from kissing a guy?
* A guy jumping off the roof of a 10-story building and landing without hurting himself?
* People stranded in the desert, drinking gasoline to keep from dying of thirst?
posted by straight at 9:34 AM on June 25, 2012 [17 favorites]


Idioceacy is like The Time Machine in that the hand wavey time travel stuff is basically there to propell the protagonist into the situation the author is actually interesting, though I'd argue the socialist social allegory and exploration of the concept of deep time is superior to "DUH, PEOPLE IS THE DUMBS"... It has cannibalism, for a start. Cannibalism is always good.
posted by Artw at 9:41 AM on June 25, 2012


A girl getting pregnant from kissing a guy?

Pretty sure that happened to Wesley Crusher once.
posted by Artw at 9:42 AM on June 25, 2012


Oh shit this is my first time!

Metafilter: I think Greg Nog was making that up.

I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I was compelled.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:43 AM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Spock might find Kirk to be an acceptable substitute for a Vulcan female? We're so used to seeing Kirk as a strong and masculine figure, but perhaps the audience might be receptive to him instead 'playing the lady' in order to satiate Spock's lust."

Surely this is still floating around out there somewhere and perhaps most here are well familiar with it, but I've had this Spock Slash Kirk sample for, gosh, 17 years now.

Anyway, Roddenberry's defense was utterly unconvincing to me. They paid anyone, anything for science fact-checking? Really? That was a waste of money.

"Is there a general consensus that says the science of science fiction has to be solid? Or is that just the crux of Asimov's approach?"

I think it's silly to criticize ST's science because it's so bad. But that's a good thing because, being so bad, it's less likely to confuse anyone into thinking there's any actual science involved. Or one might hope. I mean, an ESP-causing impenetrable-barrier at the edge of the galaxy??

Ellison was a good fit and Asimov wouldn't have been because TOS really was an example of soft science-fiction that privileged characterization and SF-as-social-metaphor over science. Asimov was, well, Asimov and wrote SF that privileged science over less important things like interesting characters with inner lives.

I just harshly criticized Prometheus for its bad science in another thread because it has pretensions of being actually scientific. It clearly takes itself seriously with regard to science (and so many other things). The filmmakers talk about the film in ways what make it clear that they took its science seriously. So, given that, the fact that its science is terrible matters.

Star Wars, to take an extreme example, like most film and television science-fiction is really science-fantasy and, for better or worse, should be judged on those terms. Star Trek in all its versions is not as obviously fantastical, but it's closer to science-fantasy than it is to any written science-fiction which takes its science seriously at all. Not only "hard" science-fiction, but everything that isn't necessarily hard but also not obviously "soft". ST is either squarely in the soft camp, or it's implicitly more aligned with it than written mainstream and hard science-fiction.

But that's okay because as long as it's not trying to convince audiences that it has any real scientific credibility, then this stuff is just serving the requirements of genre and that's fine, those are important functions.

Because one big problem with hard science-fiction is that it has pretty much the same problem as what I object to above, only it's less evident to most of its target audience and they end up believing they are getting good science when they're not, either. That is to say, science-fiction, even and especially hard science-fiction, is only pretty good about its "science" if you define "science" as engineering and a portion of physics. Almost all other science it gets just as wrong, and is as misleading and contributing to misconceptions and public ignorance, as does science-fantasy. Your typical science-fiction fan is satisfied when there's a detailed and realistic depiction of, say, a black hole. And yet they are oblivious to the crap biology, crap psychology, crap geology (or whatever you want to call it), crap economics, crap sociology, crap anthropology, crap linguistics, and crap-many-other-sciences they consume. And they think themselves to have been made more scientifically literate by reading these books.

I say this as a lifelong science-fiction fan. Let's be realistic about the quality of science in science-fiction. It's not very good even in the best examples.

That said, what bugs me besides what cortex describes above — where the pseudoscience/technobabble is not even functional from a storytelling perspective but a wholly-unnecessary ornamentation that serves no real purpose other than pissing off the actors and using up five seconds of airtime — is when there's mistakes in basic science that even the tiniest bit of scientific literacy or use of Google or calling-your-uncle-who's-a-science-teacher would avoid.

To quote from my Amazon review of Allen Steele's awful Coyote:
Why would a science-fiction writer make a point of describing his habitable moon as lacking an axial tilt--though still having seasons because its planet's orbit is extremely elliptical--yet repeatedly mention things like the Winter's Solstice and Autumn's noticeably shortening days? Or why would a science-fiction writer go to the trouble of describing an interstellar propulsion mechanism and relativistic effects of high acceleration yet describe a constant velocity of .2C for much of the journey and a fall that either wouldn't have happened or that a near comatose octogenarian could have recovered from before it was too late?
To be fucking annoying, that's why. Okay, we shouldn't attribute to malice what we can attribute to incompetence. That's so very true here. Probably.

Mostly, the writers of TOS and Roddenberry and Coon and others made no real pretenses of the show being scientifically plausible. They did put a lot of effort into making it a successful ensemble of its three leads and to boldly go into socially-aware territory that the network very much would have preferred to avoid. That's the show's big achievement and it deserves respect for it. All things being equal, I would have liked the science to be better. And even more so with the ST's that followed, given that none of them except arguably DS9 had the charm and thoughtfulness and courage that TOS had. But, really, all told, I think that TOS was successful in the ways that I think are most important.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:44 AM on June 25, 2012 [14 favorites]


Artw: " A girl getting pregnant from kissing a guy?

Pretty sure that happened to Wesley Crusher once.
"

No, that turned out to be a false pregnancy; he only had gas.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:46 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


As someone who just finished the marathon Cortex is still embarking on (Thanks, Netflix!), I rarely found myself really caught up on the underlying "science" of the show. I agree that its inclusion should be prefaced as a vessel to transport the deeper elements of storytelling that we look for in all entertainment or at least designed to inspire our imagination as most science fiction should.


And on preview....everything Ivan Fyodorovich just said.
posted by Atreides at 9:49 AM on June 25, 2012


Pretty sure that happened to Wesley Crusher once.

It at least kinda-happened to Ensign Harry "I'm basically a member of the command staff and we've been lost for six years and counting but I'm still an Ensign because fuck you, that's why" Kim as well one time, though he and his alien Juliet may have done more than kiss and it wasn't precisely a pregnancy so much as a sort of soul-bonding with long-term phenotypical ramifications if they hadn't broken up but the point is that I have watched a lot of Voyager in the last few months.
posted by cortex at 9:53 AM on June 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


straight: "Would you be happy about stories that featured, without explanation or any hint that they were being purposely weird, but rather the implication they thought the world really worked this way:
...
* A guy jumping off the roof of a 10-story building and landing without hurting himself?
"

I agree in principle, but this specific example is essentially cannon to Chinese Kung Fu movies. "Because... skills!"
posted by IAmBroom at 9:54 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've always wanted to do a post on Probe, the short-lived 1988 series he co-created. But the episodes are unfortunately difficult to find online.

The pilot, and quite a few other episodes can be found on youtube.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 9:56 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Would you be happy about stories that featured, without explanation or any hint that they were being purposely weird, but rather the implication they thought the world really worked this way:

* Landing a space ship on the sun and getting out to walk around?


The traditional workaround is that they go at night.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:57 AM on June 25, 2012 [19 favorites]


Harry Kim is basically just Wesley Crusher with less respect. I think they actually killed him off at one point and picked up an alternate timeline version of him in the same episode and nobody really cared.
posted by Artw at 9:58 AM on June 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


Ivan Fyodorovich: " Anyway, Roddenberry's defense was utterly unconvincing to me. They paid anyone, anything for science fact-checking? Really? That was a waste of money."

You need to consider the show in the environment and time in which it aired. The era was flooded with pulp serials, comic books and scifi shows that often barely even nodded in the direction of scientific accuracy. A metric of: "is this reasonably logical given the framework provided in the show bible, as well as what we know about science and scientific theory right now" is never going to be "is this perfect." So a certain amount of thought would need to go into Spock's biology, for example. But the audience would still be expected to suspend a certain amount of belief. Or else, let's face it, the ship wouldn't get anywhere. No working warp drive. No 'inertial dampeners,' etc.

Previously, the most scientifically accurate scifi show on television was probably Tom Corbett, Space Cadet -- and that production team also had a scientific advisor, who based his understanding of the universe on current theories. So for example, on Tom Corbett, Venus was shown as a jungle because that's what the theory of the time predicted it would look like. It certainly wasn't perfect. But they did make an effort.

Shows like Buck Rogers (1950's) and Lost in Space (and yes, movies like Star War, etc) were more interested in entertaining the audience than scientific accuracy, and it showed.
posted by zarq at 9:59 AM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


/misses the TNG/DS9/Voyager era of Trek horribly even though much of it was stupid and bad.
posted by Artw at 9:59 AM on June 25, 2012


I maintain the Voyager was just a good days trip from Federation space and everything that kept happening to them was a concentrated effort to keep "those people" out of anything that resembled a position of power.
posted by The Whelk at 10:00 AM on June 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


sevenyearlurk: " The pilot, and quite a few other episodes can be found on youtube."

Dude.

DUDE.

You rock. Thank you!
posted by zarq at 10:00 AM on June 25, 2012


Hi Gene,

Its me again. Although actually intuitively obvious, last night in the shower a no-brainer occurred to me which would increase Mr. Shatner's sex appeal.

Mutton chop sideburns.

-Isaac
posted by digsrus at 10:02 AM on June 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


The Whelk: "I maintain the Voyager was just a good days trip from Federation space and everything that kept happening to them was a concentrated effort to keep "those people" out of anything that resembled a position of power."

Voyager == The 'B' Ark?
posted by octothorpe at 10:02 AM on June 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


"It at least kinda-happened to Ensign Harry "I'm basically a member of the command staff and we've been lost for six years and counting but I'm still an Ensign because fuck you, that's why" Kim..."

Ha!

Yeah, I just finally got around to watching all of Voyager a couple of months ago and it wasn't nearly as painful as I'd thought it would be ever since I bailed on it during its first season way-back-when.

But, you know, it's only been two months and I hardly remember any of it.

I guess this leaves Enterprise as the only series that I've not watched all the episodes of. But, hey, I watched the parallel universe ones, and I sort of suspect those are about the only ones worth watching.

Incidentally, was The Captains posted? (I think it was and that's why I watched it, actually.) I recently saw that and then also watched Mind Meld. Quite interesting to me, as a trekkie who actually remembers watching TOS when it aired (barely, I was about five). Also, in packing for my move and going through all my books, I came across my Star Fleet Technical Reference Manual I bought in 1977 from the Science-Fiction Book Club. It's in good condition.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:07 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Harry Kim is basically just Wesley Crusher with less respect. I think they actually killed him off at one point and picked up an alternate timeline version of him in the same episode and nobody really cared.

I don't remember that, but there was that whole Year Of Hell thing that they introduced when Kes was still on the show and then called back to once Kes was off the show and didn't bother to mention Kes during at all, which was kind of weird, but maybe it was part of that? Or something? Or you're joking. It's Star Trek, it's impossible to tell.

But there was that earlyish episode where B'ellana got split into two separate beings by that leper alien mad scientist, her purely-human half and her purely-Klingon half, and the Klingon half was a violent rage case and the human half was all meek and small-foreheaded and scared, and then in a big twist they didn't magically reintegrate the two halves but rather had the Klingon go out in a blaze of badassery and the human came back to Voyager, and then they just gave her gene therapy to re-hybridize her and give her her forehead ridges back.

And that had like crazy profound implications for B'ellana's character going forward—that she was literally not the same person she had been, that she was seriously traumatized by the dehybridization of her physical being and the rewriting of her mental and emotional landscape, that she was being confronted for the first time in her life with the ability to explore her human side and experience life separate from the Klingon heritage she's portrayed as having struggled greatly with, and all this rich complicated characterological stuff.

And they cleverly exploited that rich vein by giving her her forehead back and never mentioning any of it again.
posted by cortex at 10:09 AM on June 25, 2012 [21 favorites]


From Memory Alpha:

Voyager was accidentally duplicated by a spatial scission phenomenon. Each ship was unaware of the others' existence, and both tried to stabilize their rapidly-draining antimatter supply with a series of proton bursts. One of the two ships, slightly phased apart from the other, fired the protons first, heavily damaging the other in the process; the damage also caused the infant Naomi Wildman to die in her failed delivery operation. The Harry Kim from the damaged Voyager was killed after being blown through a hull breach. When the undamaged ship was forced to self-destruct after being overrun by Vidiian forces, that ship's Harry Kim took the infant Naomi Wildman and transferred to the other ship. (VOY: "Deadlock")

This episode marks the death of the "original" Harry Kim, who is replaced by a duplicate. The "real" Kim's body is apparently left to float around in space.


Nobody mentions this ever again. I think the Voyager crew have major PTSD and block out a lot of memories.
posted by Artw at 10:17 AM on June 25, 2012 [13 favorites]


They avoided getting hung up on techie explanations or plot developments (not all the time, but better than TNG or Voyager), and made clashes between characters and cultures the focus.
posted by Cash4Lead at 11:09 AM on June 25 [7 favorites +] [!]


Many SF&F fans are not actually interested in science what-ifs, but are culture and society geeks. The SF setting is just like the fantasy setting for us: an excuse to write interesting stories set in different cultures and societies. For me, reading Nightfall is more like reading a novel set during the Black Death than an SF novel with a science question at the heart of it.

Star Trek is clearly written for cultural/society SF fans (as are the sequels, or other TV shows like rebooted Battlestar Galactica or Firefly) - so many cultural/social what ifs, and almost no scientific.
posted by jb at 10:17 AM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


But I do understand the annoyingness of getting little things wrong. I'm the one swearing when there are historical bloopers in novels - titles going through the female line? yeah, that almost never happened. also - no one wrote letters on vellum in the 1800s. Vellum is a kind of PARCHMENT and was used for decrees. People just used PAPER, even rich people (it's way more convenient).
posted by jb at 10:21 AM on June 25, 2012


Oh shit, that whole thing, yeah. Well, thank god Wrong Harry managed to insure that we got a bunch of later Naomi Wildman appearances. Nothing puts quite so fine a point on the Voyager crew's apparent disinclination to have children on their potential generation ship as occasional appearances by apparently the only child actually born.
posted by cortex at 10:23 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I always wonder why we don't have more absurdist Sci-fi.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

And (for kids) - Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars
posted by jb at 10:25 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


cortex: "...by apparently the only child actually born."

Miral Paris. (So, only two.)
posted by zarq at 10:30 AM on June 25, 2012


I'm the one swearing when there are historical bloopers in novels - titles going through the female line?

It's a Dornish thing. You wouldn't understand.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:31 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Miral Paris. (So, only two.)"

Also, Linnis Paris (in an alternate timeline, with numerous others, as well).
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:41 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Star Trek is clearly written for cultural/society SF fans (as are the sequels, or other TV shows like rebooted Battlestar Galactica or Firefly) - so many cultural/social what ifs, and almost no scientific.

Firefly is great in this respect, they fly around powered by what looks like a giant diesel engine and shoot at echother with six shooters. Not only is there no futuristic science, there is no modern science.

I think Farscape had at least one ship powered by coal, but then again, that series had muppets everywhere and nobody acknowledged that there were muppets. I would have expected Chricton to recognize muppets when he saw them and at least commented that the far side of the universe was populated in part by living muppets.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:42 AM on June 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


"I think Farscape had at least one ship powered by coal, but then again, that series had muppets everywhere and nobody acknowledged that there were muppets. I would have expected Chricton to recognize muppets when he saw them and at least commented that the far side of the universe was populated in part by living muppets."

Heh. But, seriously, I think Farscape handled this stuff better than ST ever did. They metajoked about technobabble, but they were well aware that it was mostly useless and a distraction that just bogged down the script. Whatever science they did present, mostly was internally consistent.

And — I realize your comment was intended to be mostly or entirely non-serious — that they used muppets and therefore weren't constrained to make all the aliens so stupidly humanoid made me then and still makes me happy after having lived with all this stupid Yet Another Forehead Bumped Alien from Star Trek and, less literally, most everywhere else. And the humanoid aliens they had weren't lazy forehead bumpies, either. They were put-some-effort-into-it forehead bumpies.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:49 AM on June 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


Once you get over the muppet factor Farscape is an amazing show.
posted by Artw at 10:51 AM on June 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


Farscape got around a lot of things by being really, really fun which covers a multitude of sins.

Also there was always the possibly Ben Browder would take his shirt off.
posted by The Whelk at 10:52 AM on June 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yeah, I can ignore the muppets. But I would have killed for Chriton to say just once " Dude...... are you a muppet?"
posted by Ad hominem at 10:52 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Firefly is great in this respect, they fly around powered by what looks like a giant diesel engine and shoot at echother with six shooters. Not only is there no futuristic science, there is no modern science.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm fairly certain that both six shooters and things that look like Diesel engines are well within the purview of modern science.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:53 AM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I always wonder why we don't have more absurdist Sci-fi.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.


Well yeah, that and Red Dwarf and Futurama are the only ones I can come up with off the top of my head. Dr. Who maybe in its more comedic modes...

Then again there are enough adaptations and versions of Hitchhikers Guide to last a lifetime sooooooo
posted by The Whelk at 10:54 AM on June 25, 2012


Galaxy Quest, Spaceballs, SG1... There's quite a bit.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:56 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Firefly rules! I'm still pissed at Fox for that.

Star Trek: He's dead, Jim. I can't wait to see who gets the Enterprise next.

SF has a million voices. I don't see any problem with that. Take an idea and run with it.
posted by mule98J at 10:57 AM on June 25, 2012


I wouldn't call Galaxy Quest absurdist as it follows Star Trek conventions enough to be basically be considered a sequel but thats splitting infinite trope hairs on infinite earths
posted by The Whelk at 10:58 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm fairly certain that both six shooters and things that look like Diesel engines are well within the purview of modern science.

Point taken.

That is also one of the things I like about SG1. Everything is human level technology or magic.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:58 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


For absurdist SF in comics there's always ACE Trucking Company.
posted by Artw at 10:58 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ivan Fyodorovich: "Incidentally, was The Captains posted?"

I don't believe so.

Loved the scenes where Shatner wandered around the convention. And his interviews with Stewart and Mulgrew, which seemed quite heartfelt.
posted by zarq at 11:01 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


That is also one of the things I like about SG1. Everything is human level technology or magic.

Well, sufficiently advanced technology.

I did like that they inverted the primitive humans trope to a degree, by having lowly kinetic weapons be penicillin to the replicators.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:05 AM on June 25, 2012


Oh, that's fine and well, but what about the disguises?

"... an effort should be made to work up story plots in which Mr. Shatner has an opportunity to put on disguises or take over roles of unusual nature."

I suppose this reasoning could have lead to stuff like Mirror Mirror, The Enemy Within, and The Enterprise Incident.

But I like to imagine in an alternate universe somewhere, Captain Kirk keeps disguising himself as an old lady or a flamboyant carpet salesman at the slightest provocation.
posted by RobotHero at 11:09 AM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Usually for sex, I'd have thought.
posted by Artw at 11:12 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


TOS Season 4, Episode 13: Kirk disguises himself as the captain's chair, instructs Spock via recorded message that he "has the bridge".
posted by cortex at 11:18 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Whelk: "I wouldn't call Galaxy Quest absurdist as it follows Star Trek conventions enough to be basically be considered a sequel but thats splitting infinite trope hairs on infinite earths"

The word you are looking for is "parody", not "sequel".
posted by IAmBroom at 11:19 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Would love to see jscalzi chime in on this."

Hey, I'm at home for sixteen whole hours before I have to get on another plane, so here's my chime.

When I was working on Stargate Universe, this is the way I handled the science:

1. When at all possible, get the science we actually know in the present time as correct as possible within the already-established constraints of the SG Universe;

2. Make the speculative science plausible enough to get viewers through the episode before they said "now, wait a minute..." Because if they did that after the episode was over, then that means they weren't thrown out of the episode while they were watching it, and that's the victory condition for weekly episodic television.

Overall I think SG:U did a pretty good job of not throwing people out of the show because of bad science, but I'm sure there were places here and there where there we let things get past. Some of that is just based on the realities of producing weekly television, which is a ungainly process with many moving parts. There was one week where I pointed out something that was not at all plausible (I forget the specific thing) and the response from the producers was "there's nothing we can do about it, we've already done the effect shots and we can't redo them." In which case, well, that's life in the big city.

That said, generally speaking, there's no reason not to get the science we know as correct as possible. One of the things that just chaps my ass about the 2009 Star Trek movie (which I found otherwise very successful) is the 5-minute segment where Spock Prime explains how he got jammed into the alternate timeline. Every single thing about that explanation is just flat wrong and bad, and there's not a single reason for it other than Kurtzman and Orci (the screenwriters) either being appallingly ignorant of basic physics or just not giving a shit.
posted by jscalzi at 11:22 AM on June 25, 2012 [21 favorites]


Well, JJ Abrams...
posted by Artw at 11:24 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is Lexx absurdist? At least the later seasons?
posted by RobotHero at 11:28 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I miss SGU, and not just because it was the last of the Big Ship shows, it had a great feel to it an actually managed to pull off some cool solid stuff from time to time. Even the Stones became a means to do some cool stuff in the end.

I just wish the beginning of the first season hadn't been so slow and hadn't mashed the reset button as often as it did - that's basically training the viewer not to give a shit and stop watching.
posted by Artw at 11:29 AM on June 25, 2012


Well if you count Lexx there's the whole Incal universe...
posted by Artw at 11:30 AM on June 25, 2012


Make the speculative science plausible enough to get viewers through the episode before they said "now, wait a minute..."

jscalzi is now the patron saint of Fridge Horror.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:32 AM on June 25, 2012


This opens a new dimension in my view of Isaac Asimov.
He preferred to publish his slash fic as "Dr. A", at least before mores relaxed a bit. But Kirk/Spock is too prosaic to be his stuff; from Asimov it would have been Kirk/Kirkette/Kirk2a+Kirk2b.

Note: none of the above is joking. I mean, all of the above is joking, but I'm not kidding. Not joking about the joking, that is to say.
posted by roystgnr at 11:32 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


And they cleverly exploited that rich vein by giving her her forehead back and never mentioning any of it again. - Cortex somewhere above.

That pretty much sums up Voyager and Enterprise.


I just wish the beginning of the first season hadn't been so slow and hadn't mashed the reset button as often as it did - that's basically training the viewer not to give a shit and stop watching.


The show reminded me of a quote from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade from Indy's father, "You left just when you were becoming interesting."

I really do wish it'd been given at least one more season.
posted by Atreides at 11:33 AM on June 25, 2012


Ivan Fyodorovich has it right. What's the point of getting the physics right when the writers completely misrepresent the biology behind the reproductive cycle of the space badger?

BTW - am I the only one who got momentarily hung up on this line from Roddenberry regarding Shatner: "Bill is a fine actor, has been in leads on Broadway, has done excellent motion pictures, is generally rated as fine an actor as we have in this country. "?
posted by tdismukes at 11:34 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The stones were just magic. They were introduced in an incredibly dopey way. IIRC O'Neill and some random schlub switched bodies because they both happened to be carrying stones around. Said random schlub bought the stone, incredibly powerful alien technology, at a yard sale.

Example of random plot device becomeing incredibly important down the road. "Oh shit, we have the psychic yard sale stones, we can use those"

Just SG1 being SG1, that is why is it so great. They had , what, 5 parodies of the show in the show itself?
posted by Ad hominem at 11:37 AM on June 25, 2012


Three or four of those parodies were in the 200th episode alone.
posted by Atreides at 11:40 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hi. I'm the Editor of an SFWA magazine.

As I keep keep getting exposed to wider and wider expanses of genre fiction, I've really started to understand the grouping that often happens of SF, fantasy, and horror all into one basket.

Genre fiction in general is fiction that asks you to suspend disbelief. These are all stories that could not happen in the world as we know and understand it. The fundamental difference between SF and fantasy/horror seems to be not futurism but rather the suggestion that the reason the events within seem impossible is because we have an imperfect perception of what is possible.

When you read a story with wizards in wizard hats, it's fantasy if magic just exists, but it's scifi if magic is powered by midichlorians. It's a pretty artificial line and the thing is: both fantasy and science fiction are pretty great. They represent an avenue of exploration that literature needs to have in order to make the most of itself.

The other point, and the relevant one here, is that the line can vary from person to person. If you know enough science to realize how meaningless the phrase "one half light year outside the galaxy" is, then ST:TOS is fantasy. And if you don't, it's science fiction. I really love me some Asimov but he's arguing a nonexistent point here. Science fiction and fantasy both are, at their core, ways to tell stories that can't be told within the constraints of the agreed upon world. In the end, it's always the quality of the stories that is important, not how good a facsimile of our world the setting is.
posted by 256 at 11:40 AM on June 25, 2012 [10 favorites]


In my own science fiction I would have some ships powered by engines that featured a primary Vagoda Coil.

If there are any problem with the engines it would have to be something other than the Vagoda Coil because those things never die. There would be on ongoing joke about how the use of the word "primary" in front of a Vagoda Coil is redundant. You don't need a secondary one but still, they'd have a secondary Vagoda Coil that could be used for other things in a pinch.

I would not bother explaining the science, real or otherwise, for why this is so. Thus it would not be popular amongst the hard scifi crowd.
posted by juiceCake at 11:42 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


TS Eliot (somewhere) said that criticism comes from within by and large, and I think that's largely what Roddennberry's trying to explain. Asimov probably never had to get a show made, let alone keep it on the air, and therefore there was a significant amount he did not understand about the economic constraints that a show like Star Trek faced. Without an understanding of its constraints, you cannot properly judge its successes or failures. FOr instance, if Roddenberry is right, and the sort of high caliber science fiction show that Asimov is describing had been fought for, it would actually not have existed at all as it wouldn't have been green lighted. Therefore, making those kinds of critical adjustments wouldn't have improved the show -- it would've actually doomed the show since in the counterfactual that show would actually not exist at all.

This is where the more art forms that can be produced by one person using only his or her time may actually not realize that only a small part of that experience can adequately inform their understanding of other art forms -- even ones in close proximity seemingly to one's own because of content and genre -- that require a large number of individuals' time, as well as a significant amount of capital, to function at all. These are actually quite general areas of common confusion.
posted by scunning at 11:49 AM on June 25, 2012


BTW - am I the only one who got momentarily hung up on this line from Roddenberry regarding Shatner: "Bill is a fine actor, has been in leads on Broadway, has done excellent motion pictures, is generally rated as fine an actor as we have in this country. "?

He meant Canada.

Sorry, sorry, I kid because I love.
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:50 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is a Vagoda Coil the feminine version of a Vigoda Coil?
posted by lodurr at 11:50 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Every single thing about that explanation is just flat wrong and bad, and there's not a single reason for it other than Kurtzman and Orci (the screenwriters) either being appallingly ignorant of basic physics or just not giving a shit."

Right. There's not understanding QM and knowing that your audience doesn't understand it, either. And then there's not understanding stuff that junior high science nerds learned in elementary school.

There's a kind of race to the bottom that happens with this stuff, I think. If you grew up on science-fiction that had very little science in it but pretended that it was scientific, then you already internalized the idea that it doesn't really matter, anyway, and all that matters is story dressed in this particular variety of genre clothing.

So while the science in science-fiction is a defining quality of the genre and does, in fact, mostly exist as a stylistic choice, it's also the case that it originally served some functional purpose that made it worthwhile to tell a story in those terms and not using some other genre device. And still does (sometimes) and can (always) serve such a functional purpose. If you completely fall away from that, it's just a kind of narrative affectation. Which is how I think most SF film and television folk understand it. And the more they produce SF that is of this nature, the more they train both the audience and aspiring young filmmakers that this is simply what filmed SF is.

Some people will ask why that matters. Sure, they'll say, it could be better if the science was used in a way that had some larger utility for which it's especially suited. But, if not, then why can't it just be a mostly meaningless choice within the narrative that exists for the similar purpose of, say, hiring attractive lead actors? Simply because people are comfortable with it?

I guess my answer to that is that, sure, if you aim low you're guaranteed to hit low. But, more to the point, if you aim low, you'll likely not even manage that much.

You know this, of course, being a good writer and, particularly, a good science-fiction writer. My sense from your books is that you realize that if the story you're telling is gratuitously science-fiction merely because, well, you (as a writer) like and are comfortable with science-fiction, then you're not doing it right. I know there are writers who do write in the genre (and other writers in other genres) just because they like the genre, not because they use the genre conventions to do what they're well-suited to doing.

(Sometimes, of course, that can be to subvert those conventions and the implications underlying them. But that's another topic.)
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:51 AM on June 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


I had long suspected it but a quick check just confirmed that not only does Amazon Prime have ST: OS for free, but also DS9 and NG...AND Farscape! Perfect thing for summer nights when my Twins are sucking balls or those long cold ND winter nights. (didn't check for Firefly or Stargate, got all those on DVD anyway).
posted by Ber at 11:51 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you know enough science to realize how meaningless the phrase "one half light year outside the galaxy" is, then ST:TOS is fantasy.

At the risk of looking like an idiot, how is that a meaningless phrase?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:51 AM on June 25, 2012


I'd have to guess that it's because the margin for error on the definitive position of the galaxy's edge is more than a half light-year.
posted by lodurr at 11:53 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


... that is, assuming you could define the galaxy's edge...
posted by lodurr at 11:54 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


jscalzi: " Hey, I'm at home for sixteen whole hours before I have to get on another plane, so here's my chime."

Thanks! Hope you're able to get some rest and family time while you're there.

jscalzi: " Overall I think SG:U did a pretty good job of not throwing people out of the show because of bad science, but I'm sure there were places here and there where there we let things get past.

...
That said, generally speaking, there's no reason not to get the science we know as correct as possible.


What surprised me about the show was how much actual science and scientific theory y'all managed to incorporate into the show and communicate to the audience. Concepts like a possible pattern in cosmic background microwave radiation (CMBR). Here you have a current theory that was being expanded upon at the same time the episodes were airing.

The production staff didn't assume the audience were idiots. It was nice to see.

On the other hand, the communications stones were a plot device that were indistinguishable from magic. Of course, SG-U wasn't the first scifi medium to create such a thing. The Ansible, in OSC's Ender series. The Dirac transmitter in Blish's Cities in Flight. They'd been established as canon in the Stargate universe for years and actually made for some excellent episodes and let the audience explore the depths of most of the characters.

But still... it was weird to see a show pay such close attention to the theoretical and actual science behind.... ships powered by plasma, or tidally-locked planets, or oxygen recycling issues on board an ancient ship, or even using a star or planet's gravity to accelerate/decelerate a ship... using those stones week after week.

I enjoyed SG-U a lot. Especially in its second season. Robert Carlyle was fantastic. Wish it were still on the air.

As a fan, thanks for doing all you could to make it a better, more realistic show. The fact that you were paying attention to the details was noticeable, and much appreciated.
posted by zarq at 11:56 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Right, the galaxy is a collection of billions of objects and so doesn't have a particularly definable boundary. Also, the scale of the galaxy is so huge that half a light year is a trivial distance. it's like saying "he was half an inch outside of the forest."
posted by 256 at 11:56 AM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is a Vagoda Coil the feminine version of a Vigoda Coil?

I would also attempt to hire lodurr as an editor.
posted by juiceCake at 11:56 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


That might be a mistake. I am rather unlike a Vigoda Coil.
posted by lodurr at 11:57 AM on June 25, 2012


ChurchHatesTucker: IIRC, the only TOS item developed with an eye towards merchandising was the IDIC.

The deal with the IDIC was that it was, in Leonard Nimoy's opinion, created solely for the merch, and specifically to be sold in Gene and Majel Roddenberry's Star Trek mail-order business, Lincoln Enterprises. That, a few other incidents (such as Spock being used in a beer ad) and Nimoy's general struggles with being typecast after TOS led to him and Roddenberry being estranged for a while. The bits about the communicator and tricorder I'm remembering (dimly) from The Making of Star Trek.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:12 PM on June 25, 2012


Ray and Bob have been pitching studios, trying to land anything - ANYTHING - on the tube, for obscure reasons involving rent and the screenwriter's guild. In a running gag, Bob keeps hanging up on various print editors because the roomies are hyperfocused on landing some telly time.

Ike pops in as irritant and catalyst, reading letters he's been exchanging with Gene. Ray is *totally* dismissive of Ike's science-y agenda, and Bob keeps trying to spin one of his old juveniles into shape for series use, to no avail.

Eventually, Ray gets the call to do the Martian Chronicles - he's amped, because they decided to use his title instead of calling it "MARS!" like the studio had been threatening. Bob eventually gets a story credit on a single episode of Quark, but only because Ike is pals with Buck Henry and calls in the favor.

Bob HATES it.

(The introduction of an offscreen character based on Roddenbnerry was done at the network's insistence, in hopes that viewers drawn to both Strangers and Quark would somehow associate them with the burgeoning Trek franchise.)
posted by mwhybark at 12:16 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


"But still... it was weird to see a show pay such close attention to the theoretical and actual science behind.... ships powered by plasma, or tidally-locked planets, or oxygen recycling issues on board an ancient ship, or even using a star or planet's gravity to accelerate/decelerate a ship... using those stones week after week. "

I had no trouble with the stones for the same reason I have no trouble with FTL. They're effectively magic, but then so is FTL. Why I accepted them was because, as mentioned before, a lot of SG stuff was presented without any attempt to explain it as extrapolations of contemporary science and therefore there was no pretense that they had any real-world scientific basis.

Science-fiction should not fail on its own terms. That's why 256 is wrong and there's a difference between fantasy and science-fiction and horror that's beyond merely what costume its wearing.

Each genre has a set of conventions that are well-understood by the audience. Science-fiction audiences expect that a scientific worldview forms the basis for approaching the narrative universe. That scientific worldview is necessarily one that we share with the fictional universe; that is to say, what makes it fantastical in a science mode is that it's not primarily explicitly supernatural or otherwise magical. A scientific worldview has certain ground rules and those rules are determined by contemporaneous scientific consensus. They can be deviated from, but only in a self-consistent way that doesn't repudiate that foundation. This is similarly true for the other genres. They're not merely a set of loosely related storytelling conventions, they're in some deep sense each worldviews.

And I'm not just talking about SF/F/H, I'm also talking about every other genre, too. The mystery exists within a particular worldview, and so do thrillers and romance novels. This is part of what makes cross-genre works interesting and so often frustrating.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:19 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


IAmBroom: "The word you are looking for is "parody", not "sequel"

Galaxy Quest is the tenth Star Trek feature film.
posted by Uncle Ira at 12:30 PM on June 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


Apparently the series regulars of TNG basically have their own Galaxy Quest fan club. Dorn was apparently calling people up and saying "you have to go see this, and see it in a regular theater with civilians." So Uncle Ira, if that ain't exactly the truth, maybe it oughta be.
posted by lodurr at 12:52 PM on June 25, 2012


The Ansible, in OSC's Ender series.

Pistols at dawn!
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:53 PM on June 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


I really, really should be doing these copyedits, but . . .

The Mohs scale is a terrifically useful thing. I run a SF review site, and we give each title a Mohs rating--not as a measure of quality, but mostly because some people are really, really bothered by science fantasy chock full of handwavium and some people just see sci-fi as anything with space elves pointy-eared aliens. Is genre created through conventions of genre--adherence to Real Science principles--or the tropes of genre--like spaceships and aliens and stuff? I don't know the answer, but I know I favor more inclusive definitions. For one thing, what's hard sci-fi at one moment might rate a 1 or 2 on the Mohs eventually due to the way knowledge and science keeps shifting. For another thing, my perception as been that the broader public favors a trope-based definition and it's only when you get into the seedy underbelly of genre arguments that people bring out their science snobbery. And it makes us nerds kinda silly to insist that Star Trek is "really" fantasy because Roddenberry didn't know from galaxy.

But I agree with Ivan Fyodorovich that it grates when TV/movie SF writers (or those in the writing industry--I've heard literary agents say hard sci-fi is anything with an alien which is soooooo not true) think they're writing hard sci-fi and it's just fantasy with sci-fi armor. Presentation matters, and it's nice to feel you're in the hands of capable writers who are well-informed about the genre they're working in.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:57 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


The other point, and the relevant one here, is that the line can vary from person to person. If you know enough science to realize how meaningless the phrase "one half light year outside the galaxy" is, then ST:TOS is fantasy. And if you don't, it's science fiction.

So if a novelist wrote, "With both hands he brandished his massive, 3 millimeter sword," you'd just shrug and say, "It's fantasy; '3 millimeter' is just supposed to make it sound like it's a really big sword"?
posted by straight at 12:58 PM on June 25, 2012


some counages just don't feel natural outside of their original context. Others seem to work. I think that wherever there's a solid identifcation between a term and a work, it's probably not a good term to use. (Minor exceptions for "cyberspace" & "cyberpunk"*, which are bad terms to use for other reasons.) So "ansible", I never liked. But nobody remembers where "hyperdrive" came from, and things like Dyson Spheres are from actual papers, for pete's sake.

I've been trying to single-handedly popularize "arphid", but it ain't working, so far.

--
*If you've never read the old Bethke story where this was coined, check it out. It's a quick, fun read, and the coinage turns out to be refreshingly literal.
posted by lodurr at 12:59 PM on June 25, 2012


Celsius1414: " Pistols at dawn!"

Fascinating! Do you know, I had no idea that OSC literally took the idea and name from Le Guin. I haven't read that much of her work yet.
posted by zarq at 1:00 PM on June 25, 2012


straight: that's a more interesting question (at least, from my perspective) than perhaps you intend it to be.

Half a light year in human scale is still a really vast distance. Let's assume for the moment that "edge of the galaxy" is a concept that makes sense; on a human scale, half a light year is a lot of distance, even if in proportion to the size of the galaxy, it's sub-miniscule. 1 angstrom outside of a cell is still outside of the cell.

Of course, you could use "half a light-year outside the galaxy" as a way to indicate that you're only on the skin of the thing. But that would probably be a mistake, because only a tiny fraction of your audience is going to get that meaning without help.

Smarter, I think, is to just try to make sure your terms are qualified. As noted, "edge of the galaxy" if it makes sense at all is only going to be sensible for very wide tolerances, so just "beyond edge of the galaxy" would be better than giving a specific distance.

I'm not sure if that example was from something real -- it was a dumb way to write it for several reasons if it was -- but all of those reasons come back around to illustrate how difficult it is to write stuff that SF fans somewhere aren't going to bitch about.
posted by lodurr at 1:06 PM on June 25, 2012


So if a novelist wrote, "With both hands he brandished his massive, 3 millimeter sword," you'd just shrug and say, "It's fantasy; '3 millimeter' is just supposed to make it sound like it's a really big sword"?

I propose we make room in the genre for worldbuilding errors. Sci-fi with stupid worldbuilding errors is still sci-fi.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:07 PM on June 25, 2012


so I guess what I'm trying to say, is when you write, you have to think of the human scale -- what your readers will understand -- and not the cosmic scale. We ain't existin' on a cosmic scale.
posted by lodurr at 1:07 PM on June 25, 2012


lodurr: That quote is from the Asimov article in the OP in which he is quoting an unnamed ST:TOS episode.
posted by 256 at 1:14 PM on June 25, 2012


that's the one with the hideous alien navigator, right?
posted by lodurr at 1:18 PM on June 25, 2012


I've been trying to single-handedly popularize "arphid", but it ain't working, so far.

I have heard some people pronounce "RFID" that way; what is your intended meaning?

This practice makes no sense to me: RFID is obviously just RF ID, an ID that uses RF, so pronouncing it as though it weren't just two familiar words smashed together strikes my ears very strangely.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:23 PM on June 25, 2012


RFID could also be someone Welsh (in science fiction).
posted by juiceCake at 1:27 PM on June 25, 2012


Beyond the edge of the galaxy in only 12 parsecs!
posted by Artw at 1:33 PM on June 25, 2012


BTW never ever think about spaceflight distances with and without hyperdrive in Empire Strikes Back.
posted by Artw at 1:33 PM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I had a tough time with Farscape. Got maybe ten episodes in? It felt a bit to me like they spent a bunch on sets and concept and had no money left for extras. Yeah, I get they're supposed to be loners on a prison ship, but it felt like it was the restriction that informed the plot and not the other way around. Also, I could be a huge idiot, but I never really got what was going on. As far as I can remember no one on the ship knew where they were or how to get to anyone's home, but they go to a few inhabited planets and run into some other beings and don't really bother asking anyone?

Also, I enjoy a lot of science fiction, but it has to feel as if the sci-fi elements are an important part of the story and world instead of the plot equivalent of a cheap spray tan. I tried watching Battlestar Galactica and Eureka and after awhile it felt like someone was dressing up soap operas in tin foil.
posted by ODiV at 1:41 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I propose we make room in the genre for worldbuilding errors. Sci-fi with stupid worldbuilding errors is still sci-fi."

I can't speak for straight, but I understood his example to be one in which the writer doesn't know that three millimeters is small, not large, and because some of the fans will know this but others will not, then according to 256's logic, the correct response is that it's one fan's nitpicking error and the other fan's fantasy.

It's stupid and a mistake to call a 3mm sword "huge"; it's not merely a matter of nitpicking and definitions. All narratives begin with some kind of verisimilitude and an implicit agreement with the audience about the terms of the contract for the suspension of disbelief. Genre, especially, has some very specific terms. SF, in particular, has terms built around scientific credibility. Sure, there's a continuum that runs from people walking on the Sun to not accounting for how FTL totally fucks-up causality. But saying that "because there's no unambiguous bright line we can all agree upon means that there can be no genuine distinction at all" is a fallacy.

I can't easily tell you where the line should be drawn because, well, then it would be much more unambiguous than it actually is.

I can say, however, that scientifically ignorant people who see what they're told is DNA depicted in a special effect in a film most likely do believe that they're being shown something that looks like DNA actually looks like, at least roughly. If they've heard of a "light year" (which they may well have) and they see a movie that talks about a light year as a unit of time, then they will expect that a light year is a unit of time. They don't expect a SF film to properly deal with General Relativity. They don't even know what that is.

These expectations are reasonable expectations that arise from the genre convention. In being science-fiction, the audience assumes, naturally, that there's science involved.

And, yes, again — the majority of the audience confuses the trappings of science with science itself. But their confusion doesn't mean there's no distinction and it doesn't mean that they don't care about the distinction implicitly. Because they do. Otherwise they would have no expectation that DNA or light year in a film means anything at all in reality. That's what versimilitude is.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:41 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


It would probably help if I stuck to at most one poorly thought out metaphor per comment.
posted by ODiV at 1:42 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have heard some people pronounce "RFID" that way; what is your intended meaning?

Exactly that, following Sterling. He was using that term a few years back when he was on his "internet of things" kick.

This practice makes no sense to me: RFID is obviously just RF ID, an ID that uses RF, so pronouncing it as though it weren't just two familiar words smashed together strikes my ears very strangely.

I try to hear things the way civilians will hear them. Still, I know what you mean -- I still hear people referring to "Earls" when they mean to refer to URLs. And not being a EE or anything like one, I was pronounching RFID "arphid" before I ever heard BruceS do it. I just hadn't thought to phoneticize the spelling.
posted by lodurr at 1:47 PM on June 25, 2012


I would assume that any creatures that would consider 3mm huge must be tiny themselves. Perhaps amoeba with tiny wizard hats and swords.

Is there any fantasy or SF featuring alien races who's sense of scale is radically different from our own?

Maybe an episode of DS9 in which Miles becomes infested with tiny sentient aliens. They form tiny nation states and are almost at the brink of nuclear war before Bashir discovers them. They are convinced to work together to become a "space faring" civilization. They develop a tiny warp drive and set out to explore the confines of DS9.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:49 PM on June 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Is there any fantasy or SF featuring alien races who's sense of scale is radically different from our own?"

Dragon's Egg, by Robert L. Forward. That was pretty good.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:51 PM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


These expectations are reasonable expectations that arise from the genre convention. In being science-fiction, the audience assumes, naturally, that there's science involved.

Again, there are two different ways to talk about science fiction. The first is that the genre is defined according to its tropes. So, sciencey-seeming stuff is just fine when it comes to science fiction even if it's not right. The other is around conventions, namely conventions "built around scientific credibility." There are classic works accepted to belong to the genre according to both criteria. I'm not sure at all that either has the historic precedent as being "right."

I don't think it's confusion. It's just another (more commonly used!) definition. There's also significant overlap between the genres. I wouldn't argue with anyone who said Star Wars was either sci-fi or fantasy. It has significant features of both--the tropes of sci-fi, the conventions of fantasy. But I would arch a Vulcan eyebrow at anyone who would argue that it's not sci-fi in anyway no how never. That's where you just get silly snobby nit-picking with no sense of the history of the genre or the way terms are usually used in the vast majority of speakers.

Is there any fantasy or SF featuring alien races who's sense of scale is radically different from our own?

Well, there's that MST3k where Mike kills his eyebrow mites and his eyebrows grow garbage.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:52 PM on June 25, 2012


Wait, that's a real episode?
posted by lodurr at 1:52 PM on June 25, 2012


crap, preview bite. Let me try this again:

Wait, that's a real episode?
posted by lodurr at 1:53 PM on June 25, 2012


Wait, that's a real episode?

Hahah, I wish. Someone should write it. Bookend the entire sentient amoeba plot with Bashir and O'Brien playing darts, and toss in a side plot where Jake loses his virginity to the dabo girl.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:58 PM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


They should find Frozen Space Corpse Harry Kim and colonies him.
posted by Artw at 1:59 PM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


A fuller version of the Asimov/Roddenberry exchange is today's featured entry on Letters Of Note.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:59 PM on June 25, 2012


Is there any fantasy or SF featuring alien races who's sense of scale is radically different from our own?

Should we forget Futurama's Godfellas?
posted by Atreides at 2:12 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Should we forget Futurama's Godfellas?

Wow, I guess I should watch Futurama. They somehow traveled into the future and swiped part of my idea.

Damn guys, hook me up with a shout out at least when you make the episode.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:18 PM on June 25, 2012


"There are classic works accepted to belong to the genre according to both criteria. I'm not sure at all that either has the historic precedent as being 'right.'"

I understand your argument but I don't think you understand mine. If you did, of course, that's not a guarantee that you'll agree with it.

But, basically, my point is that an example of genre that is merely tropish, rather than conventional (to use your terminology), certainly satisfies the definition for most of the audience but, even so, the implication of this is that it's not usefully within that particular genre — and while it might achieve excellence in some respect independent of its genre (though I'd argue that this is unusual and difficult for structural reasons), it will be at best, with regard to its genre, adequate.

If you can understand (one of the chief reasons, but by no means the exclusive reason) why so much fan fiction is bad, you might see how that applies to creating genre work that is merely tropish. Such incompetent fan fiction dresses up the narrative in (metaphorically speaking) costumes that are comfortable and familiar to the fan. Because the fan confuses the superficiality of those costumes for their narrative substance, those costumes are, at best, barely functional. To the fan who's written their work, it seems to have all the right "stuff" and it should work. But it doesn't.

When a more competent writer writes according to the audience's expectations as nothing more than an audience's expectations, then any good use made of the functionality implicit in those conventions is either nonexistent or accidental. And at least part of an audience's positive reaction is mere habit.

There's a reason why there's a convention of writing speculative fiction that is centered around (any given moment's) contemporary scientific consensus. There's a reason why what we call horror takes the broad form that it takes.

There's a lot of cultural-specific psychology involved in horror, it's not simply anything fantastical that involves fear. You can write horror in a tropish manner and you will, at best, accidentally and weakly succeed in activating those psychosocial resonances. And if that the best you can do, then perhaps you ought to be doing something else. If you work with horror as convention, as you use the term, then you will have some deeper understanding of those psychosocial resonances, you will be more successful in activating them, and — most importantly — you will be achieving something that horror is uniquely able to achieve.

This is exactly the same with regard to science-fiction.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:18 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there any fantasy or SF featuring alien races who's sense of scale is radically different from our own?

There's also Minuschitae.
posted by 256 at 2:21 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Maybe an episode of DS9 in which Miles becomes infested with tiny sentient aliens. They form tiny nation states and are almost at the brink of nuclear war before Bashir discovers them."

Blood Music, by Greg Bear. Which was very far out there, but somehow still sort of believable and, well, really cool in not only exploring the fucked-up implications of an entire civilization in one's own body, but then taking that as premise for exploring something even more mind-bending.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:25 PM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


It would probably help if I stuck to at most one poorly thought out metaphor per comment.

Nonsense! We're talking about Star Trek episodes; your mode of communication fits the topic perfectly well.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:28 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


But, basically, my point is that an example of genre that is merely tropish, rather than conventional (to use your terminology), certainly satisfies the definition for most of the audience but, even so, the implication of this is that it's not usefully within that particular genre — and while it might achieve excellence in some respect independent of its genre (though I'd argue that this is unusual and difficult for structural reasons), it will be at best, with regard to its genre, adequate.

No, I understood you the first time. If you're trying now to argue that trope-ish sci-fi is bad as literature, I don't think that's right either. There are excellent trope-ish works; Star Wars is one. I would argue, in fact, that the SFnal flavor is key to its success as a work, and that an increased usage of the SF conventions would not necessarily make it better--it might, in fact, make it worse (see: midichlorians).

There's a reason why there's a convention of writing speculative fiction that is centered around (any given moment's) contemporary scientific consensus.

Hard science fiction, yes. But that's not the vast majority of the science fiction that's being created today, whether within or without the SFnal community. Nor is it the vast majority of sci-fi created historically.

A privileging of hard science fiction as either more "real" sci-fi or intrinsically better literature is silly, narrow-minded, and maybe even a bit sexist. Soft sci-fi is still sci-fi.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:34 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


And if you're worried that misuse of science terms will fool the audience about what a galaxy is or what a parsec is or whatever, well, I don't know if it's sci-fi's job to be didactic in this sense. Though I'm fine with complaining vocally about science errors (and frequently do so myself), that whole argument seems to be a bit "Won't somebody think of the children!"
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:38 PM on June 25, 2012


It would probably help if I stuck to at most one poorly thought out metaphor per comment.

Nonsense! We're talking about Star Trek episodes; your mode of communication fits the topic perfectly well.


ODiV and GregNog at Tanagra
Asimov, his arms wide
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:40 PM on June 25, 2012 [12 favorites]


MikeNamara when the walls fell.
posted by 256 at 2:43 PM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Soft sci-fi is still sci-fi."

I didn't say it wasn't. Go back and read my first comment in this thread. You have me confused with a strawman (that I don't doubt you're well familiar with elsewhere in actuality).

I don't equate soft science-fiction with science-fantasy. Or, generally, with science fiction that is bad science fiction within the context of science. If you're equating my argument about science's involvement in science-fiction with privileging hard science-fiction, then, no, you haven't understood my argument. The very fact that both soft and hard science-fiction are distinctly science-fiction (and that you insist that Star Wars is not fantasy, but science-fiction in some sense) is the heart of my argument. You cannot simultaneously claim that the "science" part of science-fiction is meaningful and not meaningful.

"And if you're worried that misuse of science terms will fool the audience about what a galaxy is or what a parsec is or whatever, well, I don't know if it's sci-fi's job to be didactic in this sense. Though I'm fine with complaining vocally about science errors (and frequently do so myself), that whole argument seems to be a bit 'Won't somebody think of the children!'"

I do object from a larger civic point-of-view, but that's independent of the aesthetic argument I am making in this thread. Misleading the audience about what a galaxy or a parsec is is a violation of the implicit agreement made between an author and the audience when an author chooses to write within the genre of science-fiction. Just as having a detective in a mystery novel solve the crime by divine revelation is a violation. These conventions are not window dressing, they're functional.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:47 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


1 angstrom outside of a cell is still outside of the cell.

Are you sure? 1 angstrom is getting down to the size of individual atoms, and atoms don't exactly have well-defined boundaries either.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:48 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


ODiV and GregNog at Tanagra
Asimov, his arms wide


How was it that it took Picard, the captain of the federation flag ship, like 45 minutes to figure that out. I guess it is because he doesn't know he is in science fiction. We are expecting stuff like that from TNG, some sort of Wittgenstein revisit of the universal translator. For us, every episode is significant and conveys some sort of message, the way Trek does. For him, there are probably periods of boredom where he clips his nails and thinks about wearing his awesome french peasant clothes next time he goes back to earth inter-spaced with random crap happening.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:52 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I want Isaac Predicts Pop Culture to become a total thing.

"Hey Gene - I was thinking, and there's something about my little girl's toy pony that really got to me. What if it could talk? And fly?"
posted by Sebmojo at 2:52 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The very fact that both soft and hard science-fiction are distinctly science-fiction (and that you insist that Star Wars is not fantasy, but science-fiction in some sense) is the heart of my argument. You cannot simultaneously claim that the "science" part of science-fiction is meaningful and not meaningful.

I wasn't insisting that Star Wars is not fantasy. In many ways, Star Wars is fantasy. It's also science fiction. That it is fantasy does not make it not-sci-fi.

I was largely responding to your assertion that "there's a difference between fantasy and science-fiction and horror that's beyond merely what costume its wearing," as well as your implicit assertion that science fantasy is not sci-fi. It is; it's a subgenre of sci-fi as much as it's a subgenre of fantasy. As for the implicit promise made between the sci-fi writer and the audience, I don't know that I agree that this promise is there in all cases. Horror has bundled in it a promise like that--to scare the audience. I've heard it argued that science fiction as a genre is about stirring passions about the future, or unknown worlds, or science, but I honestly feel those definitions are a bit idiosyncratic and narrow. These are all things that some sci-fi often does, but I don't know that they're things that science fiction necessarily needs to do.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:08 PM on June 25, 2012


On the other hand, the communications stones were a plot device that were indistinguishable from magic. Of course, SG-U wasn't the first scifi medium to create such a thing. The Ansible, in OSC's Ender series. The Dirac transmitter in Blish's Cities in Flight. They'd been established as canon in the Stargate universe for years and actually made for some excellent episodes and let the audience explore the depths of most of the characters.

I'm not familiar with the stones, but I assume they allow people to communicate instantaneously over distances of several light years? That seems to be a problem (scientifically) that no sci-fi TV series (or video game) that I can think of wants to address, so there is a fix (like the quantum entanglement chambers in Mass Effect, which are effectively holographic VOIP). Which is a shame, but I can see that, in the same way that to make a lot of classic plots work these days you have to get rid of people's cell phones in contemporary fiction, to make a lot of plots work in sci-fi you have to give people intergalactic phones of some sort.

I'd be interested to see a series about a galactic empire trying to administer itself without FTL communications, though...
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:10 PM on June 25, 2012


ODiV and GregNog at Tanagra
Asimov, his arms wide

How was it that it took Picard, the captain of the federation flag ship, like 45 minutes to figure that out. I guess it is because he doesn't know he is in science fiction.


It is a stupid episode.
posted by Artw at 3:24 PM on June 25, 2012


But again, I agree with you that presentation matters: don't tell me your soft sci-fi Chariot of the Gods gobbledegook is hard sci-fi; it's not. And again, I'm also all for pointing out stupid, bad, wrong science, so score one for Asimov. I also think stupid, bad, wrong science can happen in relatively good sci-fi, and relatively good works, despite the fact that, damn it, you're trying (so I get what Roddenberry is saying here). Personally, I think Star Trek has trended softer and softer over time, though the writers tried right up through the whole Klingon augment virus thing. Which is part of what made the reboot so weird, because it essentially took the characters from the original Star Trek, which tried hardest of all, and threw them into a universe like Star Wars, where nobody expects anyone to give a crap about the science. Where the science is all tropey, basically. The combination is kinda weird.

Still sci-fi. Though soft, and incidentally stupid. Stupid sci-fi.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:24 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not familiar with the stones, but I assume they allow people to communicate instantaneously over distances of several light years

Better, they allow people to swap bodies over intergalactic distances. So I am in a different galaxy and want to pop in and say hello I can swap bodies with someone on earth and come over for dinner in some random's body.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:24 PM on June 25, 2012


In fact, given that your comment is in direct response to mine, where I form my argument around the trope/convention distinction you had previously made, I am very surprised that, given your response, you seem to be saying that the soft/hard distinction correlates to the trope/convention distinction — as I was being critical of trope-centric SF and you took that as being critical of soft SF.

A correlation (or, worse, equation) to which I very strongly disagree. If anything, I think that what passes for hard science-fiction is merely tropish, where the "hard" science is window-dressing and not aesthetically functional. The hard/soft distinction is orthogonal to the trope/convention distinction, I think we both agree about that. I think that the merely tropist SF, however, is crap literature, whether it be hard or soft. Or if it's science-fantasy, for that matter.

I think that genres are distinguished by how the genre conventions function, not by their particular form (that is, within SF, space ships or technobabble or Actual Hard Science or whatever). Both soft and hard science-fiction (can) utilize science in an essential functional way. In practice, much of the distinction between hard and soft science-fiction ends up being whether it's written and read by people who think that physics is a "real science" and the social sciences are not, or not.

That's not the case with the best examples of both, because they're related to each other, similar to and different from each other, and good for different things in ways not unlike how major and minor keys are both similar and different and both exist within the context of the semitone chromatic scale.

Finally, back to the strawman thing, I'm pretty sure that I've not in this entire thread argued that something that is commonly called "science-fiction" is not really science-fiction. That is to say, you're responding to my argument as if I were making the very common cultural capital definitional distinctions about which people generally have very strong emotional investments and invariably othering some group of people. But I'm not. We can call everything science-fiction or nothing science-fiction for all I care. I stopped caring about that sort of thing, and that sort of argument, a long, long time ago. I do care, however, about what genre is, how it functions, what differentiates each genre, and how this relates to successful and unsuccessful art.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:28 PM on June 25, 2012


I'd be interested to see a series about a galactic empire trying to administer itself without FTL communications, though...

Not an exact fit, but the SF RPG Traveller posited a world where communication was no faster than the fastest FTL ship. The resulting empire was a sort of age-of-sail feudalism.

How was it that it took Picard, the captain of the federation flag ship, like 45 minutes to figure that out. I guess it is because he doesn't know he is in science fiction.

How long did it take you to figure out you're in an absurdist tragicomedy?

Took me way longer than 45 minutes.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:28 PM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Better, they allow people to swap bodies over intergalactic distances. So I am in a different galaxy and want to pop in and say hello I can swap bodies with someone on earth and come over for dinner in some random's body.

Which, when you could be watching a show about people stranded on a spaceship having space adventures but they keep popping home to see their mums and stuff, gets a bit tiresome.

Still, they used them for some cool stuff later on.

Then cancelled the show.
posted by Artw at 3:30 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, WRT the connections between Galaxy Quest and the Trek franchise itself, it's worth noting an early fan story, "Visit to a Weird Planet Revisited", in which Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley get sent via a transporter accident to the real Enterprise, complete with Shatner bullshitting his way through a confrontation with the enemy commander; it's actually a response to this story, and was published in this collection of fan fiction that featured introductions by original cast members.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:32 PM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


And they cleverly exploited that rich vein by giving her her forehead back and never mentioning any of it again.

I think this was one of the things that made me so fond of the Sarah Connor Chronicles. The bad science of the Terminator movies open up all sorts of stuff like this and never really even touch upon any of it, and it felt like the inspiration for that whole series was someone somewhere saying, "You know, there's enough character and psychology stuff to mine in the wake of Terminator 1 & 2 that you could make a whole series out of it. Also Terminator 3 sucked balls, amirite?"

I think Farscape had at least one ship powered by coal

It was actually powered by burning garbage, mainly a giant heap of alien Barbie-doll lookin' things. And it had a pull-cord to get it started, like some kind of space lawn mower.

I do love me some Farscape, but one of the key things that made it work is that every time they had to come up with some sort of ludicrous bit of technology or alien weirdness just to advance the plot, Crichton (and sometimes other characters as well) actually would give the ludicrousness an eyeroll or a headshake or an exasperated sigh.

That's one thing that gets me about hard scifi vs. soft scifi discussions. People always seem to have this idealized notion of how much people actually know and understand about the technology around them, right now. Can you fix a broken microwave oven? Could you explain a microwave oven to a 17th-century audience? I mean, for most people on this earth, if they know how to use a computer at all, their understanding of how and why it works is incredibly limited. If something goes wrong with it, they're going to be at the "well, try unplugging it and plugging it back in" level of sophistication. I've never been at all convinced that in-depth, in-detail explanations for how all the technology works hundreds of years from now are really that sensible, given that; I mean, the technology may have changed but one of the basic premises is usually that human nature is more or less the same. Given that, some gobbledygook explanation that the transporter won't work because the phase-induced transceivers were fouled up by the electromagnetic signature of the nebula, so we better take the shuttle instead, rings less true to me than O'Brien shrugging and saying "Hell if I know why it's not working, but I already tried rebooting and resetting it to defaults and it's still giving me this nonsense error message...I'll keep messing around with it but you guys should take the shuttle instead."
posted by mstokes650 at 3:34 PM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


"I've never been at all convinced that in-depth, in-detail explanations for how all the technology works hundreds of years from now are really that sensible, given that; I mean, the technology may have changed but one of the basic premises is usually that human nature is more or less the same. Given that, some gobbledygook explanation that the transporter won't work because the phase-induced transceivers were fouled up by the electromagnetic signature of the nebula, so we better take the shuttle instead, rings less true to me than O'Brien shrugging and saying 'Hell if I know why it's not working, but I already tried rebooting and resetting it to defaults and it's still giving me this nonsense error message...I'll keep messing around with it but you guys should take the shuttle instead.'"

Right. That was worth quoting at length.

That's another example of the distinction I'm trying to make between soft/hard and trope/convention.

A lot of silly stuff that is included in filmed SF, like that you mention, but also a lot of mostly accurate stuff in written hard SF, is just an ornamentation that signals to the audience "this is the sort of stuff you like" and either serves absolutely no useful purpose within the context of the work, or is actually counterproductive (as when it's just stupid stuff or when the writer mistakes being good at writing that stuff as the same as being good at writing).

And yet technology and our relationships to it is a core aspect of how science-fiction functions as a genre and therefore we have narratives about broken space drives. The space drive is important. It's important that it has some sort of verisimilitude that's related to science and technology as we know it. It's not important that we get a lesson in contemporary or future space drive technology.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:47 PM on June 25, 2012


We do seem to be picking nits, Ivan. But the unexamined attitudes here are interesting:

Star Wars, to take an extreme example, like most film and television science-fiction is really science-fantasy and, for better or worse, should be judged on those terms. Star Trek in all its versions is not as obviously fantastical, but it's closer to science-fantasy than it is to any written science-fiction which takes its science seriously at all. Not only "hard" science-fiction, but everything that isn't necessarily hard but also not obviously "soft". ST is either squarely in the soft camp, or it's implicitly more aligned with it than written mainstream and hard science-fiction.

I'd disagree with the assertion that Star Trek: TOS is more fantastical than "any written science-fiction which takes its science seriously at all." Anne McCaffrey, my favorite writer to pick on had teleporting psychic dragons, bizarrely inaccurate models of human sexuality, girls with unicorn horns coming out of their heads . . . and yet she stringently argued she was not only an SF writer but a fairly hard one who did all sorts of research and talked to all sorts of scientists. There's a lot of that kind of stuff with writers of that era, in fact, when fringe science was believed to be somehow possible. Fantastical stuff abounds. Space opera, generally, is full of woo, especially during that time period. But I don't think it's a violation between the agreement between writer and reader/viewer. It's just a mistake, or a misconception based on the shaky understanding of science of the time, or its authors would tell you that they're not that kind of SF writer, anyway.

Most importantly, I don't think this sort of "race to the bottom" in terms of science details is anything new, if we look at the broad history of the genre. Even though I would love to blame everything that's wrong with the genre today on the writers who worked on LOST.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:51 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


BTW - am I the only one who got momentarily hung up on this line from Roddenberry regarding Shatner: "Bill is a fine actor, has been in leads on Broadway, has done excellent motion pictures, is generally rated as fine an actor as we have in this country. "?

He meant Canada.

Sorry, sorry, I kid because I love.


Not even in Canada.
posted by Philofacts at 5:11 PM on June 25, 2012


I can say, however, that scientifically ignorant people who see what they're told is DNA depicted in a special effect in a film most likely do believe that they're being shown something that looks like DNA actually looks like, at least roughly."

But if you put up a computer graphic of "DNA" that looks like a swarm of little purple blobs with lots of tentacles, lots of people with even a high school education are going to say, "Wait, that doesn't look like DNA."

My point is that "not caring about the science" is really indistinguishable from just making an error.

It's no different than having a spy movie which takes place in Dubai, Saudi Arabia and saying, "Who says the geography has to be solid in a spy movie?"

"It's not a spy movie, it's an action movie. Spy movies tend to have solid geography (but not necessarily too solid), but action movies don't even care about geography, so you can have scenes set around Big Ben in Paris, Australia and no one cares.
posted by straight at 5:41 PM on June 25, 2012


Is there any fantasy or SF featuring alien races who's sense of scale is radically different from our own?

There is also the story Rough Beast by Roger Dee, as read by a much younger me in Things Hunting Men.
posted by adamdschneider at 5:44 PM on June 25, 2012


It is a stupid episode.

AND NOW WE FIGHT, FOR IT IS THE GREATEST EPISODE OF ALL THE TREKS.

double glove slap

in essence the episode is a metaphor for the story it itself tells: it can only point outside of itself to indicate what it attempts. it is the shadow of a tesseract. you can't reach higher than trying to step outside language, and culture, and genre.

I interpret the issues the linked essay points out as reflections of the structural limitations of the series, the genre, and language. The episode employs metaphors (and mixes up its vocabulary to call attention to this) in place of the actual (fictional, unvisualizable) alien words and concepts.

Darmok is a mediation on the restrictions inherent in producing televised science fiction. All those latex foreheads that Trek uses to indicate "alienness": just as much a structural metaphor, a symbol, a metaphor. A shorthand used to communicate stock concepts employed in myth.

Why didn't Picard react to the Tamaran captain's attempts to communicate with the clarity of analysis and reaction we expect? Because he is a shadow, a character in a story, and the structural requirements of the tale inhibit him from so doing.

Picard and Dathon on the telly.
posted by mwhybark at 5:56 PM on June 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


mediTAtion, goddammit. ipads make us dum.
posted by mwhybark at 5:57 PM on June 25, 2012


The Enterprise girls so one hears
have chased Spock for several years
His look of disdain
has spared them great pain
For his prick is as sharp as his ears

posted by jenkinsEar at 5:58 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


ASIMOV!
posted by mwhybark at 6:00 PM on June 25, 2012


mediTAtion, goddammit. ipads make us dum.

Nice try, but "ipads" would have been autocorrected.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:01 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


AND NOW WE FIGHT, FOR IT IS THE GREATEST EPISODE OF ALL THE TREKS.

It is one of the great episode ideas of TNG. The conceit is wonderful. The execution is deeply silly and underwhelming on the merits. I think it speaks to how solid and fun the core notion of the episode is that people still riff on it at a moment's notice all these years later, but man oh man.

Star Trek is in generally pretty seriously incurious about linguistics and Darmok stands out from the pack only in comparison to that, and only just.
posted by cortex at 6:07 PM on June 25, 2012


if i could post a self pic of me typing into the comment box on this ipad, which would include a preview of that pic and so on down into the rabbit hole, I so would.

I wonder if there was ever a saturday morning cartoon with an Asimov guest spot? Because then, we could splice him into the animated Star Trek, and that would make me laugh. Or maybe a Scooby Trek thing, that would be great too.
posted by mwhybark at 6:07 PM on June 25, 2012


Star Trek is in generally pretty seriously incurious about linguistics

well, having spawned a whole language and naming a major character after an important linguistic theorist to the side, I guess I grant that thesis.

Also, the observation applies to "logic" in the series as well. You would think a major protagonist and his whole culture having adopted something the show calls logic as their central organizing and personal tenet would lead to a guest spot for, oh, Douglas Hofstader or something at some point, but nooooo, we have to settle for Steven Hawking.
posted by mwhybark at 6:13 PM on June 25, 2012


A point for the Darmok defenders:

I swear I read somewhere that Steven Moffat was so blown away by the idea behind Darmok that it's part of what pushed him towards sci-fi. So yes, Star Trek has a connection with none other than Doctor Who.

And thus Darmok is the common ancestor to two completely different species of nerd.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:21 PM on June 25, 2012


well, having spawned a whole language and naming a major character after an important linguistic theorist to the side, I guess I grant that thesis.

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure there are folks who worked on Star Trek who are into linguistics, and the formalization of Klingon is a fun outcome, and the show does have its occasional nods to language machinery, but structurally it basically shrugs off giant swaths of potential interesting language stuff for the sake of narrative convenience.

And that's fine, it's Star Trek and not Field Linguistics Trek, but for a show that spends so much time building stories around communication and first encounters with new worlds and new civilizations, "the universal translator just works 99% of the time" is a pretty dull if understandable expedient. The idea that Darmok is the only time they'd encounter any profound difficulty with vocabulary or idiom or things like body language or intonation or other paralinguistic aspects of communication is just silly as all fuck, is all.
posted by cortex at 6:22 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I want to see Field Linguistics Trek. Six seasons and a movie.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:25 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Once you get over the muppet factor Farscape is an amazing show.
posted by Artw at 1:51 PM on 6/25


Muppets are a feature, not a bug.
posted by jb at 6:39 PM on June 25, 2012


Wasn't there a show on CBS for like three seconds about a space colony hospital that was basically ER: Starfleet? Cause that is a rock soild premise if done well.
posted by The Whelk at 6:44 PM on June 25, 2012


AND NOW WE FIGHT, FOR IT IS THE GREATEST EPISODE OF ALL THE TREKS.

It isn't so much about linguistics as it is about the difficulty of interpersonal communications. The problem was not linguistic but a problem of shared frame of reference. This is explicitly clear in the episode the metaphors employed are exclusively about shared history. A shared history that Picard does not share.

That is why Picard must stay on the planet, he must forge a shared history in order to communicate.

In a sense, when we watch trek we forge a shared history. Myths that bind us a a society. Kirk is our modern day Greek hero and Trek our modern day Greek myths. It is the story we tell that makes us who wer are.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:45 PM on June 25, 2012


You are so in luck, the Whelk.

Although that's not the show you were asking about, I think. I thought I might even be able to find a Muppet Show clip that combined Veterinarian's Hospital with Pigs in Space but nooooooo.
posted by mwhybark at 6:51 PM on June 25, 2012


...and gotta link to Sector General.
posted by mwhybark at 6:53 PM on June 25, 2012


The problem was not linguistic but a problem of shared frame of reference.

I would argue that the episode is largely about Holy Shit Look How Dumb Riker Is, What The Fuck Dude, Come The Fuck On We're Basically Shouting At The TV Here

And also Picard knife-fighting with a cool space-dino
posted by Greg Nog at 7:50 PM on June 25, 2012


cortex: " Don't get me wrong, I'm sure there are folks who worked on Star Trek who are into linguistics, and the formalization of Klingon is a fun outcome, and the show does have its occasional nods to language machinery, but structurally it basically shrugs off giant swaths of potential interesting language stuff for the sake of narrative convenience.

See Hoshi, from Star Trek: Enterprise. The show took place before the universal translator had been perfected, (at the beginning of the series, it doesn't really work at all,) so the ship's communications officer had to be a xenolinguistics expert. Her character was teaching linguistics in Brazil in the pilot, and gave up that job to join the crew. They had a number of scenes in various episodes that showed her learning or practicing languages with the crew, or translating for the captain with prisoners, diplomats or on away missions.

She could have been an interesting character, and I always thought it a shame they didn't explore her further. (See also, virtually every other character and most if not all of the plot and story lines raised throughout the series.) By any metric, she was absolutely the wrong person to take into space. She was claustrophobic, afraid of being on a starship, easily upset and flustered, and introverted. So you'd have a scene where the captain demanded she translate a language she'd only just been exposed to, and she would get flustered and have trouble performing.

It was mentioned that she spent at least part of her time on board the ship working on programming the universal translator itself, and her field work would eventually result in her being credited as someone who was primarily responsible for its development.
posted by zarq at 7:57 PM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I should totally give Enterprise another chance. But that
theme song
! By the time I got over that, I'd missed the whole first act!
posted by mwhybark at 9:42 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I watched the whole first season of it when it was first on Netflix. I've heard it gets better, but it really just felt to me like Voyager 2.0, for better or for worse.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:49 PM on June 25, 2012


By the time I got over that, I'd missed the whole first act!

You can get through it. I believe in you. Because you've got strength of the heart.
posted by cortex at 10:08 PM on June 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


Apparently it got really in depth Trek nerdy with timelines and time travel and such but it also doesn't seem to be very ....good, so ....yeah.
posted by The Whelk at 10:08 PM on June 25, 2012


Enterprise is largely not worth the bother with the exception of the utterly fantastic Mirror Universe episodes.
posted by Artw at 10:13 PM on June 25, 2012


You can get through it. I believe in you. Because you've got strength of the heart.

Another bonus of the Mirror Universe episodes - they don't have that fucking song.

CONTROVERSIAL OPINION: The firefly theme is just as bad if not worse.
posted by Artw at 10:14 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


OK, if we're going to talk about vastly underappreciated Trek stuff, let's talk about "Spock's Brain", which used to get voted the worst episode ever by the sort of overserious Trekkie that insisted on being called a Trekker. It's really a devilishly clever mash-up of a parody of the sort of stagnant-alien-society-taken-over-by-computer-overlord episode that Star Trek did several times, and some decently interesting ideas (a two-state solution to the battle of the sexes, what you could describe as a "cerebrocracy", and downloading any number of knowledge/skill sets directly into your mind--from advanced brain surgery to interstellar brain-napping--for as long as you needed it), wrapped up in about the goofiest premise imaginable. And it gave us the classic line, "Brain and brain! What is brain?" What's not to like?
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:19 PM on June 25, 2012


CONTROVERSIAL OPINION: The firefly theme is just as bad if not worse.

Eh, context matters. The Firefly theme was written by the show creator for a standalone series with no history to prop it up; the Enterprise theme was a retread of Diane Warren song employed as the combo breaker for a long-running franchise with a history of grand orchestral themes.

Even if they're musically comparable on the merits (and I'm not really invested in arguing otherwise), the practical differences of the one vs. the other as creative decisions in the context of their respective shows are awfully significant. One's auteurism for good and for bad, the other's a straight colossal fuckup.
posted by cortex at 10:30 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I may actually have watched the first two seasons of the show at broadcast, I forget. I remember being aware that the scripts were intended to address the excessive handwavium that demolished Voyager and in general appreciating the actors' performances. But I for sure could never buy the Vulcans as the bad guys, as canon-historical-viewpointish as that may be. And then I just kinda drifted away. As happened with Voyager and DS9. Sigh.
posted by mwhybark at 10:37 PM on June 25, 2012


The amber universe has a star trek series about the academy with a theme by dusty springfield.
posted by The Whelk at 10:37 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Amber? Zelazny? Because get out your trump, The Whelk, and look at my picture. I'll be right over!
posted by mwhybark at 10:40 PM on June 25, 2012


unless you mean this.
posted by mwhybark at 10:42 PM on June 25, 2012


The firefly theme is just as bad if not worse.

Well, yes, but at least it's a gay marriage anthem.

I don't care, I'm still free, you can't take this guy from me.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:44 PM on June 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


more important than a solid foundation is that the universe is both internally consistent

Which brings up the fact that not enough good stories have been set in alternate universes. Where other rules may apply.

There's a sorry, sorry lack of such stories that have been identified as such. I, for one, really appreciate stories where a line of gophers can walk away from a new stargate they've built with a swagger, carrying lunchboxes. I'll gladly fill in so the author doesn't have to explain down to the quark level how the gophers can do that.
posted by Twang at 10:50 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry, that should have been goddamn quark level.
posted by Twang at 10:52 PM on June 25, 2012


Is there any fantasy or SF featuring alien races who's sense of scale is radically different from our own?

Before Olaf Stapledon you mean?
posted by Twang at 11:09 PM on June 25, 2012


Ha, two rodents with one cite, Twang: unexplained universe rules AND scale issues.

Stuart Little.

Make that two cites!

Ratatouille.
posted by mwhybark at 11:28 PM on June 25, 2012


running order squabble fest: I'd be interested to see a series about a galactic empire trying to administer itself without FTL communications, though...

Ad hominem: Is there any fantasy or SF featuring alien races who's sense of scale is radically different from our own?

This might be what you're looking for. A convincing picture is painted by Vinge of what non-FTL space travel and communication does to familiar (linear) concepts like age, time and location (just to name a few). Added bonus: smart dust, human grid computing and culture clash.
posted by mbn at 5:11 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


mwhybark: "I may actually have watched the first two seasons of the show at broadcast, I forget. I remember being aware that the scripts were intended to address the excessive handwavium that demolished Voyager and in general appreciating the actors' performances. But I for sure could never buy the Vulcans as the bad guys, as canon-historical-viewpointish as that may be. And then I just kinda drifted away. As happened with Voyager and DS9. Sigh."

The third season of Enterprise was decent. The writers created a season-long arc that gave the show a darker, more DS9 feel and took it out of single-episode format. The arc showed the crew and ship being pushed to their emotional and physical limits, similar to the excellent two-part Voyager episode Year of Hell, only without a giant reset button at the end. Enterprise was so idealistic -- all the Star Treks were, so episodes which placed the characters in dark situations were often a refreshing change. Some of DS9's best episodes explored these themes. Same with TNG. In poll after poll, the "There. Are. Four. Lights!" episode of TNG ranks near the top of fan favorites.

Deep Space Nine doesn't become watchable until the fifth season, really. There were just a handful of stand-out episodes in the first four seasons. Fans would have had to stick with the show for four or five seasons in order to be rewarded, and I suspect most probably didn't bother. And it wasn't a coincidence that the show improved greatly after the galaxy was plunged into war.

The two-part alternate universe episode in Enterprise season 4 was the best of the entire series. And even then, part one was better than part two. The writers essentially took an episode from TOS -- The Tholian Web -- and said, "So the Defiant disappears in front of Kirk's eyes, and we don't know where it went. What if it were taken into the mirror universe by the Tholians, and then brought back in time?" The nod to continuity was kinda stunning, really. Not only is it a direct sequel to an episode of the show that aired in 1968(!) but they bring back the Tholians and at least one other alien race from TOS that we haven't really seen since. We get to see the crew of the Enterprise NX-01 on the bridge of the Defiant, which looks just like the TOS Enterprise. But above all else, the actors got to break out and chew the scenery.
posted by zarq at 5:13 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


But I for sure could never buy the Vulcans as the bad guys, as canon-historical-viewpointish as that may be.

I'm not sure it was ever canon-established. The idea that first contact was with the Vulcans was only popular fanwank until First Contact.

AC Crispin's Sarek has a much better account of early Vulcan's diplomatic relations with humanity. Spock's World by Diane Duane is also pretty good in exploring that relationship.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:13 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


mbn: " This might be what you're looking for. A convincing picture is painted by Vinge of what non-FTL space travel and communication does to familiar (linear) concepts like age, time and location (just to name a few). Added bonus: smart dust, human grid computing and culture clash."

So high, so low, so many things to know.

Man, I loved that book. Engrossing. Smart, believable, deep characters and cultures. Plus to anyone who read Fire Upon the Deep and made the meta connections... that ending. Fantastic.
posted by zarq at 7:16 AM on June 26, 2012


Brains may come and go, but Rock and Roll is forever.

/ seen on a greeting care in my local SF shop c1991
posted by jb at 7:21 AM on June 26, 2012


*greeting card
posted by jb at 7:21 AM on June 26, 2012


the Enterprise theme was a retread of Diane Warren song employed as the combo breaker for a long-running franchise with a history of grand orchestral themes.

it was jarring to me at first, but after a bit it really grew on me -- largely because of the way that it fit with the historical images of the history (and future history) of flight, which gave me goosebumps. It was a break from the tradition, but a good one.

But the show was only good/okay, and I was at a point in my life where I only watched 1-2 hours of tv a week, so those hours had to be better than good/okay, so Enterprise is the first Star Trek that I didn't even watch a whole season of.

As for Firefly's theme song - it worked with the tone of the show really well - but Joss Whedon is a better songwriter than he is a singer.
posted by jb at 7:28 AM on June 26, 2012


it was jarring to me at first, but after a bit it really grew on me -- largely because of the way that it fit with the historical images of the history (and future history) of flight, which gave me goosebumps. It was a break from the tradition, but a good one.

American flight, you mean. Grr. The whole thing seemed so contrary to Roddenberry's vision
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:49 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Which brings up the fact that not enough good stories have been set in alternate universes. Where other rules may apply...I, for one, really appreciate stories where a line of gophers can walk away from a new stargate they've built with a swagger, carrying lunchboxes.

Would you settle for a universe where sea mollusks have created an advanced land-based society with wholly inappropriate bipedal keyboards*? (And no, I'm not talking about octopi trying to pass as humans.)

*guaranteed to exist!
posted by straight at 8:23 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


American flight, you mean. Grr. The whole thing seemed so contrary to Roddenberry's vision
posted by PhoBWanKenobi An hour ago [2 favorites +]


I never noticed that, but then I don't know much about the history of flight.

That said, I wasn't going to get upset at that, considering that every single human character in TNG except Picard seemed to be from the former USA. Even Riker was supposed to be from Alaska - really? You couldn't have gone for a little diversity by making him from BC?
posted by jb at 9:03 AM on June 26, 2012


Tasha Yar was Ukrainian. Worf was raised by a Russian couple. Geordi La Forge was from the African Confederation.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:12 AM on June 26, 2012


Riker was the Kirk analog and hence American, not the Shatner analog and hence not Canadian. You don't want to piss off the Illuminati by blowing that subtlety.
posted by cortex at 9:16 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


And Picard was from Picardy, of course. But they still all speak late 20th century American Television English. Except when they don't.
posted by lodurr at 9:19 AM on June 26, 2012


(and really, would we want all these things fixed? then we'd have to find something else to complain about.)
posted by lodurr at 9:20 AM on June 26, 2012


Don't forget Miles O'Brien (Ireland) and Doctor Crusher (THE MOON!).
posted by Atreides at 9:32 AM on June 26, 2012


ITYM Bill "Sheleighleigh" O'Brien.
posted by cortex at 9:33 AM on June 26, 2012


damnit we need to make Its Always Sunny In Engineering happen.
posted by The Whelk at 9:36 AM on June 26, 2012


Don't forget Miles O'Brien (Ireland)

Who married Keiko Ishikawa (Japan).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:46 AM on June 26, 2012


I thought Tasha Yar was from the really violent, poor colony?
posted by jb at 9:49 AM on June 26, 2012


She was, but she was also of Ukrainian descent. A Ukrainian-Turkanian, if you will.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:52 AM on June 26, 2012


PhoB: I'm not sure it was ever canon-established.

In Enterprise, the Earth regards the Vulcans with suspicion due to imbalance of power issues, which is a call-forward to McCoy and other TOS characters' Vulcan and Romulan racism. In addition, the Vulcans are shown to be up to various Great Game chicaneries, establishing them as untrustworthy within the series viewpoint. Which, OK, whatevs, I follow the worldbuilding. BUT I DO NOT EMBRACE IT!

Diane Duane, wow, that's a name from my adolescent paperback reading past! Hm, I wonder if there's some otaku website that catalogs all the pre TNG-era licensed fiction and fictionalizations?

I used to have about every licensed TOS Bantam and Ballantine paperback published between about 1965 and 1985, including both the Blish and Foster series adaptations. I wasn't allowed much TV as a kid so those books generally pre-exist the broadcast versions for me.

Spock Must Die and Spock, Messiah stand out, but there were some other titles I recall fondly, like the fanfic anthology New Voyages (the first volume of which included a story that appears to me to be the inspiration for Galaxy Quest). Abandonded when I came west on the wagon train, alas.

zarq, you and Art are selling me on checking that Enterprise mirror universe stuff out. Especially now that all the Treks are available as free streaming everywhere! I had to put the kibosh on just keeping them running all day in a window on my machine, since I work from home.
posted by mwhybark at 1:15 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read some of those books, too, and the only one I remember is the one where Spock is on Romulus and the whole connection between the Vulcans and Romulons is explored. I was sad that it didn't become canonized. Were those Vulcan/Spock books Diane Duane?
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:47 PM on June 26, 2012


In Enterprise, the Earth regards the Vulcans with suspicion due to imbalance of power issues, which is a call-forward to McCoy and other TOS characters' Vulcan and Romulan racism. In addition, the Vulcans are shown to be up to various Great Game chicaneries, establishing them as untrustworthy within the series viewpoint. Which, OK, whatevs, I follow the worldbuilding. BUT I DO NOT EMBRACE IT!

Oh, yeah, I get that it's in Enterprise and that it contextualizes Bones' racism, but it wasn't canon-confirmed until then.

I read some of those books, too, and the only one I remember is the one where Spock is on Romulus and the whole connection between the Vulcans and Romulons is explored. I was sad that it didn't become canonized. Were those Vulcan/Spock books Diane Duane?

I think that's Spock's World, but there area whole buncha Vulcan books exploring that theme So it's hard to say. They all kind of run-together in my mind.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:05 PM on June 26, 2012


Its Always Sunny In Engineering

I'm booked this season on Strangers but I could probably do some pitches.
posted by mwhybark at 4:25 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


These scripts are flabby - we need Peggy Olsen!
posted by Artw at 4:32 PM on June 26, 2012


Not that Algonquin bore, no sense of humor.
posted by The Whelk at 5:11 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


A Starfleet officer, court martialed and demoted for political reasons, is put in charge of the unruly Engineering And Maintenance division on the legacy ship "Lightingbug" which is mostly made up of other demoted officers and press ganged techs who do whatever it takes to ensure they enver have to do any engineering or maintenance on the ship.
posted by The Whelk at 5:27 PM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's Always Sunny in Engineering, bible notes

All the characters are redshirts. Mac and Charlie are dilithium techs and wear orange coveralls. Dee and Dennis rarely appear in coveralls because they are constantly trying to get reassigned out of Engineering. Occasionally Mac will impersonate a security ensign and will inevitably get busted.

Frank's role varies. He is nominally the third-shift deck supervisor for the impulse engine maintenance unit but according to him was responsible for many aspects of the ship's construction at Utopia Planitia, from overseeing blueprints to choosing subcontractors. Thus, whenever a crucial subsystem fails, Frank claims to have intimate and superior knowledge of the ways in which the subsystem was compromised to his profitable benefit. In general, he will seek to leverage this knowledge to his benefit in various blackmail schemes apparently fronted by one of the other four characters.
posted by mwhybark at 5:56 PM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Charlie regularly discovers new ways to turn dilithium into some sort of drug, which Frank usually confiscates and probably sells.

There is no 10-Forward on Constitution-class ships, but this is resolved when Frank somehow jimmies the computer's deck records to secretly commandeer the bowling alley on deck 21.

Charlie often feigns illness in order to spend time in Sickbay, where he can creep out The Nurse.
posted by mwhybark at 6:30 PM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Holodeck abuse.

Really, really awful holodeck abuse.
posted by The Whelk at 8:41 PM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Traumatized holohorses, hardlight projectors ensconced due to Charlie's savant wizardry, roam the decks.
posted by mwhybark at 9:25 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dee learns an ex-classmate from the Academy, well, not the Academy exactly, more like night charm school, will be on temporary assignment to the ship. The classmate doesn't remember her and denies ever attending galactic night charm school, so Dee and Mac beat up the classmate while wearing terrible Klingon disguises. The classmate accidentally dies, and Frank spaces the body through the bowling alley's forgotten photon torpedo tubes.

Charlie discovers that the "classmate" was actually some sort of spy or clone or something.
posted by mwhybark at 9:46 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dee is replaced with a spy robot double for like a month and no one notices. She's really upset about that after she breaks free and gets back.
posted by The Whelk at 10:19 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


If nothing else, "Darmok" gets a pass because it produced this.

Enterprise and Voyager are both pretty high up there in terms of crappiness; as a native of the Metro Detroit area, seeing Detroit with mountains in the background of an ENT episode did not do a lot for my opinion of the show. However, I think VOY has a slight lead on ENT for sheer awfulness; it managed to produce these episodes.
posted by dhens at 10:28 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Trying to get over how upset she is about being replaced for a month by Cee, Dee goes to the Engineering counselor and is amazed to learn that the counselor is Rickety Cricket! Things go rapidly downhill. Eventually Frank intervenes.
posted by mwhybark at 10:57 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Charlie and Mac become convinced that the ship is not really a starship at all, but instead a full-scale replica built at Fremont Street in Vegas. Dennis and Dee think that's retarded as shit. Frank goes to great lengths to demonstrate to Charlie and Mac that they really are on a spaceship.

At the very end of the episode there's a three-second hard cut to Frank partying in Vegas, laughing maniacally and starting to climb onto a dabo table.
posted by mwhybark at 11:54 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Charlie gets a letter in which it is explained that he and his entire family (of whom he knows nothing), as Negrons, are to be shipped back to Kakazaa in a goodwill gesture on the part of the Federation. Frank is totally blasé about this and uses it to get Charlie to sparkle the head. Charlie actually finds it hard to do this because he is so upset. While weeping in the stall, he overhears Dennis and Dee discussing how horrible Frank's plan is, using a fake letter like that. What's worse, Frank hasn't detailed Charlie to clean their quarters at all!

Mac, meanwhile, is outraged by the plan and spends the episode booby-trapping Engineering. All the traps fail in badass pratfalls.
posted by mwhybark at 12:10 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


However, I think VOY has a slight lead on ENT for sheer awfulness; it managed to produce these episodes.

I don't know. Despite the baby salamanders, Voyager held on for seven seasons and Enterprise was axed after four. Voyager had some really bad eps and some occasional good ones, but it was fun. Enterprise was just lame and boring. There was a lot of potential with Voyager. But with Enterprise, there was nothing. It was a boring rehash of things earlier treks had done better. Voyager was trying, and they failed abysmally sometimes (hello Salamanders), but at least they tried.

First episode of Enterprise, heard the theme song at noped right out of there. But I couldn't stay away, and every time I checked it out, something lame was going on:

Decontamination - worst fan service ever. But will give slight props for half naked dude as well as half naked woman.
Vulcans are jerks - Never seen that before. But way to go, making all of them jerks.
Temporal Cold War - you didn't get enough time travel with Voyager and First Contact?
AIDS from mind melding - Oookay.
Cogenitor - is interesting because every other Captain would've granted the character asylum or revolutionized the alien society to give the third gender rights. I mean they violated the Prime Directive all the time. Enterprise doesn't even have one so what's with showing Archer as a cold-hearted douchebag who rips into Trip for being nice to a alien who wasn't even allowed to have a name?
Going back in time to fight Nazi's - how incredibly original. At least TOS had their own Nazi planet, no time travel needed.
Vulcan Civil War - I liked the idea of Vulcans falling off the Surak wagon and having to get back on. I would've preferred if it had been Vulcan vs Vulcan instead of Romulan infiltrators and if T'Pau had gotten Surak's katra, but you take what you can get.
That crap with the Orions - Nooo! That's not how slavery works. There is no such thing as fake slavery.
Series Finale aka Holodeck Time with Troi and Riker - No thanks.

But really, no one watches Stark Trek for the plots. It's appeal is character, character relationships and what allegorical planet are they going to orbit next week. Voyager was way better on that character front than Enterprise. My watching was sporadic but I never found the Enterprise characters engaging in either or love them or love to hate them way. It's just me. T'Pols arc looks kind of interesting on wikipedia, but not enough to actually watch it.
posted by nooneyouknow at 1:58 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why no Q on the Enterprise? He was on DS9 and Voyager.
posted by nooneyouknow at 2:02 AM on June 27, 2012


According to the series canon, the Federation didn't meet Q until TNG. Enterprise took place before even the original series.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:04 AM on June 27, 2012


But really, no one watches Stark Trek for the plots.

Call me weird, but I really do notice it quite a lot when they half ass it on the plots and object to that.
posted by Artw at 6:25 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


That was a great breakdown, nooneyouknow....but sadly, I read it and it and immediately felt, "Some more stuff is missing..."

A really good Trek (any series) episode combined a great plot with great characterizations and an interesting allegorical message. It could also get by with two of those three things. When an episode had only one of those...that one aspect has to be freakin' amazing to pull it off.

Enterprise, for me, was just four seasons of almost getting good. It had its moments, but in wonderful maneuvers, managed to undermine established Trek canon out of lazy writing.
posted by Atreides at 6:55 AM on June 27, 2012


Tuvix was a pretty terrible episode but I liked that they didn't stick the ending with a happy handwave but just ended it with a dull, unhappy thud. Janeway, faced with an impossible dilemma—prioritize the wishes of a living breathing sentient Tuvix being before her, or the presumed wishes of the two gone-but-retrievable crew members destroyed in the accident that gave Tuvix life—handles it with aplomb saying "okay, kill the new guy". Roll credits.

Star Trek loves to stick trolley problems into the script and then abort before the awful choice actually has to get made by inserting some sort of deus ex machina to keep the crew and the continuity happy. Tuvix is neat as episodes go if only because it ends with the trolley bearing right on down the tracks and Janeway standing there holding the switch and, at the last minute, going ahead and throwing it. Rosy.

If nothing else, seeing "Ronald D. Moore" in the credits on that episode draws a nice straight line to the tone of BSG.
posted by cortex at 8:41 AM on June 27, 2012


The final minutes of Tuvix are up there and the most uncomfortable/awkward moments of Star Trek in general. The whole premise sounds like it started off as a joke and then it took a rather dark turn.


If nothing else, seeing "Ronald D. Moore" in the credits on that episode draws a nice straight line to the tone of BSG.

Are you saying Janeway is a cylon?!
posted by Atreides at 8:51 AM on June 27, 2012


One thing about all the space-based shows: with the exception of BSG and maybe SGU* they're all heavily rooted in the days of shows all being standalones which reset everything at the end. It would be interesting to see what happens now TV is all about serial stories.

*which, as noted, would mash the reset button like a motherfucker.
posted by Artw at 9:03 AM on June 27, 2012


There was a Next Generation episode (Starship Mine)where the ship was docked and scheduled to be cleaned by some tech the tech radiation. Picard made a quick return to the ship to grab his freaking riding saddle and discovered some terrorist/mercenary group was aboard the ship. Conflict ensues. And at the very end Picard blows the last surviving mercenary's shuttle to smithereens. It was cold and lovely.
posted by Ber at 9:04 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


And Tuvok (okay, fine, Tim Russ) was in that episode! It was as weird as that early X-Files episode where Krycek wasn't Krycek yet.
posted by cortex at 9:09 AM on June 27, 2012


And at the very end Picard blows the last surviving mercenary's shuttle to smithereens. It was cold and lovely.

To be fair, it was more of a sabotage than an active command/decision to blow up a fleeing shuttle.

Though, he does get very cold when dealing with the Borg...almost. In "I, Borg" (I believe?) he's ready to infect a drone with a computer code that would essentially result in genocide of the Borg race. He ultimately is convinced by his crew to go with the dangerous weapon of "individuality," but interestingly, that decision does result in some negative blow back on him in a later episode.
posted by Atreides at 9:14 AM on June 27, 2012


My god did that episode frustrate hell out of me as a kid. I guess it's The same decision the Doctor made in Genocide of the Daleks but it makes far less sense to me.

Modern Dr. Who would have genocided the fucks.
posted by Artw at 9:17 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Genesis of the Daleks, that is.
posted by Artw at 9:17 AM on June 27, 2012


Modern Dr. Who would have genocided the fucks.

With the live action Trek series under my belt (taking a break before I venture into TAS), I've turned to the modern Dr. Who series. I just watched "The Family of Blood." The Doctor's vicious reprisal for the trouble the Blood family caused was chillingly cold hearted. After the episode previously established that these bad guys would simply die soon enough, the Doctor turns around and basically places each of the four family members into eternal hells. They had sought his essence to live forever, but in a monkey's paw like turn around, he gave them eternal life to suffer for the death and pain they had caused. COLD AS ICE.

You have two shows created in the 1960s which have to a degree, come to symbolize a nation's premier serialized science fiction television shows. The difference between how the two have evolved to the present is fascinating.
posted by Atreides at 9:57 AM on June 27, 2012


Worth asking who the narrator is on that episode, mind.
posted by Artw at 9:59 AM on June 27, 2012


One thing about all the space-based shows: with the exception of BSG and maybe SGU* they're all heavily rooted in the days of shows all being standalones which reset everything at the end. It would be interesting to see what happens now TV is all about serial stories.

Did Babylon 5 not play in your universe? Babylon 5 (1994-1999) was more serial than series, and always intended to be so; some even accuse ST:DS9 of stealing the arc format for its later (and often more-praised) seasons. And, of course, predates most of the non-SF serial shows.

Farscape (1999-2003) and Firefly (2002) are both more properly described as arc-based rather than serials (many episodes standalones, but some season-long plot elements and DEFINITELY no reset button - as Farscape uses wonderfully/horribly with John's growing trauma over the four years). Firefly, of course, comes from the creator of one of the first (and best) arc-based tv shows, Buffy.

Other arc-y shows (of varying quality): SG1, Lexx, Crusade (following B5), Andromeda...

Outside of the ST universe, there have been lots of space-based serials/arc-shows.

Everyone knows that BSG was just an attempt to jump on the B5/Farscape/Firefly bandwagon - they stole the politics and seriousness (and the habit of calling the show by its acronym) from B5, and the gritty realism of space from Firefly (Moore tried to claim that he was the first person to show a toilet in space, when BSG did so YEARS after Firefly, and didn't even show the toilet bowl like Firefly but wimped out ST-style by showing just stalls). From Farscape, they stole ....the wandering? Maybe the good acting - whether muppets or humans, the performers on Farscape were brilliant, especially Ben Browder. I usually hate the "American everyman" characters, but he is such a good actor I was in awe (especially as the series went on). I like BSG, but ground-breaking it was not.
posted by jb at 11:11 AM on June 27, 2012


/shrugs.

Those are mostly episodic shows with an arc attached, so in Firefly you had little drops of plot stuff re:River dropped in at random every so often, like in The X Files they'd get the odd nugget of the deeper mystery but it's basically a procedural, but in what's pretty much the modern day equivalent, Fringe, the procedural stuff takes a back seat and it's all about the broader story. BSG was more Fringe than X-Files.

With Babylon 5 you have a point though. JMS actually DID have a plan...
posted by Artw at 11:17 AM on June 27, 2012


I would contend that Whedon did indeed have a plan for Firefly as well. It might have not been the arc that B5 had (an arc that was worthy of a doorstop of a space opera novel) but it was a five-year plan. Yet another reason why, when the revolution comes, the second group brought before the firing squad will had some execs from Fox TV.
posted by Ber at 11:29 AM on June 27, 2012


Well, a lot of what they would have had has come out in other media, like the conclusion to the whole River thing in Serenity (which, fun though that film was, was ultimately a bit disappointing with the whole pacification scheme that turned out to be the driver of her story) and the Book reveal in the comics. From that i think a second season would probbaly have been pretty similar to the first - a few nuggets dropped here and there and a few of the threads that had been set up getting resolved, but all largely standalone.
posted by Artw at 11:38 AM on June 27, 2012


jb: " Everyone knows that BSG was just an attempt to jump on the B5/Farscape/Firefly bandwagon - they stole the politics and seriousness (and the habit of calling the show by its acronym) from B5, and the gritty realism of space from Firefly (Moore tried to claim that he was the first person to show a toilet in space, when BSG did so YEARS after Firefly, and didn't even show the toilet bowl like Firefly but wimped out ST-style by showing just stalls).

Firefly was not a tale of how a civilization survives despite an apocalyptic war. The stories are not equivalent. It's more likely that BSG took thematic elements from many "terrestrial" war movies, rather than fromscience fiction sources.

The point was that BSG took all of those elements -- and quite a few others -- and made a unique show out of them. Other shows had done sleeper agents. And shaky-cam. And alcoholics / drug addicts. And space battles. And gritty realism. And populations tuning on each other and screwing each other over when pushed to the breaking point. But BSG combined them all into something new. What emerged from it was not a rehashing of any one show, or all of them put together. It was unique to that series.

From Farscape, they stole ....the wandering?

The original Battlestar Galactica had a show with a search for Earth decades before Farscape. It wasn't copied from Farscape. It's a common enough scifi trope.

Maybe the good acting

Edward James Olmos is an Emmy and Golden Globe winner (and has been nominated for an Oscar) with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Mary McDonnell has been nominated for Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globe awards.

They didn't copy "good acting" from Farscape. That's just silly.
posted by zarq at 11:47 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


It should be noted that Moore gave an epic, unhappy, pre-BSG exit interview after getting bounced from Trek. I'm not sure if he addresses how he was clearly responding to B5's competitive pressure in DS9 in the interview, but given the tone of his remarks it seems fair to say that BSG represents (at least at first) a classic example of revenge-seeking excellence. BSG was about sticking it to Trek, not B5.

I think this is based on the interview, but haven't viewed it in sufficient detail to be sure. The original transcripts used to be available in full deep in the bowels of the Cinescape website, but they've changed publishers and CMSes a couple times since then, so I think it's gone now.

Speaking of B5, have they ever gotten an HD release rolling? I remember hearing how their asset management lost the original CGI model data.
posted by mwhybark at 1:23 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've listened to commentaries for Farscape, BSG, and Firefly. For each one, someone describes how they tried to distinguish their series from Star Trek. That is one hell of a long shadow.
posted by RobotHero at 2:46 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


They didn't copy "good acting" from Farscape. That's just silly.
posted by zarq 8 hours ago [+]


I was half-joking. Only half, because it did annoy me how Moore pretended like there was ST and BSG and no other television SF in the whole universe. B5, Farscape and Firefly were some brilliant SF tv, and no one should be working in SF tv without being familiar with them and acknowledging what they did.
posted by jb at 8:27 PM on June 27, 2012


Modern Dr. Who would have genocided the fucks.

9th Doctor would have at one point, but he got past it. 10th Doctor's ruthlessness is not exactly genocide. What strikes me about the modern Doctors (9-11) is that they will actually articulate a moral choice (well, I don't think 11 does, but that's because it would sound really goofy coming out of Matt Smith): 'I'm giving you the option [which we and presumably he know they won't take*] to not do this bad thing, and if you choose that option I'll help you, else, did I mention I'm THE DOCTOR?'

--
*Just once I'd like to see them take him up on it. Meed a cadre of rogue Daleks and give them the chance to back down, they think it over and say 'YES WE WANT YOU TO HELP US LIVE PEACE-FULL-LY. AND PER-HAPS PLANT CROPS. GER-MI-NATE! GER-MI-NATE!'
posted by lodurr at 7:33 AM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Farscape and Firefly were some brilliant SF tv, and no one should be working in SF tv without being familiar with them and acknowledging what they did.

I really have no idea what form this would take.

Also COWBOY BEBOP 4-EVAR!
posted by Artw at 7:42 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


The conceit is wonderful. The execution is deeply silly and underwhelming on the merits.

It's basically a planet of hats.

It's just that language is their hat.
posted by gauche at 9:14 AM on June 28, 2012


It's not even an untranslatable language, it's just that the aliens have the fantastically annoying habit of making really obscure allusions all the time.

Like the worst kind of SF nerd.
posted by Artw at 12:41 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


That would be such a gimme of a short video parody. Just set it in a comics shop or a mall food court or something, a couple of guys just emoting callbacks at each other.

"Mal and Jeyne, at the airlock."
"The Doctor, his TARDIS stolen!"
"Dawn, when Buffy fell..."
posted by cortex at 1:31 PM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Mal and Jeyne, at the airlock."
"The Doctor, his TARDIS stolen!"
"Dawn, when Buffy fell..."


Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:38 PM on June 28, 2012


/urge to kill rising.
posted by Artw at 1:41 PM on June 28, 2012


Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel.

I assume that's how one starts such a conversation?
posted by Atreides at 2:12 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Really once I start thinking about it the idea of proper nouns flumouxing their handwavium translators gets sillier and sillier - or languages are full of nouns that have gone through transformations of meaning to be expressions of more gneral concepts - would they be untranslatable too?
posted by Artw at 3:37 PM on June 28, 2012


[BAD] [PROPER GIRL'S NAME] at the airlock.
[HONORIFIC] [PHYSICIAN], his [VEHICLE] stolen!
[EARLY MORNING] when [PROPER GIRL'S NAME] fell...
[PROPER SURNAME] and [UNKNOWN NAME] at [PROPER NAME]

Makes for some riveting television, doesn't it? :D
posted by zarq at 3:42 PM on June 28, 2012


Yeah, no, totally. It's bizarrely silly. Languages are full of idiom and context-driven meaning and shit that does not translate straight across. The idea that that would not be a constant problem is pretty silly on the face of it.

But by any reasonable accounting the Universal Translator itself is a very silly idea. Not because it works at all (as an extrapolation of existing machine translation tech there's no reason it could be pretty solid a few hundred years down the road), but because it works so flawlessly and transparently and via brainwave woo woo. A UT that did a reasonably good job of translating known languages mostly in close to real time, and a xenolinguistics team with a computer-aided toolset for working on all the failure points, would make for a much more interesting set of stories, language-wise.

(And there's a whole universe of interesting problems and solutions that come from the idea that a broad swath of space-faring sentient races across the galaxy would all have grappled, together or in isolation, with the problem of communication; think of all the neat galacto-political issues that could come into formalizing and regularizing lingua franca, translation databases and dictionaries and encyclopedias, working out first-contact procedures for the no-common-language situations likely to arise, and so on and so on.)

But the audience for space dramas and adventure shows is understandably a whole lot bigger than the audience for linguistics procedurals. It's throwing a lot of friction into the writing and shooting process if every exchange has to be mediated, and imperfectly, by a computerized translator. Shit gets a whole lot less quippy.
posted by cortex at 3:50 PM on June 28, 2012


I accept the UT sort of like I accept FTL. If I previously had a problem with the UT, that objection went out the window when I watched the first three episodes of Stargate SG-1. That everyone just mysteriously spoke English drove me nuts until I finally got over it.

Farscape did it best, in my opinion. Maybe Doctor Who, as well. In both cases, we're told that there's something that is altering everyone's brain function to achieve the translation. In Farscape, we (the audience) have the benefit of hearing everyone's gibberish until Crichton is injected with the translator microbes, at which point everyone is magically speaking English. But we know they're not and, moreover, we know that what each person hears is different (assuming they don't have the same native language, and maybe even then). It doesn't really matter if, say, the proper nouns are the same because they're entirely consistent. DW is most believable because, well, near-omniscient-time-vortex-TARDIS-thingie.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:59 PM on June 28, 2012


So basically it woks better the more you just acknowledge it's handwavey magic nonsense and just get on with other things.
posted by Artw at 4:04 PM on June 28, 2012


Yeah, mostly. Pretty much like most of this stuff. Make it actually scientifically plausible, or make it magic (Clarke-style).
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:06 PM on June 28, 2012


My favorite part of Virtual Light was the computerized on-the-fly voice translator for business calls that works juuuust enough so people used it but didn't understand idioms and accents enough to make it awkward and all conversation had to be in this really clear, silted, dry style.
posted by The Whelk at 4:08 PM on June 28, 2012


Working with offshore teams can sometimes be a lot like that...
posted by Artw at 4:10 PM on June 28, 2012


Actually, I think some of the very first Stargate SG-1 episodes started off with individuals not speaking English and Daniel translating. That ended pretty quickly.

Enterprise actually had a bit more of a "translate this on the spot human!" aspect to it, but made up for it by making the linguist this side of a genius/prodigy/super expert ("Hoshi" - Japanese for Star - how clever!). In short, the UT wasn't 100% reliable so every now and then Hoshi jumped in to translate. One episode actually played up the stress she felt as she couldn't translate alien speech.

I think I prefer the Farscape solution, as well. It was a nice touch when the gang made it to Earth and the humans only heard the native tongues of the different characters, versus the English translation Crichton heard.
posted by Atreides at 6:29 PM on June 28, 2012


Plus everyone has a Spacestralian accent.
posted by Artw at 6:31 PM on June 28, 2012


It beat Caprica's Space Italians making you space offers you couldn't space refuse.
posted by The Whelk at 7:31 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's a nice robot you've got there. Pity if something... happened to it.*

* chances of things happening in any given episode of Caprica being pretty slim. Emote, emote!
posted by Artw at 8:10 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh my god, I never noticed this until someOne in Reddit just pointed it out...

Admiral Cain is Ensign Ro!

That's almost as world rocking to me as learning that Twilight Sparkles, Bubbles from Powerpuff Girls and Ben 10 are all played by the same person earlier in the week.
posted by Artw at 8:22 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Really? You didn't know that? Weird. With regard to fandom, Michelle Forbes is a bit like a minor-league Natalie Portman, while not as niche and precious as Felicia Day.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:30 AM on June 29, 2012


My wife grew tired of my Ensign Ro fixation. Then came BSG and she kept saying, "bust her down to Ensign".
posted by Ber at 5:56 AM on June 29, 2012


Re. Darmok: That's one of my favorite episodes, but I did have a lot of issues with it. I talked with Sally Caves (who got partial writer credit on it) once about it -- my recollection is that she likes it, but is more or less dismissive of it on the linguistics. (She's not exactly a linguist but pretty darn close -- a real enthusiast of created languages and a scholar of mediaeval French.)

From an SF'nal perspective, yes, the execution is poor. But it's possibly the best execution of that concept that was feasible in an ST:TNG framework.

Míeville's Embasseytown treads similar ground much more plausibly. Will have to remember to ask Sally about that when I see her next....
posted by lodurr at 6:07 AM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Damn, Forbes was good in that BSG role and that was such a compelling character. I was disappointed with how they used her in True Blood and I thought they could have used her more in In Treatment. (Apparently, I'm a Forbes fanboy. I wasn't quite aware of this until this moment.)
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:17 AM on June 29, 2012


Wikipedia tells me she would have been the lead in Global Frequency... Sigh...

I like to think it would have been like Fringe, but instead of taking it's "science" from Fortean Times it would have taking it from breathless New Scientist reports.
posted by Artw at 6:31 AM on June 29, 2012


It beat Caprica's Space Italians making you space offers you couldn't space refuse.

Space Greeks, actually - they're speaking Ancient Greek. And thus, you should be careful when they space bring you space gifts.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:33 AM on June 29, 2012


Sleeping with da ichthys.
posted by Artw at 6:36 AM on June 29, 2012


Michael and Fredo, when Havana fell

(sorry, I just had to)
posted by Ber at 6:51 AM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was pleased to see both Forbes and Nana Visitor on BSG. Originally Ro was supposed to be on DS9 but it was not to be so Major Kira was created.

Of course I was not at all pleased to see BSG turn to shit. It got so bad I cannot recommend the series at all. It's like a nice meal followed by shit for desert.
posted by juiceCake at 10:38 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nana Visitor appeared in BSG? Huh.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:12 PM on July 1, 2012


Yes, Visitor played a terminal cancer patient in the fourth season. I've always liked her. She was also in Torchwood: Miracle Day for an episode or two.

BSG really pissed off a couple of friends of mine who were dealing with cancer when Roslin was magically cured of the disease. The episodes in the fourth season were reasonably good, and Visitor turned in a good performance. But the show always didn't do so well on that topic as far as I'm concerned.
posted by zarq at 2:38 PM on July 1, 2012


Huh. I remember the character and I totally didn't recognize her.

I couldn't watch more than the first episode of this new Torchwood. And I'm among the few fans who actually like Gwen Cooper. Not to mention that I'd watch hours of Barrowman doing nothing but eating breakfast cereal. And yet, the show bored me to death. I mean, I'm actually dead now because of it, which is extemely ironic.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:48 PM on July 1, 2012


BSG really pissed off a couple of friends of mine who were dealing with cancer when Roslin was magically cured of the disease. The episodes in the fourth season were reasonably good, and Visitor turned in a good performance. But the show always didn't do so well on that topic as far as I'm concerned.

The "magic cure" didn't take, though. Her cancer returned and the last season or so shows her dealing with diminishing strength and health and coping with her impending death.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:00 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos: " The "magic cure" didn't take, though. Her cancer returned and the last season or so shows her dealing with diminishing strength and health and coping with her impending death."

I'm aware. I saw the whole thing as it aired. Every season. I was addicted to BSG, flaws and all.

But at the time, the writers had essentially written a magical cure into a show that had previously shown someone dealing somewhat graphically and honestly with terminal cancer. And they did it in such a way that to my friends, at least, (one of whom had been diagnosed as terminal,) it seemed like a cheap slap in the face. I can't blame them for throwing up their hands in disgust and walking away from the show at the time. One of my friends passed away within months after that. The other could conceivably seen the final season of BSG before she died, but chose not to watch.

It's just a tv show, of course. And perhaps it's silly to become so invested in a particular fictional character's story. But I know they both found it upsetting.
posted by zarq at 7:31 PM on July 1, 2012


But at the time, the writers had essentially written a magical cure into a show that had previously shown someone dealing somewhat graphically and honestly with terminal cancer. And they did it in such a way that to my friends, at least, (one of whom had been diagnosed as terminal,) it seemed like a cheap slap in the face.

If they instead, say, used chemo into the show, and it worked for a bit, as it does, how would it have been any different?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:06 PM on July 1, 2012


Is There Television In Star Trek's Future?
posted by Artw at 9:03 PM on July 1, 2012


ChurchHatesTucker: "If they instead, say, used chemo into the show, and it worked for a bit, as it does, how would it have been any different?"

That would have been a strong improvement. However, the way they had presented her situation, she was terminal and given days to live. Chemotherapy typically doesn't magically bring cancer patients back from quite literally imminent death by 'destroying all cancer cells in their bodies.' And certainly not when doctors say they have exhausted all options. So they would have had to handle it more realistically throughout the entire series -- more as they did in the final season.

Consider a stage IV post-surgery breast cancer patient who has undergone multiple rounds of chemotherapy. They find themselves resistant to one medication, so their oncologist prescribes another. And another, as the next begins to fail to have a desired effect. The process takes months. Perhaps even years. Perhaps they've had radiation treatment. Then a day comes when their oncologist says, "You're not responding to treatment. Your cancer is inoperable and not treatable with radiation. There's very little we can do now. So let's talk about some options we can offer to make you comfortable when the time comes." You might imagine that watching a character be unexpectedly, magically cured of breast cancer on television (which was how it was presented, not as remission,) by deux ex machina might be a bit annoying.
posted by zarq at 10:50 PM on July 1, 2012


Yes, I can see how it might be a bit annoying, but no more so than a biographical movie of a saint's life (including "healing miracles" presented as fact).

Yet, in both cases, the not-scientifically-plausible events - which would appear as unrealistic and entirely fictional to many - are integral to the theme of the story.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:46 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I see what you mean now, Zarq. I think I just chalked it up to being one of the more fantastical elements (I mean, the aforementioned miracle cure involved stem cells from a Cylon).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:36 AM on July 2, 2012


....Actually, "Stem Cells From A Cylon" would be kind of an awesome band name.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:38 AM on July 2, 2012


IAmBroom: "Yes, I can see how it might be a bit annoying, but no more so than a biographical movie of a saint's life (including "healing miracles" presented as fact).

Yet, in both cases, the not-scientifically-plausible events - which would appear as unrealistic and entirely fictional to many - are integral to the theme of the story.
"

Sure. Totally agree. Of course, expecting perfect realism from science fiction is a fool's errand, anyway. Even in a show touted as "naturalistic scifi" by the producers. ;)
posted by zarq at 12:07 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos: "I see what you mean now, Zarq. I think I just chalked it up to being one of the more fantastical elements (I mean, the aforementioned miracle cure involved stem cells from a Cylon)."

Yep!

I sort of look at it as a situation where I think it's better (and perhaps a little more respectful?) to be as accurate as possible.

As an example, my father had multiple sclerosis. The West Wing had a primary character with MS, and as the seasons progressed, they showed how the disease affected him. They actually did a really marvelous job of it, too. Realistic to the point that I, a person who had grown up in a house with someone who had MS, found the performance quite believable. Here you have a disease whose effects could have easily been exaggerated for dramatic purposes. But the character's health progression was handled with enough finesse that they not only accurately described under what circumstances an exacerbation might occur, they showed it happening realistically. I appreciated how it was handled, you know?
posted by zarq at 12:17 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I sort of look at it as a situation where I think it's better (and perhaps a little more respectful?) to be as accurate as possible.

But that's what I mean - when you're already dealing with characters who were living 600 thousand years ago and were born on another planet and are in a collection of spaceships fleeing mystically organic robots, I think "accuracy" and "vermisillitude" may have already gone out the window.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:26 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


After they were sucked into the plight of a character who was dying of the same thing they are -- experiencing the same hell they were -- I think I'm okay with giving my friends a pass for not wanting to dismiss that character's magical recovery as something they should have expected because "hey, it's scifi."
posted by zarq at 12:33 PM on July 2, 2012


That came out wrong, sorry; I was more explaining my own reaction rather than being all "they should have thought like this".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:36 PM on July 2, 2012


Ah. Okay, no worries. Sorry. I misunderstood.
posted by zarq at 12:52 PM on July 2, 2012


« Older The Manhattan Project is an HD timelapse short sho...  |  Alex Niven reviews Martin Amis... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments