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October 12, 2009 1:00 PM   Subscribe

"Captain, the tech is overteching" - Ron Moore confirms everything you suspected about the Star Trek TNG approach to writing.
posted by Artw (245 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
I thought the writers just inserted "[technobabble]" whenever such was called for, but perhaps they refined the process in later seasons.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:03 PM on October 12, 2009


Next you'll tell me I can't get Positronic Tang.
posted by The Whelk at 1:05 PM on October 12, 2009


That's how I saw it in other shows.

IN BEFORE BSG FINALE WAS WORSE FINALE EVER RAWRROOO.
posted by cavalier at 1:06 PM on October 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think I have to agree with the posters on THAT page. That hair is freaking me out.

You're either a dirty long-hair, or a freaking short-hair. Pick a side man, pick a side.
posted by LD Feral at 1:06 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Captain, the blowcomb is overheating! I'm picking up massive levels of frizz and split ends."

"Emergency spray-in conditioner, Mr. Laforge."

"No effect, Captain. If we can't get a hat on in the next five minutes, we'll lose containment completely."
posted by Horace Rumpole at 1:06 PM on October 12, 2009 [59 favorites]


I have to say that the science consultant job of filling in the required technobabble after some showboating hack has turned in his script sounds like one of the most frustrating and depressing writing jobs possible. I would just put quantum flux for everything.
posted by Artw at 1:07 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Someone needs to tech him a new headshot. I'm so sick of seeing that feathered teching mullet.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 1:07 PM on October 12, 2009


"Starbuck, we need to [angel] our way out of this [religious conundrum]. Get your [angel] ass to the [angelmobile]."
posted by RakDaddy at 1:07 PM on October 12, 2009 [41 favorites]


I understand this is also how Microsoft develops operating system software.
posted by brain_drain at 1:09 PM on October 12, 2009 [15 favorites]


The overteching tech is awesome.
posted by xmutex at 1:09 PM on October 12, 2009


Damn you Rakdaddy!

"Captain Adama, we need to [retcon] some loopholes into this story to [days of our lives] us a [antitech] ending. Copy?"
posted by cavalier at 1:09 PM on October 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


Don't forget to Reverse The Polarity!
posted by ArgentCorvid at 1:09 PM on October 12, 2009


Don't worry, I have it covered.
posted by Artw at 1:10 PM on October 12, 2009


I'm so sick jealous of seeing that feathered teching mullet.

*slowly combs luxurious Viking hair*

oh and

"Lee, press the big red button marked "MAGIC" again!"
posted by The Whelk at 1:11 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Baltar: "You know, I know about [formerly obsolete tech]."
posted by FelliniBlank at 1:15 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


jesus, this is exactly why I never liked Star Trek, except I always assumed that the writers actually cared about the tech stuff so much they forgot to include other stuff.
posted by shmegegge at 1:15 PM on October 12, 2009


I remember watching a special on a Star Trek auction that happened some years ago, and the costume people who were interviewed joked about that very writing process.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 1:17 PM on October 12, 2009


I also assume, by the way, that this is how the first 5 seasons of The X Files was written.

Mulder: Scully, hasn't it occurred to you that these killings resemble [myth]?
Scully: Mulder, you can't just take any [myth] and apply it to [myth].
Mulder: Well how else do you explain [myth?] The [myth 1], [urban legend 2], [folklore 3]... what if these sightings are all the work of [alien]?
posted by shmegegge at 1:17 PM on October 12, 2009 [14 favorites]


It's nonsense. of course. But, then, science fiction is, if you can believe it, a branch of naturalism -- at least the way Star Trek does it. There's no real need to be naturalistic in science fiction -- George Melies dis very nicely with moons with faces on them and moon-creatures that can be killed by Victorian dandies with umbrellas, but Star Trek was a product of American television, which is almost exclusively a realistic genre, and American science fiction, which, by the 1960s, had a solid tradition of realistic stories rooted in science, even though printed science fiction had branched off to include literary explorations that weren't exclusively naturalistic.

And what do I mean by naturalism? I mean that it focuses on creating the illusion of reality through a meticulous accumulation of convincing surface detail, in the way that, say, a cop show will give its cops badges and guns and have cluttered desks and have little placards on their desks and use police terminology and have the titles of police officers and refer to each other as captain or lieutenant and hang out at bars afterward that have little memorials to fallen cops and when they get home at night they argue with their wives about what a hard job it is to be a cop. All this is designed to convince us that we are actually watching police officers, even when they're doing things that cops don't really do, like solving crimes in 24 hours and going into houses without warrants or backup or letting their CSI people conduct interviews.

It's the same way in Star Trek. It's a fantasy, and the science in it is, for the most part, fantastical, but they have to behave as though it weren't, or it shatters the careful illusion of reality that they have constructed. And the more fantastical it is, the more surface detail they have to pile on, because the illusion requires that much more little manufactured falsities to preserve the illusion of reality.

Me, I never cared. The science on the show always sounded like "Hey, let's put the whatsit in the thingy and hit the jets." I find the whole thing silly, and I find naturalism to be a dated and unnecessarily limiting aesthetic. They could be flying cardboard boxes if the story was good. I think that's pretty much what Melies had his astronauts flying anyway.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:18 PM on October 12, 2009 [24 favorites]


So these fictional futuristic space technologies are just made up, huh?
posted by Joe Beese at 1:19 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


"The tachyon polarity reversal field is resisting our neutrino shield."

"Shut up Steve."
posted by The Whelk at 1:23 PM on October 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


In defense of Trek, I always appreciated that the stories were about people and issues, and the tech just provided a stage for drama that's relevant in any century. And sometimes it got a little soap-opera, but as a whole I think TNG succeeded as television even if not necessarily as sci-fi.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 1:23 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


And the more fantastical it is, the more surface detail they have to pile on, because the illusion requires that much more little manufactured falsities to preserve the illusion of reality.

I like to think of it as begreebling.
posted by FelliniBlank at 1:24 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


As RakDaddy, cavalier, and The Whelk have pointed out, there is some seriously delicious irony in Ron Moore of all fucking people complaining about inserting meaningless babble into scripts just to fill out the storyline conventions and solve problems for writers too lazy to come up with a real solution. If ST:TNG was too "ex machina", BSG was all "deus." It's still lame writing, either way (but at least TNG didn't take itself so damn seriously!).
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:24 PM on October 12, 2009 [8 favorites]


Whoops, [tech-italics] omitted around AstroZombie quote, Captain.
posted by FelliniBlank at 1:25 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's unsurprising that a guy who looks like he fucking lives at the Renaissance Faire would eschew futuristic technobabble.
posted by hifiparasol at 1:26 PM on October 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Watch some early TNG episodes and tell me that show wasn't taking itself way, way too seriously.
posted by Artw at 1:26 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Watch some early TNG episodes and tell me that show wasn't taking itself way, way too seriously.

THE U.N IN A SHERATON HOTEL ...........INNNNNNN SPAAAAAACE!
posted by The Whelk at 1:26 PM on October 12, 2009 [16 favorites]


If only he would weigh in on the science of Doctor Who.
posted by jbickers at 1:28 PM on October 12, 2009




One almost suspects that all the shoving of toasters out of airlocks in the early, decent episodes of BSG has it’s roots in all those over earnest episodes about whether or not Data is a person. Fuck no he’s not, no he doesn’t have rights, out the lock he goes, fwooooosh!
posted by Artw at 1:30 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yawn. I would have posted this FPP, but I [in-joke] when I heard that it was posted at [popular blog], so I decided against it. [Reference to an FPP from yesterday].
posted by Plutor at 1:30 PM on October 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


After the first few episodes of overwrought emotion and mysterio-babble that constitute Stargate Universe, I'm kinda wishing that more tech (and less religion) would work its way into SciFi these days.

Oh, and just if you didn't know, I'm also lookin' at you, final seasons of Battlestar Gallactica.
posted by Gordion Knott at 1:31 PM on October 12, 2009


Despite having enjoyed the first two thirds or so of BSG, Ron Moore's name never stuck in my mind and I never knew until this moment what he looks like. Does he always work that hard to look like a '70s album cover? Jeezus, what if Kenny Loggins and Maurice Gibb had bred.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:32 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Artw: Sure, it had its moments of pretension, but I never got the sense of pomposity from TNG that BSG seemed to carry, especially at the end. Of course, this could just be my personal negative reaction to people saying things like, "OMG, the Cylons are the US and the humans are the Iraqi insurgents! WHAT AN AMAZING ALLEGORY THAT HAS CHANGED THE WAY I LOOK AT EVERYTHING!" and the deeply unsatisfying (to me) ending of the series.

I think, ultimately, TNG will be a longer lasting series -- despite its far more dated effects, its occasional camp and silliness -- because it seems to me to be a show that is more about the human condition and trying to explore different possibilities of human experience. I never really got that from BSG, which, by the end, was pushing its neo-luddite pseudo-spiritual agenda way too hard for my tastes. It just seems far more limited in scope.
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:32 PM on October 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


I think the primary question that Star Trek sought to answer was "What if liberals ran the navy?"
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:33 PM on October 12, 2009 [121 favorites]


But it's not real technology! It's just [tech]! That's just as bad as a-magical-whirlwind-angel-did-it.

(Also SGU currently seems to specialize in problems which could be quickly solved by flying robots which are lengthily resolved without the use of such robots by people who appear to have an infinite supply of the things)
posted by Artw at 1:35 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


TNG will be a longer lasting series

Only if no one mashes up BSG like this.
posted by The Whelk at 1:35 PM on October 12, 2009 [12 favorites]


I never really got that from BSG, which, by the end, was pushing its neo-luddite pseudo-spiritual agenda way too hard for my tastes. It just seems far more limited in scope.

And that's why the rest of us will always be 20 percent cooler than you.

ZING!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:36 PM on October 12, 2009


Let's get the original scripts. This could be the best madlibs source material ever made
posted by crayz at 1:36 PM on October 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Speaking of Ron Moore, the BSG finale was worse finale ever. Rawrrooo.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:37 PM on October 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


I never knew until this moment what he looks like. Does he always work that hard to look like a '70s album cover?

This place is such a freakin' [tech]zone.
posted by FelliniBlank at 1:38 PM on October 12, 2009


The problem with this sort of "revelation" is not that it isn't true--it certainly is--as it's terribly old news: Gene Roddenberry admitted as much forty years ago.

In The Making of Star Trek (still, for my money, one of the best books written on the creation and production of a television series), Roddenberry admits that a number of the technical aspects of the show were invented as plot devices, to save production costs, or to sell merchandising tie-ins* (Roddenberry and his wife, Majel Barrett, started Lincoln Enterprises while the original series was still in production). The transporter was originally created because the special effects for it were cheaper to produce than a shuttlecraft landing; the flip-top communicator because he didn't think audiences could relate to something more compact (IIRC, he mentioned something not unlike the TNG communicator badge, as well as a cybernetic implant); and the tricorder because--this is the sixties, remember--it was a potential merch tie-in for girls because it was originally envisioned as a sort of space-age steno pad.

So, yeah, Trek plays fast and loose with science and comes up with technobabble for the sake of a plot device rather than any kind of properly skiffy extrapolation. Old, old news.

*This tendency of Roddenberry's would cause a rift between him and Leonard Nimoy; when the concept of IDIC was introduced on the show, Nimoy thought that it was a stupid idea, even before he found out that Roddenberry had created it to sell another piece of merch. That was before Nimoy was in Britain and saw his image, as Spock, being used to advertise beer on a billboard. He was so pissed that he almost didn't rejoin the franchise; Spock was replaced in Star Trek Phase II, the originally-proposed series reboot, with a younger Vulcan character.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:39 PM on October 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


Is this something I would have to own a [tech] to understand?
posted by The World Famous at 1:39 PM on October 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think, ultimately, TNG will be a longer lasting series -- despite its far more dated effects, its occasional camp and silliness

All of which will be as dust in the wind long before TOS is forgotten.
posted by Artw at 1:41 PM on October 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


You watch enough science fiction from the 50s and you get the idea that effects really screw up stories. I want more What-If shows that take the time to explore a single idea rather than dump you in a Fantastical World Of blue-lit metal corridors and army guys. It's why I'm warm toward Dollhouse for finally exploring the consequences of it's Magitek and keeping the scope pretty narrow. Not everything is an epic of epic proportions.

Sooo, where are the cool low-budget sf shows? Why not a world where some people are in direct telepathic connection with each other, and their numbers are growing? Or a world with a kind of opt-in totalitarianism, you give up all your freedoms and rights but you get all this cool shit (plus you get to send pictures of your cats to the ENTIRE COUNTRY!!!!) Effective cloning and it's discontents? Stranded time travelers from various future/pasts who get stuck in Today after an accident at the Time Traveler's convention. Neutropic drugs that can remove or augment basic personality traits or body needs?

p.s I am still available for treatments
posted by The Whelk at 1:44 PM on October 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


How is this guy old enough to have perfect 1977 hair? Does he drive a Trans Am? If so, it must be a time machine.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:44 PM on October 12, 2009


Ah, Dollhouse... Some day I'll get around to watching those episodes of season 2 that are building up. Or just delete them.

It's weird - I didn't start going off it at the end of the first season, and I haven't been put off by a horrific 2nd season (Heroes), but somehow I'm just finding it very hard to be bothered with it.
posted by Artw at 1:47 PM on October 12, 2009


Or hell, if you want to keep your Progressive Social Fables, do a kind of Snow Crash/Diamond Age world where there is no central government but hundreds of decentralized city-states (often within the same city) in every possible government style and we visit a new Allegory every week?
posted by The Whelk at 1:48 PM on October 12, 2009


I just finished re-watching all seven seasons of TNG, and really the show doesn't succeed or fail because of technobabble. I'm sure if was watching it week-to-week with big breaks in the summer, I wouldn't notice silly inconsistencies that are so obvious when watching in 3-4 hour bursts. The episodes that don't work generally involved Commander Riker hamming his way through an allegedly emotional situation.
posted by muddgirl at 1:49 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


When the human race is gone and the world is run by giant bugs they will still revere Kirk and Spock as distant, far-away gods of the dawn times. Of TNG there will be not a click. There is no pheromone combination for Geordi LaForge.
posted by Artw at 1:49 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Whelk - They could do a show like Sliders with a different allegorical universe each week, that'd work.
posted by Artw at 1:51 PM on October 12, 2009


At least X-Files tried every so often, even if it was at a predictable level that hinted at only passing familiarity with the subject. (Note: this became so automatic that at our regular X-Files viewing sessions I would do things like turn to one of my friends and say, "Before the break, we're going to hear the name 'Wade Davis.'") They did their homework, even if it was on the bus, and in a show so woo-heavy they could have gotten away with not putting forth the effort.

This has never stopped bothering me about Star Trek — they rarely even tried to do any of the science right. Many times, you could have grabbed a physics or astronomy undergrad, show them the highlighted sciencey bits in the script, and they'd say, "Well, that sucks, but here's how you could say this." Half an hour, tops. And for as often as they got flamed for it, you'd have thought they'd have picked up a few folks off Usenet and said, "Hey, want a consultancy gig for some Trek bling? We'll let you sit in ... The Chair." They'd have done it for free.
posted by adipocere at 1:55 PM on October 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


I can't remember which, but I swear to god I remember at TNG episode where the Enterprise went into geosynchronous orbit above the South Pole of a planet. After that, any other science/tech flubbery was just kind of whatever.
posted by COBRA! at 1:58 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


What about how Trek tries to make everything futuristic by simply multiplying it?

Dilithium crystals
Tricorders
Quadrotriticale

I'm surprised that Bones never prescribed a few penta-aspirin. Perhaps Kirk was using penta-viagara to get it on with all those alien chicks.
posted by GuyZero at 2:00 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Damnit, I meant sexta-viagara. A mediocre joke ruined.
posted by GuyZero at 2:01 PM on October 12, 2009 [11 favorites]


I want more What-If shows that take the time to explore a single idea rather than dump you in a Fantastical World [...] Not everything is an epic of epic proportions.

Sooo, where are the cool low-budget sf shows? Why not a world where some people are in direct telepathic connection with each other, and their numbers are growing? Or a world...

This is what I hoped Heroes would be.

Oh well.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 2:04 PM on October 12, 2009


I'm surprised that Bones never prescribed a few penta-aspirin.

Doesn't he give Kirk a "tri-ox compound" in Amok Time? Triple the oxygen, for lasting pep and vigor! Or was it just meant to give him three times the strength of an Ox?
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:05 PM on October 12, 2009


Why not a world where some people are in direct telepathic connection with each other, and their numbers are growing?

you'd love british kids TV. They've done that concept a whole bunch of times (Tomorrow People, Chocky's Children).
posted by Artw at 2:09 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Call me crazy, but I almost don't mind the technobabble, as long as it isn't every episode and stays consistent with the in-use technology and background. The thing is, if you think about it, most problems on a giant, ultra-high-tech spacecraft would be solved technologically. I'm willing to accept a few episodes, here and there, that allow it to actually work that way to help with suspension of disbelief and make the universe feel more real. It's better than having every single episode being solved with the main character's personal awesomeness (or by dumb luck, which is vastly worse.)
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:09 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


At least X-Files tried every so often, even if it was at a predictable level that hinted at only passing familiarity with the subject. (Note: this became so automatic that at our regular X-Files viewing sessions I would do things like turn to one of my friends and say, "Before the break, we're going to hear the name 'Wade Davis.'") They did their homework, even if it was on the bus, and in a show so woo-heavy they could have gotten away with not putting forth the effort.

The woo was the show when it came to The X-Files. It's horror with just a wink and a nudge at SF -- yeah, it had aliens, but they could just as easily have been evil elves. It's not like we went to their planet or traveled through space with them or whatever. Pretty much the whole purpose of Scully was to talk about how the MOTW defied science. I guess that entails some vague familiarity with science on the part of the writing staff, but there's really no rational explanation for the boneless guy who came out of the sewer or vampires or a voodoo ghost guy that will ever make sense, and you don't need to be a scientist to know that a scientist confronted with such a thing would be as baffled by it as anybody else. Make the show scientifically sound and you no longer have a show.

When it comes to shows that really are SF, if you think about what makes dramas on television compelling -- plot, character, suspense -- it's not terribly surprising that shows tend to err on the side of soft science. Because, look, your average writerly type? Not a math prodigy. And you want someone's primary skill set to be "writer" and not "scientist" if you want that person to write a show that people will watch. BSG I loved, but I knew well before all the woo kicked in that I was not in the hands of science folk -- I knew that from the early episode when Starbuck gets a hole in her ship and patches it with her COAT before taking off with it into SPACE. I kinda rolled my eyes and went with it in the awareness that that wasn't the point of the show.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:16 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


The basic problem of SF TV series is that the resulting world has to be comprehensible to the viewer and something that writers can make an interesting story out of. Any TV series that attempted to really depict a future 200 or more years from now extrapolating from the rate of change since, say, 1850, would be entirely CGI, and not very many writers now working could produce stories for it at all, certainly not one a week, and even watching it would be hard going. Mad Headroom tried really hard to create a consistent world just a couple of decades out, and they gave up because it was a tremendous amount of work. Centuries? Don't make me laugh.

Most future SF actually takes place in the present with a handful of thing changed, and ridiculously few of the implications of those changes are ever thought through.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:19 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hey, X-Files was solid. Well, kind of disapeared up it;s own mythology towards the end, but the MOTW stuff still holds up. I'm pretty certain no-one at the X-files ever wrote [insert fortean blah-blah] into a script and left it for one of the blah-blah morlocks to clean it up after them.
posted by Artw at 2:20 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mitrovarr: "The thing is, if you think about it, most problems on a giant, ultra-high-tech spacecraft would be solved technologically."

yes, but I don't want to watch Car Talk In Space. I want to watch people solve problems that can at least marginally strike a chord with someone who doesn't speak future-tech-ese. If the problem is always the space carburetor, or the space radiator, then have a space mechanic fix it behind the scenes so I can watch people do people things.

think of it this way: two very similar premises, two very different products: Star Trek and Das Boot.

they're both stories about crews of military guys in dangerous territory in an isolated capsule that, if anything ruptured, would quickly become their inescapable tomb. they're both stories about people whose understanding of the equipment they work with so surpasses mine that I am immediately clueless about how the various highly technical things around them could immediately and directly terminate them, save that I am aware that they don't want no air escaping that shit, and they don't want nothing blowing up.

one of these is an incredible classic drama that never left me wondering why the fuck I should care. the other one is Star Trek.
posted by shmegegge at 2:22 PM on October 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


Mad Headroom tried really hard to create a consistent world just a couple of decades out, and they gave up because it was a tremendous amount of work. Centuries? Don't make me laugh.

George_Spiggott - General consensus seems to be that SF is easier to write the further out it is. Much more room for handwaving in that century gap.
posted by Artw at 2:22 PM on October 12, 2009


scratch that, I kind of do want to watch Car Talk In Space. Just not as fiction.
posted by shmegegge at 2:23 PM on October 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


(Er, that's Max Headroom. Although a mashup of Mad Men and Max Headroom would be pretty funny.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:23 PM on October 12, 2009


Ron Moore looks like he should be singing One Track Lover
posted by dng at 2:24 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


So... Apollo 13?
posted by Artw at 2:24 PM on October 12, 2009


I want more What-If shows that take the time to explore a single idea rather than dump you in a Fantastical World [...] Not everything is an epic of epic proportions.

That's why I loved the concept (if not the shitty execution) of that short-lived NBC show Prey. Totally fascinating premise.
posted by FelliniBlank at 2:25 PM on October 12, 2009


and you know what? I should start a blog, called "Star Trek or Das Boot" wherein I detail why a given submarine movie is so much better than an episode of Star Trek, one episode a week.
posted by shmegegge at 2:26 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Artw: "So... Apollo 13?"

ha, no. I mean if the guys from car talk did a call in show where they told stranded astronauts how to fix their ship.
posted by shmegegge at 2:27 PM on October 12, 2009


"Use a sock!"
posted by Artw at 2:28 PM on October 12, 2009


General consensus seems to be that SF is easier to write the further out it is.

Consensus among whom? And what does it mean "SF is easier to write"? Crap SF that's neither internally consistent or plausible, sure, but if we're talking about crap, there's no point in even having the discussion; it might as well be a chariots pulled by angels a starship.

The fact is, though ST:TOS was great fun and provided a wonderful setting for a few very good writers, it was not by any stretch a plausible depiction of a human civilization which included nearly sentient computers, teleportation, hugely faster-than-light travel and replication through matter conversion. In reality we wouldn't recognize the world that resulted from even one or two of these changes, 200 years out. TOS worked because it more or less knew that and didn't take itself too seriously or belabor the technical aspects -- it knew that they were only there to provide a framework for some faintly fabulistic escapist storytelling.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:30 PM on October 12, 2009




Charles Stross wrote about the difficulty of writing near future fiction recently, although I'm not sure I necessarily agree with everything he says.
posted by dng at 2:34 PM on October 12, 2009


Jinx.
posted by Artw at 2:34 PM on October 12, 2009


And to mildly differentiate myself from Artw, here's another slightly different Charles Stross article about the same thing.
posted by dng at 2:35 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


which is so weird because in Accelerando, I'm totally there with him for the near future stuff and everything past the singularity is like "... what? come the fuck on."
posted by shmegegge at 2:38 PM on October 12, 2009


um... no offense, cstross.
posted by shmegegge at 2:40 PM on October 12, 2009


It took me this long to realize that the joke I made upthread about reversing the polarity was, in fact, the title of this post :(.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 2:41 PM on October 12, 2009




Everything in Accelerando past the first story bored the ass off of me and I stopped reading it, but Glasshouse, apparently set in the same universe but a bit later, is excellent.
posted by Artw at 2:41 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Reverse the polarity of what? Why, the neutron flow, of course.
posted by Doktor Zed at 2:43 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Frog blast the vent core!

don't look at me like that.
posted by Evilspork at 2:44 PM on October 12, 2009 [7 favorites]


shmegegge: I want to watch people solve problems that can at least marginally strike a chord with someone who doesn't speak future-tech-ese.

Are you sure you wanted sci-fi then? You need to remember that sci-fi is, in part, about the science (or at least about the technology and the way it changes things.) If you wanted a show about a submarine in space that never talks about how they do things in space or how their space submarine works, why bring space into it?
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:45 PM on October 12, 2009


oh don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't want futurey stuff in it at all. what I want, though, is the stuff that makes any story good. which is to say: character development, tension, relevance to the real world. for everything that was wrong with BSG, for instance, at its best that show was all about the very tensions we're dealing with today, what with foreign attacks, torture and the temptation to abuse power. that they were in space was secondary to that. again, the comparison to Das Boot is the best one I can make. they're both basically about submarines. but Das Boot was filled with human pathos. Star Trek was filled with empty techno babble.
posted by shmegegge at 2:51 PM on October 12, 2009


They should have tried to smurf the smurf coils. Last time my smurf jammed like that, I had to hire a smurfanic to fix it.
posted by yeti at 2:52 PM on October 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


A great many films have a plot that absolutely relies on the telephone and the story couldn't exist as such without it, and yet at no point is the nature of the telephone's functioning the core issue of the story and and in the overwhelming majority of the films nobody ever discusses the way a telephone works.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:53 PM on October 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


Sneakers.
posted by Artw at 2:55 PM on October 12, 2009


Metafilter: Your favorite [pop culture unit] [pejoratives].
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:57 PM on October 12, 2009


yes, but I don't want to watch Car Talk In Space.

"The positron martix in our warp core is making a sound like this, bluqabluqabluqa gunnnnunnnunnnug when ever we go in to standard orbit"

"How long has it been doing 'dat?"

"Like, um, I guess since a Storadigian repolarized our dilithium muter "

"WOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAH! Sounds like your plasma conduits lost their static hyper-null shielding"
"Yeah, you better call your subspace delegation and tell them you're going to be late for the rendezvous because you're going to have all your neutrinos in a black hole!"
"Sounds like my brother's got his neutrinos in a black hole, just turn up your long-range scanners and ignore it!"
"WHAAAAAT? Yeah, a black hole like your head!"
CHORTLE CHORTLE SNORT!
"Seriously though, you could negitivize an quantum reality like that if you don't get someone to look at it"

"...so, how much will that cost"

awkward pause

"OH man. Well, let's just say you won't be using your holocreds on anything useless anytime soon!"
CHORTLE CHORTLE SNORT
posted by fuq at 2:58 PM on October 12, 2009 [22 favorites]


Now where did I put that tachyon pulse?
posted by ...possums at 3:00 PM on October 12, 2009


It seemed like the writers of BSG handled the tech mumbo-jumbo problem quite nicely and to celebrate, they filled the void with religious mumbo-jumbo.
posted by digsrus at 3:22 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Star Trek [TNG] was filled with empty techno babble.
Yes it was, but it wasn't always filled with technobabble. In the best episodes, the [techz] were a launching pad into the exploration of some issue like: the nature of humanity, addiction, the individual vs. the state, politics, bigotry, power, etc. The bad episodes were when the technobabble took the foreground.

for everything that was wrong with BSG, for instance, at its best that show was all about the very tensions we're dealing with today, what with foreign attacks, torture and the temptation to abuse power.

Yes, and I think those were the first 2 seasons. The mystical woo, and the sci-fi trappings, were a vehicle into the important & good parts of the show -- just like you mention, those things that deal with people. And again, when the people became secondary vehicles to exploring poorly thought-out mysticism, that's when the show took a nosedive.
posted by Saxon Kane at 3:24 PM on October 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


“Roddenberry admits that a number of the technical aspects of the show were invented as plot devices, to save production costs, or to sell merchandising tie-ins”

The merchandising is stupid, yeah. But the tech should serve the fiction really. Folks keep having these arguments devoid of reality (e.g who’s the better captain or could the federation beat the empire) citing the numbers, stats, etc. – it’s all just made up crap and if the story demands character ‘A’ be down on the surface, screw it, invent a teleporter if you have to.
Reminds me of the story about Clint Eastwood directing. They were working on this car to make it look broken down and have steam come out of the hood, etc. And they kept doing shot after shot and the smoke wouldn’t come out right so Eastwood finally said “Screw it. The film isn’t about a smoking car.”

There is lazy writing/acting/etc. But that aside, I like Star Trek over Star Wars mostly because the drama isn’t inherently based on war or violent conflict.

And that was apparently one of Rodenberry’s choices. Which is why you don’t see any genuine fighting moves and you have ‘anbo-jitsu’ and such. The main character type in Star Trek is not the warrior, but the explorer and, to large degree, the engineer. So it’s tech-conflict heavy.
Debatable how well that works in execution. Most folks seem to be able to screw up a cup of coffee when it goes there though (midichlorians, etc.).
Always feel they have to over explain instead of just show.

I think Blade Runner is a far better film without the voice over. Although I’d go so far as to say it’s almost a different film. With the voice over it’s a throwback to detective noir stuff. Without it, it’s much more science fiction.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:24 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Smedleyman: It's been years since I watched BR w/ the voice-over, so I can't make the comparison, but w/o the voice-over, in addition to being (perhaps) more sci-fi, it's also very existential philosophy-ish.

And speaking of BR [spoiler]...

Has anyone noticed how in the final new director's ultimate cut, or whatever it's called, they changed the scene when Deckard damn near rapes Rachael, the first time they have sex? In the previous final director's cut, he slams her against the wall and makes her tell him that she wants him; they cut dome of that out and made the scene much less coercive which, in my opinion, takes away something important from the film.
posted by Saxon Kane at 3:30 PM on October 12, 2009


Treaty of [Tech]
Peace [Tech] between the Holy [Tech] Emperor and
the [Tech] of [Tech] and their respective Allies.

In the name of the most holy and individual [Tech]: Be it known to all, and every one whom it may concern, or to whom in any manner it may belong, That for many Years past, [Tech] being stir'd up in the [Tech] Empire, which increas'd to such a degree, that not only all [Tech], but also the [Tech], and [Tech] particularly, have been involv'd in the [Tech] of a long and cruel [Tech]: And in the first place, between the most Serene and most Puissant Prince and Lord, Ferdinand the Second, of famous Memory, elected [Tech] Emperor, always [Tech], [Tech] of [Tech], [Tech], [Tech], [Tech], [Tech], [Tech], Arch-Duke of [Tech], Duke of [Tech], [Tech], [Tech], [Tech], [Tech], [Tech] of [Tech], Duke of [Tech], the Higher and [Tech], of [Tech] and Teck, Prince of [Tech], Count of [Tech], [Tech], [Tech] and [Tech], [Tech] of the Sacred [Tech] Empire, Lord of [Tech], of the Higher and Lower [Tech], of the [Tech] of [Tech], of [Tech], with his Allies and [Tech]; and the most Serene, and the most Puissant Prince, Lewis the Thirteenth, most Christian [Tech] of [Tech] and [Tech], with his Allies and Adherents on the other side. And after [Tech], between the most Serene and Puissant Prince and Lord, Ferdinand the Third, elected [Tech] Emperor, always [Tech], [Tech] of [Tech], [Tech], [Tech], [Tech], [Tech], [Tech], Arch-Duke of [Tech], Duke of [Tech], [Tech], [Tech], [Tech], [Tech], [Tech] of [Tech], Duke of [Tech], of the Higher and [Tech], of [Tech] and Teck, Prince of [Tech], Count of [Tech], [Tech], [Tech] and [Tech], [Tech] of the Sacred [Tech] Empire, [Tech], the Higher and Lower [Tech], Lord of the [Tech] of [Tech], of [Tech], with his Allies and Adherents on the one side; and the most Serene and most Puissant Prince and Lord, Lewis the Fourteenth, most Christian [Tech] of [Tech] and [Tech], with his Allies and Adherents on the other side: from whence ensu'd great Effusion of Christian Blood, and the [Tech]. [Have the consultants fill the rest of this out - we have 90 seconds to pad. -- R.M.]
posted by ardgedee at 3:38 PM on October 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


...that's basically Metabarons.
posted by Artw at 3:46 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


What I want to know is, all the goofy shit they did on Star Trek, was that logged into a central computer somewhere? So when you [tech] the [tech], which is dangerous and only an hypothesis, but it works perfectly, do you Tweet that to Command and some guy there goes "Right, chuck that in the operations manual, could be handy!" and another guy goes "Which section?" and he's like "Appendix."

Also:

INT. GALACTICA OPERATIONS

Admiral Adama: Apollo, concentrate on those nukes! Keep them away from the fleet!

Lt. Hoshi: Admiral! Another five basestars just jumped in!

Tigh (eye boggling): Where the hell did they come from?

Lt. Hoshi (dismayed at being asked): They...it could have been anywhere...they travel faster than-

Dualla: The FTL's still spooling up Admiral, five more minutes!

Adama (grimacing intensely): You have three minutes.

Dualla: I...I don't have any control over-

Tigh: INCOMING!

AN EXPLOSION ROCKS THE HULL - THE GLASS PANEL BEARING THE BSG-75 INSIGNIA SHATTERS

Tigh (glaring at the shattered glass): Damn the gods, why do we keep replacing that?
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:53 PM on October 12, 2009 [9 favorites]


Patrick Stewart [shaking his head]: "The things I do for a paycheque."
posted by bwg at 4:01 PM on October 12, 2009


I think Blade Runner is a far better film without the voice over.

Everything is better without a voice over. Really.

Now, on the subject of tech in TV, one of the things that always makes me laugh is the computer work on CSI and its various incarnations and clones. I rarely watch these shows (they are just plain godawful IMO), but occasionally I'll catch a bit of one and end up laughing my ass off at something computery. The other day I witnessed some silly investigator explaining to another silly investigator that someone in a photograph was looking up towards the camera. Now, I don't know about you, but that's something I feel could have been illustrated by gesturing in the direction of the photo, but apparently it was necessary to the production to produce an elaborate rotating 3D animation that was onscreen for all of half a second.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:01 PM on October 12, 2009


turgid dahlia - It's pretty well established that all the ship's engineers are highly competitive, so there's some sort of central reporting facility where they brag about how they unspooled the quad aligners and squeezed out 1% more efficiency in their dual power converters. On the other hand, Geordi is apparantly allowed to make modifications to the ship without submitting (what we 21st century engineers call) red-lined drawings back to the design facility, which means he's essentially operating equipment that's out of configuration without authorization from the head shed. A BIIIIG no-no nowadays but maybe the collapse of all Earth civilizations in the 23rd century will finally do away with Configuration Management and Quality Assurance.
posted by muddgirl at 4:02 PM on October 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


Does he always work that hard to look like a '70s album cover? Jeezus, what if Kenny Loggins and Maurice Gibb had bred.

If you make enough money, the '70s never have to end.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:04 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


"It's no ISO compliant, the mangement cannae take it!"
posted by Artw at 4:04 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I loves me some hard sf, but count me among those who doesn't mind the way they wrote TNG and subsequent series. You want plot and character and "story arc" to be more important than whatever it is on the ship that breaks this week. I think the science consultants did a decent job. It's only the stories where the storytelling is weak that you even start to notice how crappy the sci-fi bits are.

Yes, you could have a hard sf show where the science is 100% canon and internally consistent and rock solid even rewatching ten years later -- but nobody would watch it.

This is really not that different from the way that all screenwriting works nowadays, in the post-Joseph Campbell era. Listen to the commentaries on LotR on how they had to make changes to the story so it would work on screen. There are things you can get away with in print, but fail utterly in live action. You need arcs and beats and problems for characters at appropriate points or your story is full of fail.

This can all seem drearily mechanical, but when you're dealing with an enterprise that involves hundreds of people working to a tight weekly schedule and strict set and prop and effect and costume budgets and commercial breaks every 13 minutes, you have to have a process that repeatably guarantees a minimum level of results. That's the business of television.

And don't kid yourself that Trek invented this or that it's unique to sf.
posted by dhartung at 4:09 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


The other day I witnessed some silly investigator explaining to another silly investigator that someone in a photograph was looking up towards the camera.

Sounds like he...had his eyes on the prize.

*puts on sunglasses*

YEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:10 PM on October 12, 2009 [8 favorites]


You need arcs and beats and problems for characters at appropriate points or your story is full of fail.

Which is all part of my grand theory on why everyone who has ever quoted Robert McKee admiringly should be fed into a big grinder for the good of humanity.
posted by Artw at 4:15 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Patrick Stewart [shaking his head]: "The things I do for a paycheque."

Funny thing: Patrick Stewart has gone on record as being very proud of his ST:TNG work, going so far as to say that all his Shakespearean training was just to prepare him for that role. Hell, this is a guy who is a regular guest on American Dad & Family Guy -- I don't think he has much of a bloated ego, which is why I love him (despite the horrible production of The Tempest I saw him in at Stratford 3 years ago).

the computer work on CSI and its various incarnations and clones.

Have you ever seen Swordfish? Besides the ludicrously bad acting, there's a scene where Hugh Jackman, the super awesome computer hacker, is trying to hack some Internets, or something. His bad-ass computer system is like 3 keyboards and 6 monitors, and he's rocking out to some hardcore techno while he swivels around from monitor to monitor -- because being a computer hacker is like being a hip rockstar, donchaknow? And from what we see on the screen, apparently the way to hack into all the internets is to make a bunch of 3D virtual cubes stick together to make one large 3D virtual cube; but if its unstable and one of the cubes explodes or falls off... HACK FAILED!

And then there's the scene where he has to hack into the Department of Defense while in a hip nightclub getting a BJ from some hot slut while a gun is pointed to his head -- and he manages to climax right when he enters the final keystroke!
posted by Saxon Kane at 4:17 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


...and he manages to climax right when he enters the final keystroke!

Hey, that's exactly the same thing that I d-*hhhnnngg*
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:19 PM on October 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


Of course, I'm convinced Swordfish ripped off the 3D cube concept from the 90s smash hit Hackers, which had quite possibly the most ridiculous monitoring set-up for, essentially, the sysadmin of a server farm. (Or whatever that guy's job was?)
posted by muddgirl at 4:21 PM on October 12, 2009


He's The Plague!
posted by Artw at 4:23 PM on October 12, 2009


Hell, this is a guy who is a regular guest on American Dad & Family Guy -- I don't think he has much of a bloated ego shame
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:23 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


You wanted to know who The Plague is, muddgirl? Well, let me explain the New World Order. Governments and corporations need people like him and me. We are Samurai... the Keyboard Cowboys... and all those other people who have no idea what's going on are the cattle...

though, yes, now you mention it, Hackers is basically about a sysadmin who gets stalked by a bunch of douchey kids who keep fucking with his servers.
posted by Artw at 4:29 PM on October 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


The Whelk - They could do a show like Sliders with a different allegorical universe each week, that'd work.

Yeah except that show would be Sliders and man that was laaaame. Like fat-eating zombies aside, it was bad, bad acting. Like Timechasers bad. This is why you need non-idiots doing things like casting and plotting. I've said before, even at it's most INSANE and NONSENSICAL and downright BAD STORY-TELLING OMG WHY STOP GRAR, I loved BSG cause I would watch Mary McDonnell read the PHONE BOOK for an hour cause damn she's good.
posted by The Whelk at 4:30 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


...I kind of liked Sliders. It was sort of amiable...
posted by Artw at 4:31 PM on October 12, 2009


Yeah except that show would be Sliders and man that was laaaame.

Or Doctor Who. (Add some a's in there.)
posted by Sys Rq at 4:32 PM on October 12, 2009


You know what's going to get old real quick? Robert Carlyse playing a shit Baltar*. He can act the shit out of it, but the writing is piss poor and makes the character a dumbass.

* Though, technically, they might both be Dr. Zachary Smiths.
posted by Artw at 4:32 PM on October 12, 2009


Artw: "Hackers is basically about a sysadmin the guy from Short Circuit and Penn from Penn and Teller who gets stalked by a bunch of douchey kids who keep fucking with his servers."

I love that movie so much. Fisher Stevens skateboarding into the server room, the bunny rabbit trojan, Penn, the hacker tv program, everything about that movie is so awful it's amazing.
posted by shmegegge at 4:33 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sys Rq: "Yeah except that show would be Sliders and man that was laaaame.

Or Doctor Who. (Add some a's in there.)
"

how. DARE you!
posted by shmegegge at 4:33 PM on October 12, 2009


Or Doctor Who.

Fuck that. Doctor Who travels through TIME and SPACE to different allegories. Totally different.

(Except that Cybermen story, which was a bit naff, and whenever he did any dimension hopping in the old series, which actually made for some pretty good stories)
posted by Artw at 4:35 PM on October 12, 2009


Ron Moore reminds me of this guy - except with much more bonkers hair.
posted by panboi at 4:35 PM on October 12, 2009


shmegegge - Keep hacking the Gibson.
posted by Artw at 4:36 PM on October 12, 2009


At least X-Files tried every so often

I have, in my apartment, the tape I made from various Thanksgiving X-Files marathons. The *best* episodes, which are the stand-alone episodes. When the X-Files was good, it was really good. like real soild TV. Small Potatoes. Jose Chungs. The one with Cher. The Fucking Nazi Boat, etc. I finished the tape with the Simpsons X-file episode. yes I was that Kid.

This is what I hoped Heroes would be.

I watched the first three episodes and tapped out. I liked it better when it was a comic book, called Watchmen and X-men, and it wasn't sucky. I have a long-running idea that superpowers are fucking useless for most people. Who cares if you can walk through walls in rural Afghanistan? Most people, as per the This American Life episode, would just use thier superpowers to go the supermarket faster. Or steal shit.

I kinda hate the genre fetish that the Big Secret Magic Stuff is hidden. Fuck that. The ending of Buffy was a huge relif, just tell everyone "so Magic and vampire are totally real, go with it." Make it all in the open. Make people DEAL with it. Why isn't Top Ten a show? A police procedural where EVERYONE is a superhero? Fuckin' A. True Blood is at it's BEST when it's all about "so Vampires are REAL and on TV and we have to deal with it." What if Magic was totally real you guys, wouldn't Wal-Mart sell basic spell kits and everyone wear like a dozen different wards? Wouldn't it be like Sunshine? That's what I like, something totally New is around and everyone is trying to deal with it, make money of it, control it, whatevers, but it's here and effecting day to day life.
posted by The Whelk at 4:40 PM on October 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


The Whelk: "True Blood is at it's BEST when it's all about"

True Blood is the worst show on television that I just can't stop watching for some reason.
posted by shmegegge at 4:42 PM on October 12, 2009


A great many films have a plot that absolutely relies on the telephone and the story couldn't exist as such without it, and yet at no point is the nature of the telephone's functioning the core issue of the story and and in the overwhelming majority of the films nobody ever discusses the way a telephone works.

What happens in the films where the telephone stops working? Do they mention batteries that have died, wires that have been cut, missing reception, and other technical details? They do it briefly, but of course they do it.

But that's beside the point, because the real reason why films usually don't discuss the way a telephone works is that everyone knows how a telephone works. If, on the other hand, you want to tell a story that depends on technologies that haven't been built yet, you either put it in a time capsule for 100 years for the audience that hasn't been born yet, or you explain what the present-day audience needs to know to feel like they aren't being sideswiped by plot events. "I'm going to talk in a boring expository way about teleporters" sucks, but not as much as "Now the teleporter is going to do some magical shit that the viewers couldn't possibly have anticipated because for all they know it might be powered by leprechauns." or "Now we're engrossed in a plot conflict that would be solved by teleportation in an instant except for some limitation nobody never mentioned."

Now, mind you, this isn't a defense of Star Trek technobabble, which generally gives you the boring exposition, then makes it nonsensical, then throws in leprechauns and contrived conflicts later anyway. And it's certainly worth making the point that you should try to underestimate your audience's intelligence as little as possible, and make use of their existing background as much as possible. Heinlein's juvenile novels introduced 1950's kids to cell phones with no more exposition than "He took his phone out of his pocket and made a call."
posted by roystgnr at 4:52 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love that movie so much. Fisher Stevens skateboarding into the server room, the bunny rabbit trojan, Penn, the hacker tv program, everything about that movie is so awful it's amazing.

Hackers warped an entire generation. I am convinced the Cool Hip Areas And the Williamsburg Mini-Mall are all born out of this vague cultural tic that when you grow up you can be totally cool and just hang out and have "handles".
posted by The Whelk at 4:53 PM on October 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


The Whelk - I do have to say that I love stories that go beyond the point where the reset button would be usually pressed. Even if they do tend to be penned off in dark alternate future parallel earth land.
posted by Artw at 4:53 PM on October 12, 2009



True Blood is the worst show on television that I just can't stop watching for some reason.


Ass shots. So, so many ass shots.
posted by The Whelk at 4:53 PM on October 12, 2009


This has always been the reason that whenever I watch Star Trek I want to retch. It isn't limited to the deus ex machina, though that is fucking awful, but because this sort of writing permeates throughout the entire aesthetic of the show. Wooden acting? Terrible storylines? Dialogue no one would ever naturally speak? General meaninglessness? Well look at all this tech! We're surrounded by tech! Sterile, beautiful, sterile sterile tech! And all of it sucks!

BSG had it's problems, to be sure, and most of the knocks here have been spot-on. The over-reliance on vague religious beliefs was not just an issue in the last two seasons, but really throughout. Still, aside from the finale (which was great in its first hour and maddening in its second, but I give them a lot of leeway for taking me with them even that far) there were few instances where religion solved the problem for the characters. In fact, there were few instances were anything solved the problem instead of just making things worse.

Still, I think the divide is in that (this is what Trek fans have told me; I'm not just speaking from ignorance here) Star Trek is about an idealized future and the way they face their problems. BSG, on the other hand, is about a dystopian future filled with conflicting idealists who are all right and all wrong, and is primarily about redemption, but also about characters learning that they need to get over themselves and need redemption. This, to me at least, makes for a far more compelling story - one in which there are no real villains, only people and cylons who are all trying to do what's best and are destroying one another when the biggest issue is that there really aren't enough of either of them to survive. With that much of a hook, I was willing to deal with some religious mumbo-jumbo even when it wasn't pertinent to the story.

I'm sure that some posters here could make an equally passionate (and more eloquent) defense of the Star Trek world, and I dearly want to hear it, as I've tried to get into it on several occasions and hated it each time. I need something to cling to.

I'll use another example. I'm a Harry Potter super-freak. I know that a lot of the plots are resolved with magic we didn't know about, just as a lot of TNG plots are resolved via meaningless tech. Now, maybe the consultants on the Star Trek scripts were paid to know the universe well enough to keep the tech consistent and make sure that the solutions all worked within the world they'd created. I have no reason to believe that isn't true, but I just don't know.

SPOILERS AHEAD

What I do know is that in the Harry Potter universe, if Harry knows something, then we almost always know it too (slipping Ron the fake luck potion is the only counter-example that springs to mind.) That is, in Philosopher's Stone, we don;t know the magic that causes Quirrell so much pain when he tries to touch Harry, we just know that Harry is brave and blacks out, as it causes him pain as well. Dumbledore later tries to explain it, though his knowledge isn't perfect either. In Chamber of Secrets he's fighting the basilisk without really knowing how, and Fawkes comes down with the sorting hat without Harry calling to him. He doesn't question why he's able to pull the sword out, he just does because his life (and Ginny's as well) is in danger. Later he understands - he was showing the bravery of a true Gryffindor, which is the only way he could have retrieved the sword.

In Prisoner of Azkaban, the time-turner was easy enough to understand, but Harry was once again able to pull of the saving magic at the end only because he was acting impulsively - trying the patronus he'd never been able to create, only because he'd now seen himself create it. Goblet of Fire is the most egregious, with the whole duel between Harry and Voldemort where the wands can't duel properly, and the long scene of the old echoes of spells coming out of VOlemort's wand, adn on and on, with Dumbedore having to give a long explanation at the end.

But after that, it generally all makes sense. Voldemort can't possess Harry at the end of Order of the Phoenix much in the same way he couldn't touch him in the first book. He's frozen through the most cataclysmic events in Half-Blood Prince, and then his chase through the grounds is all stuff we've seen before. And then, in Deathly Hallows, we get his faux-death, but it's all been set up from the entire series. The most triumphant, out-of-seemingly-nowhere moment is when Neville, the weakest and most timid Gryffindor, refuses to bow to Voldemort, and is made an example of. Up there, certain of death, the sorting hat is placed on his head and set on fire, as a manner of execution and of showing that all students will be Slytherin in the future. And then Neville pulls the sword from the hat to kill Nagini, as Harry had asked him to do.

And then we realize, he was only able to do this because of his astounding bravery, in the face of certain death. It comes through as a staggering emotional moment. Everything I described above was basically the same sort of gibberish in TNG, but the difference is that here, it all meant something for the characters, which are the important part of the story.

If someone can explain how the tech resolutions served to create a good story in STar Trek instead of just serving as set-dressing, please educate me.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:55 PM on October 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


The ultimate evil of The Plague is that he probably gets coffee from Starbucks and not some cool hipster place. He wants to be a hipster with his skateboarding-in-the-office and stuff but he's too old and corporate. He probably doesn't even own a mac, and has a blackberry instead of an iPhone.
posted by Artw at 4:56 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Whelk - I do have to say that I love stories that go beyond the point where the reset button would be usually pressed. Even if they do tend to be penned off in dark alternate future parallel earth land.

To be fair, I stopped watching when it became clear Jerry O'Connell wasn't gonna be naked. Sorry. And aside from a few episodes I dimly remember (the fat-eating zombies!) I don't really have an impression of the show.
posted by The Whelk at 5:01 PM on October 12, 2009


“And speaking of BR [spoiler]...”
Yeah. Seems, again, and to the (tech) point, ham handed. He seems to force humanity, in the form of desire out of Rachael when he nearly rapes her. Which is the funky grey area between human and machine – how can a thing truly want anything?

But that’s the element of lazy drama. Presuming ambiguity and complexity are bad things.
Assuming you’re not complex and ambiguous because you dunno what’s going on as the creator.

Only thing that really hangs me up, and this is a necessary ill, is all the cross-talk. A decent example of what this is like without it is watching, say, the Battle of Britain where the flight instructors are always yelling at the fighter pilots to shut up.
A good unit, of almost any kind, military, engineering, sports, will typically only have the person on scene giving orders and everyone else more or less moving in synch without any crosstalk beyond the bare minimum.
So it'd be:
Geordi: "Captain, the (tech) on the (tech) has (teched). There will be a (glitch-tech) of (a given tech-measure) while we correct. Correcting...."
no one speaks for several minutes all performing various operations.
Geordi: "Corrected."

Why would anyone tell their chief engineer the most elementary way to fix something?
I like the Das Boot analogy above. Plenty of ways to show interesting and dramatic events on any sort of craft without the pseudo-science.
Like the response on the Heisenberg compensators ("How do they work?" 'Perfectly'), unless it's a plot point, why establish anything verbally? Just show it does what it does and move on.
Especially since you're now effectively hamstringing other future writers who might not want to worry about precisely how many megajoules the phasers are capable of producing without blowing and just want to tell the story.

I'm no writer, but I do know time management (thanks to chess and the military) and either you do want to compact as much story into your time as possible or, y'don't.
Although it can't all be lazy writing. Big hazard of the medium seems to be pushing soap flakes or some such, so I can imagine t.v. guys have to work with what they've got.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:06 PM on October 12, 2009


scratch that, I kind of do want to watch Car Talk In Space. Just not as fiction.

You mean I'm not the only guy who wants to blast those guys out of an airlock?
posted by brundlefly at 5:07 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


When it comes to Blade Runner it seems that Ridley Scott has a bad case of Lucas Disease. He won't stop messing with it until it utterly sucks.
posted by Artw at 5:07 PM on October 12, 2009


Tech this.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 5:13 PM on October 12, 2009


I've an idea that the film Whip It will be to someone as Hackers was to me. I was sitting there watching it and thinking "This is someones cult movie, but probably not mine. I am so very old."
posted by Artw at 5:16 PM on October 12, 2009


Also, The Plague is certainly not Penn from "Penn and Teller". It was this guy.

Also, I have to confess here that I absolutely adored this movie when I was 10.
posted by muddgirl at 5:17 PM on October 12, 2009


OK, it just struck me that "Penn" might have been a metaphor. A rather apt one at that. Damn.
posted by muddgirl at 5:18 PM on October 12, 2009


there were few instances where religion solved the problem for the characters. In fact, there were few instances were anything solved the problem instead of just making things worse.

Well, except for the fact that the ending of the show seemed to say it was all just God's plan, so the journey there, which was the good part, ended up being all a big waste -- like the ultimate M. Night it was all a dream ending. I loved the first 2 seasons (well, most of them, except for "Lee fights the black market" episodes and the like that seemed pointless) but after the let down of the final season -- and not even the final season as a whole, because there were many great moments here and there, but the overall movement of the story which went nowhere -- I can't watch it at all.

I also hate the idea that, apparently, love means you can have babies, but if you get sad you have spontaneous miscarriages, a la Tigh & Caprica(?) 6. That's pretty weak.

I think the divide is in that (this is what Trek fans have told me; I'm not just speaking from ignorance here) Star Trek is about an idealized future and the way they face their problems. BSG, on the other hand, is about a dystopian future

Maybe for some people. Personally, I'm a much bigger fan of dystopian fiction. The reason why I think I prefer TNG over BSG now is that I can still have fun watching (and often mocking) TNG. BSG lost its sense of fun for me, and I don't mean that it has to be happy to be fun -- it just got tedious.

In all honesty, I'll probably watch "The Plan" whenever it comes out, but after the season finale, I got rid of all my DVDS of seasons 1 through 4.0. I just felt like I couldn't bother to watch them again because the journey was ruined for me because the destination was so lame.
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:19 PM on October 12, 2009


I'm sticking to my Mad Men On Mars pitch. The 50s Forever, running into the rest of the world with total arrogance and obliviousness. Think of the music! A former Martian Revolutionary slowly torturing a member of LOCKHEED MARS with strange sexual games set to "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" A brutal sabotage by American Terrans set to "Tonight's The Night" And Robert Dyland's beautiful space-age pro-America songs.
posted by The Whelk at 5:23 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'll probably watch "The Plan" whenever it comes out

Stockholm syndrome.
posted by Artw at 5:24 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


In all honesty, I'll probably watch "The Plan" whenever it comes out,

To quote another Mefite" RETCON! THE MOVIE.
posted by The Whelk at 5:25 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also cause I want to see a Spaceship slowly locking up, with slow mechanics and locks and values and hoses, with a Supply ship over Europa set to this.
posted by The Whelk at 5:27 PM on October 12, 2009


Hmm... Have you read Saturns Children? There's a scene that would be oddly appropriate for.
posted by Artw at 5:31 PM on October 12, 2009


The theme song to my Imaginary Perfect Series is, of course, this.
posted by The Whelk at 5:33 PM on October 12, 2009


I. Have. Not!
posted by The Whelk at 5:34 PM on October 12, 2009


Yeah, the BSG manga that came out was called Future Angel Lady: Destination Forever. Say what you will about the Japanese, they are ruthlessly efficient.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:37 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Everything is better without a voice over. Really.

Drifting completely away from the topic of science fiction here for a moment --

You can't possibly convince me that, say, Dexter would be better without the voice-overs. I'd say it wouldn't work at all without them.
posted by webmutant at 5:40 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.
posted by Artw at 5:42 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


And we link to this and this and damn the narcissism.
posted by The Whelk at 5:46 PM on October 12, 2009


Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets


Not in Phoenix.
posted by The Whelk at 5:47 PM on October 12, 2009


It can't rain all the time.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:56 PM on October 12, 2009


The 50s Forever, running into the rest of the world with total arrogance and obliviousness. Think of the music! A former Martian Revolutionary slowly torturing a member of LOCKHEED MARS with strange sexual games set to "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?"

SOLD! How much money do you want?
posted by tkchrist at 6:21 PM on October 12, 2009


I think of the great SciFi and you know there is very little tech in it. Or they show, but don't tell.

2001. They didn't constantly jargon the show up. But it was still some good thought provoking "science" in with the fiction. Alien. Same thing.

I like OS Star Trek becuase of it's hokiness. And story wise there were moments of brilliance.

I cannot fathom why in all the ST films (except Wrath of Khan) they have never captured a good story without resorting to the "tech" shit.

The new ST film was only worthwhile becuase it finally acknowledged what fans always knew. That Kirk, representing American Imperial Macho, was an impulsive asshole and an idiot and that Spock, representing Rational Humanism, always saved his ass and never got any credit.

Well finally Spock at least got to nail Uhura. And conversely she finally got to nail him. And Kirk stayed clueless. Otherwise I thought that movie missed.
posted by tkchrist at 6:31 PM on October 12, 2009


Speaking of Star Trek, the part of the reboot movie that annoyed me the most was the teleporter tech. Let me get this straight -- Scotty, living on some godforsaken ice planet, develops a way to teleport from planet to planet. Not only that, but he can teleport someone onto a starship -- moving at warpspeed, mind you -- that has been traveling AWAY from the point of origin for who knows how many hours. What is the point of starships anyway if you can just do that?
posted by Saxon Kane at 6:35 PM on October 12, 2009


I cannot fathom why in all the ST films (except Wrath of Khan) they have never captured a good story without resorting to the "tech" shit.

Undiscovered Country & First Contact (which I think are the other 2 that are almost as good as Khan) are not too techy, are they? I really don't remember. And besides the "slingshot around the sun" bit, #4 doesn't have a lot of tech-woo.
posted by Saxon Kane at 6:39 PM on October 12, 2009


hey we're talking about star trek right

do you remember when q showed up with a mariachi band

that was the best thing
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:47 PM on October 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


The carbon based unit is underable to understance the awesomeness of watching 4 hours of effects shots of V'ger and is therefore imperfect.
posted by Artw at 6:53 PM on October 12, 2009


Eric?!
posted by Casimir at 6:57 PM on October 12, 2009


ST:TNG was a show about philosophy, not science.
posted by empath at 7:11 PM on October 12, 2009


ST:TNG was a show about philosophy, not science.

ST:TNG was a show about jumpsuits, not philosophy. And also camel toe.
posted by tkchrist at 7:20 PM on October 12, 2009 [7 favorites]


Everything is better without a voice over. Really.

Beg to differ.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:23 PM on October 12, 2009


"Captain! The Klingons are orbiting Uranus!"
posted by ovvl at 7:24 PM on October 12, 2009


Navelgazer: "I'm a Harry Potter super-freak."

I don't know about that...
*reads further*
...oh.
posted by graventy at 7:27 PM on October 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


kirkaracha: Sunset Blvd., great though it may be, is an excellent example of several of the various kinds of useless voice over I'm talking about.

Type 1: Thinks it's a novel. (Think again, Billy Wilder! That there's a movin' picture!)
Type 2: Has to spell out every last detail for the audience. (We have eyes! We have brains! We have imaginations! We no dum-dum!)
Type 3: Cut, or otherwise neglected to include, a detail critical to the plot which now requires explaining. (Oops!)
Type 4: Forcing first-person POV via internal monologue/diary/memoir/letter-writing/Captain's Log/storybook/flashback narration. See also Type 1. (I'm still hoping for an edition of Stand By Me with every last trace of Richard Dreyfus excised.)
Type 5: Superimposition of style and tone. (If you think lacklustre acting, cinematography, art direction, editing, sound design, etc. can be cured by simply laying some V.O. on top of it all, you're kidding yourself.)
Type 6: Inexplicable compulsion to stuff every last frame with something. (Let it breathe!)
...and so on.

In every case, it's just blatant exposition, which is usually a sure sign of a hack on the loose. Obviously there are always exceptions, but mostly: Ew.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:02 PM on October 12, 2009


Everything is better without a voice over. Really.

Slight derail, but no. The "no voiceovers" thing is something they teach hacks because hacky people write bad voiceovers, but it's morphed into this idea that voiceovers are bad. They are not. The idea that Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, A Christmas Story, Raising Arizona, Arrested Development and the like would be better without voiceovers is, as they say, "not even wrong."
posted by Bookhouse at 9:27 PM on October 12, 2009 [8 favorites]


Yeah, imagine Peep Show without voiceovers.
posted by turgid dahlia at 10:13 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Said it before and I'll say it again: If BSG's divine influences were explicitly called post-Singularity AI meddling folks would have a nerdgasm about it -- and in fact this is a very strong way to interpret it given that it's actually *about* AI and there's a "Don't call it God!" disclaimer on the end. But the degree of exposition and fan-pandering required to get to that point (or if it's God, explicitly laying out what the true religion is) is kinda sorta what Moore's complaining about in the first place.

God or not, I think what really annoys people is that BSG's mysticism completely rejects the participatory pantheism Star Wars trained us to accept. The protagonists are basically helpless outside of material moral decision making and even then it isn't a sure thing. There's no overtech or Force that allows anyone to significantly exert their will beyond that limit - just trickle down favours. (Even Kara Thrace's "find Earth" power is not only an insane compulsion, but leads to terribly depressing results.) This is a great affront to typical power fantasies in the cinematic SF/fantasy genre, where somebody can tech the teching or use the Force or something to make the conflict go away and either win, or lose while John Williams' conducts something bombastically sad-sounding to make choking your pregnant girlfriend a tragedy for the whole galaxy.
posted by mobunited at 12:05 AM on October 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


I strongly agree with Horace that TV needs more hairdresser, fast food, bartender, etc. technobabble.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:19 AM on October 13, 2009


I strongly agree with Horace that TV needs more hairdresser....technobabble.

1: Number Two, quickly! Hand me the follicular displacement apparatus!

2: You mean the comb?
posted by turgid dahlia at 12:42 AM on October 13, 2009


Perhaps Kirk was using penta-viagara to get it on with all those alien chicks.
[...]
Damnit, I meant sexta-viagara. A mediocre joke ruined.

Perhaps not. 'Penta' is the word for 'cowdung' in Telugu. :-)
posted by the cydonian at 1:20 AM on October 13, 2009


Speaking of Star Trek, the part of the reboot movie that annoyed me the most was the teleporter tech. Let me get this straight -- Scotty, living on some godforsaken ice planet, develops a way to teleport from planet to planet. Not only that, but he can teleport someone onto a starship -- moving at warpspeed, mind you -- that has been traveling AWAY from the point of origin for who knows how many hours. What is the point of starships anyway if you can just do that?

So... many... plot... holes....

And I like how the interface is some sort of video version of wack-a-mole

But on the other hand, Kirk nailed a hottie green alien so full of win!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:06 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is a bit like a chef admitting that their recipes went "Put the meat in a pot and spice the spice", and they were perfectly happy for the spice guy to sort out that stuff later.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:07 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


We're surrounded by tech! Sterile, beautiful, sterile sterile tech! And all of it sucks!

Dude, not all of it.

Tea! Earl Grey! Hot!
posted by bwg at 2:47 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Tea! Earl Grey! Hot!


Who would ever say "cold"?
posted by The Whelk at 3:09 AM on October 13, 2009


I understand this is also how Microsoft develops operating system software.

And the future of backups.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:42 AM on October 13, 2009


In the previous final director's cut, he slams her against the wall and makes her tell him that she wants him; they cut dome of that out and made the scene much less coercive which, in my opinion, takes away something important from the film.

It's only in the last three cuts that I get the sense that the argument that Deckard is a replicant really makes sense. Which makes me think Ridley Scott liked the theories fans kept coming up with enough to keep tweaking the film in that direction. The documentary and book about Blade Runner make it clear the sixth replicant was originally cut from the film due to cost overruns, not Scott's desire to make a subtle case for Deckard's replicant-ness.

In any case, if Deckard and Rachel are now both replicants in the latest version of the film, then they are both "equals" in their relationship. When Deckard wasn't a replicant, when he was just another human who, like all humans, treated replicants as slaves, the power dynamic between him and Rachel was quite different, and the rape scene underlined that imbalance fairly bluntly. If they're now both replicants, it doesn't make sense for Deckard to "own" Rachel, so much as introduce her to the notion of physical intimacy, which doesn't call for such a rough, domineering sex scene.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:53 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Tea! Earl Grey! Hot!

Who would ever say "cold"?


Not only that, but it's a pretty stupid system that can't seem to remember his preference.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:26 AM on October 13, 2009


This is so insulting to the viewer. Why stop at the tech? Why not just farm out the whole damn lot?

A: The [tech] means [plot consequence]
B: But what about [romantic subplot]?
A: Not with [tech]
B: You know that [Romantic subplot dilemma] means [main plot consequence]?
A: I can't [plot consequence dilemma because of [tech]]
Wil: Wait! What about if we [tech]? Then [romantic subplot principal] can also [resolve main plot] and [tech]!
Picard: Make it so.

What a shower of knobs. The tech should only ever have been there if it was integral. Using it like fairy dust is why the show stands up so poorly now, especially compared to TOS.
posted by fightorflight at 5:14 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Are we done linking to cstross?

His reaction is interesting, here is his way to set up a story that involves technology:
I use a somewhat more complex process to develop SF. I start by trying to draw a cognitive map of a culture, and then establish a handful of characters who are products of (and producers of) that culture. The culture in question differs from our own: there will be knowledge or techniques or tools that we don't have, and these have social effects and the social effects have second order effects — much as integrated circuits are useful and allow the mobile phone industry to exist and to add cheap camera chips to phones: and cheap camera chips in phones lead to happy slapping or sexting and other forms of behaviour that, thirty years ago, would have sounded science fictional. And then I have to work with characters who arise naturally from this culture and take this stuff for granted, and try and think myself inside their heads. Then I start looking for a source of conflict, and work out what cognitive or technological tools my protagonists will likely turn to to deal with it.
posted by Tobu at 5:31 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Captain, the temporal stabilizers have malfunctioned, and it looks like there are now two identical comments by Tobu.
posted by emelenjr at 5:37 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love these threads. I wish I could hollow them out and live in em.
posted by The Whelk at 5:43 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


It appears the second one is a rogue text replicant that escaped the built-in dedoublaze enzyme and the flagocytes. I fear what would become of my account, should it iterate further.
posted by Tobu at 5:47 AM on October 13, 2009


Which one has the goatee?
posted by The Whelk at 5:48 AM on October 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


The tech should only ever have been there if it was integral. Using it like fairy dust is why the show stands up so poorly now

Bullshit. House is basically the exact same thing as Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the premise is still wildly popular, except less with the fuzzy-wuzzy peace-love-and-understanding and more with the lonely-cynicism.

I feel like I'm repeating myself over and over but I keep stressing that Star Trek was never about the technology per se. Just like House isn't about accurately portraying the practice of medicine or really any sort of true medical knowledge at all.
posted by muddgirl at 6:01 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


So, what are you guy's low-budget sf series ideas? Unstable seemingly-superpowers cropping up around the around? Retrovirus goes rouges and starts infecting people with personality traits? Disasters accelerate human evolution (hint, it's not Eloi)? A world without bees or flowers or fruit or much of anything and the tireless efforts to recreate them (Kind of like the world in Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep)?
posted by The Whelk at 6:20 AM on October 13, 2009


Horrible parasite from the deep ocean that first makes you love it deeply before wrapping itself around your brainstem?
posted by The Whelk at 6:26 AM on October 13, 2009


Who would ever say "cold"?

Uhhh.... anyone from the South or otherwise familiar with that particular culinary glory?

Granted, they might say "Tea, Luzianne, iced, sweet" rather than "Tea, Earl Grey, cold," but still.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:03 AM on October 13, 2009


Not only that, but it's a pretty stupid system that can't seem to remember his preference.

Is the system programmed to read minds? What if Picard wants something else?

Pizza! No anchovies!
posted by bwg at 7:15 AM on October 13, 2009


They could be flying cardboard boxes if the story was good.

Have you ever seen one of the Apollo space modules in person? Cardboard boxes covered in tinfoil. I wouldn't ride one of those things down the block to the grocery store...
posted by straight at 7:37 AM on October 13, 2009


The advantage of technobabble is that it can be defined to have whatever properties are necessary for the plot. As others have pointed out, when used well it's used minimally to advance the plot; it's when it becomes the plot that it becomes a problem. But if you just make up something sciencey-sounding, you can give it whatever properties you need. If the plot requires someone to go in and purge the theta-matrix compositor, the writer can say that has to be done every two weeks, and who's to say they're wrong (unless they themselves said in an earlier episode they have to be purged every six months). If you used some real-life tech, you're expected to abide by the properties of the real-life tech, and you'll get someone who knows something about the subject saying, "Hey! Plastic welding rods don't have to be purged every two weeks, or at all!"

Which was one of the issues with the recent Star Trek movie. The red matter, we're told, creates a "black hole." In an interview one of the creators (writer? director? producer? I'm not sure which) said they used "black hole" because they wanted to get away from the made-up technobabble. Problem is, then you get a whole lot of people, myself included, scratching their heads during the movie saying, "um... that's not how black holes work." Had they just used some made-up temporo-spatial anomaly which does what they needed it to do plotwise, no one could have said they were wrong.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:49 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Bullshit. House is basically the exact same thing as Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the premise is still wildly popular, except less with the fuzzy-wuzzy peace-love-and-understanding and more with the lonely-cynicism.

No. Actually House is a great example of how you should do this: the medicine is very closely woven with the plot. If the scripts had just been written with [med] inserted, the medical advisers would have had to go through contortions to meet the plot. "Shit, now the disease from scene 1 means he has to send whatserface to an apartment which has cat hair and then later cause the patient to go blue. What fucking disease meets *these* requirements?" and it'd all seem tacked on. Just like in Trek, in fact.

Sure, the tech should never be the point of Star Trek, but when it is literally an afterthought in a scifi setting, it's going to stick out like a sore compensator.
posted by fightorflight at 8:04 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


fightoflight - actually, no. Medical students agree - the medical science on house is as completely made up as the technobabble on Star Trek - they just use a medical dictionary instead of an engineering one. This is what a House script would look like:

House: It is clearly [obscure disease we haven't used yet].
Sexy Resident 1: But the patient's [some biological indicator of disease] were normal!
House: Perfom [obsure test that Sexy Residents are not qualified to perform] and you will see I'm right!

Later

House: Wait, I was wrong! It is clearly [obscure disease that has environmental factor X]!
Sexy Residents 2 and 3! Search their home and/or place of business!

Sexy residents search home and find environmental factor Y! It is not Obscure Disease but common household allergies! House is a hero once again!

Whether or not the diseases are picked at the beginning or after the script is written, doesn't change the fact that the specific nature of the diseases really doesn't matter to anyone but nitpicky doctors.
posted by muddgirl at 8:14 AM on October 13, 2009


The difference is that House has interesting characters, evokes some emotion and is often clever. Star Trek has a permenantly sanitized feel where mostly boring humans have virtually identical reactions to whatever happens every week; which makes sense, because whatever happened last week didn't happen by this week.

Picard was awesome, when the script allowed for it and Kirk was too, if one-dimensional. But I don't care about all the main characters of all the Treks combined as much as I care about, say, Wilson or Chase. Basically, almost everyone on Star Trek is 13.
posted by spaltavian at 8:23 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


So, what are you guy's low-budget sf series ideas?

I always wanted to watch a show about low-level spaceship functionaries just trying to get through their days.

Bob is a environmental controls specialist. He spends all his time down in the algae farms, monitoring carbon dioxide levels and trying to figure out how to catch the eye of the secondary sub-assistant navigation computer programmer. Unfortunately, he is the lowest man on his duty roster, so whenever the ship docks at a space station he has to stay and monitor levels. Bob does a lot of origami. An exciting day for Bob is a spike in the sulphur percentage in the vats. So he sits down there, lonely, thwarted, trying to figure out how to rise in his department so he can go off ship to exotic places and impress the girl of his dreams. A sample episode would be a story about Bob trying to change his style by adopting a new fashion, showing up in the off-duty bar where his inamorta hangs out, getting embarrassed when his immediate superior shows up and mocks his new duds, then going back down to the algae farms to plot a Byzantine revenge that he would never dare to implement. There would be lots of fantasy sequences in which Bob triumphs, interspersed with Bob's actual life, which seriously sucks.

No one else would watch it but me, as it would be a bizarre mix of 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty', The Office and Star Trek, but I would be entranced.
posted by winna at 8:23 AM on October 13, 2009 [15 favorites]


OMG! I just thought how awesome it would be if Doctor Cottle and Doctor House were switched for an episode!
posted by spaltavian at 8:25 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


To each his own, I guess. I find the human drama in TNG to be pretty good, at best, and just as bad as any other serialized TV show at worst. I think it gets a bad rap because it's genre-y, just like a lot of genre fiction gets an undeservedly bad rap.
posted by muddgirl at 8:27 AM on October 13, 2009


Forgot to add that House is based more on the soap opera model, with plot-lines that last the entire seasons, while Star Trek is based more on the Andy Griffith Show where the characters get into a scrape each week and come out more-or-less the same.
posted by muddgirl at 8:34 AM on October 13, 2009


But TNG really isn't serialized, is it? Except for the super-important events (final confrontation with the Borg, etc) the most episodes could be watched in almost any order. That's one of the problems with it; 7 years of status quo ante gets really old. You can't grow characters if they were essentially created 5 minutes ago during the tire commercial. DS9 was serialized towards the end, and it seemed to be more interesting then, but I never really followed it.

House is serialized, not to the episode-to-episode extent of BSG, but events affect characters, and events from previous seasons still loom large. That House himself didn't change much while the others did was actually one of the points of the show; this isn't good, House is fucked up.
posted by spaltavian at 8:35 AM on October 13, 2009


> OMG! I just thought how awesome it would be if Doctor Cottle and Doctor House were switched for an episode!

I would pay cash money to see Doc Cottle in House.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:35 AM on October 13, 2009


I would pay cash to have Drs. House and Baltar in a scene together.
posted by spaltavian at 8:38 AM on October 13, 2009


I always wanted to watch a show about low-level spaceship functionaries just trying to get through their days.

There was an episode of TNG like that called "Lower Decks."

But yeah, I've had a dream of watching a series/writng a comic book or something like that as well.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:41 AM on October 13, 2009


If they're now both replicants, it doesn't make sense for Deckard to "own" Rachel, so much as introduce her to the notion of physical intimacy, which doesn't call for such a rough, domineering sex scene.

I don't know about that. That only makes sense if, on some level, Deckard *knows* he's a replicant. If he doesn't, and thinks of himself as human, then the violence of the sex scene still makes sense. Plus, it tells us something interesting about the nature of human nature, or at least masculinity, in that it is at some level deeply violent and possessive.

And House can go blow a donkey.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:01 AM on October 13, 2009


It's only in the last three cuts that I get the sense that the argument that Deckard is a replicant really makes sense. Which makes me think Ridley Scott liked the theories fans kept coming up with enough to keep tweaking the film in that direction.

That's hard to reconcile with only replicants... and Deckard... having eyeshine/redeye in the movie. And it's not like something as glaringly obvious as redeye appears accidentally. It's a big, obvious, overt hint that was there from the first cut. Like having only the replicants... and Deckard... wear bright pink pickelhaubes.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:11 AM on October 13, 2009


And House can go blow a donkey.

I would pay cash money to oh nevermind
posted by The Whelk at 9:12 AM on October 13, 2009


...or it could just be the way it's shot. I can't say i ever really noticed it before.

Never mind though, because I'm pretty sure in the next version Deckard will open his face reveal circuit boards and a little reel-to-reel tape deck and he'll say "BZZT! OH NO! BZZZT! I AM A ROBOT! BZZT!".
posted by Artw at 9:16 AM on October 13, 2009


For what it's worth, I work with a guy who wrote for House, and he told me that they were pretty stringent about the medical stuff and spent far longer working out the details of the medical problem than they did on other parts of the script, and their technical advisers were integral to the process. In other words, pretty much the exact opposite of Star Trek.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:18 AM on October 13, 2009


So let's get together and get to work on our perfect science fiction show. There's enough hyperillium in metafilter to make a fun space yarn, and I've been wanting to for a while. We can make it about low-level future shlubs and space-punks who run around and impress everyone with the possibilities of a science fiction narrative. And banter. And try to figure out how to smoke cigarettes in space.

Read this. This is a great page exploring the actual science of science fiction space travel.

Then memail me and we'll get to work on the pilot. Science first, then characters, and then a plot will happen. Make it so number one.
posted by fuq at 9:18 AM on October 13, 2009


Charles Stross is a massive nerd. That is why we like him.
posted by Artw at 9:19 AM on October 13, 2009


An early Babylon 5 episode had Vorlon spaceship approach the station backwards, which was impressive commitment to realism since the Vorlons were millions of years more advanced than humans. Of course, Babylon 5 also juxtaposed an ambassador being beaten to death with the main characters singing in a black chorus. So they never really gave a shit about the technology.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:28 AM on October 13, 2009


Horrible parasite from the deep ocean that first makes you love it deeply before wrapping itself around your brainstem?

We could call it "Kittens's Girlfriend, 1994-1996"
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:44 AM on October 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think ST:TNG was a moderately faithful attempt to recapture ST:TOS, long after the zeitgeist that made ST:TOS work had passed. I even buy that camel toe and banana hammocks are the natural course if you try following ST:TOS. ST:DS9 was simply unmitigated crap until they started ripping off Babylon 5.

Voyager however succeeded brilliantly in recapturing the incredible awfulness & lameness that was Kirk while simultaneously making the captain isomorphic to the core demographics' high school principle. I'd declare this a brilliant piece of performance art, except Voyager then abandoning even the subtly of camel toe to focus on boobs, which counterbalanced the core demographics deep abiding hatred of their high school principle. I'd guess you'd find a correlation between age and noticing camel toe.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:58 AM on October 13, 2009


To be fair, once they started ripping off Babylon 5 it actually got pretty damn good.

Babylon 5 deserves a mention for being the only one of these shows with a big mysterious arc where they actually planned the fucker out and executed it successfully - even if they did manage to finish the story off about a season early.

Lesser shows would have big wibbly black spaceships occasionaly turning up to blow things up and then struggle desperately to fod some reason for them being there later on, and it would turn out to be lame.
posted by Artw at 10:08 AM on October 13, 2009


Whether or not the diseases are picked at the beginning or after the script is written, doesn't change the fact that the specific nature of the diseases really doesn't matter to anyone but nitpicky doctors.

Yes, that's true. Perhaps what I mean is that in Trek, all too often the tech was the fundamental part of the story -- it was often the deus ex machina, in a way it doesn't ever seem to be in House. Sure, he solves the cases with his big medical brane, but really the episodes are all about the characters and larger storylines.

In too many TNG episodes, the tech is pretty much all there is, apart from a trombone and Spot the cat, yet what that actual tech content is turns out to be an afterthought, so it just doesn't work. Similarly, contrast Dr Who episodes like Blink to those where the Doctor saves the day with tacked-on tech nonsense.

It cheats the viewers, just like deus ex machina always does, but especially so when those viewers are highly technical and know fine well that the characters are just saying the equivalent of "connect the USB port to the floppy drive and then reverse the batteries in the bluetooth mouse!". It's not like House, where the medical viewers can be assumed to be a small minority of the audience. Scientific minds are going to be a big part of the audience, and they want intriguing, plausible, clever suppositions of future science so they can write usenet posts about exceeding 10 on the Warp scale.

That's what I mean when I say the tech in Trek shouldn't be an afterthought -- if they're going to use it as a fundamental cornerstone of the plot, they shouldn't also just leave out what that tech actually is so that some godforsaken adviser has to dream up something plausible and try to make it fit canon. It's just lazy.
posted by fightorflight at 10:12 AM on October 13, 2009


...or it could just be the way it's shot. I can't say i ever really noticed it before.

Naw. Scott and the lighting crew worked hard to make sure that the people and animals they wanted to, and only the people and animals they wanted to, had the eyeshine going on.

Googling, they shot lights into a half-silvered mirror at a 45-degree angle to the camera. Apparently the same technique was used by Fritz Lang.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:58 AM on October 13, 2009


Since I haven't watched Star Trek TNG since I was a kid and didn't expect to understand all the tech stuff, I went on youtube to find some videos making fun of technobabble. And yes, most of it is "connect the USB port to the floppy drive and then reverse the batteries in the bluetooth mouse!", it's also quite clear that most people can't tell when something there actually translates to, say, "the engine's siezed!" or "our shit's going to explode!" or "I made a spreadsheet to do some basic math!"

Someone mentioned earlier that shows and movies don't mention how telephones work. That is utterly false. People understand what they do. I'd bet good money that if I started mentioning 4x4 matrices, the Goertzel algorithm, piezoelectricity, op amps, Fourier transforms and the like, most people's eyes are going to glaze right over. People understand what telephones do. If you're writing science fiction that doesn't seem totally out of whack, that's what the writers need to do, too.

For examples, transporters were just fine when they magically made you dissolve into sparkles and appear on the planet. I'm sure that might well be possible, disregarding the implications that level of technology would have on the nature of society. However, when they started trying to explain things, that run into trouble very fast. Oh it scans people thoroughly breaks people into bits of energy and reassembles in a perfect copy at a distance? Disregarding what horrifying things might happen if too much energy was deflected during the trip, and the planet shattering amount of energy that would require, most any photons aren't even remotely resolvable at the distances involved, so they add a "Heisenberg compensator" (i.e magic physics breaking box) which only makes the whole thing seem more implausible. And then the say if it's scanning people perfectly, why can't it just malfunction and crank out another copy? Well it turns out that you can't perfectly copy something down to the quantum level without destroying the original state. You can only have one real perfect copy at a time. Of course if you have a magic physics breaking box who cares? But it was much better to have your implausibly high tech device mostly unexplained. People will develop their own explanations. Heck that's half the reasons physics and engineering types like this stuff is because there's all sorts of cool things that we can figure out how maybe, just maybe, to make work.
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:05 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Planetes is a cool example of an anime and manga about people doing mundane stuff in space. It calls back to the spirit of the space programme, the various nations have a foothold on geostationary orbit and the moon (where Helium 3 is mined), and are mounting expeditions to Mars and Jupiter à la 2001. The main extrapolation is that earth orbit is full of debris that endanger new exploration, with collisions sometimes creating more debris in a chain reaction. The crew of protagonists work at removing those.

A lot of the story is character driven, but it stands as an example of compelling hard SF (and mundane SF) on TV.
posted by Tobu at 12:27 PM on October 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Tobu: except for the He3 canard. (Clue: it doesn't work.)
posted by cstross at 4:07 PM on October 13, 2009


Every hard SF story has a canard that doesn't work. Like, every Niven story ever and anything involving terraforming. Otherwise it would be news and not SF. ;)
posted by GuyZero at 4:21 PM on October 13, 2009


What's the short version of the problem with He3? I had an actual real astronaut lecture me on how it's Teh Future one time, so this I want to know.
posted by Artw at 4:24 PM on October 13, 2009


Re: Deckard as replicant.

If I remember correctly, Harrison Ford is very against the idea of Deckard being a replicant, and says that when he was working on the movie, he and Ridley Scott talked about that and Scott said, "No, Deckard is not a replicant, he is human."

People have also said that the voice-over version (which I should probably watch this weekend, since it's been about 15 years since I've seen it) comes down much stronger on the "not a replicant" side.

Of course, my opinion is that whether he is a replicant or not is besides the point; what's more important is that the narrative (or, some versions of it, at least) cause us to ask the question at all. In my opinion, he's a Schrodinger's Replicant -- both human and not until you make a decision one way or the other. But by making it ambiguous, we are forced to question the distinction between humanity and AI.
posted by Saxon Kane at 4:25 PM on October 13, 2009


Ah... here we go

Lunar Helium-3 is a non-starter -- just ask James Nicoll. (Shorter JN: (a) nobody has built a working commercially-viable fusion reactor yet, much less a highly speculative He-3 reactor, and (b) the energetic costs of getting to the moon, mining ore, extracting He-3, and returning it to earth are in excess of 20% of the total energy you'd get by fusing it even if you have existing handwavium-tech fusors to put it in. In other words, it's cloud cuckoo land right now and for the next few decades, on a par with building huge solar power stations inside the orbit of Mercury and using the juice to manufacture antimatter -- a theoretical possibility permitted by the laws of physics, but you try getting the market to fund it.)
posted by Artw at 4:30 PM on October 13, 2009


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posted by Minus215Cee at 5:54 PM on October 13, 2009


Asimov wrote a series of stories about Powell and Donovan that are a couple of tech guys who show up and either test and/or fix a robot. As I recall they were good at what they did but were considered low-level guys that didn't enjoy their jobs. Fairly enjoyable stories.
If anybody wants to enjoy Moore and all of his glorious hair, he appears for about five seconds in the last scene of BSG on present-day-earth.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:12 PM on October 13, 2009


A: The [tech] means [plot consequence]
B: But what about [romantic subplot]?
A: Not with [tech]
B: You know that [Romantic subplot dilemma] means [main plot consequence]?
A: I can't [plot consequence dilemma because of [tech]]
Wil: Wait! What about if we [tech]? Then [romantic subplot principal] can also [resolve main plot] and [tech]!
Picard: Make it so.


I'd actually love to see existing scripts for formula-driven shows broken down like this. Sit down and really codify the shit out of the mechanics used, and have suddenly a way to not just gesturally but really objectively study the way in which formulae and component-wise structural repetition are used in plotting and writing.
posted by cortex at 1:27 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd actually love to see existing scripts for formula-driven shows broken down like this.

House
posted by The Whelk at 1:31 PM on October 14, 2009


Yes, yes, but I'm serious. I want this to be someone's Master's thesis. I want thorough, painstaking, Ignobel Prize-winning research.
posted by cortex at 1:48 PM on October 14, 2009


I guess that entails some vague familiarity with science on the part of the writing staff [of the X-FILES], but there's really no rational explanation for the boneless guy who came out of the sewer or vampires or a voodoo ghost guy that will ever make sense, and you don't need to be a scientist to know that a scientist confronted with such a thing would be as baffled by it as anybody else.

What I actually liked about the show was that it didn't try to explain the actual MOTW, but they dropped hints at actual science that let YOU jump to your own conclusions. Like, there are probably no weird gender-shifting humans that secrete uber-hormones (and if there are, the probably sure as hell aren't Amish or whatever those people were), but....there are gender-shifting frogs, snails, and other invertebrates, and some higher animals do have the ability to kind of direct the gender of their offspring depending on the conditions of their environment, so....if nature can do that with other animals, is it THAT weird to think that maybe a couple PEOPLE may have developed that ability?...I really dug that "well, there is scientific grounds for THIS, so maybe?...."

Granted, at times they also went way too far and it just got wacky.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:13 PM on October 14, 2009


Wow, the TNG fans over at io9 are mental. You'd think Stross had run over their dog and punched their gran or something.
posted by Artw at 2:19 PM on October 14, 2009


I'd actually love to see existing scripts for formula-driven shows broken down like this.

I had a formula all drawn up (in my mind) for Sex and the City but I don't quite remember it. It was something like:

Pick 3-4 of the following:
1 of them faces a problem in a relationship, but her & her partner get past it, reaching a new level of intimacy.
1 of them faces a problem in a relationship, and it causes her to break-up with (or get dumped by) the guy.
1 of them learns to be comfortable being alone.
1 of them realizes that her friends are her family.
1 of them has a sexy and/or embarrassing adventure.
1 of them meets a new guy but it doesn't work out because she realizes that she's not willing to settle.
1 of them meets a new guy, and he seems like everything she wanted.
1 of them learns to let her emotional guard down.
1 of them learns to stand up for herself.
1 of them runs into or reunites with an old flame.

Season to taste with:
Carrie buys/wears unbelievably horrible looking shoes/clothes (or, in a rare twist, learns how to be mature)
Samantha has sex with 20 different guys (or, in a rare twist, is rejected by a guy).
Charlotte whines about having babies and getting married (or, in a rare twist, has sex that isn't explicitly about procreation).
Miranda acts bitchy about something because she's a tough woman (or, in a rare twist, learns that she doesn't have to always be so tough and bitchy)

And top off with:
Carrie frames the story with a dated metaphor and ends on a cheesy cliche with her own sunshiney twist, like "Sometimes when life closes a door, it opens a window" (actually used once) or "You may have to break an egg to make an omelet, but sometimes you can lay another one."


Man, that show sucked. I can't believe I watched it for four seasons. I must have hated myself, or something.
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:34 PM on October 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


Just saw this:

Chrysler Turbo Encabulator

Wiki
posted by P.o.B. at 2:49 PM on October 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


More Encabulator
posted by P.o.B. at 2:57 PM on October 15, 2009


What are you talking about? The encabulator is a vital component in the construction of interocitors.
posted by Artw at 3:16 PM on October 15, 2009


use only genuine interocitor parts.
posted by The Whelk at 3:24 PM on October 15, 2009


Do not spin intensified disk wildly or use it to "scratch".
Do not attempt to "TILT" interocitor.
posted by Artw at 4:07 PM on October 15, 2009


But it seems to be making a "burping" or "hiccuping" sound, is that alright?
posted by P.o.B. at 7:21 PM on October 15, 2009


comment TK
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:19 PM on October 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Write your own House episode.
posted by Pronoiac at 6:17 PM on October 16, 2009


muddgirl: Just like House isn't about accurately portraying the practice of medicine or really any sort of true medical knowledge at all.

Wait. Are you saying - sometimes it is lupus???

That explains the lupus awareness posters. I thought they were tongue-in-cheek ads for House.
posted by Pronoiac at 6:55 PM on October 16, 2009


Tropes and Mundanity
posted by Artw at 3:37 PM on October 17, 2009


Anyone want to talk about The Plan and where it hurt you, inside?
posted by The Whelk at 1:04 PM on November 6, 2009


Oh, is that out?

I stopped paying attention when the series proper ended. I enjoyed it and enjoyed that it had a last episode. I don't need to be subjected to a couple hours of the writers showing us how cleverly they can retcon all the one-off decisions into a coherent narrative. Face it, the series was better and the cylons were scarier when they were mysterious.

I guess I'll add it to the Netflix queue, but dammit I won't send it to the top.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 1:48 PM on November 6, 2009


I don't need to be subjected to a couple hours of the writers showing us how cleverly they can retcon all the one-off decisions into a coherent narrative

Oh ho ho how I wish that was the case.
posted by The Whelk at 1:49 PM on November 6, 2009


I just read the review/summary on, I think, I09... And even then the stupid was so strong it went from beyond funny to painful.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:43 AM on November 7, 2009


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