Sunday, May 01, 2005

Science Fiction: Who needs it?

This was originally going to be a Star Trek rant prompted by the latest "Will Trek die?" posted on the Slashdot website. But, since my interest in Science Fiction in general seems to have greatly diminished in roughly the last decade, I'm expanding this post to thoughts about Science Fiction franchises in general.
Star Trek
Star Trek is the epitome of the once-glorious science fiction francise that now seems to do everything wrong as far as its fan base is concerned. I've never been persuaded by the general "lousy writing" or "poor characterization" explanations for why the Trek franchise has gone downhill. I've always been convinced that there was some deeper more fundamental explanation (yes, this is a rare example of a conservative blogger looking for a "root cause").

The best explanation for the widespread dissatisfaction with the Trek francise that I have yet to come up with (at least up to the early Deep Space Nine years when I gave up on the franchise) is that the francise's appeal really rested on a set of cultural assumptions that became out-of-date with time.

One example is the fixation of the original series and its contemporaries with logic: the starship Enterprise in particular and Earth in general were continually getting attacked by perfectly logical robot enemies throughout the 1960's. The general assumption seemed to be that unless humanity adopted something akin to the Vulcan code of pure logic, humanity's irrationalism inevitably was going to lead to its destruction. Except, of course, that humanity might somehow choose another path defined by those few intuitive geniuses (Captain Kirk, The Doctor, or David Bowman, for example) who somehow had that strange mix of intelligence and exemplary character to overcome enormous odds to defeat purely logical adversaries.

Nowadays, it doesn't take much beyond a quick hack-attack (for example, Data against the first Borg invasion of Earth in Star Trek: The Next Generation) to make your computer enemies blow themselves up. The heroic nature of post-Kirk Starfleet captains has been accordingly downplayed to the point that (cheap shot alert!) Captain Picard has become the Colonel Blimp of the Federation of Planets.

Another difference between the original series and its successors (which I'll expound on in greater detail in the future) is that the human cultural diversity of the original Star Trek has largely been replaced by some kind of human monoculture in its successors. Given the lavish attention attributed to the Klingon Empire in The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, it almost seems as if the writers had largely lost interest with the Federation.

I gave up on this show during my recent reactionary phase (i.e. about the time I was giving up Christianity for philosophical morphine) although I actually liked the early Stargate and even saw the original movie in the theaters. My take on the movie was that it was essentially a failed "Raiders of the Lost Ark"; the combination of modern technology and ancient Egyptian wierdness has long been a staple of the "pulpies" which themselves have a certain contemporary vogue. Given that the new Stargate spinoff is entitled Stargate: Atlantis, I've tacitly assumed that the franchise is rapidly running out of fresh ancient material to convert into storylines via demythologization.

Dr. Who
I only caught certain epsiodes on public television during the 1980's, so only the Tom Baker years really impressed themselves on my memory. Nowadays, I've been collecting a lot of the older episodes from the first Doctors, and it seems to me that the actor playing The Doctor really carries the show. Amazingly to me, according to William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, Dr. Who appears to have been something of a kid's show originally.

Star Wars
I'm waiting until Episode III opens this month before writing more. Just remember that Lucas' conceptual evolution from what appealed to him as a child to what appeals to children started with Indiana Jones and ended with Jar Jar Binks.


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