Monday, May 16, 2016

Trek50: Science Fiction, Science and Star Trek

Trek50 is a series exploring aspects of the soul of Star Trek in its 50th anniversary year.

When Star Trek began nearly 50 years ago as the first prime time television science fiction drama series, it deliberately set out to maintain strong ties to both science fiction writers and science itself.  In the decades since, science fiction or "space opera" on screens has drifted away from these connections.  Many feature films employ scientific advisers, and some notable recent near-future space movies attempted to stay within scientific and technological knowns.  But that particular combination of science fiction and science that Star Trek achieved remains special.

However, the intention of Star Trek's creators to involve science fiction writers was not entirely new at the time.  On radio, Dimension X dramatized some classic science fiction stories by Robert Heinlein (including his story, "The Roads Must Roll"), Ray Bradbury (The Martian Chronicles), Isaac Asimov and others. "It was the Star Trek of radio," wrote radio historian Gerald Nachman, "praised for its basic dramatic strengths."  It ran only one season (1950-51) but spawned a more successful series X-Minus One, which partnered with Galaxy Magazine for its stories.  Ironically, this series ran on the NBC radio network in the mid-50s, for--you guessed it--three seasons.

Star Trek tried to use stories by science fiction writers, though writing for network television within budget was a challenge.  Some Trek teleplays adapted science fiction stories, but perhaps the biggest influence from science fiction writers came informally, through their writings (including Robert Heinlein's), advice and ultimately the friendships that Gene Roddenberry and others made with such important writers as Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov.

An important characteristic of many of these science fiction writers is their knowledge and even expertise in science and technology.  Asimov was a professor of biochemistry and Clarke had degrees in mathematics and physics.  They were not unusual in this regard.  Even sci-fi pulp authors like E.E. Smith had degrees in chemistry and physics. Others were engineers or worked in applied technology.  This goes back all the way to H.G. Wells (degree in biology) and Jules Verne (who "worked very closely with scientists," according to Robert Heinlein, an engineer with graduate work in math and physics.)

A science background linked to imagination sometimes meant that such science fiction writers made real world contributions.  Perhaps the most important so far was Arthur C. Clarke, who came up with the idea of communications satellites. But a more direct contribution is the fascinating story of the space suit.

According to his account, Robert Heinlein first saw a description of a space suit in a 1931 story by Edmond Hamilton, who became most famous for his Captain Future stories.  In 1939, Heinlein wrote a story "which made much use of spacesuits" and created an "elaborated version" of Hamilton's.  Heinlein had been in the Navy, and a former shipmate who was by then engaged in aviation research read this story.  When World War II started, that shipmate--Rear Admiral A.B. Scoles--put Heinlein in charge of developing a real high-altitude pressure suit.

Heinlein worked on it, and passed the project onto L. Sprague de Camp, who in addition to being an aeronautical and mechanical engineer was also a prominent science fiction writer.  Eventually, the high-altitude pressure suits that not one but two science fiction writers helped develop became the basis for NASA spacesuits.  As well as spacesuits in science fiction movies and print stories, including Heinlein's 1958 juvenile s/f novel "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel."

When it comes to the science of space travel, science fiction writers in some ways came first. “Astronautics is unique among all the sciences because it owes its origin to an art form," writes astronomical artist Ron Miller. "Long before engineers and scientists took the possibility of spaceflight seriously, virtually all of its aspects were explored first in art and literature, and long before the scientists themselves were taken seriously, the arts kept the torch of interest burning..."

In fact the early 20th century pioneers of rocketry were inspired by science fiction, and eventually wrote their own science fiction stories.  In Russia, Konstatin Tsiolkovsy was inspired by reading Jules Verne.  American Robert Goddard was inspired by H.G. Wells.  German Hermann Oberth, also inspired by Verne, not only made practical contributions to rocketry--he was also a science advisor to the 1929 German space travel movie, Frau im Mond (Woman in the Moon), directed by Fritz Lang (whose Metropolis would be a s/f classic.)  This movie inspired a boy of a later generation to become a rocket engineer.  He was Krafft Ehricke, designer of the Atlas booster that sent the first Americans into orbit.

This film, incidentally, made another contribution to real rocketry: the countdown.  It was the first (but hardly the last) time the simple 5-4-3-2-1 was used to launch a fictional spacecraft.  Eventually NASA elaborated it into a long checking process, and substituted "Lift-off" for the (by then) traditional BLAST-OFF!

Even long before the 20th century, pioneer astronomer Johannes Kepler wrote a very early science fiction tale called The Dream, which depicted in great detail a visit to the moon, largely based on the science of the day which included the first telescopic observations.  (Carl Sagan's Cosmos book goes into detail, noting that partly because of misunderstandings based on this book, Kepler was forced into exile, which he spent in a town called Sagan.)

The intermix of scientists and engineers with science fiction forecast other aspects of our Space Age.  Artificial space satellites were first proposed in science fiction novels as early as Edward Everett Hale's The Brick Moon in 1869.  An Austrian engineer and a German science fiction writer each described a working space station in 1928.  Such a space station was most elaborately described in Arthur C. Clarke's 1952 novel Islands in the Sky, which kicked off the celebrated Winston series of science fiction novels for young readers.

But science savvy and training also alerted science fiction to future dangers.  H.G. Wells wrote about (and named) the atomic bomb in 1914, and in the 1930s and 40s, science fiction authors wrote so much about the atomic bomb and atomic energy that John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding magazine who presided over the Golden Age of the pulps (and was trained in physics), was questioned by a US government agent alarmed that pulp fiction writers might be stealing ideas from the still secret Manhattan Project developing the real atomic bomb, rather than using their own knowledge and imaginations.  Tales of atomic warfare horrors became so common even before the first atomic bomb was exploded that Campbell complained he was receiving too many.

Star Trek continued this intermix of art and science in developing the Enterprise and the Star Trek universe.  Few elements were strictly speaking original, but they were chosen and orchestrated with both artistic possibilities and scientific plausibility in mind.  Since Star Trek---or at least since Carl Sagan's novel Contact--the roads of science and science fiction no longer lead as often to the movie or television screen.  Yet the informed vision of Star Trek has not only itself inspired new technologies (and new scientists) of the past 50 years, but formed the basis of its durable storytelling universe.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Captain's Log: New Trek Series, Old Star Wars

A flurry of news on the upcoming Star Trek series on the CBS pay site: Bryan Fuller, writer for Deep Space 9 and Voyager, is the showrunner.  Nicholas Meyer, writer and director of several Trek movies, is consulting producer and staff writer.  And GR's son Rod Roddenberry is executive producer, along with the COO of his Roddenberry Entertainment,  Trevor Roth.   Alex Kurtzman, of the NuTrek regime is also an exec producer, along with tv producer Heather Kadin.

Roddenberry said in a press release: “Moral dilemmas, human issues, complex characters, and a genuine sense of optimism: These are the cornerstones of Star Trek and are what have made it such an influential and beloved franchise for the last 50 years.”   Meyer mentioned his Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country as a key to the direction of political comment.

At the same time, Fuller and Meyer emphasized that the series would be "different."  The initial press release indicated that it won't be about characters from past Star Trek shows.  (It should be noted however that "executive producer" and "consulting producer" can mean a lot of things in television.)

I still stand by my first prediction: that it is likely to be set in the 25th century or beyond, in the "prime" or GR timeline. Or possibly between TOS and TNG, but in that timeline. The CBS pay site is clearly building around Star Trek, and it is showing other TV series in the GR Star Trek universe.  So staying in the GR/TV timeline would make all kinds of sense, from "branding" consistency to a feedback effect from show to show to providing the new series with the depth of history.

Also, I wouldn't be surprised if Nick Sagan were brought aboard, assuming he's available.  And I say once again, they'd be crazy not to at least ask Jonathan Frakes to direct and consult, and Levar Burton if he's still interested in directing.

On the Star Wars front, a fascinating pattern continues to play out.  Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was an immediate blockbuster by any standards.  The opening reviews were mostly glowing and the fans were ecstatic.

Much was made of J.J. Abrams decision to go old school and avoid CGI where he could, in contrast to George Lucas in the previous three Star Wars films (now the first three in the chronology.) Abrams also brought back the beloved stars of the first trilogy (now Episodes 4-6), and introduced a new generation of characters, more diverse than the last. These new actors also got good reviews (mostly) and good fan reaction.

This film's gigantic global success, and the decisions made in contrast to Lucas's last three films (as well as Disney's rejection of his proposed storyline for this and subsequent episodes in what he'd initially envisioned as a 9 film series) seemed a melancholy repudiation of the old guy who created the Star Wars universe.

 But then the coverage took some odd turns.  A couple of Los Angeles Times writers wondered at length whether they'd all been taken in by the hype.  And then emerged: George Lucas.

In hype-related statements, he'd professed enthusiasm for the movie and Disney's plans for much more Star Wars.  But  then in an interview by Charlie Rose, George Lucas said he didn't much like The Force Awakens, and made some awkward joke about Disney being "white slavers" who kidnapped his children (meaning Star Wars.) Very soon he backtracked both on that comment and his opinion of the movie.

Not long afterwards Bryan Curtis in the New Yorker, noted that the conventional wisdom was that fans were glad to see Lucas exiled from new Star Wars.  But...

"Then the new movie came out, and a strange thing happened. Even as critics saluted “The Force Awakens” and fans turned it into a billion-dollar hit, both camps have come scurrying to the feet of Lucas, the master, rather than Abrams, the apprentice. To call what’s happening a full-blown critical reĆ«valuation is perhaps going too far. It’s more like a reawakening. For the first time in a more than a decade people are talking about Lucas with something other than withering contempt."

Even his reviled prequels (Episodes 1-3), Curtis wrote, were now being seen as "noble failures."  But Curtis' colleague at the New Yorker Richard Brody went further than that.  He wrote in ecstatic praise of two films in the more recent Lucas trilogy, Attack of the Clones and especially Revenge of the Sith.  (It's perhaps worth mentioning that though their reputation became fairly low, that trilogy was also successful with filmgoers worldwide.)

So people were talking about George Lucas in positive terms again. However as time went on, J.J. Abrams did not fare as well. "It took a unique—well, derivative—sequel to create an atmosphere in which Lucas could be viewed in a new light," Curtis wrote. "The biggest reason Lucas looks better is because “The Force Awakens” is an admission that, thirty-eight years later, the original can’t be topped."

The 'derivative' notion gradually became elaborated. Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times was perhaps the first to complain that The Force Awakened was maybe too much like Episodes 4-6.  Others pointed out resemblances in the story to Episode IV: A New Hope, the one that was once called just Star Wars.  Most recently, a Wired article described the findings of a computer science professor who did a data analysis that showed intricate mirroring that another site somewhat sarcastically headlined as Data conclusively proves that The Force Awakens is just A New Hope.

All this might be deja vu for Star Trek fans, who saw lots of resemblances between the villain of Abrams' Star Trek and Khan in The Wrath of Khan.  And then of course lots more resemblances between The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek Into Darkness.

Abrams reportedly first refused to do this Star Wars film because he didn't want to become known as the maker of sequels.  But does he make sequels?  Or does he make remakes?  None of this invalidates the movies he does make, and both the differences and similarities to these previous films have meaning. Obviously millions of people like these films.  But the Star Wars experience may help clarify responses to the recent Star Trek films that have evaded definition.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Where the Strange New Worlds Are

 The search for intelligent life in the universe goes on, sometimes with tantalizing hints, like the possibility of alien megastructures floated and then dismissed some months ago.  But the possibility of anything like the Star Trek universe existing in reality may be based on a particular if understandable limitation in our human thinking.

When Gene Roddenberry proposed creating a Star Trek television series, he was able to quote (or misquote) a scientific calculation of the odds to suggest that even if intelligent life is very very rare,  because of the unfathomable size of the universe, there still should be many, many inhabited worlds harboring alien civilizations.

But while the "many worlds" calculations that said intelligent life should be abundant depends on the immensity of space and the number of worlds in it, those numbers are quite possibly defeated by the immensity of time in which the universe has existed.  Because civilizations exist not only in space but in time.  And there's been a lot of it.  Really a lot.

This video of the singer Peter Mulvey charmingly explains what happens when you factor time into the search for alien civilizations.  It recounts a conversation with an astrophysicist answering the question of why we haven't made first contact.

It doesn't mean alien civilizations don't exist, any more than the earlier calculations meant that they do.  But it does emphasize that the Star Trek universe is primarily a story universe--a place that frees the imagination to explore new ideas and insights that can make a difference in our individual and social lives, and life on Earth.  Yes, we can learn about the contexts of our lives, including the vastness of the universe.  But through Star Trek, we primarily explore ourselves.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

R.I.P. 2015 From Star Trek and Doctor Who

More than anyone else, Leonard Nimoy had come to represent and embody the enduring spirit of Star Trek.  His death early this year had immediate global impact, but his absence for Trek's 50th anniversary year ahead I believe will be felt even more.

Besides creating the character of Spock for the original series, a notable two-parter on The Next Generation, and for 8 of the 12 Star Trek features to date, Nimoy directed and helped create two of the "trilogy" films (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and IV: The Voyage Home) as well as performing a famous scene in the first of the three, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.   Two other principal figures in creating the trilogy also died in 2015: producer and writer Harv Bennett (pictured with Nimoy at the top) and Oscar winning composer James Horner (pictured right).

Others who were part of Star Trek from the beginning also died in 2015 and sadly will not be part of the anniversary year.  George Clayton Johnson wrote "The Man Trap," the first episode to air--marking the exact anniversary date of September 8, 1966. Cinematographer Howard A. Anderson, Jr. ran the Anderson Company, the lead special effects house for TOS, beginning with the first pilot, "The Cage."

Grace Lee Whitney performed as Yeoman Janice Rand in the first season, and returned in later years for appearances in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and other features, as well as several independent films.  She was cherished as well on the convention circuit.

Bruce Hyde appeared as Lt. Kevin Riley in two early TOS episodes, and was one of the few previously introduced characters (in gold shirts, at least) to be killed--he was murdered in "The Conscience of the King."  Hyde later went against type to have a distinguished academic career as a professor of communications.

Also appearing in "The Conscience of the King"was David-Troy, who had studied acting with Leonard Nimoy.

Yvonne Joyce Craig made a lasting impression as a captive Orion dancer in "Whom Gods Destroy."

Others from TOS include writer Don Mankiewicz ("Court Martial") actor Carolynne Barry ("Arena"),  actor Gregg Palmer ("Spectre of the Gun") and stunt player Eddie Hice ("Day of the Dove," "Wink of An Eye").

In 2015 Star Trek: The Next Generation lost actor Theodore Bikel, who played Worf's father, and Rusty McClennon, who served as Michael Dorn's stunt double as Worf.

TNG also lost writer-producer Maurice Hurley, actor William Newman (memorable in "Up the Long Ladder" as pictured left, he had once been considered to play Jean Luc Picard), actors Karen Montgomery ("Angel One"), Ellen Albertini Dow and George Coe.

Karen Montgomery
From Voyager and DS9, Star Trek also lost actors Tom Towles and Terrence Evans, and from the feature films actor Jeri McBride (TMP), actor John Miranda (Star Trek IV), actor Alan Marcus (Star Trek VI), producer Bernard Williams (Star Trek: Generations),  stunt Borg Tom Poster (Star Trek: First Contact), and stunt player Dina Lupo (Star Trek: Insurrection). Though she was best known as an actor (the "Log Lady" on Twin Peaks), Catherine Coulson was a production assistant on Star Trek II.

Penny Juday was art department coordinator for Star Trek features from Star Trek VI through Star Trek: Nemesis.  She had cameos in "Generations" and "Insurrection," and as a dedicated archivist she was also a fan favorite.

Olaf Pooley was one of the small number of actors--estimated at 28--who appeared in both Star Trek and Doctor Who episodes.  He appeared in "Inferno," a Jon Pertwee story of Doctor Who in 1970.  Exactly 30 years later, he appeared in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Blink of an Eye."  He died in 2015 at the age of 101.

The only television science fiction saga to rival Star Trek in longevity is the British series Doctor Who.  In 2015 it lost Anthony Read, who was its script editor in the classic Tom Baker period of the late 70s. He supervised  the season-long Key of Time episodes (with Mary Tamm as the female Time Lord Romana) and he welcomed a young writer to Doctor Who named Douglas Adams, who juggled some of the best classic Who episodes with his other project, A Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

In 2015 the series also lost actor Kenneth Gilbert (one of many actors on Doctor Who--usually playing villains--who also played classical parts with the Royal Shakespeare Company) as well as actors Rex Robinson, Clifford Earl, David McAlister, Hugh Walters, stunt players Derek Ware and Richard Bonehill, and director Fiona Cummings.

Also passing in 2015 were Melissa Mathison, screenwriter for the Steven Speilberg classic  E.T. :The Extra-Terrestrial, Robert Kinoshita, designer of Robbie the Robot; Rex Reason, star of the classic 1950s films This Island Earth and The Creature Walks Among Us; and Jack Larson, famous as Jimmy Olsen on the classic 1950s television series The Adventures of Superman  with George Reeves. Larson later
had a career as a producer and playwright.  In 1952, the same year he began acting in the Superman series, he appeared in the film Kid Monk Baroni, which starred Leonard Nimoy.

May they rest in peace.  Their work lives on, into the future.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Back to the 50s Future

It's a newsmaker when a discovery or new product looks at least a little like something in the Star Trek science fiction universe.  But the big news today was something that was a regular feature of the universe of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger (besides the automatically opening doors and the forward view screen) and other pre-1960s science fiction.

The private SpaceX company landed a spaceworthy rocket (or the first stage anyway) upright onto a pad at Cape Canaveral--just the way Rocky Jones, Tom Corbett and Buzz Corey of Space Patrol did on Saturday mornings in the 1950s, but which had never been done in the more than fifty years of actual space flight.
(Unless you count the smaller craft that did it recently, launched by another private company, Blue Origin.)

But the SpaceX feat was widely considered a landmark, for if rockets can be reused, it might well make using rockets, especially for space travel, a lot less expensive.

For what Rocky Jones and other rocket jockeys did routinely has been out of reach of actual rocketeers.  When real manned spacecraft began "lifting off" (rather than "blasting off!") in the early 1960s, they left their booster stages behind to fall into the sea or remain in orbit, and astronauts huddled in the top capsule that returned attached to parachutes.

The best that was done after that were the Space Shuttles that landed like airplanes on a runway.  Of course, the even more budget conscious Star Trek series solved the problem in 1966 by never landing the Enterprise, and beaming people down and back up.

Though science fiction got a lot right in the years before actual spaceflight--and in fact inspired a lot of what actually was done, like the design of spacesuits and the countdown--this was a key difference.  If rocket ships just took off and landed (even if, like Flash Gordon, the ships belly-flopped rather than landing upright), they could be more plentiful.

If rockets were as reusable and cheap as airplanes, they might have had a greater impact on life on Earth, as well as making space travel more frequent and even ordinary.  That's the kind of near future that Robert Heinlein saw, for instance, in his first 1950s science fiction novels for young readers, Rocketship Galileo.  In a future that seemed a lot like the 1950s, rockets were routinely used to transport cargo, because they were faster than airplanes and reusable.  In fact, it's an old cargo rocket that our young heroes refit for their pioneer voyage to the moon.

Arthur C. Clarke once said that the only thing that surprised him about manned space exploration was that it stopped.  The gigantic expense was a big reason it did.  The head of SpaceX is Elon Musk, who despite his name is believed not to be an alien himself, but he's very focused on manned space exploration, especially to Mars.

It's still a pricey proposition, with lots of technical problems that may never be licked, especially involving how to keep humans alive for the voyage and on Mars.  But the reusable rocket is a step in that direction.  Maybe a big step.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Captain's Log: Trek v. Wars, premiere v. trailer, and the Day We Became One Planet

             illustration from UFOP: Star Base 118

As the premiere of The Force Awakens approached, there were a surprising number of Star Wars v. Star Trek debates in the media (for instance, here and here)--so much so that the business-oriented wire service Reuters noticed.

 While fans of each saga can be... fanatical about their favorite, in truth many if not most of them will eventually see both. Paramount apparently saw it that way when they announced that a trailer for Star Trek Beyond will be seen at showings of The Force Awakens.

Though Trek fans were there first in most expressions of fandom, it's hard not to view with awe the dedication of some Star Wars fans. They began lining up to see the new film some 10 days before it opened in Hollywood. Though it was in part a promotional gimmick, this Mashable  story makes it clear that it was also a community expression.

Some participants had done the same thing for previous films--officially as part of this promotion since the first prequel film in 1999, but at least a few who'd lined up at this theatre as children for the original Star Wars (now Episode 4) in 1977. For them, the experience of being together with other fans--including friends they made at similar events for the prequel films--is an important part of Star Wars.

 The premiere itself was huge--taking up three theatres and several Hollywood city blocks--and the advance bookings themselves made The Force Awakens a major hit. Media reports of responses by the first audiences were also highly positive.

 Among his many media interviews, The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams did this one with the Los Angeles Times, inevitably commenting on the difference between the Stars he's been part of. This is what he said: "At the heart of “Star Wars” is the idea of the Force. It’s this spiritual thing – it’s almost antithetical to science-fiction. And “Star Trek” is such a science-fiction story."

Abrams speaks eloquently and movingly of the essence of Star Wars. And "spiritual" is a strange word, open to many interpretations. But could it be that he never really got the essence of Star Trek? His comment suggests that possibility.

 Abrams as the director of The Force Awakens must realize that its story and its buzz and its preordained success is based at least partly--and perhaps, at this point before the movie has been widely seen, primarily-- on the fact that the beloved stars of the original Star Wars are in it.

 But apparently as the producer of Star Trek Beyond, he did not see that a movie released deliberately during Star Trek's 50th anniversary year might benefit from tangible ties to its storied past, especially in casting. Granted that Harrison Ford is a huge movie star apart from Star Wars, and Star Trek has no actor of that wattage, not even Sir Patrick. But the crews of Star Trek and TNG are beloved international icons. If some had been included, might we be seeing lines of Star Trek fans camping out for the 50th anniversary film premiere this summer?

On the day of the new Star Wars movie premiere in Hollywood, somebody "leaked" the first Star Trek Beyond trailer, "forcing" Paramount to release it. Some s/f and entertainment sites (like Cinema Blend) were all agog, but fans logging onto Trek Movie were divided, as they were (though a little less so) at Trek Core and (a little more so) at Trek Today.

 Some complained about "Star Fast and Trek Furious." Some of the disappointment was poignant, as the fan who commented: "I'm nearly 25 years old, and I've been a life long Trek fan. My parents were divorced growing up and Trek was something for me and my father to bond over. Now when he and I watch the new films, we just feel sadness and shame."

 As many noted, the trailer emphasized action, and only a rudimentary idea of what could be a complex story was suggested. Most of those who liked it or defended it did so because it looks like an exciting action movie that updates Star Trek, while many (though not all) of those who reacted in the negative said it didn't feel like Star Trek. One comment at Trek Core for instance: "There is nothing of the contemplative, exploratory, intellectual, dreamy, optimistic, humanistic, or political Trek in this trailer. It's being marketed as Fast and Furious in Starfleet uniforms. The characters may be moderately recognizable, but the essence of Trek is dead in this one."

 Apart from those who were definitively disappointed and those who were excited were others who pleaded to suspend judgment of an entire film on the basis of a first trailer.

 Okay. I'll go with that.

 But I will say this. The response of many fans affirms that there is something more than "science-fiction" action entertainment that they value about Star Trek....That there is an essence, a soul of Star Trek, which is as deeply important to these stories as the Force is to Star Wars.

Update: Co-writer and actor Simon Pegg responded to the response to the Trek trailer, saying he was puzzled by the trailer and a bit disappointed. He suggested the movie has more substance than that, and director Justin Lin suggested at least one question about the nature of the Federation that the movie deals with, through the antagonist, while adding some 21st century terrorism-inspired asymmetrical warfare to the alternate universe 23rd.

The Day We Became One Planet 

 It seems the world is catching up to Star Trek technology, with Trek being mentioned when anything develops that looks vaguely like tractor beams or the tricorder, or the TNG communicator pin. But in an even more essential way, the world has unexpectedly behaved as if it is finally growing into the Star Trek future.

 It happened on Saturday, December 14, 2015 in Paris, when delegates of nearly 200 nations passed by acclamation an agreement on addressing the global climate crisis.

 It's taken a quarter of a century from the first United Nations attempt to do so, but the words of the delegates, of national leaders who attended the first day of the conference in force, and of the media covering the event--all emphasized this agreement was made for the future of the planet.

 “History will remember this day,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said after the pact was sealed by thunderous applause. “The Paris agreement on climate change is a monumental success for the planet and its people.”

 It is the first time that the planet Earth united on behalf of the planet Earth.

 There were no huge apparent changes--nations still dealt with internal and international politics, bombs still fell, terrorism still exists, as does hunger and disease. The challenges remain of addressing climate crisis effects already on the way, and this pact alone may well not be enough to save civilization. But it was a kind of paradigm shift, towards the united Earth that gets its act together at home, and works together to go into space (as some experts say must happen if humanity is to explore what's beyond), determined not to make the same mistakes of invading in the guise of exploring.

 George Takei has said that Gene Roddenberry's vision was of the Enterprise as a Starship Earth, representing the diversity on the planet, working together. That's part of it. But the term "Spaceship Earth," just becoming widely known in the Star Trek 1960s, had another meaning.

 As coined by Buckminster Fuller (designer of the geodesic dome, a U.S. Navy vet and a sailor), "spaceship Earth" was a specific metaphor. Earth, like a ship at sea, has limited resources and must use them intelligently, or all aboard will perish. Gene Roddenberry, a sailor himself as well as a flyer, knew the practicality of that metaphor.

 Just a few days ago, leaders of the world's nations acted on that fact, and the language they used made it clear. The planet is in peril, not by an alien invader, but as a result of what humanity has done--at first unknowingly, and then unheedingly. Now the nations of Earth have begun to unite for the sake of future generations, the future itself, and the planet Earth.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Back on TV--New Trek or Nu Trek?

The announcement by CBS that a new Star Trek series will be available on its streaming service in 2017 has set off intense speculation here in cyberspace.  So a few more or less random thoughts:

Star Trek: The Next Generation was the first TV series to be made for syndication.  That was the beginning of the end for network domination. Star Trek: Voyager was created as the flagship of UPN, the Paramount cable network.  That didn't work out as well.  So it's not unprecedented that Star Trek is used to pioneer something new, like a streaming service.

A lot can happen before 2017 however, or even after the series starts.  CBS will adapt to marketplace demands.  But however it works out, the chance of a new Star Trek TV series actually being made seems very good.

  CBS has a very successful approach to TV drama.  NCIS is the most watched drama in the world.  I was impressed with what CBS did with Elementary in adapting Sherlock Holmes to contemporary New York, an idea that could have been schlocked to death.

The typical CBS series is character-driven, with reasonably strong stories, and a balance between character-driven humor and drama.  I expect this is what a new Star Trek series will be like.  (NCIS already has done Star Trek, mostly in the character of Ziva--an "alien" who never uses contractions and gets cultural references comically wrong, yet is stronger and smarter than others, etc.  Ziva=Data.  And I suppose Mossad=Android.)

There's a lot of chatter about what story universe it will be set in--Roddenberry's or Abrams'.  No one really knows yet, but my educated guess is that it will not be Abrams.  There are apparently legal questions about what exactly Paramount and CBS divided in separating films (Paramount) from TV (CBS.)  But it can't be possible that CBS got Trek TV rights without getting rights to everything in the Roddenberry universe.  And the deal separating them happened before Abrams and Co. created their universe.  The Roddenberry universe, the prime universe, is the Star Trek of TV.

So if it were me the new Star Trek series would be set in the 25th century.  It would begin with the launch of the Enterprise, and some recognizable 24th century character will be on hand for the launch.   But though there may be occasional references to the past, and maybe a guest character for an episode once in awhile, it won't matter that much.

Thanks to digital technology, this Star Trek universe can push future tech even further, and aliens don't have to be actors in makeup.  But the series will rise or fall on the appeal of the characters, and on the spirit, or soul, of the stories.  Relevance to contemporary problems and future possibilities as we see them today. People working together to solve problems was Leonard Nimoy's Star Trek formula.  It's the right one.

And as an aside, the producers would be crazy not to hire Jonathan Frakes as a frequent director and story consultant, and LeVar Burton if he's still interested in directing TV.