Monday, June 13, 2005

When GR began putting together the Star Trek universe, he and the other principal participants followed rules that were new to television science fiction. But many of these rules for effective science fiction had become basic to the best sci-fi authors, and nearly all of them originated with H.G. Wells.

HG described them in the preface to the aforementioned collection of tales he had written mostly in the 1890s, in what could have been a prescription for Star Trek in 1965.

The first ingredient, Wells wrote, is the element of the fantastic: "the magic trick." The writer's job is to build the reader's belief. For science fiction, there must be some scientific basis or at least plausibility. If all else fails, "an ingenious use of scientific patter might with advantage be substituted." (We call it technobabble.)

To bolster believability, Wells said, there should be only one fantastic element, one basic "what if." Its credibility depends partly on surrounding the unexpected with lots of the expected. The writer must help the reader "in every possible unobtrusive way to domesticate" the fantastic element. The reader has to be drawn into the story-and too many things that go against known reality or common sense would likely destroy that suspension of disbelief. "Nothing remains interesting when anything may happen."

"The thing that makes such imaginations interesting is their translation into commonplace terms, and a rigid exclusion of other marvels from the story. Then it becomes human," Wells wrote. " 'How would you feel and what might not happen to you?' is the typical question... "

"As soon as the magic trick has been done the whole business of the fantasy writer is to keep everything else human and real," Wells concluded. "[T]he whole interest becomes the interest of looking a human feelings and human ways, from the new angle that has been acquired."

HG also comments on the role of his fictions in anticipating the future. Although for awhile in the early 20th century, he advocated a scientific study of future trends (and became the first modern futurist), Wells denies that is the intent of his fiction. "...these stories of mine collected here do not pretend to deal with possible things," he wrote. "...they are exercises of the imagination in a quite different field..." His intent often was "a broad criticism of human institutions and limitations, as in Gulliver's Travels."

But in creating plausible futures, Wells, like Star Trek, anticipated actual inventions and happenings. HG's most spectacular hit was imagining (and naming) the atomic bomb, decades in advance.

One more similarity is worth mentioning. GR is often criticized for taking too much credit for Star Trek and the ideas presented in it. Perhaps he did. But few ideas are original, and it is the synthesis and presentation of ideas that is important in storytelling. The same was true of HG.

"Wells was a brilliant man, but he was not an original thinker," writes Frank McConnell. "His gift was for imagining, for realizing firmly, almost visually, the implications of his age's philosophy and science, and for communicating those implications to his readers with the urgency of myth. The same may be said of Shakespeare."

The same may be said of GR, foremost among those individuals who, working together, created Star Treks.

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