Monday, June 24, 2013

Star Trek TOS Post of the Day: How To Write Science Fiction

I just spent like... seven long minutes trying to find this picture on my Tumblr so I could make it my profile picture for this blog but then I saw it and was like is this ~really how I want to represent myself... 

Honestly on second (third?) thought it kind of is...

This is what I always do—I get soo excited about my new Tumblr/blog/whatever and post enthusiastically like three times a day for a week then I never post anything again. And since yesterday's post (which like honestly was supposed to be that Kirk picture and no words whatsoever) I have had like seventy ideas for what to post about next. Shirtless Kirk? Spock as Other? Why Was "Galileo Seven" So Good? Sex bots in "Shore Leave"/"What Are Little Girls Made Of?" A list of all the times Kirk and Spock smile at each other? (Any and all of which may be forthcoming.) I guess this time I'm going to expand on something I was talking to my mom about in the car on the way back from installing Loren at JavaScript camp which is... in what way(s) is Star Trek science fiction?

I want to be a science fiction writer. I don't know ~anything about science/physics/astrophysics—I don't even know what I ~need to know, if anything, to write what I want to. But I know that one way to learn is to read/watch science fiction, and I think TOS is a great model in two ways.

Way One is that... it actually ~is science fiction. Okay. Star Trek Into Darkness could basically have taken place on Earth in like cars—it didn't seem to have any reason to be science fiction other than the dictates of the franchise of which it is a part. It's sort of like why Scotty is on Delta Vega in ST09—because he needs to get on board the Enterprise, because the franchise says that's where he has to be. STID is in space because TOS is in space. TOS, however, is in space—well, because Gene Rodenberry wanted it there, I guess, but its themes are so intrinsic to its setting that I can't imagine it anywhere else. TOS asks questions like what values do we take with us into space? Are we warlike? Peaceful? Inquisitive? How best can we (Earth) represent ourselves to other life forms? What is our attitude towards them? What does it mean to be human? How will encounters with aliens/artificial intelligence/etc. challenge or clarify our answer to the previous question?

One of the reasons I found 1.16 ("Shore Leave") so forgettable was that although it is science fiction—it takes place on an "amusement park planet" where lifelike copies of whatever you're thinking about are instantaneously created for you to fight/have sex with/whatever—the sci fi is in service of a substance-less wish fulfillment fantasy. Tellingly, this episode is all fighting (Sulu is attacked by a samurai, Bones "killed" by a knight on horseback, Kirk shoots the knight with a pistol, Kirk brawls with an old Academy friend) and sex: Yeoman Barrows is sexually assaulted by Don Juan and flirted with (kind of sleazily) by Bones, who reappears after his "death" with two scantily clad Rigelian cabaret girls on his arm, and it's implied that Kirk, after reconnecting with an old flame, spends the next three days having sex with her. The episode... explodes with our baser instincts. (It's no accident that this episode marks the third? appearance of shirtless Kirk—maybe this is the shirtless Kirk post?)

Andrea may have been a sex bot, but she was also a way to grapple with questions like what makes us human? (Wait is this the sex bots in "Shore Leave" post?) "Shore Leave" is a goofy romp whose plot is basically "What's happening to us?" for 47 minutes and then "Let me explain" for like three. The episode doesn't engage with the ethics of being about to instantaneously bring to life anything/anyone you can imagine. The only "morality" evinced is when Yeoman Barrows slaps McCoy on the wrist for his cabaret girls, but that reads more to me as stereotypical ~~jealous woman~ than as anything like wait you can create ~sex bots by thinking about them are there any issues with this what are the issues with this? (Like how would you feel if someone made a carbon copy of ~you and spent three days fucking it?) "Shore Leave" is sci fi in service of unexamined wish fulfillment; it represents the opposite of what TOS is—urgent, important, and aware of both the potential and responsibilities of its genre.

So if Way One is it embodies the best things about its genre, Way Two is that it knows—or figures out during the first season—that being science fiction doesn't mean that it always needs, you know. Accurate science. Exhibit A: 1.6 ("The Enemy Within"). Sulu and co. are stranded on a freezing planet, using their hand phasers to ignite rocks for warmth, and an evil doppelganger of Kirk is roaming the ship trying to rape people. (With me so far?) Both of these problems are caused by the malfunctioning transporter, and are basically solved by Spock striding into the engineering room and going "bypass circuits impulse engines lithium crystals controlled implosion problem solved still with me DIDN'T THINK SO"* By Exhibit B (1.17, "The Galileo Seven"), they've figured out that they don't even need to be that specific (or vague, take your pick). After Spock, Scotty and co. crash land their shuttle, losing most of their fuel, Scotty figures out that he can "adapt" the phasers and "use their energy" as a substitute fuel supply. They show is so clear about the stakes this time, though—phasers are both their only hope of leaving the planet and their only means of defense against its giant inhabitants—that he doesn't need to be more specific than that? His lack of specificity, actually, creates clarity. Both "The Enemy Within" and "The Galileo Seven" have sci fi solutions to sci fi problems, and I still want to write a post sometime about why one works and the other doesn't, but for now what I'm trying to say is that neither succeeds or fails because of its scientific accuracy.

The lessons are, then, I guess: 1) your science fiction stories should always ~have to be science fiction but 2) they don't always have to make (scientific) sense. 

*what he actually says is "We've attached some bypass and leader circuits to compensate for the difference, tied directly into the impulse engines. There shouldn't be more than a five-point difference in the velocity balance" which honestly isn't much better. But honestly is also the best. Loren says Leonard Nimoy ad-libbed a lot of the "Treknobabble" (which, um, worst word ever), which I love and will make sure to confirm once I start my like ~Star Trek research~ which at this point is looking like reading "I Am Spock"/"I Am Not Spock" fifteen times and maybe watching that documentary where William Shatner interviews everyone who's ever played a starship captain

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