Tag Archives: star trek

Orinoco

Sorry Enya fans this post has nothing to do with her. In case that is why you are here I’ll just post this:

No I am talking about a different Orinoco: 20170826_214306 This is from the Eaglemoss the Official Star Trek starships collection. I have been cherry picking these for a while and have finally got this beautiful runabout.

The runabouts were a wonderful idea. Like a shuttle but they certainly pack a bigger punch and actually seem to have an airlock – unlike the silly shuttles used in TNG.

Having this model allows me to tell you a little story. A poorly timed story but who’s counting?

I don’t remember how old I was when I stopped believing in Father Christmas. But this little ship might have been something to do with it. I have the vague recollection of asking for one for Christmas once – not a model an actual ship!

I have no idea what five or six year old me was planning to do with such a well armed vessel but there it is.

I do remember often asking for impossible presents from Father Christmas. It was my thinking that he was magical. He didn’t need to go down to Toys’R’Us did he?

It was all rather wonderful to be a child and believe in magic. I look forward to those days with my nephew.

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I just wanted to say that I have checked this post. I really have. Unfortunately my particular combination of dyslexia and dyspraxia makes it really hard for me to spot typos. Please enjoy and I’ll try not to make too many errors.

 

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Nitpicking and Reviewing

I like to watch television shows analytically. pexels-photo-143714 I enjoy the process of seeing more than what is there. Some people, citation needed, have the attitude of: ‘It’s a TV show you’re thinking too much.’ – or words to that effect.

I know fiction is fiction. Yes here at Unstable Orbit – we state the obvious! I don’t know who we is!

What I mean is I know that fiction isn’t something that matters in the grand scheme of things but analysing it is fun to me. Again some people say that picking it apart ruins the fun. I disagree.

For a few years I have been watching SFdebris. He does reviews of various TV shows, with Star Trek being his flagship show, and I find these reviews fascinating. He has wonderful insights into what works and, more interestingly, what doesn’t work.

When something doesn’t work in fiction it is interesting to discuss it – and also what could have been done differently. What is most infuriating is when an episode has a flaw but also an easy fix.

I have been thinking for a while of doing reviews on this site. If I did I would probably start with Star Trek: Voyager. Voyager is an interesting series to discuss because, while it isn’t actually bad, it could have been so much more.

I have also been watching ruminations by a You Tuber called Lorerunner. I have been watching his reviews of Voyager too and Babylon 5. Since he is a big fan of Babylon 5 it is very easy to gush over the series. There is still a lot to say about a, for lack of a better word, good series but it is more fun to talk about a flawed series.

Speaking of Babylon 5 reviewing like this is what Captain Sheridan would probably call ‘Armchair quarterbacking’. Although, unlike the strict interpretation of that phrase, I actually have some writing experience.

Experience is a curse sometimes because you can see the gap in fiction and reality. Does that make sense? Let’s say you’re a cellist. If a character is playing the cello you would immediately know that it wasn’t real.
Similarly with writing I can’t turn off my brain so I will  Woman Playing the Violoncello notice when things go wrong in fiction. These can be big nitpicks or small nitpicks.

Small nitpicks are not an issue to me. If the Enterprise fires a phaser from the torpedo tube it is just a goof doesn’t effect the story. However if the Enterprise is suddenly able to beam through shields that is a problem because of how often that has been relevant to the stories.

Since procrastination is my middle name I don’t know when I will get to reviews. I already have a lot of projects I am interested in doing. However if I don’t ultimately end up doing this I want to leave you with this final thought.

Picking apart a TV series doesn’t mean I don’t also like it. Some series have gaping holes in them and many a head scratchier moment. However if the story is well told we can ignore these flaws.

Amongst Star Trek fans Threshold is often seen as one of the worse episodes. While it is bad it can still be enjoyed – just not, necessarily, in the way it was intended.

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I just wanted to say that I have checked this post. I really have. Unfortunately my particular combination of dyslexia and dyspraxia makes it really hard for me to spot typos. Please enjoy and I’ll try not to make too many errors.

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The pictures here are from: https://www.pexels.com/

 

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Gene Roddenberry: Section 31 and the Perfect Human.

20140202_221815As a Trekkie I’m of course indebted to Gene Roddenberry for creating the universe of Star Trek. However my favorite Star Trek series is Deep Space Nine and it contains many elements that Roddenberry would have hated.

The Star Trek universe is supposed to be ideal. Humans are supposed to be perfect. He saw a world without hatred, racism and war. That’s a fantastic vision of the future but it may not be terribly realistic – and creating a story without conflict is difficult bordering on impossible.

Things are only impossible until they’re not.‘ – Captain Picard.

Racism was present in TOS. Most notably in Balance of Terror. How this episode came to be written is something of a mystery to me. In this episode the Enterprise becomes the first ship to get a visual of the Romulans. They find out they look like the Vulcans and Lt. Sties starts to think that Mr. Spock is a spy.

‘Leave any bigotry in your quarters. There’s no room for it on the bridge.’ Captain Kirk.

I realise its odd to praise an episode for bigotry but let me explain. I firmly hope that we can one day come to a ‘perfect’ future. We may well be able to do away with war and famine in the years to come. We all know that there is enough food to feed everyone. Also, and I know its hard to believe, we are in the most peaceful period in history.

However the instinct that lead to prejudice won’t magically evaporate. I’m not an anthropologist but it seems fairly clear that for a lot of history anyone not like you was a threat. Britain has been invaded many times not to mention the countries we’ve invaded. You only need to look on Wikipedia at the pages for various countries to see how many of them have had to gain, through conflict or diplomacy, their independence. Thus even if we have a ‘perfect’ world those instincts would remain – and would show themselves in extreme situations.

“There are only nine meals between mankind and anarchy” Alfred Henry Lewis.

The thing about Star Trek is that only humans seem to have achieved this perfection. Its great to have such principals but if others in the galaxy are ruthless you might need to be too. The Klingons in TOS were written as an evil empire that killed civilians. It was perhaps for that reason that Section 31 was created.

Section 31 was introduced in Deep Space Nine but retconned to have been their from the beginning of the Federation. This doesn’t really present a continuity error as they are a secret organisation. They are the self appointed guardians of the federation. They are prepared to do whatever it takes to protect Federation principles. Sloan, one of their agents, describes it to Doctor Bashir.

Federation needs men like you, Doctor – men of conscience, men of principle, men who can sleep at night. You’re also the reason Section 31 exists. Someone has to protect men like you from a universe that doesn’t share your sense of right and wrong. Sloan

Roddenberry would have hated the idea of Section 31, especially after you know what, and I’m not defending that. However its hard to imagine the Federation without some form of covert group. The questionable history of the CIA is well known but spying can also be of use.

...tonight I know how many missiles the enemy has and…our guesses were way off. And we were doing things that we didn’t need to do. We were building things that we didn’t need to build. We were harboring fears that we didn’t need to have. President Lydon B. Johnson, 1967

Section 31 are extreme in places but their existence isn’t unbelievable.

Let’s make a deal, Doctor: I’ll spare you the ‘ends justify the means’-speech and you spare me the ‘we must do what’s right’-speech. You and I are not going to see eye to eye on this subject, so I suggest we stop discussing it. – Sloan

In Roddenbury’s mind humans will always do the right thing. This however presents a problem. The no-win scenario. The Kobayashi Maru. What do you do when faced only with bad and worse choices. Neither action or inaction is acceptable.

You were The Doctor on the day it wasn’t possible to get it right.The Doctor

In that case we have to make the best of the bad choices. Most of us won’t ever have to face that situation. In Star Trek though we’re talking about Starfleet personal its part of the job. This brings me to ‘In The Pale Moonlight‘.

“I was going to bring the Romulans into the war.” – Sisko.

In this episode Sisko faces that choice. In his mind he either brings the Romulans into the Dominion war or the Federation is defeated. That defeat would lead to millions, maybe billions dead. In one episode we see Weyoun casually mention irradiating Earth’s population. Sisko didn’t hear that but its safe to assume he knew what the Dominion would do if they won. Sisko tries to bring the Romulans into the war legitimately but when that fails he is prepared to use any means necessary.

I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all… I think I can live with it. And if I had to do it all over again, I would. Garak was right about one thing – a guilty conscience is a small price to pay for the safety of the Alpha Quadrant. – Sisko

In the Pale Moonlight is my favorite episode of Ds9 and maybe all of Star Trek. It is extremely well executed but of course Roddenberry would have hated it.

Here’s the thing. I don’t know what Roddenberry saw when he first thought about  Star Trek. Lets say it was the perfect society. The crew of the 1701 represent all of Earth. They show us that we can all work together and that things will be better tomorrow than they are today. How much did he see other than that? He wouldn’t have bothered to invent all the nuanced details. He wouldn’t have known about Section 31 because no-one did at the time of TOS. Roddenberry saw the perfect future but perhaps that was just the outside. The side that the Federation shows. At the end of the day although these humans are ‘perfect’ they still carry weapons wherever they go, they have a ship that can render a planet uninhabitable, and every week a crewman is killed by an unforgiving galaxy.

I realise I’m describing this as if Roddenberry had a vision. As if he saw the universe and wrote it all down. It is like that sometimes with creating fiction. You don’t see everything though. The Federation may be largely the ideal place to live but every society is going to have its less savory aspects. I believe that Roddenberry saw the dream society but didn’t think to look behind the curtain. We can strive to be good but there are times when its not possible.  Captain Kirk doesn’t believe in the no-win scenario but they do exist.

I never took the Kobayashi Maru test. What do you think of my solution? Spock.

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I just wanted to say that I have checked this post. I really have. Unfortunately my particular combination of dyslexia and dyspraxia makes it really hard for me to spot typos. Please enjoy and I’ll try not to make too many errors.

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What do I Need to Know?

20150501_234921-1[1] If there’s one thing that all Star Trek series have in common its the invulnerable crew member. Whether it was Spock, Data, Odo, the Doctor, Seven, or Phlox there was always a character that was unaffected by the threat of the week.

This was used most in TOS and TNG. Given all the times that Spock or Data saved the ship it’s a wonder any other starship survives. As Riker once said “Fate: Protects fools, little children, and ships named Enterprise.” Contagion – TNG

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to write stories. I don’t remember ever wanting to write Star Trek per se but I did want to write stories in my own universe.

I wanted a mixed crew, humans and aliens, and had four basic races. Two of them were, essentially, human with funny foreheads, that could have been achieved with tattoos; then there was one with a spherical head, and another with four arms. I was thinking in very narrow terms. Star Trek aliens are, for the most part, humanoid. While this may be scientifically implausible it is a necessity for a television show. Leaving aside the fact that CGI wasn’t even a thing in the 1960s it is still much easier for actors to act against a real person than a tennis ball on a stick that will become a creature.  CGI vs actor in prosthetic is a discussion for another time – for now I just want to go in a slightly different direction.

So I had my crew and amongst the senior staff all but one of those races were represented. I however wanted to consider the whole crew. In TOS Spock is the only Vulcan. Why? Why are there no Tellarites or Andorains on Enterprise? So I had lots of aliens, or non-humans if that’s more PC, aboard.

This presented a bit of a problem. I needed to know who they were.

There was a joke, I think it was on The Generation Game, where a contestant was quizzed on Star Trek. He was asked how many crew the Enterprise had, the D by the way, and he said 1,014, he was then asked to name them and was promptly gunged when he couldn’t.

This was where it all started for me.

Not the gunge thing the naming thing.

I wanted to be able to name all the crew of my ship. Originally it was called Capable but I renamed it Sovereignty – on the grounds that Capable is a bit wishy washy. The idea was that when I’d got the story I could look at my spreadsheet and know the names, ranks, and positions of all crew. Therefore when the Amadors were the invulnerable ones I’d know how many there were aboard and what they did.

I’m aware that this is a rather ridiculous level of information to want but there you have it. It turned out to be, and still is, a major headache though – which I’ll discuss next week.

Incidentally a friend at work was doing some spreadsheet work a while back. She was having a bit of difficulty and I tried to help. She asked how I knew about spreadsheets. I didn’t tell her that I’d wasted/used hours trying to work out the forenames, surnames, gender, rank, position, and nationality of the crew of a star ship. I think I just mumbled a vague statement about having used them.

She already knows me to be odd so that fact could only make it worse.

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First Contact

Fourth-eight years from today, in the Star Trek universe, humanity will make contact with an alien race: the Vulcans.

I believe that there is certainly life on other planets. There may be as many as 70 sextillion stars in the universe. That’s 70,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. It is a number completely beyond human comprehension.

To me it seems impossible that we are the only life in the universe. We might be alone in this galaxy, though that still seems unlikely, but surely not the universe.

Whether we will ever encounter this life is a different question entirely. It might be possible to travel between distant stars, I’m a writer not a physicists so I’m not going to speculate on the technology, but for humans that is way beyond our current capabilities.

In the Star Trek universe encountering alien life brings about a new era of peace for humanity. The knowledge of alien life makes our own problems seem petty and Earth becomes a paradise. I’m more inclined to believe that real first contact is more likely to produce panic.

I do believe that world peace could be achievable. All it takes is for us not to pass on our prejudices to the next generation. This is easier said than done.

I won’t pretend to be all high and mighty. I have had bad thoughts every so often. I wonder where they came from because there is no obvious place. If they remain thoughts, rather than transforming to words or actions, then there is less of an issue. We’ve all heard stories of children of different backgrounds interacting happily – no such thing as a racist baby. Then as adolescents and adults things change. We no longer see Joe Blogs as a friend. He is now: black, gay, Jewish, Muslim, disabled, poor, or any other ‘other’ that we can think of.

I can think of only one example of outside influence of prejudice from my own life: Politics. I remember being in conversation with someone in high school and making a comment about a political party.

‘A bunch of mindless jerks who’ll be the first up against the wall when the revolution comes.’*

Well I wasn’t that witty but that was probably the sense of it. Then I realised that I had no bases for thinking that. I was repeating the ideas of my parents. Later I became aware of politics and found myself agreeing with the assessment. I also met, in my politics class, the local MP for that party. All I remember now was that he was really oily.

Distrusting a political party is one thing but it should never be applied to a whole group of people. The more extreme someone is in their views the louder they are. There are terrorist attacks in the name of God – they make the news. The millions of people who practice their religion, and attend a temple every week, don’t make the news because there is no story.

I’ve found the same basic issue working in retail. If you server a customer quickly and effectively nothing happens. That’s what customers expect. If you go above and beyond the shop might get a thank you letter. If you screw up then you’ll certainly receive a complaint. Bad news also travels faster. If doesn’t make a good story telling your friends about good customer service – bad customer service can be quite the anecdote. Therefore it is more likely that you’ll see bad reviews than good ones. All this gives us a lopsided view of reality.

So when the news talks about terrorism it makes it look like there is tremendous evil in the world. It creates the feeling that a particular group is evil. This generates more hate. It doesn’t mention the millions of people who manage to get through their day without killing anyone.

The fact of the matter is most people are good. I think we will achieve world peace one day. It is simply a matter of respecting others. We may not believe the same as someone else. We may believe that the God Obplexsemkoplop doesn’t exist and is in fact just an old deflated beach ball. However if that belief is helping people to be better, if saying the mantra of the beach ball helps them through tough times, then why is it an issue? It is harming nobody. Of course the followers of Obplexsemkoplop must also respect your right not to worship too.

We will achieve world peace if we accept that diversity is fantastic.

To paraphrase Dave Allen: ‘May your God, or no God, go with you.’

* quote taken from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

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Best Sci-Fi Characters of All Time

This will be my last post before Christmas. I don’t want to talk about Christmas.

The other day the BFI uploaded its picks for ‘The Best Sci-Fi Characters of All Time.‘ At the top of the list was The Doctor.  This to me is no great surprise. Doctor Who is probably the most versatile science fiction that exists. You can tell any story you can imagine in that universe.

What did surprise me was that Kerr Avon was number 4. This is not because I don’t like the character but rather because I’ve always thought as Blake’s 7 to be a little obscure.

For Star Trek Mr Spock was the highest ranked at number 10. Spock is certainly the most iconic of all Star Trek characters. For me he was always more interesting a character than Kirk. When watching TOS I always wonder why Spock isn’t in charge.

Babylon 5 was well represented too with: G’Kar, Londo Mollari, Susan Ivanova, Captain John Sheridan, Delenn (twice), Alfred Bester, Commander Jeffrey Sinclair, Lyta Alexander, and Michael Garibaldi.

For Stargate SG-1 we have the whole team with the exception of Cameron Mitchell, which I can understand, and Teal’c which I can’t.

So who would my top ten be? Well I’m going to limit myself to names on their list…

  1. The Doctor
  2. Ambassador G’kar
  3. Captain Benjamin Sisko
  4. Ambassador Spock
  5. Captain Picard
  6. Ambassador Londo Mollari
  7. Brigadier General Jack O’Neill
  8. Ambassador Delenn
  9. Colonel Samantha Carter
  10. Admiral William Adama

There are many others I could mention. I may put together my own list of 100 names.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Best of the Season.

See you on the other side.

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Designing a World

A while ago I had a conversation with a friend about world building. We discussed whether the world should come first or the story. We basically deiced that both ways have merit.

Let’s start off with a premise: A group of extremists break in to a school and hold the teachers and students captive. The school is attended by the children of important people. All of the parents are: ambassadors, politicians, CEOs, news executives, Generals, Admirals, Air Marshals, and so on.

That premise could be used in a story set today. It could be set in the far future. It could be a world of magic. What the world is like would dictate how the situation is dealt with.

If we were in a science fiction setting what would be the solution? Just beam the hostages out? That would be a very short and boring book. So maybe transports don’t exist – or perhaps the terrorists have an anti-transporter device.

If the would is designed first then you have limiters built in. You know what the characters are prepared to do and you know what technology will allowed them to do. Are the terrorists really prepared to kill children to get what they want? Or is it a bluff? Will the negotiator (perhaps an FBI agent) decided to pump gas in to knock everyone out – risking everyone’s lives? Perhaps there is a completely safe anesthetic  and the story then is about how to get close enough to deploy it.

It can be interesting to write with limitations. You can start with the school. Its built on an island. It has a group of five attack helicopters and a contingent of Royal Marines. Then you have to decided how the terrorists overcame this. Was their an insider?

If the story is designed first all parts of the story can be decided – pretty much as you go along. You might deiced from the get go that two children will die but the others will be saved. This method might require a lot of reworking. It’s important to beware of logical hiccups.

I’ve already alluded to Star Trek and it is an example of the world being designed first. I.e the transporters were there from the beginning and so were a staple for every episode. However if you could just beam captured crew aboard at any time it wouldn’t be dramatic. Therefore the transport can’t work in certain conditions. Arguably it would have been better not to have transporters. It starts to look silly if they can’t be used too often.

In my own science fiction I’ve tried to develop the world first. I’ve hit a bit of brick wall. Looking at current technologies its possible that something akin to an Avatar might be possible. Not a blue skinned critter but a mechanical device. We already have the technology to control bionic arms across the room – requiring an implant. So give it 1000 years and you could send avatars, robot like devices, down to a planet. These would be controlled from the ship. If anything goes wrong you’ve only lost hardware and not people.

This could create a story problem as the crew are never actually at risk. It is tempting to change the world of the story. I could invent a reason why this technology doesn’t exist. However I feel it is somewhat more interesting to decided that the technology does exist. Doing that means I have to be more creative. I have to work to bring in tension. Also having these devices sets it apart from Star Trek. In Star Trek they go down to planets with nothing but a phaser and a tricorder.

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Would consoles explode? No. Okay I can’t say that for sure. I’ve decided though that consoles won’t explode. I love Star Trek but that’s just silly. A few sparks maybe – so perhaps a few electrical burns – but not a toss you across the room explosion!

I understand why they do explode like that. It gives tension to the bridge scenes. In reality the bridge of a starship would be deep inside the ship. The ship would probably shake but not much more than that.

I’m a writer not a physicist.

Deciding that the consoles won’t explode does beg the question of how to make battles exciting. I guess that is my challenge.

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