Star Trek (1966-?)
The other science fiction franchise. Or the science fiction franchise, if we christen Star Wars science fantasy. Where George Lucas took Campbell’s ideas and put the eternal myths into a space adventure story, Gene Roddenberry envisioned a better future for spacefaring humankind. He created a vision of an utopia, in which more enterprising, unruly individuals join the Starfleet in order to find adventure, because in the post-scarcity Earth society there’s not much of that. In Starfleet, they travel across the universe, to meet exciting new people and… not shoot them, unless absolutely necessary.
Piotrek: I’ve always been more of a Babylon 5 guy, but I appreciate Star Trek more and more. As a kid, I’ve seen a random selection of mainly The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine episodes, and there was not enough large-scale conflict for my taste. I generally liked it, but John Sheridan was my space captain. So, my introduction into the world of Star Trek was pretty chaotic… but I always liked the idea of trekking through galaxies in a big spaceship, and in time I came to also appreciate stories about (relatively) peaceful exploration.
Ola: My own acquaintance with Star Trek was no less chaotic, I must admit. I watched nearly all episodes of The Next Generation as a pre-teen kid, and for years Picard was the only true captain of the Enterprise 😉 I waited with bated breath for each episode, and while some of them were rather convoluted for a six- to eight-year-old, it was still a great adventure. Fantasy worlds, various races with distinct cultures, drama on the ship, imminent danger… What I liked about Star Trek then and value even more now was the nearly non-violent approach, so rare in modern pop-culture. Differences were abundant, conflicting interests as well, but more often than not a peaceful resolution could have been – and heroically was – achieved. Exploration and understanding were the key values of the Star Trek universe, and inspired countless SF visions since. As for the liberal vision of future military, with its weirdly relaxed and convoluted structure, the red- and mustard-colored uniforms and the variety of ranks coupled with a nearly total lack of discipline, back then I didn’t even bat an eye 😉
I must say that as a kid I was partial to Picard, Worf the Klingon and Data the android, and totally erased the presence of Wesley Crusher from my memory – which is why I thankfully remember Wil Wheaton only from The Big Bang Theory 😉 But as TNG was showing intermittently in Polish TV and the episodes, once showed, were not aired again, and because I only watched one or two of the subsequent movies (admittedly much worse than the series), Star Wars was soon able to take hold of my imagination to a much higher extent. The movies were available on demand, the story arc concluded in three films, and the franchise (especially the books) much more abundant than Star Trek’s at that point. Only years later my fascination with this more nuanced and less dychotomic SF reality returned, and after J.J. Abrams’ rather successful reinvisioning of Star Trek in 2009 I watched episodes of the original 1960’s Star Trek series with a nostalgic delight, rubber heads or not 😉 Tribbles rule!
Piotrek: There’s been a lot of Star Trek around. Multiple TV series, movies, and, according to Wikipedia, around 850 publications. It all varies in quality, but I’ve read some enjoyable, smart novels, and the best of these is Prime Directive by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens.
Ola: And the franchise continues a strong presence, with several new big budget movies and two TV series, one of which, returning to the old characters from TNG, is bound to capitalize on the powerful nostalgia trend. Star Trek: Discovery introduced a slew of new characters, linked to some old favourites in exceedingly complex and unnecessary ways, and while the first season after a suspiciously Realpolitik beginning ultimately defended the core Star Trek values of freedom, tolerance, diversity and curiosity, the second one ended on a sour note – at least for me. I don’t mind so much the continuity troubles that plague this series, and I still hope for a decent resolution in season three, but some serious issues with the new series were becoming increasingly noticeable with time – such as psychological oversimplification, a constant and rather ill-conceived search for an enemy, or villain, a totally unwarranted MAD mindset (which infuriated me to no end ;)) and vilification of phenomena and beings not readily understandable.
Piotrek: Personally I’ll be very interested in Picard, a series about my favorite captain (and perhaps character) in the Trekverse. It’s premiering in January, I hope it will be available in my country, streaming became so complicated I cannot be sure… with Jean Luc might make his series more in tune with the old Star Trek spirit, or so I hope.
Going back to the Prime Directive… there is a sentence near the end of the book that summarize this spirit, as I understand it. It’s Kirk’s thought, after the main threat had been defeated (lets face it, it’s not really a spoiler, what were the chances of Kirk not succeeding?). Part of the crew wanted revenge, but captain did not allow it. Understanding was his way, and he solved a problem, not totally different from the one facing humanity in Ender’s Game, without a war. After all:
There were no enemies. Only mysteries (p. 387)
Star Trek might be less exciting than Star Wars, but it’s way closer to how I’d love the world to work 🙂
Ola: On that we fully agree. Star Trek: The Next Generation significantly contributed to my love of SF and science in general, fostered since my childhood years. I tend to come back to this franchise quite often as I appreciate the effort of the creators to show the complexity and power – and limitations – of human perception, imagination, emotions and cognition. And while kept purposefully simple and entertaining, the overarching message of the need for exploration, understanding of otherness, and high ethical standards inextricably linked with a sense of responsibility, seems timeless and much needed nowadays.
Verdict: Highly recommended