British sci-fi author Charles Stross has confessed that he has long hated the Star Trek franchise for its relegation of technology as irrelevant to plot and character development, as well as similar shows like Babylon Five.
On his blog Stross writes:
“I have a confession to make: I hate Star Trek. Let me clarify: when I was young — I’m dating myself here — I quite liked the original TV series. But when the movie-length trailer for ST:TNG first aired in the UK in the late eighties? It was hate on first sight. And since then, it’s also been hate on sight between me and just about every space operatic show on television. ST:Voyager and whatever the space station opera; check. Babylon Five? Ditto. Battlestar Galactica? Didn’t even bother turning on the TV. I hate them all.”
The problem, according to Stross, is that as Battlestar Galactica creator Ron Moore has described in a recent speech, the writers of Star Trek would simply “insert” technology or science into the script whenever needed, without any real regard to its significance.
Stross argues that the writers of Star Trek and its compatriots have “thrown away the key tool” that makes science fiction interesting and useful in the first place”.
Stross is perhaps best known for his sci-fi novels Accelerando, Glasshouse, Singularity Sky, Iron Sunrise and Saturn’s Children, all of which earned him nominations for the genre’s biggest accolade, the Hugo Award. However he also has a bigger bibliography; for example half a dozen books in the Merchant Prince series in which humans have an ability to travel between parallel versions of Earth, which all have a different level of technology.
He is known for frequently expressing his strong opinions on his blog; for example in late August he used it to launch an attack on American political culture, describing it as bereft of mercy and suffering from a taint across every area of public discussion.
I wholeheartedly agree with Stross (with one caveat). The Star Trek, Stargate, Star-whatever series have been ignoring the true science and technology at the heart of their created universes for decades. The aliens are human-like, the technology is mostly just a metaphor for tools and materials we had several centuries ago, and the shows have certainly not gone far enough to examine its impact on our humanity.
This is something that sci-fi writers have always done extremely well. Perhaps the best examples I can think of right now (it’s 6:13AM in the morning!) come from the books of Robert Heinlein.
Heinlein’s gender-bending, age-bending, Martian-bending books have done much to show us how changing our level of technology would go far to changing the way we think, and by proxy, who we are as a species. Can anyone truly say they came away from Stranger in a Strange Land not the least bit discomfited?
Stross’s books themselves do much to address the problems he is complaining about. To take one example, in Accelerando I remember one of the main characters, Manfred Macx, had lost his glasses – and temporarily had much of his personality removed due to the fact that they are also the storage device for much of his mind due to the ongoing integration of human consciousness with the online digital environment.
It’s a lot different than having Wikipedia on your iPhone.
However I will call Stross up on one area. He appears to have missed the point about why Moore was telling that story in his speech about the poor speechwriting practices in Star Trek.
In Battlestar Galactica, Moore attacked exactly that problem that you’re complaining about, Charles, as a direct attempt to reform the stale sci-fi genre. The show is worth watching precisely because it is a glorious and award-winning contemplation of the relationship between man and machine. It’s spectacular, and I commend it to you.
You simply cannot put Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek in the same box. If you do, you’re missing probably the greatest sci-fi masterpiece in the televisual medium for the past decade.
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