|Justin B Rye 1992–1998|
Please note the datestamp above!
This is an HTML revision of something that was designed decades ago to be viewed and printed out as a single huge seventy-characters-a-line text file – still accessible in its full nonproportional glory as an archive. It was already on the Internet by February 1993, and there were at least two other HTML versions before I got round to producing my
web page in 1997!
Humourless illiterates are warned not to attempt to read on;
sufficiently witty (or witless) rebuttals may be quoted in future editions.
July 1998: a spin-off page entitled Babylon Five: Mark Two is now up.
January 2002: …and following Paramount's backward-looking example, here's one of the rant's early precursors – the ST:TOS Plot Generator.
|Section 0: Introduction|
|Section 1: Technology|
|Section 2: Astrogation|
|Section 3: Plots|
|Section 4: Universe|
|Section 5: Xenobiology|
|Section 6: Stardrives|
|Section 7: Transporters|
|Section 8: Holodecks|
|Section 9: Ideology|
Before I begin, I should make a number of things (relatively) clear:
Space Opera(which Star Trek isn't exactly; see 0.3) is entitled to simplifying conventions like the prevalence of stardrives, Babel fish, and humanoids with added latex features; but it's nice if these all have rationales lurking somewhere or other in the background.
As I have been saying since long before the appearance on UK
Star Trek: The Next Generation (henceforth
STTNG), the whole idea is a step in the wrong
direction. The three major advantages that
The Original Series (henceforth STTOS) enjoyed
over its competitors were:
United Federation of Planetsbackdrop was less witless than was the norm on 1960s US TV. No, honestly. Compare
Lost in Space.
STTNG, unfortunately, throws out advantage (A) in favour
of a new jumble of awful characters;
Deep Space Nine
replaces (B) with a space base. Only (C) remains; and by
now the Star Trek Universe is a liability – decades past
its sell-by date, and full of ludicrous inconsistent plot devices,
each of which should have had rapid social effects.
STTNG has to boldly stagger onwards under such a burden
of implausibilities that it constitutes a monstrous insult to its
This rant is my attempt to demonstrate the problems, and (to give
some semblance of constructive criticism) to offer solutions
which could in theory be adopted either in a full-scale
Trek: Mark Two remake of the original series (!) or as
surreptitious revisions to ongoing Star Trek
continuity – compare the unexplained upgrading of
Klingons from vaguely foreign-looking guys in STTOS to
kipper-browed aliens in the movies.
Like most genre labels, it's often used loosely (to mean just
sci-fi set in space). But Space Opera in its classic
sense (cf. Doc Smith/Van Vogt) is defined partly by manner
(morally polarised epic melodramas and wild power fantasies),
partly by distinctive scenery and props (cutlass-wielding space
pirates in pseudo-archaic Galactic Empires). It is more
concerned with conveying a mood than exploring new concepts, and
is thus easier than most SF to put on a screen. In general
the filming process pushes it towards Fantasy: Star Wars is
hardly science fiction at all. Dune and Flash Gordon
may be better examples of traditional Space Opera.
Clearly, Star Trek doesn't quite fit. The NCC1701
rarely has to face grandiose action-adventure crises where the
fate of humanity hangs in the balance (although the
NCC1701D's constant galactic diplomacy comes
closer). Starfleet is slightly archaistic, with its naval
traditions, technophobia (see 1.5), and
bagpipes, but the plots are mostly generic SF adventure; less
operatic than such rivals as Battlestar Galactica or
Blake's Seven. However, the Star Trek Universe setting,
which is what I'm discussing here, leans heavily on the
supporting conventions of true Space Opera.
Individual episodes when mentioned on these pages are usually given season-codes as follows:
Babel fish are the
Hitchhiker's Guidespoof version of Universal Translators.
Trekkiesis the commoner name for the people who prefer to be known as
Trekkers… just as
Whoviansno doubt hate it when I call them
Do I have to explain that EE
DocSmith and AE Van Vogt were
Golden AgeSF authors?
|0.1||Okay, now I've stopped. In fact, I stopped as soon as I saw the B5 pilot (on video). Not that it was perfect, but JMS had clearly devised his background and themes first, and then started setting plots in that universe. When B5 uses Space Opera shortcuts, it may not give excuses right away, but it at least hints that it acknowledges the questions raised.|
|0.2||The preemptively plagiarised format of Star Trek: Deep Space Franchise serves to demonstrate how much more you'd have to do to make Star Trek® worth bothering with. Star Trek: Voyager discards advantage (C), too, which would almost have been a good idea if they'd thrown the bathwater away with the baby – but they've lost the Romulan warbirds while keeping transporter technology.|
|0.3||B5 is true Space Opera, and knows how the genre works; it's televised SF for New York SF-readers, as opposed to sci-fi-flavoured TV for Kansas housewives (sorry, Ximena, but I don't think you count as a Kansas housewife).|