the needs of the many…

There are probably no authors setting out to have a star or planet named in their honor. That said, very few would decline such homage. Asteroid 4659 and a crater on Mars bear the name Roddenberry. The creator of Star Trek likely didn’t include earning this sort of acknowledgement while developing the series.

Gene Roddenberry did, however, attempt to get the science right. He consulted scientists and engineers on a somewhat regular basis. He was also a student of his times and wanted to present entertaining adventures about the future blended with relevant social commentary. Nichelle Nichols, the original Uhura, famously tells a story that each episode was meant to be a modern morality play.

Countless people recount that original Trek inspired their choice of careers while not necessarily having achieving Roddenberry’s dream of humanity at peace with itself and unafraid of its future in mind. This phenomenon is not limited to math and technology either; I know of at least one lawyer who found the trial of Spock in the episode “Menagerie” fascinating enough to prompt study of jurisprudence. The humanism and idealism of Star Trek are very important facets of my long-standing desire to write and make art.

arrowhead

Many fans consider the reboot of the franchise to be less than worthy of the title and have branded it – somewhat pejoratively – as the “Abramsverse” or “NuTrek”. Paramount and CBS have recently attempted to get ahead of these descriptions. They’d like us to call it “The Kelvin Timeline”.

Chris Pine is the second actor to portray Captain Kirk. He has been quoted as giving the following response regarding the franchise shifting away from speculative futurism in favor of presenting an action thriller.

You can’t make a cerebral Star Trek in 2016. It just wouldn’t work in today’s marketplace. You can hide things in there – Star Trek Into Darkness has crazy, really demanding questions and themes, but you have to hide it under the guise of wham-bam explosions and planets blowing up. It’s very, very tricky. The question that our movie poses in ‘Does the Federation mean anything? And in a world where everybody’s trying to kill one another all of the time, that’s an important thing. Is working together important? Should we all go our separate ways? Does being united against something mean anything?

— Chris Pine, à la SFX Magazine

Star Trek was fond of Shakespeare references and there’s one that perfectly sums up the problem with the Abramsverse and the attitude expressed by Mr. Pine: “…it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

The last log entry by Kirk was wonderful fan service at the end of The Undiscovered Country and should now be interpreted by CBS and Paramount as exactly how fans would like to see Star Trek handled – rather than catering to a formula while implicitly demeaning the audience.

This is the final cruise of the Starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of a new generation. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man… where no one has gone before.

As part of a recent presentation by Claire Legrand, Megan McCafferty, and Leanna Renee Hieber all three authors recommended that any authors in the audience write what they loved reading as children. Write what they wanted to read.

Best Faction map

In broad strokes I plan to cover some of the same ground as Star Trek did: the destiny of humanity in space and to what extent human nature might be baggage carried along the way. It seems fair to say that a writer must be the first fan of his or her own work. So I’ve charted my world(s)-building – applying a different rotation to the same field of real stars used for the Arrowhead interpretation. Astral’s interstellar factions overlapped each other in a previously posted map. That’s not the case in this new one.

At a convention I once attended both Gene and Majel Barrett Roddenberry recommended that whatever I might wish to see in Star Trek I should write and tell Paramount. I never did follow their advice but I may hide it under the guise of thoughtful speculation and all the things the Federation still means to me.


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lest we forget…

first rafMy sixth post with Criminal Element has gone live. It expresses some of my opinions about World War II. Culturally, we’re obsessed with that time in history. I’m no exception. The image here is an example (me portraying a Royal Air Force air commodore). The post linked above shares some reasons why.

What would Master Zhūang say?

In the opinion of this author, there is not as much value in dream dictionaries as I’d like. One can provide assistance to someone in the interpretation of their dream experience but it seems inadvisable to dictate a specific meaning for each symbol. At least four factors govern the meaning of a dream symbol to an individual dreamer, not the least of which being the dreamer’s knowledge and opinions formed during waking life. The other factors depend on circumstance and culture. An anchor may mean something entirely different from one dream to the next ὄναρ or in another 梦想. And certainly all of these would represent divergent things to someone who makes or uses anchors as opposed to someone who doesn’t.

Similarly, there are certain assumptions put forward in psychology about the meaning of doodles. Circles, for example, are said by some to indicate a desire for a more peaceful or organized state. How each person thinks of them – what they may represent during and after drawing a few – is the same as dreaming. Probably during my elementary school years the circle began to serve as the symbol of introspection. This has gradually evolved closer to the idea of an orbit – such as an electron around the nucleus of an atom held in place by electromagnetic force. A moon in the gravity well of a planet, if you will.

The moon, planet, and gravity well as a set represent my understanding of myself and the world around me. The orbital path illustrates that maintaining comprehension is an on-going process. Additional satellites each indicate a separate interest. If I lose interest in something, it has reached “escape velocity”. Those ideas that come back seemingly seasonally to distract me are comparable to long-term comets. Anything not “in orbit” is outside the range of interest. It hasn’t caught my attention – or, in this metaphor – I haven’t caught interest in it yet.

Since I became aware of the word affinity I’ve had an affinity for it. From the 1600s to the present day, it has been used to describe an attraction to something. During the three centuries prior to that, affinity was used to refer to a relation by marriage. Ultimately, the term derives from the Latin affinis or ad + finis, meaning “to the limit or boundary of” – in essence, the state of being adjacent. Affinity is a handy explanation for why people do what they do: they’ve an affinity for it, whatever it is.

Just as the definition of affinity has evolved – symbols change their meanings over time. The anchor in future dreams may have little in common with interpretations today. Literally today, in the field of psychology, there is debate on the veracity of the theory of ego depletion. (For those who are more curious, consult next month’s Perspectives on Psychological Science.) Mention is made of it here because this could signal an evolution in certain theories of human behavior.

And while I likely won’t abandon the “orbital” mechanism for introspection, I do think I’ve a new metaphor for affinities — they’re a quite specific form of pocket or niche. There’s engineering behind why a honeycomb looks the way it does. Comparable principles dictate that any three bubbles that connect will form 120° angles between them. If oneself is a pocket of interest, one’s range of interest would include adjacent pockets.

In a honeycomb, this would result in just six interests – all of equal proportion even to the central or “self” pocket. A globe in a volume of identical globes will touch twelve others at a maximum.

The visual metaphor for one’s range of interest is probably pockets of air in a volume of bubbles. Foam. Not all of our interests have equal attention paid to them. They don’t all last for the same duration. The adjacency still applies; anything non-adjacent to the “self” bubble is out of range. In a volume of foam, whichever bubble represents the self (and self-interest) is surrounded not only on one plane but above and/or below as well.

Bubble theory

Funny story… Guess what the universe looks like at the grandest scale presently possible.

foam

It’s a bit of a foam. I’m not saying anything. I’m thinking a lot, though.

The other handy think “bubble affinity theory” provides is the idea that if bubbles could overlap instead of mutually building walls they would form lenses. Almost a year ago I was struck by the notion that we see each other through a lens defined by our respective sense of self.

We should expect this to evolve as well.


Meanwhile, Fortius…

Civil War.jpg

By the numbers, with five on Team Red and six on Team Blue, one might be tempted to predict Captain America’s side [Blue] will win. That said, evaluating each individual character and collectively by the sides chosen shows more actual superpowers in Iron Man’s faction [Red].

Marvel sometimes rates its characters in six categories of a Power Grid:

  • Intelligence
  • Stength
  • Speed
  • Durability
  • Energy Projection
  • Fighting Skills

These are measured on scales from 1 to 7, with 2 considered the score for the normal person – regardless of category. Red is more powerful in all but the last rating. Tony Stark’s stance in Civil War and those who support it are – in total – almost a third again better than the First Avenger and his troops. Advantage: Red Team!

Given the leadership and tactical advantages Steve Rogers can be presumed to possess, his side will almost certainly have the better strategy (without actually determining a way to avoid a physical conflict). Advantage: Blue Team!

The most powerful single heroes in the fight are Vision for Red and Scarlet Witch for Blue. The synthezoid delivered the coup de grâce against Ultron via the Mind Gem and therefore, if used against any member of the opposing side, would be more than sufficient. As the mutant’s powers have been portrayed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the only member of Stark’s faction that might be immune is Vision.

The respective powers of these two both count as Energy Projection and they are  equivalent according to the Power Grid in that aspect. Logically, the fight should boil down to just them and, with regard to every other rating, Vision is superior. Victory: Red Team!

But…

Joss Whedon is well-known as a geek. This includes playing Dungeons & Dragons – so we can guess that he’s experienced in overcoming the numbers on any character sheet to triumph. He’s also not stranger to chance influencing the outcome; he’s probably rolled his fair share of Natural 20s. Maybe losing side before the third act will get unexpected help from Spider-man in some way (making him the Random Encounter).

In addition, although I’ve never played D&D with Mr. Whedon, he will twist the rules as much as serves the story – and maybe a little more. Even taking that into consideration, there are a few things I doubt he’ll avoid.

Expect to see most of the following…

  • The MCU’s two newest, Ant-Man and Black Panther, will make trouble for each other – demonstrating what they’re capable of in a “fresh” way.
  • The two women will engage is some manner of one-on-one conflict and it will probably be more or less a draw. The audience probably expects this but it’s been done to death.
  • Some moment of brotherhood between two of the three characters of African descent is likely and, if handled well, could enhance the story.
  • Hawkeye will last longer than he should given the odds and any form of sense.
  • There will be a nod to Scarlet Witch and Vision potentially having a relationship at some future point, if the film parallels the comics that is.

Mr. Whedon has written many actual comic books, including the first 24 issues of Astonishing X-Men. (It’s ironic he can’t use those characters in the film.) We know from his body of work that he features and favors the underdog. Buffy, its extended franchise, and Firefly/Serenity (i.e., almost his entire oeuvre) all demonstrate that he’ll kill a beloved character.

These factors in conjunction mean the underdog pack will almost certainly win but it will cost them at least one of their (our) favorites. Prediction 1: In Captain America: Civil War, Blue will win the day but the titular character will “die” just as he did in the comic book arc on which the film is based.

“Tahiti is a magical place.”

Since Agent Coulson’s death and return, that is a new euphemism for the comic book death trope. Prediction 2: The post-credits stinger(s) will show all of this is playing into the hands of Thanos and then remind us of Valhalla while hinting at Cap’s return from it.

Only uncle Ben is staying dead but that’s another franchise.


Citius, Altius, and away…

When I was very young my great grandmother told me, “If you want to be something – first admire it.”

In some way, shape, or form that statement of simple truth has stuck with me ever since. It informs who I hope to be as a person and is part of how I construct characters. To a certain extent, it is part of my reaction to other people and to the work of other authors. All of these situations raise the question: “What is being held up to be admired here?” It is rarely far from top-of-mind.

This may also be why I have never quite been able to count athletes and rock stars as true heroes. Their accomplishments can certainly be admired but it seems likely that any record can be surpassed with diligence, proper training, and a bit of luck.

If being admirable is at least part of the definition of a hero, doesn’t that begin with their code of behavior or conduct? A set of binding principles that contribute positively to the quality of the individual in question seems a better yardstick than the applause of a stadium of fans. Being admirable on the basis of such faculties is an essential part of true heroism. They don’t have to be perfect. In real life that’s impossible and in a novel it damages the story.

The heroism of Superman is characterized by his “never ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.” Officer Alex Murphy, better known as RoboCop, initially operates with three explicit directives: 1) Serve the public trust, 2) Protect the innocent, and 3) Uphold the law. The number of traits need not be limited to three. A short list does, however, make any potential hero more comprehensible and accessible.

In addition to The Code, a would-be hero must choose to do good. Many heroes make this choice regardless of whether anyone will ever know. They are not motivated by a reward. The achievements of a hero must also be above and beyond the simple good society encourages from all of us. The average good is not heroic; it’s expected after all. A hero must exceed the achievement of good that the average person might accomplish regardless of determination, acquired expertise, or good fortune.

Heroes – in life and fiction both – should inspire us whether we can replicate their feats or not. We should honor them when they help us toward being the best human we can possibly be and then reset the scale to try for more. Heroism is an ideal. It should perpetually be out of reach and eternally pursued.

Our heroes are the embodiment of our aspirations and hopes, our desire to believe that we are capable of facing anything and against all odds. We dream of ourselves as willing to act in defense of our ideals no matter the cost.

In the film Iron Giant (1999), a young boy by the name of Hogarth Hughes tells the robot, “You are who you choose to be.”

superman

I think that strongly echoes my great grandmother’s advice.

In Elizabeth (1998), Sir Francis Walsingham tells his Queen, “All men need something greater than themselves to look up to and worship. They must be able to touch the divine here on earth.”

This is, in essence, the point but not necessarily from above or outside – but from what is worthy of our admiration and awe.

Doing good is not enough.

STADR

 


Or off the clock…

If someone in Ancient Greece were introduced to Joseph Campbell’s title – The Hero with a Thousand Faces, all of the visages might be expected to be those of women.

Greek Hero

Albeit of modern Greek women, this is a composite of a great number of their faces. She would be comparable to the anticipated Hero.

The word or, more precisely, the name Hero (Hērṓ) was considered feminine. The best-known example would be from the tragic story of Hero and Leander (Léandros). They lived on opposite sides of The Dardanelles strait and Hero would set a lamp in a tower window each night, essentially as a lighthouse for Leander‘s swim. This lasted for months until the light was extinguished in a storm and Leander drowned. Hero threw herself from the tower to her own death.

There is, of course, a male Hero – one of the sons of King Priam (Príamos) of Troy. This Hero is not distinguished in any detail by his own myth. Giving him the benefit of the doubt and considering Hero to be a unisex name, the Ancient Greek would still expect a veritable battalion of female faces with the above premise.

Words and their definitions evolve over time and across borders. When we borrow words from foreign languages we don’t always get all the nuance in the bargain. We should, however, try to be diligent in the use of our vocabulary. We set the meaning and context by our selections. This has ramifications outside of conversation and writing, too. Words are how we think.

Last week, I wrote a summary of the monomyth. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve been devoting much of my thought to what makes a hero. The shortest answer is, “We do.” And, I think, we should be careful in our choices. In the current social climate we’re much more likely to hear the word hero applied to celebrities from the worlds of music or sports. If you ask several people what makes a hero, courage will rapidly rise near to the top of the list. It is true that the musician and the athlete must be brave to be successful; I’m not sure that’s any less true of all other profession requiring dedication.

When I was a child all of my heroes were fictional characters or persons who’d been dead long enough to have legends associated with them. In youth I think this is acceptable and natural. Early in my adulthood my emphasis and definition changed and I invented a puzzle for myself (and eventually others).

 Name four real people, none of whom are related to you, that contributed to your identity – and be specific about how.

I didn’t know it at the time but, I believe now, this provides a wonderful definition of what a personal hero may be. A hero should be someone – male or female – who inspires us to be more. In the original puzzle I suggested that the four figures would represent a personal Mt. Rushmore. This was a handy way to refer to this mental exercise but it was an error. The answer to this puzzle should not be immutably etched in stone. Identity, exactly like definition, evolves.

My answer to my own puzzle was:

  • Gene Roddenberry, for introducing the value of ideals
  • Richard Scarry, for illustrating the necessity to look beyond and behind face value
  • Carl Sagan, for demonstrating the interconnected nature of all subjects and disciplines
  • Jim Henson, for the gift of purposeful whimsy

You might notice all of them are men. In my young adulthood I was interested in defining what sort of man I would be. As a writer, however, I am dedicated to presenting heroes of all genders and having each character be – as much as is possible in fiction – real people.

So, I’m adding two women to the Mt. Rushmore:

  • Nancy Grace Augusta Wake ᴀᴄ, ɢᴍ – a British SOE agent and ally of the French Resistance during World War II. Known aliases: Heléne, Andrée, the White Mouse, and Witch.
  • Hannah Callowhill Penn – the acting governor and proprietor of the Province of Pennsylvania at least a generation before the era of the Founding Fathers. She was the second wife of William Penn.