It’s been a long time…

In Star Trek: Communicator № 149 (April/May 2004), Jimmy Diggs¹ presented adversaries of The Next Generation as avatars of the Seven Deadly Sins. He was to have contributed a Pakled story to an anthology based on this premise and published by Gallery Books in March 2010.

Sin

Romulans were presented as Pride and the Klingons as Wrath. Not surprisingly, the Ferengi were featured in the Greed chapter. The Cardassians, who often alluded to paucity and lost glory, personified Envy. At this point, in my opinion, the analogy somewhat breaks down. Gluttony was illustrated by way of the Borg. Diggs had suggested Larry Niven’s Kzinti² for Lust but the anthology went with the Terrans of the Mirror Universe.

Last and least, the representatives of Sloth were the Pakled. I’ve felt this unnecessarily elevated a minor league “villain race”; they were featured in only one episode of TNG (“Samaritan Snare”, S02E17). It is true that background performers portrayed Pakleds in about 10% of Deep Space Nine. I still find them irritating and of inferior caliber compared with the rest. Even the Ferengi were sometimes entertaining during the DS9 series.

Presumably, the vices of these seven spacefaring species are balanced by the virtues of the United Federation of Planets.

Kzin

¹ Jimmy Diggs was the writer of one episode of DS9 and six episodes of Voyager.

² The Kzinti predate the premiere of The Original Series of Star Trek by eight months, first appearing in World of IF magazine. Seven years later the two universes merged slightly in a single episode of The Animated Series (“The Slaver Weapon”, S01E14). Had Star Trek: Enterprise continued for a fifth season, executive producer Manny Coto and Jimmy Diggs planned to reintroduce Niven’s marauding space cats. The Kzinti have long been part of Star Fleet Battles, a tactical wargame, currently published by Amarillo Design Bureau. I’ve often chatted with Friend-Admiral Diggs. I know he was a player. Despite this, the aggressive feline race are not considered official “canon” in the Star Trek universe.

That said —

Last week I was musing on the Kübler-Ross model, better known as the Five Stages of Grief. Although some in the field of psychology view the construct, first proposed in On Death and Dying by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969, as scientifically flawed awareness of it is pervasive. Many do consider it a useful idea ­– a reminder that we should progress from our sorrows by and to our optimism and effort.

Imagine, instead of the most “celebrated” sins, that some of the alien species in the original series were archetypes of the stages.

It should surprise no one who has visited here that my favorite race in Star Trek has always been the Vulcans. Gene Roddenberry’s Writers/Directors Guide says of Spock:

Denial

“We now realize that Spock is capable of feeling emotion, but he denies this at every opportunity. On his own planet, to show emotion is considered the grossest of sins. He makes every effort to hide what he considers the ‘weakness’ of his half-human heredity.” — p. 14, Third Revision

From the start ­the Vulcans – or at least Spock – are explicitly the icons of Denial, the first stage of dealing with loss and grief. Some presentations of Kübler-Ross’ theory place Shock or Disbelief before Denial. In “Immunity Syndrome” (S02E19), Spock says of some other Vulcan Starfleet personnel, “Their logic would not have permitted them to believe they were being killed.”

Where the Sins construct makes Klingons Wrath, the Stages version would see them as Anger. The Orion Pirates were left out of both Diggs’ article and the anthology. Had they been included they might have been either Greed or Lust. Here they are an obvious choice for Bargaining. Both the long periods of isolationism of the Romulan Empire and their usage of cloaking devices make them reasonable candidates for Guilt/Depression.

The last stage is usually Acceptance. Hope completes some lists. The initial theatrical release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture ended with an optimistic note for the audience: “The human adventure is just beginning.”

In the final episode of TNG (“All Good Things…”, S07E25 & 26), the cosmic entity Q tells Captain Picard, “That is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence.” This is sometimes mentioned as having initially been a statement of Leonard Nimoy’s adapted as a line of dialog by scriptwriters Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga.

When one considers Gene Roddenberry’s humanism and optimism it seems more than fair to presume he’d have picked humans to round out this analysis. Humans are Hope and Acceptance. At least, we may be.

And_the_adventure_2071


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fill in the blank makes the world go round…

Not being an economist suggesting an alternative to existing answers to the problem of unlimited want v limited resources would very likely not provide a utopian blueprint. With that in mind, ideal societies are probably best left as part of the domain of satire and/or fantasy. Astral – the working title for my science fiction novel in progress – does not attempt to paint a grand and perfect future for humanity the setting. Nor is the setting a dystopia.

Blade Runner (Philip K. Dick, K. W. Jeter) mentions off-world colonies and the supposition is that they are not all people might hope. In Joss Whedon’s Firefly/Serenity we’re told, “Earth That Was could no longer sustain our numbers; we were so many.” There’s a streak of disposable planet in science fiction that my first love in the genre – Star Trek – avoided almost completely. The inhabitants of Earth had, in fact, abandoned a dangerous courtship with self-extinction and Starfleet’s mission to seek out strange new worlds was not just about mineral rights.

better-worlds

As mentioned in prior entries here, the world(s) of Astral spans about 60 solar systems. The motivation for expansion splits the difference between Earth being used up and something Neil deGrasse Tyson said about a year ago (Oct. 2015): “If you have the power to turn another planet into Earth then you have the power to turn Earth back into Earth.”

Most science fiction does not concern itself with the cost of putting fleets of ships in space and terraforming exoplanets. Again, not being an economist, I’m not planning on making any estimates in that regard. However, just as I’ve been musing on alternative political structures, the future on Earth’s colonies is not mute about the downside of capitalism and its contentious cousins.

There are at least half a dozen private entities reinventing space travel and while that’s thrilling it also based on some aspect of a profit motive. That has certainly been part of the equation in all exploration – from Magellan and before to NASA and beyond. This is probably not going away but it could actually get us into space even in the sci fi sense.

A friend of mine once observed that the utopia of Earth in Star Trek was not – could not be – based on some flawless ideology and the logical consequences of implementing it. Someone prior to the career of Mr. Spock had invented a machine that turned energy into matter. The cornucopian replicator solved all the quandaries of what to produce, in what manner, and for whom.

I wanted to argue with him at that point and part of me still does. Pointing to the problems in Star Trek has always bothered me and quite a bit of my thinking over the years has gone over the same steeplechase as others in fandom to mend plot holes. With Astral that’s a reminder to avoid some of them during the making of.

The Federation is not faced with the riddle of a used-up planet somehow still able to build enough ships to colonize and exploit strange new worlds. The philosophy of “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.” is a direct and natural result of technology solving major sources of waste, class-based tensions, petty behaviors and so on.

The first human colony in the world(s) of Astral was Mars. There are at least four links in a chain from there to α Fornacis/Dalim where the story opens. That chain is not a disintegrating set of broken and corroding links. There is without doubt satirical value in suggesting any human destiny in space will be a series of strip-mined worlds under runaway greenhouse atmospheres but I remain more hopeful… still.


ѱφ

reductio ad absurdum…

In 1996, long before Dennis Miller became a spokesman for conservative points of view, he released a book and associated CD – both titled “The Rants”. One track in particular discussed the tendency of people to demonize and seek to marginalize to the point of exclusion any opposed group. While this behavior is not the exclusive domain of any political persuasion, Miller did – 20 years ago – target the criticism on the Right.

The rant in question traced the tendency to its (il)logical result: a kind of societal attrition. If one faction did manage to fully suppress a perceived rival, and unsurprisingly real or imagined woes do not abate, a new source of such troubles would be designated for the same tactic. Shockingly civilization would find itself confronted with the same problem. Lather, rinse, repeat. Cleanse.

Miller concluded that eventually there’d be one person left and that hateful soul would attack his own reflection. Although his ideology flipped five years later, his observation remains true. Blaming “everything that’s wrong” on ethnic, religious, or other groups never can alleviate our shared difficulties. Scapegoats and straw men could be said to have a common ancestry in this regard. (This change happened roughly the same time Miller was picked as a new commentator on Monday Night Football (ABC) but was not the cause of it.)

The world-building for Astral has prompted some speculation about political structures, economic structures, and human nature. The last of these, it is probably fair to say, will likely never change; very little in all of recorded history unfortunately does not seem to support another prediction. In the story, there is a presidential campaign in progress. (I’d decided on this plot element many months before the Brexit decision or the recent election in the United States.) The partisan rivalry is no longer between conservative and progressive views. Capitalism has been replaced though not if favor of socialism.

But there is not a homogeneous philosophy. With apologies to Gene Roddenberry, an idyllic human government seems a bit further off than 350 years. (Human nature notwithstanding, I count myself among the group who share Mr. Roddenberry’s hope.) The population on a planet in orbit around α Fornacis has a wing that some would prefer had not been included among the colonists. I’ve been calling them Kels.

In their staunch desire to be recognized as part of the Fornacid culture the Kels have adopted an emblem that reflects but is not derived from Dennis Miller’s rant in question.

split

If two circles with equal diameter overlap based on adjacent, inscribed hexagons — follow me on this one — the resulting lens could be used represent a minority, which the Kels are. A circle with the same area as this lens would be about 5.77% of the original whole. After just 25 such schisms the “majority” would be less than 50% of its original size.

About two months ago, I presented here the flags of three other factions in Astral. The Kel flag – if and when they fly one in protest – might make use of this geometric symbolism.

kel-flag-xl-anim

Fractures in community do not follow a mathematical progression and, using this formula, such situations would never reach a hermit’s confrontation with a reflection. It does, however, help make the point that we are – now and in any future, under any flag – in this together.

— If we make that choice.


run it up the flagpole…

With apologies to Oskar Pernefeldt and anyone who has imagined a flag for planet Earth, in Astral the banner for M.other E.arth is based on vexillology, the study of flags. Symbolism in a wide range of forms has fascinated me at least since the mid-70s. Relevant to this post, I recall an illustrated dictionary that devoted to pages to “Flags of the World”.

Rules and preferences for flag design share a heritage with heraldry. To a degree, the process for describing of a coat of arms (i.e., blazonry) can apply to flags. The proper display of a flag is based on the orientation of shields.

Given present international law, national flags will only appear offworld under certain conditions. The Outer Space Treaty† provides that “outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.” The treaty does not limit businesses and private citizens but a flag with a logo on it is not a flag – it’s an ad.

uespa

Fictional flags do not have to follow such laws either so we’re free to imagine what we’d like. Star Trek imagines a Unified Earth and Gene Roddenberry modeled his United Federation of Planets on the United Nations. The flags of United Earth (and its Space Probe Agency) reflect this inspiration. It’s often easy to see the sources of other Earth banners.

fict-flag

In Astral, while imagination permits anything, I’ve attempted to stay close to good flag design and a little heraldic knowledge.

flags

The flag of the Hamarchy of Keid, which includes the principal world on which Astral is set – Dalim, is sky blue and black with a silver crane and at least eight stars in the center. In heraldic terms the colors suggest a society that values wisdom, aspiration, and peace. The crane refers to an early Roman view that cranes enjoyed a cooperative society and took turns at watch at night. I like this because, although T. H. White came long after Pliny the Elder, this theme is echoed in White’s Arthuriana.

The Ophiuchid Cantons are almost two separate governments and will likely grow further apart. During the story, however, they share a flag. It is blue and silver with an ermine canton, or field, in the upper left corner. The fictional designer of this flag meant to demonstrate independence from M.E. along with a love for truth and innocence. There is subtle defiance in this.

Initially a part of the Cantons, Federalist Arcadia’s political emblem stands for a sincere and dignified demeanor while its citizens have little connection or allegiance to M.E. The linked angles toward the right show additional values of efficiency and pragmatism. In some heraldic traditions and in the opinion of M.E. the red-violet blush on the flag stands for treason.

me

The final term for the “Solar Empire” or the territories of M.E. hasn’t come to me as yet. Commonwealth is the leading contender but we’ll see. The coat of arms for the original human homeworld and her extended family of colonies is a golden sun in a green field meaning life and fertility with a black chevron representing prospect in and ever widening reach into outer space. The symbolism here being a mind elevated in hope – with protection and generosity for all new settlements.

How all societies present themselves in their best light will show up in well-designed flags. These four in Astral (and one other without an official flag) will try to live up to the values and virtues outlined above. How close they come to their own ideals is part of the story.


The 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.

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.


On the plurality of worldviews…

The presentation of a heptad of must-see sights in all the world is at least 2,500 years old. Only a few of the actual lists survive; some are known only by reference made in other works. There is generally agreement on six of the seven wonders. The Colossus of Rhodes could not have included by Herodotus. The supposedly harbour-spanning statue was not built until 150 years after his death.

All of the sets of Seven Wonders of the World do agree on one other thing. Each suggested stop for itineraries was offered with the pragmatism of actually paying a visit. Islands in the sky (Aeolia) and divine palaces (Mt. Olympus) never made the cut.

If allowing for the inclusion of imaginary places, no one’s list can be expected to match another. My birthday was this week so I’m treating myself to my choice of the seven. Your results may vary.

Dream

  • The Dreaming

Starting in January of 1989 author Neil Gaiman, and a pageant of talented artists beginning with Sam Kieth, gave us a continuing (re)introduction to the realm of Morpheus. The Dreaming contains everything dreamt or that might be. One location within that is of particular note is Lucien’s Library. Like the features of the domain surrounding it, the books shelved here do not exist in the real world. They are yet to be written (presumably including my own works-in-progress); once completed they vanish from the Dreaming.

The original comic series ran for 75 issues. Roughly a year later, Derek Pearcy adapted the French game Magna Veritas. Steve Jackson Games published it under the name In Nomine. One supplement for this game offered dreamlands as the province of the Archangel Blandine.

  • Arda, The Realm, etc.

Even before the film adaptations of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by Peter Jackson, artists were inspired to explore the legendarium of Middle-earth. The resulting work is just as inspiring, particularly when the subject is any place called home by the Elves. More than just an extended stay – living in Lothlórien or Imladris (better known as Rivendell) would be ideal.

  • The Wizarding World

If Hogwarts existed in reality, I doubt I’d enroll. (I’m probably more of a mutant than a mage.) However, I would certainly appreciate a tour the campus. Moving stairwells. Animated oil paintings. Interactive ghosts. The School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is a fascinating place. If venturing into the wider, though hidden, world of J. K. Rowling it would be fun to window shop Diagon Alley and maybe meet a dragon.

  • The Discworld

Landfall would not be necessary for the most stunning vista here. A few orbits and scads of photos would suffice. Terry Pratchett stated that the inspiration of Great A’Tuin was a summary of a myth he read at about the age of nine. The description of a flat land on the backs of elephants, themselves on the back of a giant turtle, he claimed was part of a book on astronomy.

The turtle in question is doubtless Akūpāra, the Unbounded, from Hindu literature. Similar beliefs appear in the lore of Native American nations, such as the Iroquois and Lenape.

  • The Etherium

When I was asked for a review of Treasure Planet (2002), I said it was the Disney film for which I’d waited my whole life. The novel on which it is based was, of course, an assignment but I enjoyed reading it. Tall ships and astronomy are mostly unrelated, life-long fascinations. How could a combination be bad?

This very concept was explored in Swords of the Swashbucklers (Marvel Comics, Oct. 1984; Epic Comics, Mar. 1985-Mar. 1987) and the Spelljammer campaign setting for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (TSR, Nov. 1989-Aug. 1993). There is also a scene in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), in which some of the characters escape from captivity by climbing the crescent moon. All the while, constellations swim like living creatures in the background.

Which brings us to Montressor Spaceport in the Etherium (i.e., outer space). Watching a crescent moon turn from this…

The Moon

to the view below was one of the most exciting elements of the film for me.

Montressor

  • The United Federation of Planets

Within the territory patrolled by Starfleet, one might wish to vacation on the so-called “Shore Leave planet” or on the “pleasure planet” of Risa. It would be interesting to witness two stars merging into one (as in “Ship in a Bottle”) or an actual Dyson sphere (“Relics”).

Alternatively, this could be where I’d snark about J. J. Abrams as a custodian of the Star Trek universe and the destruction of Spock’s homeworld but I’ll simply gesture in that direction – going straight on to planetfall.

t'khasi

Vulcan is a place about which I’ve some strong opinions. If fact-finding could happen on a fictional planet, this would be a dream come true.

Tardis

  • The TARDIS

The Doctor’s description of where the TARDIS can go is a perfect summary.

All of time and space; everywhere and anywhere; every star that ever was. Where do you want to start?

Where?

A tour of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World ending with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon gift shop.