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


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.


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straight on ’til morning…

Respect and trust are commonly referred to as being earned. Other aspects of human interaction are sometimes included but only these two are held in quite this regard. We speak of both, in a sense, as social commodities.

When doing so, it is often part of a critique of someone’s behavior being insufficient to warrant such credits. We also take this stance as a reminder to those who demand admiration or belief.

Imagine if society had a literal system of accounting for behavior and personal qualities. If human interaction were directly comparable to an economy, what currency buys respect and trust? What can they in turn be used to purchase? Imagine this Confidence Exchange.

Desire would drive this market just as it does real financial systems. Reputation plays a role in these hypothetical stocks in the same way real investments are effected. Given that forms of monetary transactions predate recorded history, the idea that we’ve been participating in the Confidence Exchange (and without knowing it as such) all along may not be far-fetched.

Although coin and paper currency would come later, money existed before most early legal codes. Both Hammurabi and Ur-Nammu dealt with the role of money in civil society (among other matters, of course).

The scales of the market were borrowed to serve as the near-universal representation of justice. There is then, still, an implied pessimism in the symbol – from back in the traders’ stalls where proof of a good deal was required by real measurement.

Spoken language predates barter but for the entire course of recorded history our thinking has been driven by market-based factors we don’t spend much time considering. Case in point, how we spend our time, not to mention the idea that time is money, may have grown up with the economy more than any other aspect of civilization.

There is no symbol for the intrinsic value of a person or society. There are no signs for loyalty or honor. The Anglo-Saxon and Scandic systems of weregild may have provided small, financial comfort in the aftermath of loss but the cost in coin could not reflect the nature of the person(s) lost.

Religious symbols represent institutions, tenets, and adherents but rarely (if at all) any specific virtue. Where are these signs?

It won’t catch on but I have an idea for a symbol for Hope and Optimism.

On April 12, 1981, Space Shuttle Columbia stood on Launch Pad 39A. I was in my last year of high school and four generations of my family sat in relative silence listening to journalists and scientists trade jargon and speculation. They too fell silent when the shuttle began to rumble. With seven seconds to go, the hydrogen burn-off igniters made it look like they sparked the launch into being.

For several minutes we sat without a word. My siblings and I hadn’t seen the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs; everyone else in the room had. To them this launch seemed different. Human desires that had survived on little more than hope for 15,000 years were arcing into the sky.

Finally, the eldest person in the room, my great grandmother, spoke. “When I was a little girl they brought milk to my house in a horse-drawn cart.”

I was then and remain truly awestruck by that observation. It’s probably the only aspect of my point of view that has a timestamp. If the space shuttle is a horse-drawn cart how astonishing will the future be?

So, I offer the space shuttle as a symbol of the value and virtue of hope.

Shuttle-for-blog