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

What’s in it for M.E.?

A destiny in space for homo sapiens is certain – or at least I’d like to think so. What form it takes is a matter for debate. The sociopolitical part of world-building for the far future of Astral prompts questions of how humanity will change they it fits and starts toward its fate.

The backstory of space travel in Astral sees the first steps in this regard with ten colonies (between 4.39 and 19.92 light-years distant). A second tier of expansion is launched from those initial settlements and not Earth herself. By extension, through these “grandchildren” colonies, her reach grows from 11 worlds (M.other E.arth† included) to 28.

fade-reach

Globalization on one world may be inevitable. Stretched through interstellar space it becomes imperialism. There is a Chinese saying‡ that suggests a family’s great wealth should not be expected to last through three generations. The proverb is often used as a reminder that a meritocracy is better than honoring tradition and legacy. Some of M.E.’s grandchildren will declare independence particularly where greater prospects derive from looking forward rather than back.

wealth

After settled planets divide into factions, M.E. and her remaining loyal worlds would seek to safeguard her dominance. Laws designed to limit rival colonial “families” would be imposed. From the moment they were enacted, however, the decline of the “Solar Empire” would have begun. Tier III of expansion, during which the events of Astral take place, would bring the count to 63 worlds and the range to 39.26ʟʏ from Earth. The original homeworld would exercise control (directly or by extension) over just 52.38%. The next jump in adding new worlds would see M.E.’s control slip below the halfway point.

With a somewhat unsafe, difficult manner of faster-than-light travel and each world using genetic engineering to make up for shortfalls in terraforming, the definition of human and the proper use of homo sapiens as a description will – of necessity – change. Evolution in isolation is known to create a wide divergence of traits, ultimately leading to entirely new species.

cats-awayAnother Chinese maxim equates to, “While the cat’s away the mice will play.” But it’s more poetically transliterated as, “Heaven is high and the emperor is far away.” Strange new worlds will raise new ideologies and new approaches to the economic problem. The more distant and different the world the more likely influence of any kind from M.E. will be subject to a metaphorical inverse-square law.

The culture of an extra-global humanity will grow ever more diverse. Over time, there will be a family resemblance but that will fade with M.E.’s importance. Any Terrestrial alliance will depend on keeping the extended family loyal, embracing many forms of adaptation, and implementing an active program for innovation: better genetic designs and more efficient terraforming.

Clutching to a status quo, let alone any irredentism, would require FTL capacity that was significantly better than other “humans” were using and an ability to revert to conventional warfare, an inconvenient practice between any two planets in this construct. There is in this a subtle nod toward the Earth-that-was in Joss Whedon’s Firefly/Serenity. Unlimited want and limited resources will eventually use up any world. Improvement of FTL travel may be beyond M.E.

If a human presence in space involved civil war M.E.’s side would likely be much smaller than 51 of 111 worlds in the projected Tier IV. The range in that event would probably not extend to 67.16ʟʏ. And, as it happens, we don’t have to wait hundreds of years to be concerned by hyperbolic ideology, reflexive sectarianism, or economic obsessions. There’s room for evolution there too without altering the meaning of human.


† Is this proverb used when discussing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (김정은) or a present presidential campaign in the US?

‡ “M.other E.arth” and “M.E.” are part of the copyright of Astral (working title).

 

 

seeks SFC…

For about the last 25 years I have posed this as a puzzle: Name four real people to whom you are not related that have contributed significantly to your identity. Once I’d formulated this pseudo-riddle I first answered it myself before presenting it to others. The result is not exactly a Favorite Heroes list and I’m usually suspicious of answers that come within an hour. It took me a year to provide my own response.

My selections were – Gene Roddenberry for teaching me that ideals existed and which might chosen, Jim Henson for demonstrating the value of purposeful whimsy, Carl Sagan for showing that all subject matter regardless of discipline can be interconnected, and Richard Scarry for making it clear that nothing is complete when regarded only at face value.

rushmore

From about the time this question had been crafted to the mid-90s each of these men passed away. Being dead was, therefore, not a requirement to make the Mt. Rushmore of Personal Sources. Neither should being a white male have been; it wasn’t intentional but it happened.

While it isn’t necessarily an exercise in favorite heroes (my list of those is somewhat different and longer) there is some similarity in both musings. Due in part to the emphasis in history and to traditional gender roles it’s just more difficult to find heroes who were or are also women. That may be one contributing factor in the true dearth of strong female characters.

When we do find them they seem to be required to be renegade warriors such as Katniss Everdeen or Black Widow. Further we must also see them as being in a relationship – more often with a man than not – or seeking one. A demonstration of sexuality has much more emphasis with female characters than with males. Buffy Summers’ story was sometimes more concerned with her romances with Angel and Spike than with actual vampire slaying.

The hero’s journey of a SFC takes a back seat to some man’s saga by the third act. River Song, Donna Noble, and Sarah Jane Smith (all from the Doctor Who franchise) are very capable characters and, while the series is about a titular man there’s no reason his story cannot be the B-plot. There has been some recent suggestion that the Doctor might some day be portrayed by an actress.

Dame Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep have both been advocates of broadening the roles available to women over 40 years of age to include more than just witches or grandmothers. Surely it should be easy to design a fictional role as homage to women like Abigail Adams or Dolly Madison – and without her motivation being only to support her husband in his career and ambition.

Both Molly Pitcher and Rosie the Riveter are folkloric amalgamation uncounted real women. A dramatization could certainly be written in in less than a year. But how would the writer address such women being driven back to more traditional and more subservient roles after the Revolution and WWII, respectively?

Boudica, queen of the Iceni and al-Kāhina, her Berber equivalent are worthy subjects, however both met quite tragic ends after living lives of sacrifice. These two and many other woman throughout history seem to be made to pay for their heroism-despite-gender with humiliation and/or execution. Small wonder that fictional sisters face comparable fates.

wrexie-leonarWhether it’s due to fear of aging and change or to any sense of being challenged by a woman this does have to change. “Strong female character” is not a description of a fictional person as it is the name of a problem. So I’ll be letting Carl Sagan graduate from Mt. Rushmore to Elysium – with Wrexie Leonard taking his place. She was the professional companion of Percival Lowell from about 1883 to 1916. She was a scientist in her own right and there’s no evidence she felt disappointed that she and Mr. Lowell never married or viewed life as she lived it as being tragic at the end.

keumala

Jim Henson will be found on the other side of the rainbow now because his spot is going to Keumala Hayati, laksamana (admiral). Not only was she Indonesian (a nation that contributes 25% to my ethnicity and heritage) but also an opponent of the status quo she and officially a diplomat. Her 16th century career in the navy of the Aceh Sultanate seems very likely to have brought her to the attention Queen Elizabeth I during the final year of said monarch’s life and reign. I have yet to find any account of her death and – in my opinion that gives a wide territory in which to invent legends of the Lion(ess) of the Sea; which I now have plans to do.

My business partner and coauthor on upcoming work, Leanna Renee Hieber, has recently written about feminism in the gothic tradition. Coming from her discussion on these topics definitely carry more weight then when it’s on my mind.


aceh

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.


Astronomical proportion…

The work of other artists often fascinates me. I can appreciate a technique or admire a style but the sources of inspiration are what captures my attention ultimately. Since 1979 I would have to say my favorite contemporary artist has been Wayne Douglas Barlowe. Most of his inspiration seems to come from works of literature and science fiction/fantasy. There is, however, a deeper level of inspiration. It is this aspect that prompts the selection of specific details. In this Mr. Barlowe’s process is unmatched, in my opinion. His choices all lend to the realism of his creations. The allure of the work of William Roger Dean (my second favorite non-comic book artists during my high school years) comes mostly by selection of color but his work presents the fantastical without Barlowe’s diligence at the plausible.

Even before the release of Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials I was (as you might guess from prior posts here) obsessed with Star Trek. Anyone familiar with the franchise knows there is any number of details on which one’s thoughts may dwell. One in particular – for me – was the selection by the production team (presumably William Ware Theiss) of the now famous arrowhead as the emblem of the USS Enterprise (and later all of Starfleet). I’m not the only fan to wonder what symbolic meaning the design would have held for the characters. Some have speculated that it was meant as a reference to the red chevron in the NASA logo.

2008-09-16_IMG_2008-09-16_1221551891664_nasa

— which itself is said to represent the two lines from Alpheratz to Almach and to Adhil, respectively. All three of these stars are in the constellation Andromeda. Homage to one nation’s space program seems unlikely for an organization that represents more than one world (i.e., the United Federation of Planets).

The UFP is said to have been formed by people from Earth in association with:

RACE: STAR: EARTH TERM:
NATIVE:
α Centauri Toliman Human colony
Vulcan ο² Eridani Keid T’Khasi (Minshara)
Andorian α Canis Minoris Procyon Andor (Fesoan)
Tellarite 61 Cygni The Flying Star Tellar Prime

I can’t say when I began to wonder where one had to be within deep space to see the homeworlds of the non-human co-founders as the points of the Starfleet arrowhead. At a guess, I’d say this inspiration came in the mid-1980’s – before the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

About June of 2009, however, I got my first CAD (computer-aided design) software and began plotting stars to teach myself how to use it. After a while I had almost 3,000 stars mapped and could rotate the entire field to solve this puzzle. No, I won’t say where one has to be to achieve this view.

arrowhead for blog

In on-going work with The Nerdy Duo and with Leanna Renee Hieber, a new star field is in development to get the science right in our projects together (whether Star Trek or not). As obsessed with the details and choices of other artists as I may be, I’m not content with my own work unless I can provide a “tour” of some details I wish to highlight. They say “the devil is in the details” but perhaps it’s more accurate to say the bedevilment is contained therein.


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.