Monday, June 21, 2004

To Boldly Go

In the wake of the successful flight of SpaceShipOne, there has already been lots of coverage elsewhere (everywhere). While out to lunch, I happened to tune in the local NPR station's afternoon talk show while I was surfing to escape the 9,000th repeat of an annoying mortgage commercial. They were discussing the flight and the recent opening of the SF Museum here, drawing little distinction between them.

The thing that really frosted me were the (majority of) callers whose view of Science Fiction begins and ends with Star Trek. A few had broadened their horizons to include Star Wars, and one had diverged enough to fixate on anime.

Science fiction, IMNSHO, is about awe and wonder, it is about exploring possibilities and consequences, and is a test bed for new ideas and philosophies. Real SF (to me), is embodied in the scope and grandeur of stories like Karel Capek's R.U.R. (the first use of a modern robot), Arthur Clarke's Childhood's End, Larry Niven's Ringworld, or Vernor Vinge's The Peace War. Its not about people in funny noses and foreheads pretending to be aliens.

Star Trek TOS was a (very) thinly veiled vehicle for Roddenberry to comment on contemporary issues under the guise of claiming to be science fiction. It consisted of a weekly series of morality plays in space. Subsequent ST series continue the theme, occasionally rising to deal with true science fiction subjects, such as communicating with a species that doesn't use the concept of words (Darmok), but more often degenerated into episodes about arbitrary predicaments solved by pulling rabbits from hats and spouting treknobabble.

Comparing Star Trek and such to "real" science fiction is kind of like a comparing a frozen TV dinner to a Cordon Bleu banquet. A frozen dinner is OK under some circumstances, but it ain't great cuisine.


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