Tag Archives: Star Trek

Gen Con 50: Day One: Finding My Inner Dork Again

I entered the Con with a bit of an identity crisis on my hands. Gen Con’s 50th year is a little odd to me. I’m finding myself more passionless, more ambivalent, about being here. It’s interesting. I used to pride myself on my nerdiness, and now I’m just, kind of, here.

I’m not sure what happened. Maybe it was the breakup of my gaming group. Maybe it’s the fact that I keep buying nerdy things like RPG rule books and board games and never get much of a chance to play them. Real life comes at you fast: things in the house need fixing, work gets crazy. There’s school stuff, job stuff, family stuff. I’m not super great at prioritizing my enjoyment of tabletop gaming, but is tabletop gaming still even a priority? Should it be?

About a six months ago, I volunteered to run the new RPG Star Trek Adventures for the fine folks at Modiphius. Star Trek has been a fixture in my life, and Modiphius offered me some store credit to do it (basically, I ended up getting a free core rulebook), so I set up a couple of sessions of an adventure they put together called “Entropy’s Demise.” It’s not the Star Trekiest of Star Trek stories, but it’s a fun one about an away mission and a good introduction to the game’s rules.

The game is a lot of fun, cribbing some good mechanics from a number of different systems. I look forward to maybe running for people at home once I know the rules a lot better.

My big purchase of the day was Starfinder by Paizo. I know the basic premise is that it’s Pathfinder in space, and I could probably homebrew that for a group, but the art is fantastic, it’s fat with a lot of information, and Paizo puts out entertaining stuff enough that I wanted to support them.

After all that, it was dinner with friends, old and new, and we got to check out the Rick & Morty: Total Rickall game. We had a lot of fun committing random acts of betrayal and card murder. Also, I am very jealous of those who are staying at the JW Marriott in downtown Indy. Man, that place is poshy and has some lovely views of Indianapolis in the starlight.

As I was taking the long walk back to my car, I realized that while I was playing games, I wasn’t thinking about this dumb nerd identity crisis I’m having. I was just having fun. In this weird time where everything seems bad, it was nice to have this port in the storm for a few days. The news has been getting me down.  (Coincidentally, I just found out about the Barcelona attacks. My heart goes out to those affected.)

That’s the end of day one. I’m going to see if I can talk to some people today about games and making games… but I also want to save that for a book I want to write. See you tomorrow.

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Your Dad’s Star Trek

It’s a good thing I love Star Trek because I don’t have Showtime or AMC, so I’m sitting out the conclusions of Dexter and Breaking Bad. And since I don’t watch professional sports, I am poorly equipped to talk about anything that’s popular right now.

Except Miley. I can always talk about her.

Resigned to being Twitter irrelevant, Star Trek is my fallback obsession. And boy do I love it. So much, in fact, that I have been in more than one drunken, impromptu Star Trek trivia dual.

So it’s been TNG all the time in my house and I forgot how amazing that show is. Which is a good thing because JJ Abram’s Trek marks the end of Gene Roddenberry’s vision.

And that’s ok. Nothing lasts forever, and by my count Star Trek had 28 years and 11 movies excluding the two most recent reboot films. That’s an amazing run. More than half the time Doctor Who has been on the air. And I think we are all aware that less than half of Doctor Who has been as good as Star Trek. By my record, that puts the franchise that hasn’t aired on television since 2001 ahead. It’s such a long body of work, with so many fantastic characters, that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to be upset about a new vision.

Especially when you consider the market really doesn’t have a place for Star Trek as we’ve known it. What’s popular on television today? It’s all reality TV, police procedurals, gritty adult dramas and genre mashups. Is it really a surprise when we have a Star Trek that’s less interested in philosophical questions and problem solving than in having someone kick the ship’s engine until it starts moving again?

Seriously. Kirk seriously kicked an antimatter engine to get it to work. That is quintessential American grit right there. A TV trope should be named after that–if it’s not already.

Let’s think about when the last truly successful space opera was. Outside of video games, I would probably call it Battlestar Galactica in the mid 2000’s. That was a show that captured the imagination, but was almost cancelled more than once before actually being cancelled. In terms of cult popularity you could probably give it to Firefly... which had 12 episodes and a movie. But both those shows have been out of play for a while and, as I recall, Star Gate Universe was the last memorable attempt at the genre.

And none of these shows are like Star Trek. They are each and everyone darker, more ragged stories about survival. This is what I think JJ Abrams doesn’t get about Star Trek. The show isn’t just about fighting against the odds to win the day. That is a component, though classic Trek preferred to out-think a challenge rather than out-fight it. Still, while episodes vary, the themes tend to be philosophical in nature.

In the broadest definition, Star Trek has been about what we ought to do instead of what we have to do. In any given episode Star Fleet and the Federation are usually the most powerful people in the room because it’s not about beating the big bad. Notable exceptions include the Borg, The Dominion and (if you really want to reference Voyager) species 8472. But whenever that does happen, questions almost always remain about what is appropriate; where the line we won’t cross is.

Except here. Action hero Picard just wanted to kill some Borg. 

It’s almost always about understanding the situation and acting in accordance with our values. Better than our values, really. In Trek humans have generally “evolved” beyond things like greed and genocidal rage.

It’s completely different from the more popular fighting in defense of our values we often see or the do as much cool shit as possible approach to television. In that form, heroes fight as hard as possible doing whatever they can to survive in the name of standing for defending their families, standing for America or just generally protecting their way of life. In Trek it was worth the extra risk or the possibility of losing to remain true to your principals.

Trek is introspective. Outsiders like Spock or Data are constantly making the characters consider why it is they do what they do. And, now and then, they call them out on their BS. In the TNG episode Measure of a Man, Data is ordered to turn himself over to Star Fleet to have his brain disassembled in an attempt to make more of him. Oddly enough, Picard was totally fine with following those orders until Data pointed out that no human would be required to be dissected for government research.

Or the episode where Data creates f****** life in the form of another android. Artificial life creating artificial life! There are so many philosophical considerations. Can an android teach another android? Should an android teach another android? Is that the beginning of a species? Do they have rights? If we try to pull the plug, would we end up in The Matrix or Terminator?

Every Star Trek has one of these characters because the show has always been interested in exploring exactly how we understand the universe and why it is we do what we do.

And we are the better for it. In Star Trek humanity is simply better than it has ever been in real life. I’ve said before that the franchise has an overly optimistic sense of exploration. Real colonialism resulted in genocides, slave trades, horrible diseases and hundreds of years of consequences we still feel to this day. Yet the intrepid crew of the USS Enterprise goes out to explore with generally positive results.

In spite of these flaws and the entire seasons of Trek that could be thrown away, I’m willing to say that I am satisfied with what we got. I’ve come to terms with never seeing another like it in my lifetime. And you know what they say about all good things.

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Live Long and Nitpick (Infinite Star Trek Spoilers)

Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Kahn was released 31 years ago this week. Courtesy of social media and our overly connected society, it feels like Star Trek: Into Darkness has been out about that long. So, if you haven’t seen the latter yet this is your only spoiler warning. Walk away, and check out this spoiler free version. By the way Norman Bates is his own mother and Bruce Willis was dead the whole time.

The rest of you already know Sherlock is the rebooted Kahn and Robocop is a rogue Starfleet admiral. What exactly is the vetting process for becoming an admiral in Starfleet? Like 1/3 of them wind up baddies. It is rarely even a surprise anymore. I start sizing them up as soon as they are introduced, like the first person Columbo interviews.

I digress. Several things have been nagging at me since viewing Into Darkness:

Did the event that rebooted the universe have retroactive effects? spock

In 2009’s Star Trek a Romulan Ship from the 24th century (TNG era) destroys the USS Kelvin in the year 2233 and  creates a divergent point from the Trek universe we know to a new continuity. This device is what allowed J.J. Abrams to reboot Star Trek continuity. When Kahn is introduced in the 1967 episode Space Seed  Kirk, Scotty and Bones all admit to having a certain admiration for the 1990s-era tyrant, at least through the filter of history.

In Star Trek Into Darkness no one has ever heard of the guy. Spock  has to call up Spock Prime to ask who he is. It’s too bad that Cumberbatch’s line “I am Khan” is pretty much rendered uneventful by the lack of knowledge . I guess the destruction of the Kelvin demolished all the history PADDs as well? Perhaps they all learned of him during their time at the academy which was cut short by the events of the previous film.

Where is the civilian authority of the Federation?

Admiral Marcus is convinced that war with the Klingons is inevitable. He commissions a Starfleet warship which he names the Vengeance, then manufactures the need to use it. Where are the checks and balances of the Federation/Starfleet relationship? In an early scene we see series of model ships on Marcus’ desk the last of which is the largest, and it’s black so you know it is bad. Where did he get the commission? “Uh… Yes enlightened outer space United Nations, I would like to build a ship called The Vengeance” (named after the fallen “Captain Vengeance,” I’m sure; definitely not after the dish best served cold.”

 

The Klingons wear helmets and Starfleet officers wear caps:  dress uniform

The Starfleet uniform has changed with such frequency during each series that it has been difficult to keep up. The drab and unadorned officer’s dress uniform is in stark contrast to the exaggerated stars and odd chest piece centered uniforms worn by the admirals. Seeing our heroes with salutes affixed to the bill of a uniform cap like an intergalactic air force was ridiculous.

On the other hand or head I guess,  the introduction of Klingons in this era was made all the more interesting by their protective head wear. In a society where social interaction is based on hand to hand combat, how have we never seen a Klingon in a helmet? This timeline also allows the writers to avoid the Klingon head ridge discussion altogether by showing them intact, as it were, from their first appearance.

helmet

I am sick of Spock Prime:                                                                                                                                                   

It is no secret that Abrams has a certain adoration for Leonard Nimoy; however, if they keep finding ways to make him relevant in this continuity, then I’m not sure what the point is. I would be just as happy watching the further adventures of Mister Spock staring the aging Leonard Nimoy. His inclusion here seems forced as his only purpose is to impart knowledge that the crew should have already had (see point 1).

 

These are just a few thoughts I’ve had since watching Star Trek: Into Darkness. Some of these may seem a bit petty, but not to worry JJ, most Star Trek fans aren’t the type to be obsessive. ;-{)}

 

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Keep Calm and Trek on

Star Trek Into Darkness opens with a perfect original series scenario. The Enterprise crew has been monitoring a class m planet (Earth-like) and its pre warp (pre wheel) society. Captain James T. Kirk for some unknown reason has picked up a sacred relic and is being chased by the paper mache people through a red forest. Spock is stranded inside an active volcano, and though he has a device that can stop it from erupting, he will not survive its use. The only way to save his stranded first officer is for Kirk to order the Enterprise, which is concealed on the bottom of an oceastar-trek-into-darkness-red-worldn, to fly above the volcano and transport Spock to safety.

The only problem? Just a tiny thing called the prime directive, a policy of non- interference into the activities of indigenous species. Kirk does exactly what we expect him to do and saves Spock despite his protest of violating this sacred rule. These events are omitted from the captain’s log, but recounted with excruciating detail in Spock’s report. Though, if Spock was so opposed to interfering in the development of this society by allowing them to see the Enterprise why was he willing to alter the course of their existence by stopping a volcanic eruption?

This pre-credits scene, which has little to do with the plot of this film, sums up my feelings on the current direction of the Star Trek film series. After J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot of the long running franchise, all old things were new again. Courtesy of a time travel plot device the entire Star Trek continuity was nullified. Most of the same events take place just out of order and not in exactly the same way they happened in the prime universe. This allows Abrams to make slight changes and updates. (Don’t get me started on the uniform hats.)

Since the Star Trek saga began, time travel has been a staple of the series. Often the crews of the various starships are forced to go back in time to prevent an antagonist from altering the future. The only difference is this time no one put the universe back together again. The altered timeline is allowed to run and in a sense becomes the “prime”– at least for now.

Given the incredible license that the altered timeline provides, I fail to understand why a director of Abrams caliber would not want to break some new ground. Instead the film is littered with a-ha moments and retreads of tired characters. The villains in this film are redundant, we have seen them before and while we enjoy feeling as though we are in on the big reveal, the series cannot be sustained in this fashion.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the film. Pine’s Kirk is a pleasure to watch. He is cocky but insightful. Justabrams as likely as Shatner’s interpretation to simply shoot the brain slug as it crawls from Chechov’s ear than attempt to determine its origin. He’s just as willing to lay it all on the line to protect every member of his crew.

Quinto has Spock down to a frightening T. Urban’s Bones is perfect if tragically under-utilized. Uhura is finally a three dimensional character after existing for 50 or so years.

What makes it worth watching? Do we look for all the things we already know about, then pat ourselves on the back for noticing them? Perhaps we are meant to focus on the subtle differences. Star Trek: Into Darkness is a great thrill ride, a fine action film, and a send up to previous movies. It’s Trek, and it’s not all at the same time. It’s better than Star Trek: the Motion Picture or Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, but it’s no Wrath of Kahn–and that’s okay.

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Spock and Spock are Adorable

Quick post: This is about the cutest Star Trek related thing I’ve ever seen. I’m not a huge fan of Audi (mostly because I’ll never be able to afford one), but this is awesome.

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Trek Nation: Fatherhood and The Final Frontier

image property of Paramount pictures

image property of Paramount pictures

 

My name is J. Fortune and I am addicted to Star Trek. There I said it. From my first exposure to The Next Generation at  the age of 13, I have been completely, hopelessly hooked. Through 5 TV series, 10 movies and hundreds of novels, I followed the adventures of various Starfleet personnel from any number of timelines and alternate timelines in their exploration of the final frontier.

In degrees of fandom, I guess my interest would be considered passing by a great many. I have never attempted to bring my adoration of the escape that the Star Trek universe provides into the plane of reality. I have never been to a convention or worn a Starfleet uniform (though I did own one for a while. Oh, the many things one can find in a thrift store). I have never written a piece of fan fiction, nor read one for that matter, but I think I would be open to it.

Recently a crop of documentaries about Star Trek have been produced. These films are varied in their focus and subject matter. Two documentaries by Star Trek elder statesman William Shatner fixate on…well William Shatner. The Captains follows Shatner as he interviews the lead actors from each of the series and even a few from the movies. In Get a Life Shatner tries, often in vane, to understand Star Trek fandom. Like the Trekies films of the late 90s and early 2000s, Get a Life is a bit exploitative and often does not give a good representation of Star Trek fans.

Gene Roddenberry with Next generation cast

The most interesting of the recent documentaries is 2010’s Trek Nation. In the film, Eugene Roddenberry , the son of Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry  tries to understand the impact his father and the universe he created has had on science fiction and society as a whole. From the first frames of the film, we understand that Eugene was not a Star Trek fan. The younger Roddenberry begins on a path to understanding his father and his father’s choices. Sounds like a Worf storyline from TNG.Through interviews with writers, directors and producers who worked closely with him, Eugene is given a more complete picture of who his father really was and what his legacy is. The information is not always favorable. Eugene seems to listen to each participant and take in all of what they have to say.

Roddenberry even get the opportunity to sit down with Star Wars creator George Lucas. Lucas makes time while filming Episode 3 to explain that in some ways without Star Trek there would have been no reception for something like Star Wars. Star Wars was a phenomena that even Roddenberry  Jr. was swept up in as a lad. A picture from one of Eugene’s birthday parties shows him in a Star Wars t-shirt cutting a cake decorated with the Millennium Falcon.

Eugene Roddenberry JRIn the end the story of Trek Nation was a perplexing one.  A lot of fathers don’t communicate their thoughts on their work or their life with their sons. Too often this leads to unanswered questions after the passing of a family patriarch. Eugene Roddenberry has the unique perspective of someone with a famous father. He resents characters and father-son relationships his dad has written, but then wonders if the idealized interactions were what his father wished he could have provided to him.

In Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry created an ideal future: one in which the societies, of not just one planet, but of the entire galaxy, could put aside their differences for a greater good. Trek Nation left me wishing that this father and son could have done the same. Still, it is without a doubt that Eugene Roddenberry has come to better understand his father’s role in history

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Star Trek into Darkness Teaser Trailer!

Earlier in the week we got the poster, and now we have the official teaser trailer! We still don’t know who Cumberbatch is playing (though people are speculating Khan, Gary Mitchell, or a mad Vulcan.). But, hey, it looks cool!

 

 

 

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Star Trek Into Darkness Poster Revealed

Star Trek’s Facebook page put up a poster for Star Trek Into Darkness! 

The poster seems reminiscent of the recent Batman movie posters and features Benedict Cumberbatch (who has the most British-sounding name ever).

Who Cumberbatch is playing in the film has yet to be revealed; however, speculation has generally centered around Khan (I hope not), and Gary Mitchell (better), but I’m holding out for an original creation.

Or Trelane!

 

Take a look at the poster!

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Cultures Of A United Federation Of Planets

A couple weeks ago someone asked me if it was possible to create a real United Federation Of Planets (UFP) a la Star Trek. Holding a couple degrees in sociology, I am not at all qualified to answer this question. A lot of research really ought to be done. And not just social research. You should probably get like a biologist and a linguist or NASA. At the very least, Bill Nye should be in the room.

But all that’s tedious and who wants to read a 300 page report on the intricacies of xenolinguistics in speculative alien species? Eff that noise. I’m just gonna tell you if it’s possible or not based on my limited understanding of social structures and what I’ve learned from science fiction. Suit up.

So first we need to define exactly what a UFP is. In Star Trek, it’s a conglomeration of alien planets that agree on a single set of principles to be governed by; rules about how sentient cultures should treat, be treated, and treat their people. In addition, these are rules of alliance not unlike NATO. You attack one of us, you attack all of us.

Oh, and they all pool resources, have economies without money, and share a single military.

You see, back in the day the United Federation Of Planets was an allegorical United States. A perfect 1960s United States without poverty, sickness, or money where people are driven by the pure desire to explore and learn. A United States that stood in the face of an allegorical communist threat.

So basically a UFP is a space United States with a federal government located at a capital (Earth) and member states made up of planets or small conglomerations of planets.

So begins my list of things we need to get this bitch off the ground.

Cultural Compatibility

We would need a lot of cultural similarities to have the kind of UFP we’ve described. Humans take for granted that across all cultures there are some universal constants. For example, not matter what society you look at, sex/gender dynamics exist. We as individuals tend to seek other individuals to have children and build families with. These families are varied in ways we don’t often see (see: polyandry), but they are still families.

There is no reason to assume aliens have dichotomous gender structures. Maybe 5 genders. Maybe 1. Maybe they procreate by sharing a bathroom. Maybe only a single group of them were ever created and they just live forever.

Something else we come across is religion. Most cultures have religion or several religions in them. Many are based around human ideas of nature. Who’s to say aliens would have any religion at all. Or think about life and the universe the way we generally do. They may not even see the world (literally) the same way we do. Or see at all. Things like sight have a very big impact on our worldview.

My point is that all the aliens in Star Trek are basically humans. Yeah, they have different colored skin, deep voices, and putty on their noses, but they are still basically us. There is an episode of Star Trek that even explains that all sapient life in the universe was seeded by a progenitor species exploring the area. So basically everyone is human, give or take a couple million years.

And they still fight all the time! Klingons. Romulans. Borg. The Dominion. Other actual humans! But instead of referencing Star Trek, we could just look at the history of the U.S. It’s been around 200 years and change and hasn’t seen more than 15 years without a major war; one of which was a CIVIL WAR. Oh, and we killed almost every Native American on the continent.

The best example of what I’m getting at may be Halo. Basically, the Covenant bump into us and they figure we are the unholy menace described in their religion. No conversation. Just them jumping from one planet to the next killing every human they see and glassing anything we’ve ever touched. Not like it was the first time in human history a group of people were ascribed with a religious demarcation and punished for it.

Actually, we used to do it all the time. And again, we are all humans.

The aliens we meet, if they are out there, will probably not be like us. Those differences will make or break any potential UFP, and that might actually be a good thing. God forbid they turn out to be like us; we’d have to fight it out on principle alone.

Next week I’m going to talk about the second item on my list: Interests

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