Thursday, August 25, 2011

Seventeen Years Later, I Am DONE With Star Trek: TNG

I've just finished reading James S.A. Corey's Leviathan Wakes, his first novel in the Expanse trilogy, and it's left my childhood love of Star Trek: The Next Generation in shambles.

It's a classic case of one media synergizing with the other at just the right time to give the consumer (me) a new outlook on what fiction could, or even should, be. The sea change in my mind happened suddenly and without willful input. Now, thanks to it, I may never watch another TNG episode ever again. (With the exception of Darmok and The Inner Light.)

Now, it really should be mentioned early that Leviathan and ST:TNG are in entirely different arenas of sci-fi, with the former falling into the "hard" sci-fi circle and the latter being a nearly perfect specimen of science fantasy. Leviathan takes place within the inner Solar System, mostly in the asteroid belt, and all the tech and physics are within our contemporary realm of understanding. Gravity is simulated by good, old fashioned acceleration, there is no faster-than-light travel, resources are precious -- that kind of thing.

But my issues with ST: TNG have less to do with genre and more to do with formatting and vision.

Mere hours after finishing the novel I had a spare 45-minutes and browsed through Netflix's ST:TNG offerings, deciding to screen Season 6, Episode 20, The Chase, after many years of missing it on late-night reruns. I recall the fond memories of it specifically from all those years ago. In this episode (and this is hardly a spoiler seeing as how this episode aired, dear God, eighteen years ago) Captian Picard's former archaeology mentor, Professor Galen, drops in and drops in the lap of the Enterprise crew a mystery spanning the entire Alpha Quadrant. Using DNA fragments scattered throughout biospheres across the region a computer program is extrapolated that turns out to be a holographic message. The ancient avatar's words are heavy indeed: its species was the first intelligent one in the galaxy and after finding no other life to interact with they decided to seed potentially fertile worlds with the foundations of life as a monument to their existence, so that other life could one day coexist.

This got me thinking about another episode, Relics, that guest starred James Doohan reprising his role as Scotty. In this episode the Enterprise discovers Scotty's old ship crash landed on the outer shell of a Dyson sphere.

Relics and The Chase were both part of Season 6, episodes 4 and 20, respectively. There was still another season of TNG before the ax came down on the series. Now, you'd think that discovering a stellar megastructure and the truth about the origins of life in our galaxy would each deserve their own storyarc, follow-up episode or even just a damn casual mention in the final season. Maybe it'll pop up in DS9 or Voyager? Nope. Nothing. Nada. Insert the Klingon word for "zilch."

The first discovery in and of itself -- a fucking Dyson sphere! --is enough to devote a season to, at least. These hypothetical megastructures are pretty much impossible to build due to the model of physics our universe operates on. The material constituting the shell would necessarily need to have bonds stronger than the nuclear force to withstand the Coriolis effect. Just the surface technologies gleaned from studying such a structure would give whichever government could lay claim absolute supremacy over every species in the galaxy. Period.

And this thing is sitting in Federation space.

Heck, the Federation could literally move every member species' population inside it, have tons of room left over and never have to worry about attack from outside, because breaching the shell would be impossible.

So back to Corey's Leviathan and how it knits into this rant.

Leviathan climaxes with a discovery and an event that shakes the very foundations of human civilization. In this case I won't be specific, you'll just have to read it. The next book will no doubt begin with the consequences of said climactic events and build on that -- it's just basic continuity. ST: TNG has some smattering of consequence and continuity with the Borg and Q, then later on as the Marquis are introduced, but by and large it follows the same "monster of the week" format that the original series did.

That format is what Gene Roddenberry knew and loved, and he was involved with the conception and production of the series up until his passing. I get that. Afterward, though, the creative staff had a real opportunity to do something bold with the show and for whatever reason didn't do it. Maybe it was loyalty to Roddenberry's vision, maybe they were simply comfortable. This was right around the time seaQuest DSV and Babylon 5 -- well known for its grand five-season storyarc -- were spinning up and they had to know these shows would be competing for their fanbase.

OK, I'll concede that TNG being the ST follow-up Roddenberry had been trying decades to make probably swayed their decisions with creative direction. But what I don't understand, and what's practically a crime, is the introduction of a sort of Chekhov's Gun in the aforementioned episodes that really fails to "go off" with any effect in the larger Trek-verse. Obviously the discovery of a Dyson sphere or the progenitor to all life in the Alpha Quadrant should have changed the face of the known universe. Maybe the sphere builders were the species that seeded life. Where did they go? What other relics of immense grandeur did they leave behind?

It's these questions and possibilities, plus more, that rattle around in my head when I think of any TNG episode following Relics. So I'm swearing off the show FOREVER. If I ever watch another episode of the series (with exception to the prior allowances) I will rant so hard about its depiction of society in a post-scarcity economy that my jaw will fall off and blood will flow from your ears like a red Nile.

Pray that day never comes.

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