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Thursday, 27 August 2015

Why we need a new Star Trek series

I grew up watching Star Trek (yes, the Original series). It got me into Scifi, created an addiction that turned me to reading Asimov's Foundation and then I never looked back. I couldn't watch it now, of course, without cringing or laughing. It was a product of its time. After a big gap, we got the Next Generation, which I initially hated, but thanks to Picard, grew to like, then Voyager and Deep Space Nine. DS9 is the only one I could watch again (and again), the best of the ST series. Then there was Enterprise. How did it even get to four seasons?

I like the recent movies. But they are not enough. Why not?

All the ST series allowed the writers to explore new concepts (okay, to be fair, most of it was derivative), and present viewers with ideas. One of the hallmarks of the scifi reader or viewer's experience is a sense of wonder. Books can be great at this, but so can TV series. For example, both Peter Hamilton and Iain Banks have great concepts of ships, organic ships born in the shallows of gas giants, and mindships. But then think of Farscape's Talyn, and you have a fabulous creation that lingers in the mind.

Of course there have been other notable Scifi series: Babylon 5, Farscape, and most importantly, Battlestar Galactica, which had the same kind of impact for Scifi that Game of Thrones is having for Fantasy.

But where are the great SF series now? Quite simply, there aren't any. Most are low budget, either set in today's timeline with a few teasers thrown in (like Continuum) or post-apocalyptic shot mostly at night to save on money and CGI (Falling Skies) or near-horror scifi soaps (Helix). They all feel like fillers, while we're waiting for the real deal to come online. And most SF movies, even those with a decent premise and a stellar cast, tragically descend into popcorn-fodder fist-fights (e.g. Elysium). Where is the Blade-Runner of yesteryear?

So, the point about a series, is to allow the writers to explore. Unfortunately, there's a focus on the dollar and writing SF thriller series that keep ramping up the tension with character-bending plot-twists, and frankly often stretch the plot as if the creators had never thought beyond Season 2 (that's the make-or-break point, by the way), or the writers got too immersed in character politics to the detriment of scifi plotting (Stargate Universe, a real lost opportunity), or they built up to an impossible-to-get-out-of cliff-hanger that was ridiculously resolved in the next season (Falling Skies end of Season 3, for example). And do we get a sense of wonder from these series (SGU yes, at least initially)? Or is it just the equivalent of Jack Bauer (24) running around, a thriller whose plot you can't remember a week later. Does it inspire the next generation (pun unintended) to read scifi?

Ok, what's the solution?

It needs a Network and a few producers with some backing to take a risk, to break out of this NCIS/Game-of-Thrones business model, and go back to basics. What do SF viewers want? What hasn't been done before? And why Star Trek?

Last question first. Because Gene Roddenberry was a visionary. Visionaries imagine, and create the future, by sheer force of will. And because there is a loyal and patient audience who will give it a chance. SF viewers want new worlds, new cultures (not humans with funny foreheads), and spaceships we want to buy models of. Get David Brin (brilliant on aliens) to write a few episodes, or Alistair Reynolds (world building), or Peter Hamilton (fantastic spaceships and deep, enduring plots), or Jack Campbell (realistic space-battles). And then there's characters. Jack McDevit writes real characters, those you remember and would really like to meet (and quite a few you'd want to knock flat).

But what about the concept? Star Trek Enterprise was a failure partly because it went backwards. That's not what SF people want. A new series needs to go forwards in time. A new galactic treat, Earth destroyed or plundered, the Federation in tatters, humanity on the back foot, maybe one Starship escapes, tries to make its way in a hostile galaxy where aliens are smarter, and empathy is in short supply...

A new Star Trek would need to be gritty, dealing with tough choices, and no conveniently happy endings as in the original series (and more like DS9, when Sisko did some very questionable things in order to win the war). It doesn't have to go for shock value like Game of Thrones, rather, it can go for the wonder factor that the SF literature constantly delivers.

And as with all good science fiction, it would deal with issues that are relevant to us today, but disguised and distanced in a way that allows us to look at them in a new light, and maybe, just maybe, consider alternative solutions.

Ok, so what would this new ST series be called?

Star Trek Renegade.

  


 

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