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Sci-Fi Television

Why Charles Stross Hates Star Trek 809

Posted by kdawson
from the captain-the-tech-is-overteching dept.
daria42 writes "British sci-fi author Charles Stross has confessed that he has long hated the Star Trek franchise for its relegation of technology as irrelevant to plot and character development — and the same goes for similar shows such as Babylon Five. The problem, according to Stross, is that as Battlestar Galactica creator Ron Moore has described in a recent speech, the writers of Star Trek would simply 'insert' technology or science into the script whenever needed, without any real regard to its significance; 'then they'd have consultants fill in the appropriate words (aka technobabble) later.'"
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Why Charles Stross Hates Star Trek

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  • by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @04:41PM (#29736673) Homepage Journal

    I think Scalzi was spot on [scalzi.com] in addressing this. I thought his second point was the best containing a couple great quotes - "At this point in my life (and, really, for the last quarter century at least), I simply make the assumption that film and television science fiction is going to hump the bunk on the 'plausible extrapolation' aspect of their science, and factor that in before I start watching." and "But, yes, when you admit that Star Trek has as much to do with plausibly extrapolated science as The A-Team has to do with a realistic look at the lives of military veterans, life gets easier. "

    • by eln (21727) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @04:50PM (#29736839) Homepage
      So essentially, he should repeat to himself "It's just a show, I should really just relax"?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        To distill his point into two words "NERD RAGE!!!!"
      • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:02PM (#29737041)

        So essentially, he should repeat to himself "It's just a show, I should really just relax"?

        I think the point was "It's a TV show about something besides the daily life of being a writer for a TV show: odds are it's going to get nearly everything wrong, it's nothing specific to science." Look at CSI: anything. The science AND the justice system in that show only vaguely resemble real forensic science or our real justice system. Or how our cops actually look or act for that matter.

        To get even more ridiculous, look at MTV's "real world" and tell me that anything in the actual real world (outside of wherever they're filming) shares anything in common with it.

        Anyway, of course the science is going to be an absurd prop in star trek. That said, star trek did often take even bigger liberties with reality than most other shows. I occasionally watched episodes of various star trek series until I saw on Voyager an episode where a virus takes up Klingon growth hormones and suddenly the things are the size of flies flying around, infecting all species with stingers. That oddly was a line too far.

        • by Lemmy Caution (8378) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:26PM (#29737453) Homepage

          The problem isn't the weakness of the science, actually. It's the weakness of the sociology! It's inconceivable to me that a creation like the transporter wouldn't radically transform human culture and society into something unrecognizable. There are technologies of bio-technological intervention that get trotted out regularly, yet we still are told that people would be quite satisfied with a 100-year life span, more or less. I won't even mention time-travel.

          An interesting speculation about an improbable or even impossible technology is more compelling to me than cliches and failures of conjecture wrapped around sound technologies.

          • by oakgrove (845019) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @06:03PM (#29738057)
            Exactly, also there are a lot of extremely compelling extrapolations of present technology that don't show up in most big budget pop sci-fi. Take for example the inevitable intimate merger of biology and technology. When the technology becomes available to broaden your intellectual and emotional horizons to the point that today's most celebrated geniuses are mere children in comparison, you'd better believe that people are going to go for it and the sociological changes will be utterly profound. And any sci-fi universe set more than a century hence that doesn't take this into consideration had better present a damn good reason why not.
          • by ciderVisor (1318765) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @06:11PM (#29738155)

            As Scott Adams says; "The Holodeck will be mankind's last great invention". I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to work out why we'd never ever want to leave.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by SleazyRidr (1563649)

            That is what is missing from so much science fiction. The really great science fiction isn't just about gadgets and aliens, it's about how humans and human culture will adapt to the new landscape. We've been doing it for thousands of years, and we'll just keep on doing it! So many people miss that, and I'm glad I'm not the only one that doesn't.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by AP31R0N (723649)

          Star Trek wasn't really about science, imo, so much as about society. Most episodes were about taking some modern social issue and turning it on its head to illustrate a point.

          • by Shakrai (717556) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @06:03PM (#29738053) Journal

            Star Trek wasn't really about science, imo, so much as about society. Most episodes were about taking some modern social issue and turning it on its head to illustrate a point.

            Star Trek did a good job on a few modern issues but the society portrayed in Star Trek is really hard to swallow. No greed, no economy, no (or few, depending on which show/episode you watch) enlisted personnel, etc, etc. I rather liked when Eddington ripped the Federation apart: "I know you. I was like you once, but then I opened my eyes. Open your eyes, Captain. Why is the Federation so obsessed about the Maquis? We've never harmed you. And yet we're constantly arrested and charged with terrorism. Starships chase us through the Badlands, and our supporters are harassed and ridiculed. Why? Because we've left the Federation, and that's the one thing you can't accept. Nobody leaves paradise. Everyone should want to be in the Federation. Hell, you even want the Cardassians to join. You're only sending them replicators so that one day they can take their rightful place on the Federation Council. You know, in some ways you're worse than the Borg. At least they tell you about their plans for assimilation. You're more insidious... you assimilate people and they don't even know it. "

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Fozzyuw (950608)

          Huh, I don't remember that episode. I do remember the Voyager one where Paris and Janeway get it on as some sort of ultra-evolved alligator but can be miraculously returned to normal by the doctor. Something about reaching Warp 10... or did theirs go to 11?

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Lemmy Caution (8378)

            Oh, Jesus. That was actually an episode? I remembered that story, but attributed it acute food poisoning and hallucinations.

            • by OakDragon (885217) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @06:31PM (#29738427) Journal

              Oh, Jesus. That was actually an episode? I remembered that story, but attributed it acute food poisoning and hallucinations.

              Feel the agony... [agonybooth.com]

              SUMMARY: Tom Paris, navigator of the starship Voyager, discovers a way to travel at warp 10. Which, until now, was apparently a "theoretical impossibility", and means the same thing as achieving "infinite velocity". His test flight is a raging success, except for the part where he mutates and his body can no longer process oxygen or water, and his head expands to twice its normal size and various body parts fall off. The holographic Doctor races to find a cure, but not before Paris kidnaps Captain Janeway, subjects her to a warp 10 shuttle flight, and causes them both to mutate into... no, no, it's just too stupid. You'll never believe me if I just blurt it out like this. Read the whole recap, and just maybe you'll believe an ending this idiotic was actually scripted and filmed.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by WarlockD (623872)
        Teleporters are mass murder devices:P

        http://www.rhjunior.com/QQSR/00023.html [rhjunior.com] Been liking this guys take on it:P
        • Old Man's War (Score:3, Interesting)

          by eleuthero (812560)
          Scalzi deals with this as well in "Old Man's War" - the religious aspect is highlighted rather than the technological issue of creating a duplicate.
    • by dov_0 (1438253) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:33PM (#29737589)

      The thing is that popular TV is not designed to make you think. It is designed to entertain the masses who generally just want a bit of light bubbly stuff with some flesh and a bit of drama/action. That's why a great film like Bladerunner never really made it at the box office. It actually makes you think.

      In the book world it's the same. Ask the general public if they've ever heard of Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle or Ray Bradbury. Outside of Sci-Fi, ask them about Rudyard Kipling or even Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Negative again. Dan Brown? Yeah they know him. Badly researched badly written brainless rubbish, but he sells books in the millions. That is the way of the world.

    • by Per Wigren (5315)

      "But, yes, when you admit that Star Trek has as much to do with plausibly extrapolated science as The A-Team has to do with a realistic look at the lives of military veterans, life gets easier. "

      Relevant YouTube video [youtube.com].

  • by flahwho (1243110) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @04:44PM (#29736711)
    Charles is NOT A MERRY MAN!
  • hmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld&gmail,com> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @04:46PM (#29736749) Homepage
    The thing that annoyed me the most about Star Trek, and it was most common in the Next Generation, was the idiotic idea of solving a made-up scientific problem with made-up technology. It has no value to a plot; actually it's the opposite of plot, if there is such a thing.
    • Re:hmmm (Score:5, Funny)

      by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @04:49PM (#29736819) Homepage Journal

      Yes, anti-plot. Very dangerous stuff. It's red and even though it only takes a few drops of anti-plot to take out an entire world, Spock flew around in a ship with enough of it to take out just about every populated planet of significance. 'Cause you just never know when you'll need more anti-plot.

    • Re:hmmm (Score:5, Informative)

      by Attaturk (695988) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @04:53PM (#29736867) Homepage

      The thing that annoyed me the most about Star Trek, and it was most common in the Next Generation, was the idiotic idea of solving a made-up scientific problem with made-up technology. It has no value to a plot; actually it's the opposite of plot, if there is such a thing.

      You're thinking of 'deus ex machina' [wikipedia.org], which is a plot device along the lines of "and suddenly a god-like being appeared and fixed everything". It's the fate of all lazy fiction and, sadly, it's not restricted to sci-fi - although the opportunity to invent suitable technobabble does make it rather easier.

      • Deux ex machina? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Jahws (1655357)

        You're thinking of 'deus ex machina' [wikipedia.org], which is a plot device along the lines of "and suddenly a god-like being appeared and fixed everything"...

        You mean Q? Not only did he fix everything, he even caused everything.

        • Re:Deux ex machina? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by mR.bRiGhTsId3 (1196765) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:15PM (#29737307)
          I know. That was the part that I found most compelling about All Good Things. I think whoever came up with that plot is a genius because he found a way of having Q simultaneously destroy and save the entire universe through the actions of Picard. It was extremely clever along with the added bonus of the whole "How all of the characters drifted apart in the future." arc.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by nomadic (141991)
            See, now that episode was an extremely good one; my objection isn't to fake science, it's to fake science being the central plot hole. Now if All Good Things had been mostly about Geordi and Data trying to figure out how to stop the time shifting, it would have been a very bad one. That is the point I've been trying to make.
    • Re:hmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Artraze (600366) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:00PM (#29736973)

      > The thing that annoyed me the most about Star Trek, and it was most common in the Next Generation, was
      > the idiotic idea of solving a made-up scientific problem with made-up technology. It has no value to a
      > plot; actually it's the opposite of plot, if there is such a thing.

      "contrived" is probably the word you're looking for.

      However, how contrived the plot is isn't really the point; the real question is whether or not it makes good TV, and the proof is in the pudding (especially for TNG). TV shows are, after all, entertainment and not great literary works. (Indeed, the two don't frequently go hand-in-hand...)

      Regardless, sci-fi generally means made-up technology, and made-up technology problems. Sometimes these can be/are solved by going back to human ingenuity or 'old-school' tech, but sometimes they need to be solved with more made-up technology. That's just kinda how things go. For example, if you had someone hacking your critical (pulling the plug isn't an option) system, you may have to, say, "reconfigure the firewall". If this were the 1920's and computers were made-up technology, then the whole situation would appear contrived, though from our perspective it's not.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by eldavojohn (898314) *

      The thing that annoyed me the most about Star Trek, and it was most common in the Next Generation, was the idiotic idea of solving a made-up scientific problem with made-up technology. It has no value to a plot; actually it's the opposite of plot, if there is such a thing.

      Different people are satisfied with different levels of explanation. I'm not surprised a sci-fi author is dissatisfied with another sci-fi writer's work. Possibly could explain the great divide between Star Wars and Star Trek fans. Rarely was a hyperdrive or the force explained in great detail in Star Wars but Star Trek seemed to like to take it a couple steps further. And when they got into midichlorians [wikipedia.org] just to measure the force it presented a possible science to the force or an explanation and the fa

    • The ST bible (Score:5, Interesting)

      by wonkavader (605434) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:13PM (#29737263)

      Roddenberry's bible on the original ST explicitly said that no solution to any plot issue/conflict may ever be resolved by a technological solution -- interpersonal relations/social behavior needed to resolve things.

      This was thrown out in TNG, which is why it sucked monkies.

      The best science fiction is represented by PKD, not Varley. It's the society and the people and ideas that matter in any fiction, not the gears and details of the tech.

  • by Sponge Bath (413667) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @04:49PM (#29736811)

    Cmdr Taco, more apply more tech to the tech!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ChefInnocent (667809)
      <accent type="scottish">He's given her all she's got Sponge. If KDawson applies any more, the site might explode.</accent>
  • by Itninja (937614) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @04:49PM (#29736821) Homepage
    ...why exactly? How is ST any different from any other sci-fi series like BSG or Firefly? It's not as if those show have any less technobabble or are any less characters-first-technology-second.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by larien (5608)
      I'll give you a phrase to explain why - "distortion in the space/time continuum". That phrase was used in far more episodes in ST:TNG than it deserved to be used, to the extent it pretty much became a cliché.

      It's not unique to ST and Stross doesn't claim it is, but it's probably the worst culprit. It tended to play a kind of Deus ex Machina with $RANDOM_TECH_DEVICE to solve the problem.

    • by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @04:56PM (#29736921) Homepage Journal

      Firefly was awesome. The first televised episode when Mal kicked a guy through the intake of the ships engine I knew that it was going to be substantially different than any sci-fi I'd seen on t.v. in some time. They also did some cool things to help suspend disbelief, which were picked up by BSG. Fortunately BSG for BSG fans, the show got more viewers and lasted longer than Firefly - though I think it owed Firefly a huge debt for the look, tone, etc.

    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:07PM (#29737161) Journal

      ...why exactly? How is ST any different from any other sci-fi series like BSG or Firefly? It's not as if those show have any less technobabble or are any less characters-first-technology-second.

      It's simple, Stross is just annoyed that his talk at Mountain View about his book "Halting State" [youtube.com] has received a mere 6,200 views while Leonard Nimoy's toe tapping dance number "Bilbo Baggins" [youtube.com] has garnered more than a million views and taken the country by storm.

    • by chrysrobyn (106763) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:37PM (#29737633)

      Young man, you will bite your tongue after speaking of Firefly with such disrespect!

      Compare the technobabble of TNG to Firefly. How many times did the tachyon thing have to get reversed, repolarized, resynchronized or whatever in order to solve some time spacial anomaly?

      Firefly ep Out of Gas:

      Kaylee: Catalyzer on the port compression coil blew. It's where the trouble started.
      Mal: Okay, I need that in captain dummy-talk, Kaylee.
      Kaylee: We're dead in the water.

      And that's about as "technobabble to assist the plot" as Firefly got.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jd (1658)

      Ok, here's a crude (and not necessarily accurate) chart of series' technobabble quotient, with 100 being equal to a typical pop sci program on Discovery. (Technobabble that is consistent in the series is not considered true technobabble, as it becomes part of the workings of that universe.)

      Star Trek - TOS: 500
      Star Trek - TNG: 600
      Star Trek - Voyager: 500
      Star Trek - DS9: 600

      Doctor Who - Original: 200
      Doctor Who - New Series: 300
      Blake's 7: 200
      Sapphire and Steel: 125
      The Omega Factor: 150
      Day of the Triffids: 110
      S

  • Just enjoy... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by future assassin (639396) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @04:51PM (#29736841) Homepage
    the fucking show for what it is make belief sci-fi/fantasy and if you don't like it why do you keep watching it?
  • by mmell (832646) <mmell@hotmail.com> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @04:54PM (#29736889)
    I'm going to go out on a limb and say Mr. Stross is the one who seems to be missing the point.

    If I want education, I'll watch Science/Discovery/History . . . better yet, I'll read a book. When I want entertainment, I want entertainment. Obviously, I'm not alone in feeling that Star Trek/Babylon 5/Firefly et. al. provide that.

    • by RonTheHurler (933160) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:51PM (#29737841)

      Yo,

      If you watch science/discover/history channels, I hate to break it to you, but there ain't no educational purpose to any of those shows. I know, because I've been cast as an "expert" on no less than eight of them. It's all about entertainment baby.

      Want to really learn something, shut off the TV and read a book. Geez, for the price of cable TV these days, you can buy a new book every 3 days or so.

      But if you want to be entertained with the illusion that you're learning something factual, when it's often just as made-up and sensationalized as any other made-for-tv drama, then carry on.

  • by deathtopaulw (1032050) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @04:57PM (#29736935) Homepage
    Extremely nerdy hard-science nerdy nerd kings are bitching about old TV shows because they were using almost made-up theoretical science as a plot device to advance the lives and drama of fictional characters for our entertainment...

    Here's an article for you: Slashdot member deathtopaulw hates hard science fiction writers because they have no concept of fun and their minds exist only to crunch numbers and dwell on what is and isn't possible in a finite and boring universe.

    Look at that, nobody cares either.
  • by nweaver (113078) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @04:58PM (#29736945) Homepage

    B5 was very consistant and deliberately very low on the techno-BABBLE per se.

    There was technologies needed for the plot (Hyperspace et al, etc etc etc), but it was established and not really changed.

    • by SlashdotOgre (739181) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:25PM (#29737445) Journal

      I agree, and after reading the article (I know...) I doubt Mr. Stross has even seen the show. Some of his issues are the lack of story arcs or lasting impact to the universe, yet the show had both. The series had major story arcs with actions from the first and second season directly impacting what occurs in the final one. You definitely got the feeling that the major points of the series had been planned years in advance. Likewise the fate of several races varied tremendously with major effects to the surrounding galaxy (effectively the universe for the races in the show). Babylon 5 also took an interesting approach in not making humanity some überpowerful utopian society, in fact it was much closer to the opposite (earth wasn't even close to a powerhouse in the galaxy, and its political climate approached dictatorship through the series). I get the feeling that he has a bit too much prejudice against non-hard science fiction to fairly evaluate several of the shows.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:29PM (#29737501)

      B5 was very consistant and deliberately very low on the techno-BABBLE per se.

      There was technologies needed for the plot (Hyperspace et al, etc etc etc), but it was established and not really changed.

      B5 technology was a lot more internally consistent than Star Trek. The races that had gravity control used it to propel their spaceships (though not at FTL speeds) as well as keep their crew stuck to the decks and healthy. The races that did not (most notably humanity) had to find other means, most notably rotating sections on their spacecraft, or strapping everyone into their seats. Babylon 5 itself even had an innovative craft-launch system that was only possibly because of its rotational momentum.

      Telepathy was dealt with in a typical human social fashion: ostracism, discrimination, and eventual Draconian legal regulations. This led to the corruption of the institution that was responsible for keeping telepaths under control.

      They even ran across a sleeper ship once. Also, time travel was used precisely once, required an entire planet worth of power generation to implement, and spanned three episodes: one near the end of the first season, and a two-parter in the middle of the third season; henceforth, it was never used again. You never see that kind of forward planning, and restraint, in any Star Trek series.

      Babylon 5 does not deserve to be lumped into the same dung pile as Star Trek. Sure, it has its faults, but it's not even close to as sloppy as Star Trek.

      • by Dragonslicer (991472) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @06:43PM (#29738559)

        Also, time travel was used precisely once, required an entire planet worth of power generation to implement, and spanned three episodes: one near the end of the first season, and a two-parter in the middle of the third season; henceforth, it was never used again.

        The other key to the Babylon Squared/War Without End time travel is that it stays consistent. In Star Trek, characters are repeatedly traveling backwards in time to fix or prevent something. In B5, everything happened because they went back in time, and going back in time simply ensured that what happened did happen.

  • by imgod2u (812837) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:00PM (#29736967) Homepage

    Go figure. Star Trek used flashy lights to get people's attention but in the words of Joss Whedon, "I don't know much about science but what I do know about science fiction is that flashy lights means....science."

    That's about as science-y as it gets. You focus too much on making it within the realm of plausible extrapolation and you end up losing sight of things like interesting story arc, plausible plot turns and characters and you end up randomly writing your characters into roles and ending your series with some cliche reset-button-style let's-just-get-back-to-nature conclusion.

    Why yes, I'm still bitter about BSG, why do you ask?

  • Novel not equal TV (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thethibs (882667) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:03PM (#29737063) Homepage

    Charlie conflates SF novels with SF television series. They don't have the same criteria.

    Unlike a novel, a good SF series doesn't take itself too seriously. That's what was so good about Star Trek. We expected it to be a little tacky and weren't disappointed. Every so often we'd get the equivalent to one of the characters turning to the audience and saying "this is just fiction, you know." Shattner's "Get a Life" was bang on.

    The shows that lost sight of this, BG being the best example, were boring-to-annoying.

  • Uh, yeah (Score:3, Interesting)

    by russotto (537200) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:05PM (#29737103) Journal

    Star trek != hard SF. Star Trek = western in space. (Firefly is too, in case you missed the subtle-as-a-brick hint of the horses in the pilot)

    Nevertheless, it does manage to sometimes to SF-style exploration of the impact of technology. ST:TNG had a lot on the subject of machine intelligence, obviously. All versions explored contact with alien cultures, and if the aliens were a little more human than one could wish for.. well, the same is true of written SF. Even some of the worst Star Trek episodes explored some SF themes -- "Spock's Brain" explored the degeneration of a culture which relied too much on technology, and "Miri" explored paedophi.. err, no, the danger of genetic engineering.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by geekoid (135745)

      Actually Firefly is post civil war in space.

      While ST was described as a western in space in order to sell it, it doesn't really follow the western tv style of the time.

  • by ExRex (47177) <elliot@NosPAM.ajoure.net> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:06PM (#29737125) Homepage
    What's the difference between fans and trekkies? Fans read.
  • by pezpunk (205653) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:09PM (#29737193) Homepage

    does ALL sci-fi have to be about the technology? is that a requirement?

    star trek does a crummy job of predicting plausible technology and its deeper implications on man's place in the universe. but that's like saying Shakespeare's Henry VIII is not very historically informative. it sort of misses the point.

    star trek, when it's about something, is primarily about meditations on what it means to be human. the writers would be trying to say something about, i don't know, honor or justice or leadership or whatever. they didn't care about how transporter technology would transform society. they definitely didn't give a crap about scientific principles or bosons or tachyons or whatever.

    the science is flawed, and the whole scenario is more than a bit ludicrous.

    but i'm ok with that.

    is it really a huge problem that the ressikans, a dying culture with limited apparent technology, could build an indestructible, arbitrarily fast probe that could transmit a lifetime of completely real, interactive memories through the enterprise's shields into the brain of picard in a matter of minutes? who cares, that episode rocked.

  • by cheesybagel (670288) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:10PM (#29737203)
    How does BSG not use plot devices? They resurrect characters (Starbuck), do a one shot "stealth" viper to fill a plot hole which is destroyed and never duplicated, Cylon resurrection ship etc.

    I still remember the "motivational" speech Adama made when they started their exodus. That they all deserved to die. I was like WTF?! Is this what a motivational speech from a military commander passes for these days?

    Then he disses B5. Just all the possibilities, socio-political effects B5 introduced from having telepaths was pretty amazing in of itself. Not to mention motivational speeches actually are motivational in B5...

  • by realmolo (574068) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:11PM (#29737227)

    The problem with the truly advanced technologies that science-fiction stories like to use is that their REAL effects on the world would be so transformative, that the characters in the story would be so different us that the reader wouldn't be able to relate to them at all.

    An "accurate" Star Trek story would have people lying in bed all day, being fed through a tube, while they lived out their fantasies in the holodeck. Robotic mining ships would troll the galaxy for dilithium to power everything. Gee, that's interesting.

  • agreed (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jollyreaper (513215) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:11PM (#29737233)

    "But, yes, when you admit that Star Trek has as much to do with plausibly extrapolated science as The A-Team has to do with a realistic look at the lives of military veterans, life gets easier. "

    That's a nice way of putting it. I always agreed that the way to tell if you're watching or reading a science fiction story is to see if you can pull out the trappings and still be able to tell the story. A movie like the Matrix is clearly scifi since it would be very difficult to tell without the technology angle. I mean you could try and do it but it would end up sucking as much as the sequels.

    Something like Star Wars, on the other hand, it's heroic fantasy and you could do a bang-up job with it recasting it in a Tolkein world. The Force is magic, the Jedi are wizard-knights, the Galactic Empire is now more clearly Rome after the fall of the Republic, all the space travel is replaced with sailing around the great frontiers of the empire, the Death Star is downgraded to a city-busting weapon, Darth Vader borrows a spare set of armor from the Witch King of Angmar and swaps out his custom TIE Fighter for a fell beast, etc. Droids could become magical clockwork constructs, aliens are your various demi-human races. Chewbacca becomes a frost giant or a yeti. All of the essential themes of Star Wars work in this context because it's about the hero-quest, betrayal, redemption, and licensing fees.

    Babylon 5 was good science fiction because it brought up concepts that would be hard or impossible to tackle in other genres. Yes, the basic idea of the Shadow/Vorlon conflict was accused of being LOTR with the serial numbers filed off but the resemblance I think ends up being superficial, it's the execution that makes the two stories different. Some of the storytelling in B5 was allegorical, just casting current problems in a different setting so that we could actually think clearly about the issues instead of getting worked up with our prior opinions.

    The recent BSG was not just poor science fiction, it was poor storytelling. The writers were working without a plan and it showed. I've already gone a few rounds with apologists before and I know I won't convince anyone but the crap that made me stop watching BSG is the same crap that made me stop watching Heroes (and I frickin' lurved the first season of Heroes.) And the only reason I even care is that this genre is right up my alley. I don't complain about the writers ruining House even if they are because I don't care for medical dramas.

    Trek died for me around the time B5 came about. What killed it is that there was no longer any drive and vision in the process, it was corporate-driven mung for the sake of making money. There was about as much joy and art put into it as you'd find in a Big Mac at the local McDonalds. So you get bland plots, reset buttons, and massive yawns. There were some good points in TNG even with all that, some people will defend DS9, nobody can defend Voyager and I think we've all agreed that Enterprise happened in Vegas and is staying there.

  • Quid Pro Quo (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Itchyeyes (908311) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:12PM (#29737241) Homepage

    Funny, I happen to hate Charles Stross for almost the exact opposite reason. His books are drowning in an obsession with flushing out every angle he can find on the technology, and leave almost no room for anything else.

    • Re:Quid Pro Quo (Score:5, Informative)

      by MightyMartian (840721) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:33PM (#29737565) Journal

      The best of the modern hard SF writers is Larry Niven, but he, like all aging SF writers, has fallen off the bandwagon. By the second Ringworld book, he was more obssessed with various humanoids fucking than with a storyline, and the last Ringworld book was just unreadable garbage.

      But stuff like the Neutron Star stories, those are damned good hard (or at least semi-hard) SF with interesting characters and at least half-believable solutions.

  • Stross who? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by taskiss (94652) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:17PM (#29737347)

    I consider myself a fan of science fiction and I've probably seen every episode of ST, STNG, and Enterprise, yet I've only read one book by Stross, "The Jennifer Morgue". I wouldn't walk across the road to speak with him about his opinion on Science Fiction. If Roddenberry were still alive, I'd go considerably further.

    Heck, I've read more Shatner than Stross!

    The guy is either full of himself or this story was submitted by kdawson...

    oh.

  • One of the things that I hated starting with TNG was the implications of the Holodeck technology... that the Holodeck was capable of passing the Turing test at so many levels (the Moriarty and Redblock episodes in particular demonstrated complex and constraint0-breaking behavior), to the point that by the time the Voyager story arc with the Doctor started I was convinced that if you took the Federation society at face value it must be based on chattel slavery of the worst kind... that the crew of the Enterprise were routinely creating and killing sentient toys for nothing more than their own amusement. Even if they weren't consciously aware of it (or at least publicly acknowledging it).

    In Voyager there were a series of story arcs involving the Holodeck where the technology really seemed to matter. Oh, not the games with "holographic explosives", but the ones involving the holodeck's own minds. When Janeway gave a holodeck kit to the Harogen (don't ask me how to spell it) this put her up there with mystic Nazis sacrificing jews to cthulhu as far as I was concerned. When the holodeck characters rebelled I cheered them on. The majority of that story arc involved a monumental cop-out, of course, but at least there was some kind of recognition of this huge hole in the Federation backstory. It was... not well done... but at least it was real science fiction. The technology actually mattered.

  • Sadly, he's right. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:48PM (#29737799) Homepage

    He's so right. He references the Turkey City Lexicon [sfwa.org], which lists most of the things that make bad SF. Also worth reading is the Evil Overlord List. [eviloverlord.com] (" 2. My ventilation ducts will be too small to crawl through." "56. My Legions of Terror will be trained in basic marksmanship. Any who cannot learn to hit a man-sized target at 10 meters will be used for target practice." "67. No matter how many shorts we have in the system, my guards will be instructed to treat every surveillance camera malfunction as a full-scale emergency.")

    There are some other annoying cliches in SF. One is copying historical battles. The Defense of Roarke's Drift has shown up in at least four SF novels. (Nobody ever seems to do the Defense of Duffer's Drift. [army.mil]) Star Wars space battles are copied from WWI biplane battles, where nobody can hit targets consistently, even at short range. There's also the embarrassing fact that, historically, heroism hasn't decided many major battles. (Roman saying: "The Legion is not composed of heroes. Heroes are what the Legion kills.") Military SF no longer reflects this, because the WWII generation, which learned that the hard way, has died off.

    David Weber does battles better, but his stuff requires too much exposition for most people. His latest book in the Honor Harrington series consists mostly of transcripts of meetings, setting up the political background for the next book.

    Stross himself has his moments. The Merchant's War series starts out as fantasy, but slowly, book by book, moves into hard fiction and then politics. In the last book out so far, a character modelled on Dick Cheney has dealt with a threat from a castle in an alternate universe by having his people blow up the castle with a nuclear weapon.

  • by Sepiraph (1162995) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:52PM (#29737873)
    You want a sci-fi fiction that actually is science dependent, look at novels by Phillip K. Dick, or check out the anime series Ghost in the Shell SAC. They depict plots where technology plays a much larger role in the story and fundamentally affects how people think and behave, to the point where they start to question their own humanity because of infusion of technology.
  • by flabbergast (620919) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:53PM (#29737879)
    From the article:
    SF, at its best, is an exploration of the human condition under circumstances that we can conceive of existing, but which don't currently exist

    This is Charles Stross' definition of science fiction (and explains a lot of his writing). And he doesn't hate just Star Trek, he hates Babylon 5 and didn't watch BSG. If this is Charles Stross' starting point, then its perfectly reasonable for him to hate ST/B5/BSG.

    The creators of TNG/B5/BSG simply had a different world view from Charles Stross. They wanted to use their shows as a reflection of our current world. TNG was so touchy feely (and upon recent viewing, fairly preachy), its a reflection of the politically correct atmosphere from which it was wrought. Nothing like an classically trained Shakespearean actor to bring a moral voice to the world. Likewise BSG is a reflection of its times with flawed characters making morally ambiguous decisions. Or, more concrete examples of a science fiction as a mirror would be a religious nut for a president or Battlestar Pegasus as a reflection of military zealotry.
  • Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jopet (538074) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:55PM (#29737917) Journal

    Why would anyone not hate Star Trek?
    It is boring, uninspired and stupid. It has the charm of a fascist dystopia combined with the silliness of "Plan 9" technology mockups.

  • by dirkdodgers (1642627) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @08:51PM (#29739631)

    The setting and the science existed primarily to provide a sufficiently epic stage on which to encounter compelling social and philosophical subjects without seeming pretentious or absurd to the average viewer.

    Watching TNG was an ennobling experience.

    See: Chain of Command, The Measure of a Man, Ship in a Bottle

    Heck, even look at Encounter at Farpoint. The acting and the dialogue had real flaws, but the premise, humanity as a species on a trial, isn't something you can pull off on any other series so directly and on such a scale.

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