This blogpost is focused on looking at how the Star Trek: Discovery episode The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry fits into the events and themes of the previously established universe. I’ve written a similar blogposts looking at previous episodes and one specifically looking at how The Vulcan Helloexplores how phrases can have different layers of meaning to different groups.
Inside the Replicator
The episode opens with bursts of energy shooting up and down from the top and bottom of an undefined area, in a way that reminded me of the Badlands, a Maquis stronghold featured frequently in DS9 and in the opening of Voyager. My instinct was that this was going to be either the Badlands itself or a similar region of space that Discovery was moving through. (In Star Trek science, I think these are known as plasma storms.) But we zoom out to reveal that this is the process of Michael Burnham’s uniform being replicated – I assume this is the first time we’ve seen the process on such a microscopic level. It’s a similar trick to how the series began, with T’kuvma monologuing as the viewpoint moved through the stars, before transitioning into his eye and moving out to a room of Klingons. Given that the mycelial network that the Discovery navigates has been described as a microscopic web, and that the show has drawn attention to the importance of context to understand different mindsets, the opening is a quick reminder of the show’s themes – that sometimes up is down, and nothing should be taken for granted.
Rick and Morty has a setup that’s an obvious play of the one in Back to the Future, with an elderly genius inventor supported by his teenage assistant. The style of humour is probably best explained by comparing it to Monty Python – mixing smart and dumb humour, the profound and the silly – with an added streak of nihilism.
Rick Sanchez is referred to several times as the smartest man in the universe, and he’s not shy about his brilliance. There’s a long-running pop culture association between intelligence and arrogance. Tony Stark, Gregory House, Gaius Baltar, Sherlock‘s Sherlock, Sheldon Cooper. There are public figures who play up to this idea by acting dismissively to ideas that clash with their own – Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher, almost any of the main hosts on Fox News. I think it’s only in recent decades that this idea of arrogance and intelligence being intertwined has become so dominant, but celebrations of this personality type goes back as far as Winston Churchill and Oscar Wilde, possibly further. It’s been argued that the fact people associate arrogance and intelligence could be one of the reasons behind Donald Trump’s presidential victory, which makes sense. How else can you explain a candidate saying “I have the best words“, “my primary consultant is myself“, “I’m much more humble than you would understand” and still be taken seriously? Continue reading “The Arrogant Stupidity of Rick Fanboys”→
In a throwaway line, Captain Gabriel Lorca seems to regret that “the future happened”, which affected his family’s restaurant. This kind of thing is, to me, one of the best arguments for continuing the Star Trek franchise. We’ve seen Star Trek‘s utopian vision before, but contextualised against the Cold War and the ‘end of history’ period of the 1990s, never contextualised against the real world of the 2010s.
In the real world we’re currently going through a period of ‘digital disruption’ with new technologies throwing old business models into chaos. Think of taxi firms facing the challenge of Uber; newspapers facing the challenge of free-to-access websites. Since TOS, it’s seemed that the 23rd century Federation relies on a combination of ‘food synthesizers’ and real food, suggesting that this is a period of disruptive innovation. In England of the 1810s innovations in weaving technology allowed owners to increase their profit margins and put many workers on the scrapheap – resulting in the Luddite movement.
If Lorca is to be considered reliable, then among the victims of the disruptive innovation in the 23rd century are restaurant owners. Perhaps fewer people are eating out, preferring to eat at home, as is the case with cinemas in real life? Perhaps the end of food scarcity has made sales of food less profitable? I love the action-adventure side of Star Trek, but I hope the details of how Federation society functions, the winners and losers of change, are explored regularly. One of the great joys of Star Trek is the opportunity to explore what a near-utopian society would look like, and who would lose out by moving to that system.
Semiotics, in brief, is the study of how we construct meaning. For example the phrase ‘green light’ has a meaning beyond a literal green light – it can be used metaphorically as giving permission to go ahead. Even if you’re not familiar with them, you won’t be surprised to learn that the Lorde song Green Light and the Ting Tings song Traffic Light are not about literal lights.
Ferdinand de Saussure wrote about the relationship between a ‘signifier’ and ‘signified’ – the sign and the thing it represents. So a nuclear waste sign is not dangerous itself, but signifies that radioactive material is inside a container, or nearby. Similarly a lit green light is associated with the abstract concept of going, and a red light with the abstract concept of stopping.
Semiotics can be confusing – I’ve studied it at university level and still find a lot of de Saussure and Roland Barthes mind-bending – but it’s a process that almost all of us have a basic understanding of on a subconscious level. We make sense of these signifiers on a daily basis without really thinking about it.
It’s been delayed several times from a planned debut early in 2017, but the first episodes of Star Trek: Discovery are now on Netflix. I’m planning to write another post going into detail on the first two episodes in the next few days, but these are my initial impressions, with very little detail of the contents of the episodes.
Michael Burnham – a human woman raised by Vulcans – follows in a tradition of Star Trek characters caught between two cultures. It’s a path previously tred by Spock, Worf, Odo, B’Elana Torres and Seven of Nine. This is a good choice for the sake of drama, as it allows for a conflicted main character, and debates around what it is to be Human. By making Burnham a genetic Human raised in a Vulcan culture, Discovery manages to sidestep the dodgy racial essentialism (for example that Torres’ anger comes from her Klingon side) that often accompanies this trope in Star Trek.
There are apparent ‘historical’ contradictions in Discovery. For instance the design of the Shenzou bridge is much darker than on Kirk’s Enterprise, despite them being set in roughly the same era. And there are numerous uses of holograms to communicate over long distances, despite this being introduced as a new technology in Deep Space Nine, set roughly 120 years later. But I wouldn’t want a new show to stick to inferior design and creative choices for the sake of consistency, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief and let the writers tell the best possible story they can this time around.
Just a quick post, as I’ve not written on the blog for a while, and in that time the Film Production Society I’m involved in has completed post-production on a short film.
Condition is a short science fiction film. Jacob is the sole patient in an otherwise abandoned hospital. He feels fine, but Ami, who is taking care of him, refuses to allow him to leave…
I should probably make clear, though I’m credited as a writer, I don’t feel I added all that much to the script. We gathered as an American-style writers’ room a few times in October and November, added a few ideas to the raw initial idea, and Adam Eccles (the first credited writer) did the majority of the heavy lifting – so any credit should go in that direction.
This is intended to serve as my introduction to the Insecure Writers’ Support Group – a group ran by Alex J. Cavanaugh over on Blogspot, to give other writers and would-be writers the support we need to get past our debilitating and often idiotic insecurities.
I’ve written a few times in the past few weeks about my often irrational insecurities, so it’s something that definitely makes sense to me.
I’ve wanted to write fiction as long as I can remember, and even started writing a few scifi epics when I was a kid. Even back then, I don’t think I was great at keeping my focus all the way to the end. Though it may be because back then my plans had the habit of expanding much faster than I could write – as a writer’s hint, the other way round works better.
Somewhere along the line, I’ve gotten into the habit of beating myself up when the quality of my writing doesn’t meet the standards I want.
The characters don’t ring true. I’ve not set the scene properly. The plot doesn’t make sense.
While all of these are valid problems that need to be fixed (or compensated for with other strengths) for a long time I’ve allowed them to paralyse me. For instance, I’ve had an idea for a series of space opera short stories that I keep abandoning, and a sitcom pilot script that I’ve returned to again and again but never finished.
I’ve written a few short things of course. There’s a couple of thousand-ish word short stories here on my blog (under Read My Fiction); flash fiction; and short things for various competitions. There’s even been a couple of times I’ve started to write a novel chapter by chapter. My hope was that, by not being weighed down by the theoretical potential of the stories I’ve invested a lot of time and emotional effort into, I’d feel freer to write what came to mind.
Unfortunately, this idea didn’t really work out.
I’m much better at plotting than I am at actually writing, using formats like Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet and the like, and a piece of software called Anthemion Storylines to plot out a fairly detailed story structure. (If you’ve ever seen stories plotted using a series of post-it notes, or little pieces of paper attached to string, that’s basically what Storylines is. But it has the added benefit that the notes don’t fall off the wall.)
I’d even been using a character building idea to put together a detailed picture of each of my main characters.
So by November, I had a detailed story arc to follow, and I knew a lot about my characters, ready to use NaNoWriMo to get this thing finished.
Though the plan was in place, I actually waited until November 4th before starting. Because, as I’ve detailed above, I’m an idiot.
But, I got underway, finding the time to write, sometimes as much as 3,000 words in a single sitting. For those with more consistent writing habits that may not seem like a big deal, but to me it is.
I got close to the end of the first draft, over 20,000 words, after three weeks, but left it another week before going back to finish it off. That instinct inside of me, that says all my cool ideas should be left alone in case I ruin them, just wasn’t giving up.
But, at the weekend, I returned, adding the few more details needed to the end. I then went through, rewriting what I’d done, and finding myself pleasantly surprised at the quality of what I’d written.
I now have a 28,000 word short-story, and I think it’s pretty decent. There’s a central mystery-action story, character conflicts, betrayal and deceit, enemies being forced to work together, moral dilemmas, a dramatic confrontation at the end.
I don’t want to get big-headed, but I think this story’s pretty decent.
It’s something that infringes on a number of copyrights, so it won’t be publishable, but it’s good to at least have written a coherent story from start to finish.
However, I actually think that this may be the longest piece of fiction I’ve written from start to finish for over a decade, so I’m pretty chuffed about that.
Once I find the time, I’m pretty upbeat about the next story.
PS To anyone from the Insecure Writers’ Support Group who’s found their way here – I may be away from my desk for a large part of Wednesday. Apologies if I don’t get round to reading many other posts on the day, but I promise I’ll read and comment on the blogs of anyone who posts here!