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What Is Needed for Good Science Fiction

This is a follow-up of sorts to my recent post on aliens, robots, and perpetual motion.  There, I rather harshly criticized the tendency of many science fiction (henceforth SF) writers to portray robots, androids, and sometimes aliens as being capable of functioning with no energy inputs of any kind.  It gets a bit irritating for those of us who are scientifically inclined, and it would be nice, once in a while, to see someone actually address the issue—having a robot being charged, for example.

Despite this, I have still enjoyed many books, movies, and TV series with such perpetual-motion robots.  I watched Star Trek:  The Next Generation throughout its run, despite the fact that Data never once was shown being charged.  I also have read all the robot stories of the granddaddy of robot stories, Isaac Asimov.  Even he, to the best of my knowledge, never explained how robots are powered (I am open to correction on this if anyone has any references).  Certainly, Asimov knew better.  The thing is that, as he himself pointed out, the appeal of robots in fiction is not mainly about how they work, but our fascination with human-like beings we ourselves have created.  It is the mixed fascination and fear, expressed as far back as Frankenstein—fascination that we ourselves become like God; fear that our creations will rise up against us.  The very play that gave us the word “robot”, R.U.R. (an abbreviation for “Rossum’s Universal Robots”), by Karel Čapek, expresses this fear explicitly—the robots rise up and overthrow mankind.

The point is that sometimes SF gives us potent themes that are more important than details that get the science exactly right.  This leads to the topic I want to talk about here:  What should one expect from good SF in terms of scientific accuracy?  That is a long-debated topic, and I make no claims to come to a definitive conclusion here; but I do want to look at some of the things that work for me, personally, at least.

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STTMP, Part 7: Director

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In the course of this reconsideration of Star Trek:  The Motion Picture, we’ve looked at all the major aspects of production except for what some consider the most important, the director.  I don’t really have any strong feelings either way with regard to the auteur theory–I think there are cases to be made both ways.  In either case, the director is certainly one of the most important aspects of any film; and the director chosen to helm STTMP was the distinguished veteran filmmaker Robert Wise.

Robert Wise was a Hollywood veteran of long standing, who had worked in almost all cinematic genres.  He won Academy Awards for West Side Story and The Sound of Music.  More germane to the present consideration, he directed the movie widely considered to be the best science fiction movie of the 1950’s, The Day the Earth Stood StillHe also directed the science fiction thriller The Andromeda Strain.  Unlike later directors who often stamped their personality onto all their films, Wise had a reputation as a consummate craftsman who worked with what he was given to make the best movies he could.  Wise had not been familiar with Star Trek, but he had been a favorite director of Gene Roddenberry.  Thus, after several possible directors were discussed, Wise was chosen to direct Star Trek:  The Motion Picture.

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Mystery Science Theater 3000: Index

Awhile back I wrote four posts on the series Mystery Science Theater 3000.  I’ve recently decided to writer another post, and more may follow in the future.  Therefore, I’ve decided to make an index page to get them all together in one place.  Enjoy!

Tricksters, Fools, and MST3K

Holy Fools

Pop Culture Tricksters

Joining MST3K Fandom and a Little About Joel and Mike

MST3K:  The Return

Quote for the Week

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I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

–Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, from Dune, by Frank Herbert; courtesy of Wikiquote.

Quote for the Week

CANTICLE

A cultural inheritance may be acquired between dusk and dawn, and many have been so acquired. But the new “culture” was an inheritance of darkness, wherein “simpleton” meant the same thing as “citizen” meant the same thing as “slave.” The monks waited. It mattered not at all to them that the knowledge they saved was useless, that much of it was not really knowledge now… empty of content, its subject matter long since gone. Still, such knowledge had a symbolic structure that was peculiar to itself, and at least the symbol-interplay could be observed. To observe the way a knowledge-system is knit together is to learn at least a minimum knowledge-of-knowledge, until someday — someday, or some century — an Integrator would come, and things would be fitted together again. So time mattered not at all. The Memorabilia was there, and it was given to them by duty to preserve, and preserve it they would if the darkness in the world lasted ten more centuries, or even ten thousand years…

–Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz; courtesy of Wikiquote

Miller’s magnum opus, one of the masterpieces of 20th Century science fiction.  I’ll be putting up a post on it in the near future.

Sunday Matinee: The People

Friday Matinee: The Astral Factor

Space: 1999–A Brief Appreciation

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In the most recent installment of my series on Star Trek:  The Motion Picture, I referenced the series Space:  1999.  I thought it appropriate to say a small bit about it before going on with the series on STTMP. 

Gerry Anderson was a British television producer and director best known for his Supermarionation process of using puppets in dramatic television series, although he did work with live actors, as well.  His works were primarily oriented towards science fiction.  His best known works using puppets are Stingray (about a futuristic sub and its crew; this series was more children-oriented), Thuderbirds (about a futuristic family involved with an international rescue organization), and the slightly more adult Captain Scarlet (about war between Earth and evil invisible Martians, the Mysterons).  Later, in the early 70’s, Anderson produced the live-action alien invasion series UFO.  Perhaps his best-known non-puppet work, at least among Americans of a certain generation, is Space:  1999.

In 1975, the original Star Trek (henceforward TOS) had been off the air for six years and had gradually developed into a cult series.  Its creator (purportedly, anyway–for more on that, see here and here), Gene Roddenberry, had been trying unsuccessfully to resuscitate the series (finally succeeding with STTMP in 1979) ever since.  Meanwhile, the appetite of the public for more science fiction had been whetted.  Gerry Anderson decided to feed that appetite with a new sf series.  Enter Space:  1999.

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Monday Matinee: Where Have All the People Gone?

STTMP, Part 6–A Few Words about Costumes (ugh!)

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Not that costumes are the most important aspect of the movie, but I have discussed the music, special effects, and art direction; and the costumes, for better or worse, are a huge departure from those of TOS, to say nothing of being a big part of the look of Star Trek:  The Motion Picture.  Thus, I decided to discuss them a bit.  Also, as a matter of minor housekeeping, I’ve decided to abbreviate the title of the movie and to remove the “Movie Review” for the remaining posts in this series.  It  has, after all, gone far beyond a standard review.  I may emend the titles of past installments, too, but we’ll see.

As discussed in the very first installment of this series, originally STTMP was to have been a television series, Star Trek:  Phase II.  While the redesign of the ship was much like what made it to the screen in the movie, there were originally no plans to change the costumes substantially.  Observe the screen test photos below of Persis Khambatta as Ilia (left) and David Gautreaux as full Vulcan Xon (the character was dropped, but Gautreaux was given a cameo as commander of the station that first detects the attack of V’Ger on the Klingon ships in STTMP).

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The material of Xon’s shirt seems slightly different from that used in the costumes on the old series, and his hair is inexplicably long and seventies-ish.  It is also clear that Khambatta wasn’t fully committed to the show yet, as it’s clear that she has bald makeup on, rather than shaving her head, as she did for the movie.  The main point, though, is that both the design and color scheme of the uniforms is unchanged from TOS, right down to the plunging neckline and miniskirt for the women’s version.  All that would change, though.

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