Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Chain of Command: Continuing a New Trend

by Mojochi

By its sixth season, Star Trek: The Next Generation had reached the height of its popularity. It was likely this success which bolstered their confidence enough to show more than one mid-season two part episode, for the only time during the series' run.

The one which generated the most attention was called "Chain of Command". It was a ground breaking episode for Star Trek, in a couple different ways. Primarily, it marked the first time that a plot revolved around the captain being reassigned and replaced with a guest actor, that being Ronny Cox (Deliverance), who would play the forcefully direct Captain Edward Jellico. This plot created a very fertile landscape, wherein conflict could arise throughout the ranks of the Enterprise crew, as it was quite evident, very early on, that Jellico was nothing like the captain they'd grown accustomed to, during their six years aboard ship.

This made for very interesting exchanges, as the crew attempts to deal with their mission and face unwanted restructuring, while hoping for the safe return of Captain Picard. Such a risk would likely never have been taken with the preceding television cast of the original Star Trek, for it may have been viewed by the creators, at that time, as undermining to the captain's overall character appeal, which leaves at least this reviewer to believe that The Next Generation was truly willing to continue the longstanding custom of being bold, trying new and precarious things, a trait that Star Trek has been much praised for.

The second reason this episode stands out within the "TNG" collection is that it marks the only time in this series, and one of very few times within the franchise's history, where the captain is imprisoned and subjected to eerily realistic torture techniques from Picard's Cardassian captor, for the purpose of obtaining classified information. One can only assume that this specific storyline held great significance for its central performer, Patrick Stewart, who, for many years prior to the filming of this episode, had been one of the strongest supporters of the human rights organization Amnesty International, warranting him the honor of an award named for him.

It's only too fitting that an episode which delves into the study of classic torture methodology, on the Human psyche, should be played out by someone who has stood in opposition to such treatment, alongside the world's most organized group of active objectors. There are many true to life depictions of the tactics used, in this episode, though not necessarily the torture methods themselves. There is even a point, when the character of Picard reflects on the overall proof that exists to dispel with the belief that this form of punishment serves any productive goal, and rather tends to be a self defeating means by which to obtain any desired result.

In fact, this is the very way the episode plays out, with a continued willful resistance by Picard, which reaches its climax with the lines, now infamous among Trek fans: "There are four lights!!!!" This is in reference to the method of torture, where the forfeit of free will is acquired, by forcing the prisoner to participate in an active fallacy, for the exchange of mercy, specifically the admission that there are in fact five lights.

In the end, Picard is forced to recognize, in private counseling, that even he, with his tenacious will, has his breaking point, for just before his reprieve came, he had succumb to the force against him, and was not only willing to capitulate to any and all of his jailer's claims, which luckily never came to fruition, but was also amazed to realize that his own sense of reality has its breaking point, in that he truly did believe he could see five lights.

These are the kinds of lasting impressions that will haunt a person who has been subjected to this kind of treatment. So naturally, I was impressed to see Star Trek depict it as well as they did. Though the incident is never mentioned again, thereafter, it is refreshing to know that the show's writers had become willing to portray the kind of character altering events that take place in reality. Short of his abduction by the Borg, Picard and his shipmates rarely have those kind life changing moments, and the previous Star Trek cast never even got the chance to have any at all, until their cinematic appearances. Such had been the way the show had originally been presented, and embracing a change of that nature took guts, in my opinion.


Monday, July 30, 2007

Remembering Tom Snyder by Remembering Star Trek

Legendary talk show host Tom Snyder passed away today. He was best known for his 1970s smoke-filled interview show, Tomorrow, among other talk shows. In rememberance of his life and style, we're reposting his hour-long interview with DeForrest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, and Harlan Ellison. Remembering Tom Snyder through our Trek memories... Enjoy!

Part 1:






Saturday, July 28, 2007

Star Trek and the New Myth of the Machine

by Transparency Now

In the last few decades, the world's technologically advanced societies have started to learn how to manipulate the elements of life, the physical world and the mind. They have peered out into the universe and into the fabric of matter, overcome distance with air and space travel and mass communications, extended the life span, begun replacing parts of the body, built enormous artificial environments and created what may be the forerunners of thinking machines. By now, there can’t be any doubt but that these societies are trying to develop the ability to reshape and control the environment, and win humanity's age-old battle with nature.

Even as this revolution is taking place, a second change is occurring that, together with the first, defines much of contemporary civilization. Unable yet to achieve the degree of power they want over nature, the same societies are learning how to create simulations of reality that are open to all the control they would like to have over the world. Television, movies, movie rides, computer games, virtual realities, theme parks, and similar inventions are providing us with lifelike fictions in which the world already seems to have been refashioned in our own image.

Science fiction provides an essential insight into these changes, because its authors have extrapolated from current trends and consulted a well of knowledge we all share of how humanity would like to use these new technologies. In particular, the original television series, Star Trek, which was the creation of Gene Roddenberry, provides a key to understanding these changes by depicting one possible future the present is heading toward. Star Trek is what the literary critic Northrop Frye would call an encyclopedic form. It drew together the essential ideas of science fiction and used them to create a coherent mythology that expressed our own, largely unspoken, understanding of what we are doing. In dramatic and narrative form, it offers us our own vision of the ethically correct and incorrect pathways that lie ahead as technology allows us to conquer both the natural world and worlds of illusion. In particular, it focuses much of its attention on the way technology and other advances can tempt us to misuse our power, before our wisdom has had a chance to catch up, and can tempt us to seek out false paradises, as an escape from the inevitable difficulties of life.

Star Trek portrays the universe as a ladder of progress, peopled by beings at various stages of evolution from primitive and industrial societies to futuristic society’s and to advanced beings that have transcended the physical world and are able to manipulate nature for their own ends. The focus is on a heroic and ethical humanity of the near future, at the center of a Federation of Planets that is exploring the galaxy and pitting itself against the limits of the physical world, in order to grow and make its way up the ladder of evolution. This path of development is embodied in the hero of the series, Captain James T. Kirk; in his ship, the Enterprise, and its mission to explore new worlds, contact other forms of life and create a zone of civilization, rather than engaging in conquest or war, all of which incorporates popular images of America as an explorer of unknown territory, creator of technology, builder of a world civilization, and defender of human rights.

On its journey, the Enterprise encounters beings and civilizations at other stages, that can be read as symbolizing both the alternative futures open to humanity and the challenges that could spur human development. One alternative is the dark side of the first, the unscrupulous and violent races and beings the Enterprise engages in battle, that misuse technology and act without regard for the injury they cause to others. It is epitomized by the technologically sophisticated but barbaric Klingons, who, like the Mongols and like Soviets during the Cold War, on which they are modeled, have spread out to plunder and create an empire. It is also epitomized by the Romulans, another militaristic, Romanlike, race.

Throughout the series, advanced technological societies, such as that embodied in the Federation and the Klingons, are shown having developed a limited ability to manipulate the physical world. The Enterprise can almost instantly transport individuals between locations, for example, which gives its crew the appearance of gods or magicians to less advanced peoples. Similarly, with the depiction of cloaking devices, which make ships invisible, we also see technological society making use of advanced forms of illusion, in this case to create a stealth simulation that creates the illusion something isn’t there. The creators of Star Trek didn't give the Enterprise a cloaking device, of course, since it is on a mission of peace that boldly and openly goes out into the universe.

On its travels, the Enterprise encounters beings and planets that symbolize what will happen if the human race gains control over illusions and the physical universe before it grows beyond its own violence, narcissism and desire for power. Here are all kinds of men and beings, some incorporeal, some still a part of the physical world, with seemingly magical abilities to invent lifelike scenes and situations, and to create and destroy physical environments, make objects appear and disappear on command, immobilize a starship in space, and create lifelike illusions. But they misuse their powers, by mistreating and entrapping others, and by allowing themselves to be corrupted by power.

One such race the Enterprise encounters is the Talosians, an effete and dying race that destroyed the surface of the planet Talos IV and retreated underground, where it compensated for its confinement by developing minds that can create perfectly realistic illusions in themselves and others. The Talosians entrap the original commander of the Enterprise, Captain Pike, in imitation realities, inducing pleasure and pain, in an attempt to entice and threaten him into becoming breeding stock for a slave population that will reclaim the surface. They are no longer able to do it themselves. Absorbed by illusion, they have lost the ability to act in the world and, as a character explains, "just sit living and reliving other lives left behind in the thought records."

Here, two dangers are portrayed. Simulation can corrupt its users, in this case creating addiction, and it can allow its users to misuse their power, entrapping others in imitation realities. As in many other Star Trek depictions, we are given reason to believe that the Talosians represent one possible future for humanity. The Talosians themselves, with their oversized craniums and small, frail bodies, are a popular symbol for the human race in the future. And the Talosian’s addiction to illusion is an obvious reference to the form of simulation addiction that was, and still is, most common in America, namely, addiction to television. Glued to internal television, the Talosians are lost to reality.

The episode is thus a warning to humanity that it may develop simulation technology, become addicted to its own illusions and the powers these bequeath, and cease to develop as a race. As Pike finds himself in various illusions created by the Talosians, he experiences these various temptations and dangers, which will be experienced by humanity as it develops the ability to satisfy its desires in illusory form and inflict painful simulations on others. He appears to fight a battle; he suffers from burning flames; enjoys a pastoral paradise and cavorts with fellow criminals at a feast, as they offer him an opportunity to indulge the dark side of his nature.

"Suppose you had all of space to choose from," one of these simulated companions asks him, posing a question that is really being directed by the series to its audience.

"Wouldn't you say," interrupts another, "that it is worth a man's soul?"

Pike answers in the negative, of course, because he embodies a heroic humanity that refuses to be corrupted by the power of illusion.

The Talosians were introduced in the pilot episode titled "The Cage. In a later, two-part episode that incorporated "The Cage," Star Trek demonstrates that a limited good can come out of simulation, for those already lost to the world. Pike, now profoundly disabled as a result of an accident, is allowed to return to Talos IV, to live out the end of his life with the crippled race, which, in its new role as benevolent, rather than malevolent, simulator, will provide him the illusion of health and vigor. But for the rest of humanity and the Federation, the temptations of Talos IV are off limits -- contact with the planet is the only crime punishable by death, so as to protect others from being corrupted by illusion.

In another episode, another good is revealed: the use of simulation for recreation, as the crew of the Enterprise finds itself on a planet that was used as a resort, by a dead race, in which one’s fantasies come to life, in the form of realistic facsimiles. But once again we are shown potential dangers -- that we may confuse our simulations for something real and that we may lose control of our simulations by accident and they may turn on us and put us in danger.

But these depictions are of beings that are still well within our own circle of existence. In addition, Star Trek depicts beings that have advanced beyond the limits of corporeal existence. In essence, they represent our hope that technology will allow us to escape the limits of the physical world. But here, more explicitly than in the depictions of simulation, we are shown creatures that use these awesome powers for good or ill, depending on whether their wisdom has kept pace with their power.

The latter possibility -- of power without wisdom -- is epitomized by the human-appearing creature Trelane in "Squire of Gothos," who uses his ability to manipulate the physical world and create things at will, to sadistically toy with a handful of Enterprise crew members. Only at the end is it revealed that Trelane is an advanced incorporeal creature with the ability to incarnate in human form, but one that is still a child, with a tendency to mistreat his pets. He is an emotional primitive who tries to affirm his infantile grandiosity by dominating others. Like us, today, his wisdom hasn't caught up with his power.*

The Star Trek episode "Who Mourns for Adonis" portrays another advanced being, the last member of a race that once ruled the Earth and gave rise to the mythology of the Greek gods. "Adonis" uses the same kind of abilities, this time to capture Kirk and his crew, because he must feed off their worship to stay alive. In exchange, he offers a pastoral paradise on his new home planet (one of many false paradises offered to Kirk and crew), which, of course, his human captives must reject.

The Enterprise also encounters a number of beings that have power over the physical world and are also emotionally and spiritually mature, symbolizing the future that awaits humanity if it remains on a morally correct and heroic path. The nonviolent Organians, who best embody this idea, are beings of pure energy who evolved beyond the limits of the physical universe and their own petty desires. As one explains, they were humanoid millions of years ago, but have since "developed beyond the need of physical bodies." As Mr. Spock puts it, uttering the line for which his character was created, they are, "Pure energy. Pure thought. Totally incorporeal. Not life as we know it at all."

The Organians provide an image of humanity in genuine adulthood, no longer contained in its old home in the physical world, worthy of its power because it has mature desires and the strength to control its abilities. They experience disgust when they interfere with the lives of others, because, for them, the Federation's prime directive to not interfere with the development of other planets, has become a part of their nature and not merely a law, although they overcome their revulsion long enough to immobilize the fleets of the Federation and the Klingons in space, to stop a war.

Just as Star Trek is a meditation on the misuse of power without wisdom, so it is also a meditation on the dangers of false paradise. Repeatedly, Kirk and crew are enticed by the promise of a trouble-free life, and repeatedly, they have to resist temptation or go astray. Thus, Pike resists the efforts by the Talosians to control his will by offering him a paradise of endless illusions in which his desires will always be fulfilled. In another episode that is a not very disguised commentary on drugs, Kirk must save the crew, which has been made passive and euphoric, and has become part of a stagnant utopia on a colonized planet, by the effect of a local plant. In another episode, Kirk and crew must resist efforts to get them to settle into a life in a gilded prison in which they would be waited on by humanlike robots.

So we have here a future history and ethical vision that recognizes two kinds of limitation -- that of the external world and that of the "internal" world of human psychodynamics, narcissism, and character flaws. The series’ message about the proper attitude toward these two forms of limitation was repeated so many times it took on the qualities of a credo: those who answer the siren call of premature power and false paradise are lured into a side track, a dead end that promises a cure for the suffering of life but only accentuates the weaknesses of the human spirit. A heroic humanity refuses to be taken in by such promises, it tells us, realizing that the fight to resist these temptations is part of the struggle against his own limitations, a struggle one must engage in in order to grow and evolve into a higher form.

In every episode, it is the hero of the story, Captain Kirk, who provides the exemplar for how the human race must act if it hopes to mature from the young adulthood of the Federation into a race such as the Organians. When faced with challenges and his own fears and temptations, Kirk doesn't retreat, regress into illusion and dependence, seek false power or become a predator.* He proceeds into the heart of danger, stands his ground and seeks peaceful solutions in which various warring parties will come out ahead.

Similar portrayals of power and purpose can be found in other science fiction works, including many that appeared before Star Trek. The novel The Futurological Congress, by Stanislaw Lem, portrays a future society in which recreational drugs provide the user with realistic hallucinatory experiences. We see the same dangers: addiction, grandiosity, the indulgence in fantasies of evil, simulation confusion and fraud, and the entrapment of others in imitation realities. Here, it turns out that all of society is unknowingly living inside an illusion, although there is a sense in the book that they really don’t want to know their true circumstances. Once again, there is a malevolent simulator. And, here, because humanity accepts a false paradise, it is doomed.

The film Forbidden Planet similarly portrays the fate of an extraterrestrial civilization that attained power over the physical world before it attained control over its own psychodynamics. It created a machine that could make thought real, and unknowingly unleashed from the minds of its people, the monsters from the Id, which took an objective form and murdered without remorse, destroying their creators.

In a remake of a television episode, in Twilight Zone: The Movie, a Trelane-like boy with the power to alter reality, tortures and enslaves everyone around him, because his power isn't contained by adult emotions. Like other advanced beings that have been portrayed, he exercises power over both illusion and reality, one of many examples of the ways these powers appear blended together, rather than being neatly apportioned out one per kind of creature. He uses his power over reality to turn a young girl into a simulated character on a television commercial, where she is soon eaten by an animated character. Interestingly, he also refashions the world so it looks like a cartoon, in effect giving it the appearance of a simulation, giving us one of many depictions from science fiction and fantasy in which the boundary between illusion and reality breaks down. At the end, an adult woman uses his need to be loved to attach him to herself and sets out to teach him how to properly use -- and contain -- his powers.

The parallel evolution of power over the world and emotional maturity was also portrayed in an episode of Outer Limits titled "The Sixth Finger." A scientist, a contemporary Dr. Jekyll, creates a machine that can speed up evolution by stimulating the superior genes, which he hopes to use to create the man of the future who will rise above the animal passions. The human subject of this grand experiment rapidly evolves, developing superior intelligence, the ability to manipulate matter at a distance, and another of science fiction’s oversized craniums.
Here, in a brilliantly poetic passage, the subject explains how his evolution beyond the limits of personality saved him from misusing his power to take revenge against a nearby town he has reason to have a grudge against. At the same time, he describes the end point of evolution as the transcendence of physical life.

"I was going to destroy everyone and suddenly it no longer mattered. I evolved beyond hatred or revenge or even the desire for power. I feel myself reaching that stage in the dim future of mankind when the mind will cast off the hamperings of the flesh and become all thought and no matter, a vortex of pure intelligence in space. It is the goal of evolution. Man's final destiny is to become what he imagined in the beginning when he first learned the idea of the angels."

The references in this monologue to "it no longer mattered" and "all thought and no matter" creates a double meaning that expresses the connection between man's containment in the material world and the weight of his emotions within it. The character is freed from both, and both these changes are depicted as essential elements of human evolution.

But these stories don't only depict the development of humanity in the future. They also offer disguised depictions of the psychological and moral development of the individual and they use this depiction to show us the development of humanity, as it progresses from the young adulthood of the Federation to the mature adulthood of the Organians. Here, Kirk, et all, represent the self as it journeys through life. One particularly rich source of meaning can be found in the Enterprise, one of many ships found in the realm of fiction. Ships in general lend themselves to being symbols for the human body, but none more so than the Enterprise. Comic as the image may seem, the Enterprise can be viewed as symbolizing a child, with the saucer section in front as an oversized head, the second cylinder-shaped hull that protrudes behind it, the body, and the two cylinders that fan out from it, a pair of legs. Kirk is the self, that sits in the seat of consciousness, in the saucer head, using viewer screen eyes and sensors to perceive the world, receiving information on the internal state of the vessel and adjusting to maintain the proper level of functioning and homeostasis, consulting computer memory and reasoning, relying on the much-commented-on logic of Mr. Spock and intuition of Dr. McCoy, guiding movement, sending out communications, engaging in defense and taking hold of objects with tractor beams for arms.

As the self journeys through life, it encounters other selves at various stages of development, that oppose or enhance its development and that also represent its own possible futures. It encounters young, predatory selves who misuse their limited powers for evil, symbolized by beings such as the Klingons;** it encounters individuals who have withdrawn into daydreams and fantasy, symbolized by beings such as the Talosians; young selves who have gained adult power and misuse it because they aren't emotionally mature or selves that have matured physically but not emotionally, symbolized by beings such as Trelane and Adonis, which are images of the narcissistic self, seeking to feel powerful or feeding off admiration. Finally, it encounters mature adults who have mastered the rules of self, family and society and can wisely use their ability to control the environment, symbolized by the Organians.

Seen from this perspective, Star Trek is a disguised depiction of the effort to grow up. Over and over again, it shows us the young and growing humanity encountering parents who infantilize, persecute, test and control them. No where is this more apparent than in the case of the Talosians, who are a disguised depiction of parents who trap their children in dreams and fantasies to control them.

Star Trek uses these depictions to tell stories about the process of growing up, both for individuals and the human race. It reveals the way we perceive the growth of our species in terms of personal growth. We see simulations, such as virtual realities, as holding out the danger of regression into a world of dreams and illusion. And we see the powers of technology as bequeathing something to us much like adult power, to take our place as a controller of the world, and not merely as something small that is contained within it.

A different reading reveals that these works, particularly Star Trek, also use earlier mythologies, religions and legends to create a new mythology of the future. The Enterprise is, in disguised form, a person embarked on the journey of life but it is also, on a more obvious level, a vessel embarked on a journey through unknown waters, where it encounters pirates and enemies at its own level of power, and various protective and malevolent witches, spirits, demons and gods that help or hinder it on its quest. In "Who Mourns for Adonis" this is made explicit when the demigod compares Kirk to Odysseus. Actually, the more accurate comparison is to Hercules, in quest of immortality.

Perhaps the richest symbolism, here, can be seen Organians referred to earlier, who are both physically and spiritually mature. They initially appear to human beings and Klingons in disguise, as bearded peasants in robes who herd sheep, live a peasant society similar to ancient Israel, meet in a council of elders and preach nonviolence, at times using phrases that could come out of an English translation of the Bible. In the course of the story, they violate their own internal taboo against interfering with the affairs of others and thus suffer disgust, in order to stop the federation and Klingons from going to war, thereby inspiring the human beings involved to recognize the error of their ways and resume the correct moral path of nonviolence.

At the conclusion, two Organians, including the spokesman who is the focus of this imagery, reveal their true nature, shed their bodies and become beings of pure "energy" or spirit, who are so bright, humans and Klingons must shield their eyes. Then they disappear, "ascending" back to their own realm of existence. Granted, the elements of the story have been rearranged, but this is still a reworking of the Bible, primarily the New Testament, clothed as science fiction. If there is any doubt, Organian sounds like organic, which refers to life, a word used to describe Christ. The message is that the human race can someday evolve into saint-like, Christlike, beings, if we stay the course.

As an image of the future, the Organians will be too saccharin sweet for many tastes, including my own. If that's our future then give me neurosis and the misuse of power. At least its entertaining. But the episode is one of many examples of the way our contemporary, secular, mythologies, end up giving us a version of religion, while never mentioning God. In essence, it gives us a Hegelianized version of religion in which humanity evolves into a life of spirit.

Since the original Star Trek took these possibilities and played them out before us in dramatic form, it has expanded out into various other Star Treks. Although these have enlarged on some of the original ideas, in many ways they continue to work within the same invented world of the original, with all manner of simulators, advanced beings zipping around the universe, high-tech enemies, and so on. In many ways, these new versions are continuously interpreting and updating the original, which still defines much of our view of the future.

* Footnote on Trelane: Advanced beings incarnate in, and control, the physical world from some larger realm outside it in the same way as simulators incarnate in, and control, a realm of simulation. Trelane is an example of an advanced being who manifests in the physical world and treats it as if it is game, not unlike a video game, even though these didn't exist when the program was made.

*This article was originally published at TransparencyNow. Please visit the site.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Galileo Seven: So Many Questions

by J.P. Schutz

“The Galileo Seven” is an interesting TOS episode in a number of ways. This mid-first season episode remains a favorite of many TOS fans while leaving others unsatisfied. This would be the first of many times that Trek would use the “downed shuttlecraft” as a plot device. As this was still Season 1, and Shatner had not yet forced his “star” issue on every plot, this is one of a number of first seasons episodes (“The Naked Time”, “The Enemy Within”, “Shore Leave”, “The Return of the Archons”) where Kirk does NOT lead a landing party.

According to the episode, the Enterprise has standing orders to investigate any Quasar and Quasar-like phenomenon they come across. (This is one of those times where Trek’s science did not manage to keep up; scientists now believe that Quasars are among the farthest away objects in the Universe). All well and good, except the Enterprise is on its way to Makus III for a rendezvous with another vessel to transfer needed perishable drugs for a plague that is “out-of-control” on the New Paris Colonies.

Here’s where the plot set-up gets a bit unbelievable. Having two days to “spare” in meeting the other ship, Kirk decides to stop and do some scientific research at the aforementioned Murasaki 312 Quasar. This has never made much sense. How could Starfleet, or the Federation for that matter, consider routine scientific research to be of more import than the lives of citizens being lost on a far-flung colony? Couldn’t the Enterprise have spent those additional two days at high warp moving along the path to the rendezvous ship, thereby getting the drugs to the plague victims a few days earlier? Can anyone imagine the Coast Guard on its way to rescue Katrina victims stopping for a bit of oceanographic research? Unbelievable? You bet. This is one of those times when the writing of an episode fails – setting up a “time is of the essence” situation that never would have been allowed to occur isn’t acceptable simply because this is “science fiction”.

Left with this rather implausible situation a shuttlecraft is sent out to do a survey with Spock in command of a crew of six. The shuttlecraft loses control in the quasar effect and crash lands on Taurus II – home to some extremely large Neanderthal-like hominids. We are led to believe by statements of McCoy’s that this is Spock’s FIRST experience with command. Hold on here a second – he’s been on the Enterprise since Pike’s time 13 years ago (established prior in “The Menagerie”), Second Officer, then First Officer – and he’s never commanded a survey or landing party? This makes no military sense (and contradicts several previous episodes: “The Menagerie” “The Squire of Gothos” “Court Martial”) – the First Officer of the flagship of the fleet better damn well have some command experience! Again we are creating a situation simply to enhance dramatic conflict, even though the situation makes no logical sense.

The Neanderthals attack and a crewman (not in a red shirt – a navigator) is killed. The rest of the castaways (except the stalwart Scotty) blame Spock for their circumstances, and racial prejudices against Vulcans are expressed. It’s interesting to note that in a real twist for the racially charged 1960’s the most bigotry is expressed by Lt. Boma – a crewman of African decent. The anti-Vulcan bigotry was handled better in “Balance of Terror” – here it merely appears as insubordination. It takes an unbelievably long time for anyone to call Boma on the boards for his behavior, and it is difficult to swallow the human crew members not understanding that a Vulcan would use logic to solve the problems of their crash.

Back on the Enterprise, a Federation Commissioner is aboard making veiled threats to Kirk about getting out of there and getting the perishable drugs to those who need them. As has been frequently done in Trek, the Commissioner is played as a pompous stuffed shirt, but the problem here is that HE IS RIGHT. Kirk, Sulu and Uhura are left pouting and moaning over their lost friends, not acknowledging the greater need elsewhere. This still being Season 1, Uhura and Sulu both get some good screen time, and Uhura takes over Spock’s station to lead the search for the shuttlecraft.

Back on the planet, Scott has an idea to refuel the shuttle using the energy from their phasers – but it still won’t have enough to lift off with all hands aboard. The Doctor and Scotty’s yeoman, Mears by name, hand over their phasers. (Note that this is one of the few times we see a female crewman with a phaser – did they think they couldn’t shoot?) Spock inexplicably orders Mr. Gaitano to stand guard alone some distance away from the shuttle, and he is conveniently killed, partly solving our weight problem. McCoy and Mears amazingly find enough in the tiny rear compartment to make up the rest of the weight. Lt. Boma wants to take Gaitano’s body and refuses to allow them to take off unless they do, or he has a proper burial. (I so hope this guy was up on a court martial the second they arrived back on the Enterprise). They do so, and naturally are attacked and Spock is almost killed.

The deadline for the rendezvous is approaching – the Enterprise’s sensors are still unreliable due to the Quasar, but Uhura managed to find Taurus II, and after some initial problems with the transporters landing parties are sent down. Naturally the landing parties are attacked, and many are injured with one killed, bringing our death toll to three. Finally, they are out of time, and the Commissioner demands Kirk leave for the rendezvous. Again, more protests from Kirk about their friends still being out there – but the Commissioner will have none of it. Kirk leaves Taurus II, but does not engage warp drive, with all sensors trained behind them on the planet.

The shuttle barely manages to take off, and they have only enough fuel for a few orbits before they will crash land again on the surface – a prospect none of them relish. Mears is unable to raise the Enterprise and Spock realizes they must have been ordered to leave. In an act that is the most discussed decision in the episode, Spock jettisons the rest of their fuel and ignites it. The shuttle’s orbit begins to decay, but the Enterprise spots their “distress flare” on their sensors and the five survivors are beamed aboard. Spock is accused of an “emotional act” which he denies. I agree with Spock – he would have known that Kirk would have waited until the last possible moment to leave and would train the sensors on the planet as he left the system. Without communications, this was the only way to get the Enterprise’s attention. Death by atmospheric burn-up and death by Neanderthal are both still dead – this was the only act that could have changed that outcome. To my mind, that IS thinking logically.

Despite the number of plot holes that permeate the episode, “The Galileo Seven” is actually quite exciting and watchable. Like a Dan Brown novel, its fast pace and switching quickly back and forth from planet to ship keep the viewer interest and the sense of danger heightened – so long as one doesn’t look at the story too closely or question its motives. It’s also interesting to watch Kirk deal with being powerless – we empathize with him even though, if looked at logically his decisions are morally wrong. The episode shows what tight directing and film editing can do with even a flawed script.


Full episode available on YouTube

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Star Trek XI Breaking News: Kirk and Spock Boldly Returning

At today's Comic Con, Star Trek XI producers and writers revealed exciting details about the next Trek film, simply titled Star Trek. Along with displaying a new teaser poster, sources confirmed that Zachary Quinto, known best for his role in Heroes, has been cast as a younger Mr. Spock. When asked how he would portray the iconic character, Quinto said he intended to honor Nimoy's original creation, while also bringing his own unique flair to the part. Since Quinto is just a few years younger than Nimoy was when the original pilot "The Cage" filmed, this casting choice further discredits rumors that the film will focus on Kirk and Spock's "Wonder Years" at Starfleet Academy. Instead, the film will be set in the time frame of the original television series.

The producers are having a tougher time casting a younger Captain Kirk, and J.J. Abrams, executive producer and director, asked for suggestions from the crowd.

Then, the Comic Con mob went nuts when Abrams revealed another casting choice: While the film focuses on the early adventures of Kirk and Spock (and includes the Starship Enterprise), Leonard Nimoy has agreed to wear the ears one last time. After walking onstage and standing next to his younger self, Nimoy commented, "It is logical... [It's] a fabulous script... this is really going to be a great movie, and I mean that."

Coming from Nimoy, this endorsement carries weight. After all, he refused a role in Star Trek: Generations because he disliked the script and how little time the original crew had together.
Abrams also stated, "When I read the script, I realized that I would be so damn jealous if anyone else directed this movie. It wasn't because I drank the kool-aid and watched Star Trek. It was because the script was great, the characters were amazing... It was alive. It was funny. It was scary. It was an adventure... We're just honored to be here and to do this work."

Also, Abrams admitted that they are still brainstorming a way to bring in William Shatner, which is difficult to do because Shat's Captain Kirk died in the seventh film. Reportedly, Shatner is now furious that the producers have yet to include him.

Filming will begin in November, and the release date is scheduled for Christmas 2008.

For more details, visit Trekmovie.com.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Leonard Nimoy's Star Trek Memories - Free Trek Documentary

A special treat for our readers. Enjoy this long 1983 documentary about Star Trek, hosted by Leonard Nimoy. It isn't as candid as "After they were famous," but it is entertaining and fun.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Comments and Reviews

Thursday, July 19, 2007

David Gerrold on Roddenberry, the "authorized" biography, and Star Trek

David Gerrold began his professional career as a writer in 1967 with "The Trouble with Tribbles," one of the most beloved and popular episodes of the Star Trek franchise. Since those early days with Trek, he has published more than forty books, including The Man Who Folded Himself, When HARLIE Was One, and the many books in The War Against The Chtorr and the Dingilliad series. After being nominated repeatedly throughout his career, he won the Hugo and Nebula in 1995 for The Martian Child, an autobiographical story about his son's adoption.

Having written episodes for over a dozen different television series, including Star Trek, Star Trek: The Animated Series, The Twilight Zone, and Babylon 5, while simultaneously establishing himself as a master in the genre of science fiction literature, Gerrold has become an authority on science fiction writing, as well as Star Trek.

In fact, many of his critical insights on Trek, first published in his 1973 The World of Star Trek, were directly incorporated into the writer's "Bible" of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is not surprising considering Gerrold wrote the first draft while working closely with Roddenberry and others. Over a decade before TNG premiered, Gerrold brainstormed a Klingon and counselor on the bridge, families on the Enterprise, and the role of the first officer in leading away teams to planetary surfaces, among other notable ideas that defined TNG as different from TOS.

Arguably, David Gerrold deserved the title of "co-creator." Yet, after a fall-out with Gene Roddenberry during the first season, his Trek legacy has been whitewashed, particularly by official Paramount entities, like startrek.com (which does not credit Gerrold as part of TNG's creative staff) and especially by David Alexander's "authorized" biography of Gene Roddenberry, a book that paints a very unflattering and unfair portrait of Gerrold.

With his consent, we at Trekdom are posting a letter that Gerrold wrote to David Alexander in 1994. Not only does this letter clear the air about his experiences during that chaotic and hurtful first season of TNG, but it also demonstrates that Roddenberry's "official" biography is neither objective nor accurate.

We present this letter so that Gerrold's contributions to Star Trek will elicit further celebration, while also demonstrating how his predictions have proven correct.

Dear Mr. Alexander,

For nearly seven years I refused all requests for interviews about my association with ST:TNG and the problems that the staff had with Gene Roddenberry. I refused to talk to Joel Engel for nearly six months, and only changed my mind AFTER several close friends urged me to do so to put closure on this whole business.

I began by giving Joel Engel copies of all the memos from the first seven months of ST:TNG. I waited to see what his reaction would be. After he read the memos, he came back to me with questions. The first question he asked was,"What did Gene write?" In the first seven months of the show, Gene wrote one 16-page draft of the bible, and less than a dozen memos, several of which were embarrassing for their sexual content.

As I have said elsewhere, I was Gene and Majel's friend for over twenty years. I taught Gene how to use his first computer. I remained loyal to him when others had abandoned him, I remained loyal when there was nothing to gain, when too many others considered him a has-been -- I remained loyal to Gene because I cared about him.

My problems on the show were not with Gene as much as they were with his lawyer who consistently violated WGAW rules in Gene's name. The lawyer also convinced Gene that he couldn't trust any of his old friends including me, DCF, Bob Justman, and others; thereby isolating him from information that might have helped the show. Remember, I WAS THERE. I saw what happened. Your star witness, as you yourself have acknowledged, was losing his facilities. And as many have noticed, Gene's grasp on truth was slipshod at best...

Most of us on staff knew there was something wrong with Gene. Most of us loved him enough that we were desperately trying to find ways to make sure that he could do his best; but when the lawyer declared war on the staff, he turned the place into an armed camp. I quit rather than participate.

I never sued Gene. The Guild brought an arbitration on my behalf against Paramount for wages owed. Gene took it personally, because the lawyer told him it was a personal attack. It was not. I admit to some anger at the lawyer, and at Gene for allowing the situation to happen; but I also had direct evidence-- Gene lied to my face, and then asked Herb Wright to cover for him -- that Gene had lost touch with his affection for his old friends. Even after I left, I was hesitant to speak to the Guild. It was only when two people on the Star Trek staff started telling people (erroneously) that I had been fired that my agent asked me what I had done on the show. I showed him the stack of work I had written, including the *first* Writer's/Director's Guide, and he sent the material over to the Guild.

My agent made the claim for co-creator credit, not me. And he did so without my knowledge. The Guild looked over the matter and said that Gene's rights to the created by credit were protected because the show was a spinoff of Star Trek. I never argued with that because I never wanted to take anything away from Gene. I only wanted to be fairly paid for writing the bible and doing additional producer-level work.

What Gene obviously did not tell you was that on the day he brought me on staff he told me that he believed I understood the nature of Star Trek better than anyone else in the world, perhaps even better than he did. He said I would be his Creative Consultant and later, a producer. He said I would attend every meeting and make sure his wishes were met throughout the staff. During those first few weeks, I helped bring aboard Andy Probert who designed the ship, wrote a memo suggesting Wil Wheaton for the character of Wesley, created the character of Geordi LaForge (including his name), and other aspects of the show.

BTW, Gene read every Starlog column before it was turned in, and signed off on every one. When I asked him what title I should use, he said, "Head Writer."

When the lawyer came aboard, he began restricting my authority and my title, and even denied me a parking place on the lot. At that point, Gene's relationship with all the staff members began to deteriorate because the lawyer became Gene Roddenbarry's Iago.

After I left the show, for seven years, I had to listen to Star Trek "loyalists" tell stories about me that weren't true and that were obviously designed to hurt me personally as well as hurt my career. One individual told conventions not to bring me in as a guest. Another was telling people that I was mentally ill. A third loyalist destroyed a book deal for me at Pocket Books. And so on. The characterization was created that I was going around badmouthing Trek and Gene, when in fact, I was trying very hard to get on with my life as a novelist. It was difficult to refute the charges when Gene had access to 10,000 people at a time and I was saying "no comment" so the lies about me began to take on a terrible life of their own.

FYI, facts that you failed to mention in your book: I've written over thirty books, at least that many TV scripts, and story-edited three TV series. I created Land of the Lost for Sid & Marty Krofft, and have done episodes for Logan's Run, Twilight Zone, Babylon 5, Star Trek, Star Trek Animated, and other series. I've written Writer/Director's Guides for six series, three of which have been produced. I've written nearly a hundred short stories and nearly a thousand columns and articles. Your book seemed to indicate that I had no other career than Star Trek, when in fact my novels routinely make the Locus and B. Dalton Best-seller list. Again, your research was either flawed, or you deliberately withheld information.

During the summer of 1992, in preparation for the adoption of my son, I did a course in personal effectiveness, and one of the exercises was about forgiveness. Forgiveness was defined as "giving up the right to resent you in the future for events that happened in the past." After considerable soul searching, I wrote a note to Gene, which you referred to in your book. It seemed to me that by that act, I could finally put Star Trek behind me once and for all and focus on the real joys in my life, my writing and my son. Plus, I knew that Gene's health was failing, and it seemed like a good idea to give him some measure of peace before he died. It was a way of acknowledging the good times and thanking him again for them. It was a difficult note to write because I knew that it would be misinterpreted by those who insisted on seeing me as a villain.

(BTW, perhaps Richard Arnold didn't tell you about the times he came into Gene's office and found him weeping at his desk that "all his friends had left him" and he didn't know why. So even Gene was aware that something awful was happening around him.)

Your discussion of The Trouble With Tribbles is inaccurate. Robert and Ginny Heinlein were friends of mine from 1971 until the time of his death. After Ginny gave up the house, she entrusted me with Robert's cat, Pixel, because she couldn't keep him anymore. If Ginny regarded me as anything less than a friend, do you think she would have trusted me with one of the most famous cats in SF literature?

Your reportage of the matter of the Guild arbitration is also erroneous. It was to Gene's advantage to downplay the settlement because it made my claim look frivolous, but in point of fact, there were over twenty witnesses prepared to testify against Gene and his lawyer's behavior. After the testimony of the first five was fully heard, Paramount's lawyers began stalling the hearings. What we were told (unofficially) was that Paramount saw the validity of the claim and wanted to settle it, but that Gene's lawyer had turned it into a grudge match.

At that point, the Executive Director of the WGAW had a private meeting with Gene Roddenberry in which he explained several very good reasons why Gene should encourage a settlement. Not the least of these reasons was that Gene's own reputation would be sullied if the testimony continued. A settlement was made shortly thereafter.

What I find most amazing, however is your bald-faced assertion: "It was Gerrold's choice with Engel to open that old matter, thinking that there was a confidentiality agreement in place...."

The terms of the agreement with Paramount were that I would not discuss the terms of the *settlement. There was nothing in the agreement to prohibit me from talking about the *causes* of the grievance. That I withheld public discussion of Gene's failings for so long was partly out of respect for Star Trek and my affection for the show and its fans, and partly because there was so much more happening in my life of much more importance.

In actual fact, it is you who violated the terms of that confidentiality agreement in place by appearing to discuss the monetary terms of the settlement in your book. The numbers you quoted were not even equal to my income tax refund for that fiscal year. That's as much as I can say without breaching the confidentiality agreement.

I do find it outrageous that you claim you were given the information you were given by a studio attorney, because that puts the studio in the position of knowingly violating their own confidentiality agreement. The WGAW will be very interested in that fact. Thanks. Whoever the attorney was, he lied to you about the facts. Unfortunately, I cannot give the correct information without violating the part of the confidentiality agreement that is in effect. The dilemma here is that others are free to lie about me. I am prohibited from refuting those lies with the documentation.

Even more disingenuous, is your justification that because I spoke to Joel Engel, you were free to hash out the matter in your book. Because your book was published near-simultaneous with Engel's, you had no idea what I might or might not have said to Joel Engel. Therefore you had to have been planning your scurrilous assault on my reputation from the git-go. Indeed, I have it on the authority of someone who is in a position to know that you were given specific instructions to portray me as Gene's enemy. It was only after I was informed of this information that I agreed to speak candidly with Joel Engel.

Now I do want to talk about Gene. Many people have said a lot of things about him. I knew him better than most. I'm certain that I knew him better than you ever did. I saw him at his best and his worst. I saw him stand up to a studio exec about an issue of unconscious racism. But I also heard him say sexist and stupid things about women in general and Majel in specific. I heard him make inspiring speeches about challenging writers to tell the best stories they could, but I also heard him rage against good people who he felt had betrayed him. The day we moved into our offices he said, "I'm going to lose a lot of friends before this is over." (I should have taken that as a warning.) I knew him when his mind was so sharp he could cut a seven page scene down into four lines of dialogue. And I knew him when he was so fuzzy that he couldn't remember how a scene had begun when he got to the end of it.

At his best, Gene could inspire people to be better than they believed they were capable of. That was his greatest virtue. He was a man who could sell ice to penguins.

His greatest failing was that he didn't fully believe in his own vision himself. Once he'd inspired people, he couldn't trust them; perhaps because on some level he was so insecure about his own beliefs, or perhaps because he thought people had fallen for his vision too easily, he never believed that they were as deeply enrolled or as deeply committed as they were.

People believed in Gene and in Star Trek. Nobody believed in him and the show as much as Dorothy and myself. We have our careers as demonstration of that. But Gene never allowed himself to believe that anyone was in it for anything but the money and the glory, and he was unwilling to share the credit. As a result, he was a terrible manager. He hurt people, he betrayed them, he left a trail of broken promises. And he always made sure he had someone to blame when things went wrong. NBC. Harlan Ellison. The studio. Harve Bennett. Robert Wise. And finally me. If it hadn't been me, it would have been someone else.

Gene was like the blind man with the lantern. He lit the path for many others, but he flailed in darkness himself.

I do not believe that you understand what Star Trek really meant to many of us who worked on the show. It was a wonderful dream for Dorothy and myself and almost every writer who came in. In our eyes, it was the best TV show in the world.

We worked as hard as we could. We wanted to make Gene happy. We wanted to make him look good. And then we were told that our work was sh!t and we had to do it over again. So we did. Again and again and again. Then the weird stuff got weirder. Credit-grabbing. Lying. Unjustified temper tantrums and bawlings-out. Vilification. Lies to us about how the studio hated us. Lies to the studio about how we were disloyal. We were getting so much conflicting information, we had no idea what was going on.

Eventually, I was approached privately by a major studio exec who asked me what was going on. I didn't want to be disloyal to Gene. I tried to beg off. He promised me confidentiality. He told me that the studio was thinking of pulling Gene off the show. I said that would kill him. Even in the midst of it, I was still trying to be loyal to Gene, thinking that he was still loyal to his staff. At another point, even Majel asked me if everything was all right. I was afraid to tell her the truth because I didn't want to hurt her feelings. (I have always had a great deal of affection for Majel, for reasons I won't discuss here.)

When I finally realized just how sick Gene was -- and just how unworkable Star Trek had become -- I became physically ill. From March until shortly after I quit, I was seeing one doctor after another trying to find out why I hurt allover, why I had no energy, why I couldn't eat. I was diagnosed as hypoglycemic, suffering from Epstein-Barre, and was going to be tested for other neurological conditions as well. I left the show in June, and started working on Trackers at Columbia and by the end of August most of my symptoms had disappeared. The therapist's conclusions were that I had been under terrible emotional stress, and that quitting Trek had been the cure.

You have deeply misrepresented who I am in your book; you have no idea who I am, what my work is, or what I did for TREK. I was deeply hurt by Gene and his lawyer. Promises were made and broken. After seven years of silence, I spoke to Joel Engel because I wanted the truth told at least once. Part of what I told Engel was favorable to Gene. Part was not. That was Gene. Warts and all.

Frankly, I am tired of after-the-fact explainers adding additional bullsh!t to the pile. Gene spoke out regularly about how I had betrayed him. He did this at one convention after another. Friends sent me tapes and clippings. I filed them and tried to get on with life. His speeches were reprinted in fanzines. He gave interviews to newspapers all over the world -- I have clippings from England and Australia where he railed on about me. Then the fans started repeating it. Now you. I have been saddled with a burden of lies by Star Trek's true believers, and your book is just another shovelful of the same old crap, and Joel Engel is the first reporter in seven years who bothered to call me up and ask, "Is this true? Do you have anything to say?" After seven years of calumny, abuse, and unofficial blacklisting, I do not feel I need to apologize for finally speaking up. Enough is enough. A responsible reporter would have checked his facts before printing them. You did not. You have not hurt me. You have hurt the credibility of your book, and your credibility as a biographer.

As I said before ... I have a life beyond Star Trek, and I have focused my attention where it belongs, on my writing and on my son.

My son and I have traveled all over the world together, we're a joyous family. I've been Guest of Honor at five conventions in the past twelve months, with two more to go this year. I had a novel published last November, another one just this May, and a new one scheduled for next June. I've had nine books published since I quit Trek. I have a story coming up in next month's F&SF. I just had a script aired on Babylon 5. I have my column in PC-Techniques. And I've done over a hundred thousand words of short stories for Resnick's anthologies in the past 18 months. I'm doing some of the best writing of my career since I've freed myself of the burden of the past.

Why do I tell you this?

Because I've been around long enough to know that what counts in science fiction is science fiction, not hype, not mythology, not lies.

Ten years from now, twenty years, whatever, I'll still be here writing science fiction, I'll still have the credential of my own work to speak for me. Whatever lies have been told or repeated, regardless of who has authorized them, I am confident that the body of my own work will stand as a suitable rebuttal to the steamroller of lies, and I can live with that final resolution. The readers will see for themselves.

Those who have made Star Trek a mythology, who have elevated Gene to Godhood, and who feel that the appropriate worship of the Great Bird involves the destruction of others have clearly missed the real point of Star Trek -- that we can only solve our problems when we learn to deal fairly with each other. This is the real tragedy of Gene's life -- that he himself never fully respected or trusted his own lifelong friends. This is what ultimately brought him the most sorrow. And this is the point that you missed in your book. What a pity. That would have been one helluva biography.

David Gerrold


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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Exclusive Interview: Trek Insider Susan Sackett Remembers Gene Roddenberry

Susan Sackett worked as Gene Roddenberry’s executive assistant for 17 years. She also served as his assistant for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and as Production Associate for the first five seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, as well as co-writing (with Fred Bronson) several TNG episodes. Additionally, she has written a number of books about the entertainment industry and Star Trek, including her autobiography Inside Trek, a tell-all book that reveals her “secret life” as Roddenberry’s lover and close friend.

She kindly agreed to an interview with Trekdom.

: Your autobiography, Inside Trek: My Secret Life with Star Trek Creator Gene Roddenberry, is quite touching, and it gives readers a fascinating look into your career as a writer and Trek insider, as well as your professional and intimate relationship with Gene Roddenberry. Can you tell us what motivated you to write this book? Was there a central message about Roddenberry or Trek that you wanted to convey?

Susan Sackett: After Gene died, I was naturally devastated. He had been the center of my world. I never considered my working with him a “job.” It was who I was and what I did in life. I felt a need to work out my thoughts. For years, I had kept a notebook of my feelings and experiences. But there was still more in my head that I needed to put down on paper, so I began by simply writing something for myself, so I would never forget our conversations, my feelings and my personal experiences. Many pages later, I had the germ of a book. It was then that I decided to create a complete book, still for myself. I put it away for many years while I completed other writing assignments.

In 1999, I had a friend with whom I wanted to share my private thoughts, and so I showed him the manuscript. Being a web designer, he thought we could perhaps serialize the chapters on a web site we ended up calling “Inside Trek.” I also posted a quotation from Gene Roddenberry each week for 52 weeks -- many from interviews I had done with him for a 25th anniversary book that was never published, many from memory, or other interviews over the years, and some from public sources. Also on the site were photos from my private collection, as well as a few one-of-a-kind personal souvenirs I hoped to sell in order to maintain the upkeep costs of the site.

We sold low-cost “memberships” for people who wanted to read the chapters online. One member was William Bernhardt, a mystery writer who had just launched his own publishing company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He contacted me and asked if he could publish a printed version of the book. I knew of his work and was very flattered! I worked with him for many months polishing the manuscript, and in 2002 the trade paperback was released by Hawk Publishing. I have copies for sale on my web site, and it can also be ordered online through Amazon, B&N, and other stores.

Long story short, writing it was therapy for me!

Part two of the question – was there a central message about Gene that I wanted to convey? Well, yes, every piece of writing should have a message. Mine was that Gene Roddenberry was one of the most gifted people of our time, but he also had demons that haunted him. He was, after all, human. I see him as an Ernest Hemingway type of creative writer – brilliant in his work, but also plagued by doubts, depression and addictions. Sometimes these things drive genius. I also wanted people to see more than just the legend or the public persona. As a writer myself and one of the people closest to him, I felt I was qualified and had an obligation to do that.

: He was such a complex and complicated man. Since his death, several books, yours notably, have exposed his “darker side,” especially his drug and alcohol abuse and his less than progressive views toward women. Having known Roddenberry so well, were there times when you saw him as a walking contradiction, meaning that his voiced philosophy clashed with his lifestyle and personal beliefs? Or, would that characterization be unfair?

Sackett: In some ways, that would be a fair characterization. You have to remember that he was a product of his time. He had a healthy libido. He was a man who was passionate about everything he did – his writing and producing, eating, drinking, and yes, enjoying women. He saw nothing wrong with acting on his passions while writing about equality or temperance. These were ideals and goals, and he was a human, not a robot or god who was some sort of perfect icon.

And I wouldn’t use the term “darker side.” I think he had some of those Hemingwayan demons that drove him to “self-medicate.” He might have benefited from prescribed drugs such as anti-depressants, but at what cost? Would it have dulled his mind? Was he an addictive type personality? I leave that to the psychologists to decide (although I do offer some of his doctors’ commentary in my book, for the record, to show that he was chemically challenged). He had that kind of genius that people of his generation dealt with by turning to drug use such as alcohol and cocaine (oddly, for a long time in this country, cocaine was legal and alcohol wasn’t!). It had to have been maddening to be so creative and to have the product of your blood, sweat and tears hung out there for the world to love and the critics to tear apart… to have to defend yourself against the inevitable onslaught of nay-sayers. I’m not defending what he did, just trying to realize what might have driven him to do things the way he did.

: Some fans believe that Roddenberry’s vision was also contradictory. Star Trek represents a future in which cultural diversity and tolerance are celebrated. Yet, at the same time, Roddenberry’s personal intolerance for “superstitious” and “backwards” religious beliefs finds expression in Star Trek. To the best of your knowledge, did he ever see any tension between his respect for diversity and his anti-religious iconoclasm?

Sackett: Diversity and religious belief are entirely different areas when it comes to tolerance. One cannot adhere to two contradictory ideas at the same time. His non-belief in religious illogic was true to his own philosophy. That does not mean he did not grant others the right to their beliefs. He merely commented upon them from his own standpoint. In fact, when his son was given a “Welcome to the World” party (shortly before I began working for him), Gene proudly invited a rabbi, and Christian minister and a Catholic priest, all personal friends of his, to participate in the festivities. I think because of his high hopes for humanity, he was impatient with the superstitious beliefs that religions do sell. He wanted to see humanity progress, and, as many people today such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens will point out, being bogged down in these petty beliefs (my god can beat up your god and we have the only true way) holds humanity back from greatness. It is too bad he didn’t live to see the beginning of this new enlightenment, this new humanistic movement that is beginning to awaken in this country.

So yes, he valued cultural diversity, racial diversity, even galactic diversity if you will – but had his opinions on what he felt would hold us back as an enlightened species. And I very much agree with him here.

: Interesting... It was unfortunate that his professional relationships with several Trek insiders deteriorated, especially during the first season of The Next Generation. Would it be fair to say that, after losing control of Trek in the early 80s (while disliking many aspects of Harve Bennett’s films), Roddenberry became so overly protective of TNG that he unintentionally alienated others?

Sackett: It is quite possible. He became very protective of the “new” spin-off, because his name was out there as the creator of the series. No matter who got the writing credit week after week, it was his name, “Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek,” that was on the line. As Donald Trump says, “It’s nothing personal, it’s just business.”

It was his reputation and his legacy that were at stake, whereas the writers could always find other jobs. Not that I’m condoning what he did. In the prior years that I had known him, he had always spoken extremely highly of the many writers whose friendships he lost during that first year of TNG. But when forced to chose between what he saw as substandard (i.e., sub-Gene-standard) writing and friendship, he opted for protecting his baby, TNG. So he rewrote their work, and this displeased the writers, who naturally banded together against what they saw as an injustice. Don’t forget, everyone had challenged Gene to do this new version of Trek, and everyone said it couldn’t be done: “Roddenberry can’t catch lightning in a bottle twice” was one of the phrases that was tossed about quite frequently. The gauntlet had been thrown down. So he had a lot of pressure on him, and this fed into his insecurities.

The Harve Bennett part of the question is one that is too complex to delve into here. Many things in the Bennett-era films worked quite well. But in a creative business like writing and producing, you are always going to have a lot of people with egos, and sometimes there are going to be clashes. Gene admired some things in the films and was unhappy about others. So yes, this might have led to his being insecure and overly protective of his creation, his legacy and his Star Trek ideals.

TD: “Everybody’s human,” Kirk said in Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country. Despite Gene's character flaws, he was a great man, and he inspired so many of us. Readers of your book will also realize how special he was to you as a companion and a lover. Can you leave us with a few thoughts about how he and Star Trek have inspired you and enriched your life?

Sackett: It is so much easier to talk about others than oneself! I’ll try, though. Gene totally changed my life! I had admired his work before meeting him, as a fan of the genre and Star Trek in particular. What amazed me after working with him for so many years is that he came to respect me and my ideas, and this did wonders for my own self-confidence. To be able to dialogue with a person of his intellect, and to be taken seriously – this opened up a world of discovery to me that I had never known. It has led me to explore a life of reason and understanding, to question everything, and to take the path I have chosen to be on today. Gene introduced me to Humanism, and this has become my lifelong passion. In the years since Gene’s death, I have done much volunteer work for the promotion of this cause, including being president of our local 250-member chapter, the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix, and being on the board of directors of the American Humanist Association. I often give talks about “Humanism in Star Trek,” so Star Trek is never far from my thoughts. Gene set me on that path, so he is never far from my thoughts either.

TD: Thank you so much for your time!

Sackett: My pleasure!

*An autographed copy of Inside Trek can be purchased at Sackett’s website (http://www.insidetrek.com/) Trekdom highly recommends this book.
** This interview may not be reproduced without Trekdom's consent.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

"The Devil in the Dark," as the Essence of Star Trek

by Jared B.


In pursuit of a man-killing underground creature, Kirk and Spock discover something profound: This "silicon-based lifeform" is neither evil nor inherently dangerous, despite having already killed several "pergium" miners throughout the planet's extensive cave network. Instead, it was simply protecting its eggs from the humans, who had unknowingly destroyed hundreds during their mining operations.

Whereas Kirk began this adventure by attempting to protect the miners from a malicious beast, he then chooses to safeguard the intelligent creature from the wrath of humans. After explaining to the miners that they were the real "monsters," Kirk and Spock convince both sides that peaceful coexistence is preferable to open warfare. Everyone lives happily ever after.

"The Devil in the Dark" is one of the most beloved episodes of the Original Series. For many fans, the episode highlights the essence of Star Trek: its humanistic attempt to challenge viewers to see situations and conflicts from an alien Other's point of view. Forcing us to sympathize with a hideous and seemingly irredeemable man-killer, "The Devil in the Dark" demonstrates how spurious many of our cultural assumptions about others can be.

Our prejudice stems from our ignorance. Seeing the universe from an alternative viewpoint is the key to personal and cultural enlightenment. Simply put, the source of conflict, warfare, and violence is misunderstanding.

Knowledge becomes the key to co-existence and peace.

This theme is repeated many times throughout the history of Star Trek. Arguably, there is no absolute evil in the Trekverse. Q-like beings are really undisciplined children or misguided despots. Angry gods are malfunctioning super-computers. Human villains are evil only in the sense that they are consumed by vengeance, hatred, or racism, all of which could be conquered by logic and reason.

Repeatedly, viewers are encouraged to sympathize with malevolent Others. By the 24th century, the Klingons have ceased to be the imperialistic and heartless villains of TOS. Instead, we grow to understand and admire their cultural traditions, beliefs, and codes of honor. The Romulans, it seems, have also been misunderstood, making re-unification with Vulcans possible. The Jem'Hadar, a species genetically engineered to kill humans, earns our sympathy during the Dominion War, as do the Founders, the Vorta, and the Cardassians. Even the Borg, the ultimate antithesis of human freedom and individuality, are presented in a favorable light with the characters of Hue and Seven of Nine.

Again and again, diversity may lead to conflicts, but those conflicts are resolved through mutual understanding. There is much warfare along the path toward peace, but so much of that struggle does not involve conquest through military means. Rather, external struggles are accompanied by equally profound and influential internal struggles, in which humans and aliens attempt to overcome cultural prejudices and misunderstandings.

Kirk, consumed by his hatred of Klingons, becomes the ultimate peace broker. Kira, a Bajoran terrorist/freedom fighter who loathes Cardassians, grows to understand and sympathize with several former oppressors. Odo eventually rejoins his people, despite years of siding with the "solids." The examples are endless.

And, this theme is also internalized to an extreme degree. So many characters, from Spock to Torres to Seven of Nine, struggle with internal conflict rising from their "two halves." Accepting the strengths and weaknesses of both selves leads to a more complete and harmonious selfhood, just as the external embrace of diversity leads to a stronger and more peaceful Federation.

All this may sound like an unquestioning acceptance of "fanboy" slogans about Trek's multiculturalism and vague utopianism. There are certainly problematic elements and contradictions. Yet, the "Devil in the Dark Factor" has been a dominant theme of Star Trek, and it speaks more about Trek's multiculturalism than the number of lines Uhura had.

Scholars who criticize Star Trek's representation of race often ignore "Devil in the Dark," seeing the episode as irrelevant to issues of race. To ignore its theme, which became so prominent in Star Trek, is a mistake. The episode summed up the Trek's IDIC philosophy in not-so-subtle ways, illustrating why fan slogans about diversity, optimism, and cultural enlightenment are substantiated by evidence.

Paradise is often elusive in the Star Trek universe, but coexistence, tolerance, and understanding are crossroads on the journey towards a more hopeful future.


Watch the Full Episode at YouTube

Friday, July 6, 2007

Trekdom Review: Grace Lee Whitney's The Longest Trek: My Tour of the Galaxy

Grace Lee Whitney is best known for her brief role as Yeoman Rand during the first season of Star Trek.

Fans have long debated the reasons for her departure from the show after a dozen episodes. Considering how beloved the beehived and short-skirted "Captain's woman" was for many fans, especially teenage boys, her disappearance seemed conspicuous. The character had been central to the plots of several episodes, such as "Charlie X" and "Miri," meaning the sexy Yeoman was much more developed than other secondary characters at the time. Additionally, some of Desilu's early publicity photos featured her as a co-star, indicating that Roddenberry and others saw much potential in Yeomand Rand.

Some Trek insiders, such as Bob Justman and Herb Solow, claimed that the character's romantic attachment to Kirk limited the captain's opportunities for romantic liaisons with green women. Others, such as Bill Shatner, said onset problems with Whitney's alcoholism were to blame.

In 1998, she cleared the air once and for all, publishing her autobiography The Longest Trek. According to the actress, the rumors of her onset inebriation are untrue and slanderous. Although she admits to having problems with alcohol during that period (a struggle that would continue for many years), she was always professional and never intoxicated during filming. Whitney is also skeptical of the "official" reason, stating that no one voiced those concerns to her at the time. In fact, producers were raving about the character's potential.

Why was Yeomand Rand written off the show? It is still somewhat of a mystery to the actress, but she identifies what she believes to be the real cause: a horrifying sexual assault by an influential person called "The Executive."

Whitney will not publicly state who this person is, but she gives many clues. Apparently, following a routine wrap party, he led her to a private office and pressured her for oral sex. When she initially refused, he became angry, making threatening gestures and insidious comments. The actress, fearing reprisals that could damage her career, relented and performed. She then left the studio and arrived in tears at the door of Leonard Nimoy.

The next day, as she and Nimoy sat together in Desilu's makeup chairs, "The Executive" surprised her with a gift: a polished stone. In those awkward moments, he expressed his shame in subtle ways and then exited after realizing how uncomfortable the situation had become. Soon, the character of Yeomand Rand was no more.

In The Longest Trek, Whitney speaks candidly about the ensuing period of depression and drug abuse. The narrative is heartbreaking. As her life spiralled out of control, she sabotaged many relationships while alienating family and friends. It is a candid and disturbing tale, and it uncovers the true face of Hollywood for many young actresses during the 1970s. As such, this book should be read by anyone struggling with drug abuse, depression, or sexual victimization.

Aside from this emotional roller coaster, The Longest Trek contains much to offer Star Trek fans. Although her time onset was brief, the autobiography is full of provocative insight. Her close friendship with Leonard Nimoy is explored in-depth, which provides more detail about the complex and conflicted actor who struggled with his public image for decades.

Whitney also paints an interesting portrait of science-fiction guru Harlan Ellison, who broke off a romantic relationship when he found her smoking marijuana in his living room. Fans interested in the Ellison/Roddenberry feud will not be disappointed by this book.

Additionally, Whitney makes some controversial claims about legendary director Robert Wise, saying he refused to let her wear makeup because of a practical joke gone wrong. She recalls her shame and embarrassment when fans gasped at seeing her character in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Years of substance abuse had taken their toll on her physical appearance.

Overall, Trekdom highly recommends The Longest Trek to both fans and individuals struggling with addictions or violations. Readers will lament the lost potential of Yeoman Rand while sympathizing with an actress who can never regain lost years of life. Her journey with inspire others to steer clear and sober.

*Purchase an autographed copy of The Longest Trek at Grace Lee Whitney's official website.