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Section Index

  1. What is Star Trek?
  2. Importance of Star Trek
  3. What is special?
  4. Science Fiction
  5. ST Technology

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1: On Star Trek
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caveat: As can be inferred from the date of publication, this article may no longer represent my current views and style. It remains here for archival purposes to provide a sense of documentation and should be treated as such.

1. What is Star Trek?

What could be the definition of Star Trek? Well, as strange as this question might sound, it really is a question worth asking as it could lead to answers to other questions, like the one asked frequently in the last years: Is Star Trek still Star Trek? Using a scientific approach to solve my definition problem, one could perhaps best start with a historical perspective: Star Trek was a science fiction television show that originally aired 1966-1969 and found its success during the reruns. The following Star Trek films as well as books, a short-lived animated series and other products added to this success so that three spin-off series could continue the television legacy of Star Trek.

Well, I probably didnít say anything new. But then this merely historical definition doesnít work - Star Trek is still much more, it is in a way a philosophy of its own. I know that there would be people that wonít like that idea, but I think that we must not think in dimensions that were born in recent centuries -- as well as the definition of literature has to be widened by including new media as comics, film, television, the internet and even computer games. The term literature is by no means suggesting a certain style or quality; on the contrary: It is the option of the reader to decide what he likes or not.

There is a difference between philosophy and religion, and I would define this difference just by estimating the intensity of belief and exclusion. Some people use their religion as philosophy, others declare their philosophy a religion; and even science is a philosophy, or better: The scientific idea, the search for a truth by using logical and rhetorical means -- at least in theory. But that discussion would belong to the X-Filean realm of discussion. A philosophy, the "love of wisdom", is a way of seeing and experiencing the world and people around us. And using this aspect, Star Trek really is a philosophy. Star Trek is the philosophy of hope, of tolerance, of acceptance. It is the philosophy of shared philosophies -- and perhaps Star Trek philosophy is indeed Vulcan philosophy and we could call Surak as well as Roddenberry its creator. Iíve arrived at this conclusion because Iíd say that the Star Trek novels would have had much of an impact on that. Books like Diane Duaneís "Spockís World" or "The Romulan Way" could be considered classics.

Star Trek is not in any way necessarily a space opera -- for science fiction is not about future technology, it just uses this as an element of narration, as an effect to establish situations, to make certain stories possible. As Roddenberry said himself, the Enterprise is a real ship -- used for storytelling.

In case youíd complain that I havenít come up with much of a definition yet, youíre right. Iíll split this answer into certain topics which will be discussed on this page. And in the end, literary theory as well as any non-natural science, is not an exact science which can arrive at exact conclusions -- all results are personal, there is no literary or philosophic world formula (there isnít even one in physics -- yet?). It is a question of personal experience and belief, and thatís again what Star Trek is about: Infinitive diversity in infinitive combinations. I invite you into my personal view of some diversities and combination in Star Trek.

March 27th, 1998

2. The Importance of Star Trek

One way of defining a philosophy is by looking at the influence it has, the audience, the followers -- or fandom, if you want. And Star Trek has no doubt a large audience -- and a lasting influence. Iím not talking about living a life in a Starfleet or Klingon uniform or attaching Spock ears to oneís head, Iím talking of living the message of Star Trek. Speaking of me personally, I grew up with it. First, when you are a child, you begin to like the characters, Kirk, Spock, Bones -- and when you grow up, you begin to notice that there is some real depth in it. Every good TV show should have one, but then this is the point.

TV shows come and go, some donít even last a season, some survive until the third or fourth one, and only a small number of shows last longer. This is a question of (near) immediate success -- like you have it with The X-Files, todayís Star Treks or MacGyver and Magnum, p.i. But then it can be also be a question of time -- some good shows were killed by ratings or executives but gained an audience later, like the original Star Trek or Space: Above and Beyond or The Outer Limits (This show is actually an example how much the general TV audience has changed -- the original show lasted one and a half seasons while its 1995 ontinuation continues to prosper).

But success isnít everything -- influence needs some truth, some effort to improve the human condition, to improve oneís life. Thatís like the second meaning of the title Home Improvement -- it is not the house but the family which is to be cared for. Same is true for science fiction -- it is the human factor which determines the quality of a show.

Star Trek has never really been about abstract ideas, about starships, about "powers, principalities thrones, and dominions" Millennium ep. 1M19) -- it has always been about people, about some very concrete decisions. As much as Star Trek might have changed over the decades (and it truly has) it is still about humanity (I know General Chang would protest, but I define the word humanity as representing all living species, not just Terran ones). Thatís why -- apart from some effects - Star Trek concentrates on persons and dialogs, not on space battles and fairy tales, thatís why it has kind of a antique or middle-ages view of the world in some respect: It is not states or structures Star Trek deals with, all the enemies have a face -- Dukat, Weyoun, Gowron, now even a Borg Queen. All "action" is performed by concrete actors (no pun intended -- well, perhaps a little bit). It is Sisko dealing with Gowron or Dukat. In some way Star Trek looks a lot like the way Roman or Middle-Ages history is presented -- persons are the actors, not a bureaucracy or kind of a MJ12 organization.

Star Trek is about people making a difference. It is about real people in an imaginary world having sort of todayís problems -- it is about allegoric tales, about living beings whom we can identify with. But as the characters and sets and times change with each series or film or even season, the basics, the fundamentals of Roddenberryís philosophy stay the same. Star Trek has become a bit "darker" as it can say some things more straight in todayís world than it could in the sixties, it has become more experienced, it has grown into something quite big. Some time ago I thought about the amount of Trek Iíve already consumed and I was sort of startled. Star Trek is something that is probably known to the majority of people in the perimeter of Western culture. This is a legacy and responsibility Star Trek always recognizes.

March 29th, 1998

3. What is Special?

So what is special about Star Trek, not counting age, success, spin-offs, movies and all those external criteria? Is Star Trek visually more appealing than other shows? Well, in some way, in a way any SF show of this budget would look like. So: no, itís not. The X-Files and Millennium for instance have much more focus on photography than Star Trek has, and the SF feeling I think is (better: was) best being created by Space: Above and Beyond.

Is it the cast? Well, other shows (like The X-Files, Millennium, Babylon 5, Chicago Hope, Picket Fences, Ellen or Home Improvement do have great casts, too. I mean you canít really top the presence of Patrick Stewart or Avery Brooks, but I think itís another reason.

Star Trek is -- compared to shows like The X-Files -- a theatrical show, the same is true for B5. It is not effects that count, it is the persons, it is the story. It is pure drama -- which makes the show appealing to those who are simply interested in the story. You have some technobabble, of course, but youíd have those stuff on medical shows, too -- donít tell me you understand all those medical terms (unless you studied medicine).

It is storytelling, but itís not that simple - Star Trek stories are different from those of other shows. Beside from any "dark" tendencies in newer Trek shows you have the very strong philosophical approach to the whole thing. And this -- I have to say this although Iím a very, very fanatic X-Phile -- is not the philosophy of TRUST NO ONE, DENIE EVERYTHING, APOLOGY IS POLICY, EVERYTHING DIES, BELIEVE THE LIE -- it is the philosophy of hope and humanity (sic). Star Trek can serve as an entrance to darker SF, but it is an entrance that stays open all the time and that one wants to return to any time again and again.

Thatís why I can be a fan of Star Trek, B5 and X at the same time -- by enjoying the quality of each show and the differences between them. IDIC.

April 4th, 1998

4. Science Fiction

What is science fiction? My dictionary says:

"A literary or cinematic genre in which fantasy, typically based on speculative scientific discoveries or developments, environmental changes, space travel, or life on other planets, forms part of the plot or background."

(American Heritage Dictionary, Third edition)

Is Star Trek science fiction? Yes and no. Well, it is -- but the "no" refers to the soap opera aspect of Trek. I donít mean this in a negative way -- it is just that often the background is the only element of SF involved -- that makes it a bit more difficult.

There are some really terrific SF-Treks -- CLís "The Alternative Factor"; TNGís "Timescape", "Emergence" or "All Good Things...";"VGRís "Parallax" or "Twisted" -- but mostly the element of SF is really not important at all. The Trek technology is used, not made the most important element of the show. So the real SF character is much more present in shows like The Outer Limits.

Star Trek is a show about persons and their interactions, DS9 becomes kind of a history show (24th century of course). In fact, the Trek shows that have the largest SF content are TNG and VGR. Thatís why DS9 and VGR can indeed coexist -- because they are totally different shows.

April 4th, 1998

5. ST Technology

The perhaps best known future transportation device is the transporter beam, the best known future propulsion system the warp drive, the best known future gun a phaser. There are books on Star Trek technology, and even Professor Hawking is dreaming of constructing a warp core.

Does it work? I mean, is there a physical basis for those theories? Let me answer this in the following way: It canít be disproved. The fact that there is no theory about warping space doesnít mean that there wonít be one in the future.

A lot of people think of themselves being smart because they smile about those "ridiculous" Star Trek inventions. But there is just one element that drives science: IMAGINATION. Think of Jules Verne. Was he an idiot? I donít think so.

Let's read this:

"Machines will be built with which the largest ships, being steered by just one man, will drive faster than when they would be filled with rowers; cars will be built that will move without the help of animals with incredible velocity; flying machines will be built with which man will govern the air just like a bird; machines will allow getting to the bottom of sees and rivers."

Albertus Magnus (1200-1280)
(Quoted from: L. White, Die mittelalterliche Technik und der Wandel der Gesellschaft. München 1968, S. 107 in: Heinz-D. Heimann, Einführung in die Geschichte des Mittelalters, Stuttgart: Ulmer 1997, my translation)

Well, this is a quote from the middle ages -- and what it says would have been quite fictional for its time. But everything has come true. So perhaps it is true that when we imagine the future we should imagine the unimaginable. Everything can come true.

April 4th, 1998

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