I can’t say I’m a Trekkie, though I am big fan of TOS. I consider myself more of a “Shathead,” since for me the main, enduring appeal of the original series was the ensemble cast, which everyone agrees had unbeatable chemistry and personality. But I also loved the things many modern fans denigrate or distance themselves from: the kitschier elements, like the monsters, mascara, and mini-skirts. Basically, the 1960s fashions that apparently will make a big comeback in a few centuries from now.
The fact that I can’t identity the actual century TOS took place in reveals my limitations as a fan. The aspects I enjoy aren’t necessarily the same that turned Gene Roddenberry’s relatively modest if earnest endeavor into an institution spawning spinoffs and sequels well into the 21st century, which was considered “the Future” back when the show first aired in 1966.
I am aware that there is a friendly (I hope and assume) rivalry between Star Trek fans and Star Wars fans. The two couldn’t be more different in terms of storytelling style and characterization. Whereas Star Trek took itself very seriously on a scientific as well as a philosophical level – as much science fiction did and does, from Philip Jose Farmer to Philip K. Dick to Rod Serling to William Gibson - George Lucas’s epic space opera was more about old school, Saturday matinee type fun and escapism.
Except it was about more than that, too. All fans had to do was scratch beneath the deceptively simplistic surface to discover a rich, complex mythology encompassing the entire gamut of the human condition, which makes it more than just a fantasy to its rabid fan base.
In both cases, the science is credible within its context, meaning the structure created is kept intact, with none of the circumstances experienced by the characters outside the boundaries of its fictive perimeters.
This is very important to fans of not only these franchises, but also science fiction in general.
Klaatu Barada Nikto
Since people like me who wouldn’t know the Internet from an Interocitor write a lot of sci-fi, the question arises: who is truly qualified to peddle this heady stuff as legit products?
Actually, I know what an Interocitor is, but only because I’m a big fan of the 1955 film This Island Earth, and obviously since I’m posting this I know what the Internet is. But I’m simply making my point alliteratively. I don’t know anything about science, other than its real. Only about fiction. And yet I’ve published two science fiction novels: It Came from Hangar 18 (2012) and The Space Needler’s Intergalactic Bar Guide (2015).
Both were commissioned by my co-author Scott Fulks, an amateur scientist who supplied a skeletal outline from which I fleshed out epic tales of aliens, monsters, space babes and pretty much every B movie trope in history (since he paid by the word). He then embedded his real scientific theories, replete with graphs, into my sleazy pulp, thus “legitimizing” it as true “science fiction.”
Not everyone is lucky enough to be hired by a scientist to write a pulp novel. But if you’re writing science fiction, you should at least do your research. It will pay off in ways beyond the scope of your imagination. Maybe.
Case in point: The Martian. You have heard of the recent hit movie starring Matt Damon, directed by Ridley Scott, who knows a thing or two about commercially viable and intellectually sound sci-fi. But it's based on a novel by a formerly unknown novice author named Andy Weir, who is now famous and successful. The book was initially self-published in 2011, then after it found its audience, Crown Publishing picked up the rights in 2014. The film came out the following year.
But the reason for its original, organic appeal had a lot to do with the fact Weir boasts a background in computer science, so rather than just write yet another novel about monsters and spaceships attacking Earth, he composed a very credible story of what would happen should an astronaut actually get stranded on another planet, even if it's years in the future. How would he survive using our current knowledge about chemicals, the elements, etc.? This provided the necessary drama that made his predicament both accessible and believable to mainstream audiences.
Now, not all sci-fi needs to be grounded in reality. Much of its audience wants the monsters, too. I know I do.
The goal should be to blend imagination with reality in a way that science fiction lives up to its name, and that your book lives up to yours.
PHOTO: WILL VIHARO