Tag Archives: star trek

Writers can learn from Star Trek

sptsPhil: Warwick Words literary festival has re-invented itself this year as a literary history festival. I went along to a few sessions and was fascinated by the life of Warwick Castle’s housekeeper and the local hiring fairs. I’m told that many of the other talks were brilliant, but some of us have to work.

One session that didn’t seem to fit the pattern was Marcus Berkman talking about Star Trek. This didn’t matter, I beamed in anyway. Only the day before did I realise that the TV show was 50 years old. That counts as history to me.

Marcus is a lifelong fan of the series, both in original and spin-off forms. The talk was based on his enjoyable book Set Phasers to Stun, both a history of the show and it’s production as well as a critique of many of the episodes.

This is proper nerd stuff. I loved it but then I can just about place most of the original series episodes from the descriptions thanks to repeated showings on TV. In Marcus’s book, there’s interesting trivia from behind the scenes, not a happy place to be it seems a lot of the time. Characters came and went as the series settled down and all the familiar elements.

As the book progresses through the various incarnations, Berkman identifies a huge problem faced by the writers – running out of storylines.

Even within the 79 original Trek episodes, there were plenty of very similar plots. Some blame Gene Rodenbury’s obsession that the cast had to be in terrible jeopardy every week, and he liked them to come up against god-like foes (this is one reason why the first film bears more than passing resemblance to the TV episode The Changeling). Berkman describes it as the “plant of the week” plotting style.

The followup Next Generation enjoys 178 shows which really did give the writers a problem. Basically, even with a team working on the series, you can’t avoid duplication, or at least your obsessive fan base spotting parallels.

It must be really tempting for TV and film executives to stick with succesful series. Witness the current trend for re-boots of both films (how many Spidermen do we need?) and re-hashing TV comedies.

We’ve had to consider this for our novels. There is a story arc, and the original plan involved 7 books. We’ve loped this back to 5 as sketching the basic plots out, we reckoned this was just enough to do the job. Any more and we’d be stretching the plot or repeating ourselves. It’s hard enough to avoid doing this and we’re only working on book 2!

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Does it matter if it’s not a new plotline?

Star Trek 9Phil: Needing something to read on the train a few days ago, I picked up a second-hand book for a couple of quid. Star Trek 9 contains adaptions of 6 episodes from the famous sci-fi TV series. Ideal reading for a modest journey and cheaper and easier to manage than a newspaper.

Story 5 is called “The Return of the Archons” and involves the Enterprise crew searching for the remains of a missing spacecraft. Arriving on a planet, they discover the population appear to be preparing for a “festival” that begins shortly after they arrive at the “Red Hour”. This turns out to be a bacchanalian display of anarchy and violence.

It transpires that the world is being controlled by a computer which keeps the population under control to remove all violence. Realising that this means there won’t be any of the population control usually provided by war, it invented the “Festival” as a way of reducing the overall numbers with an overnight period when all forms of control were shut off , every moral law abrogated and every person sees every other as their enemy.

Now, I’m reading this and find myself reminded of a film from last year I read about: The Purge.

To quote the description in Wikipedia, “Crime and unemployment rates are at an all-time low due to the government having instituted an annual 12-hour period called “the Purge” during which all criminal activity (including murder) becomes legal”

Sound familiar?

It is said that at any time of the day or night, somewhere in the world, there is an episode of Star Trek appearing on television. It’s not too far-fetched to suggest that the writer of The Purge saw The Return of the Archons and somewhere part of the plot lodged in the back of his mind. On the other hand, the concept of a special law-free period for population control isn’t a big leap. Similar concepts have been used in the films Death Race 2000 and Rollerball, although in these dystopian futures, the focus was on a “sport”.

Are there any new ideas out there?

Does it matter?

Perhaps people like to see ideas given a new spin. Both Archons and Purge take a similar concept but use it in very different settings. Possibly, the newer film has the advantage that it is possible to set this in a reasonably contemporary setting whereas years ago, you’d needed it to be on an alien planet for the audience to accept it. Like all good sci-fi, both are really talking about human nature but using a slightly fantasy setting to do it.

All this has got me wondering what hidden influences our book has. Ideas lurking in the back of our minds that have subliminally influenced our writing.

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Suspending disbelief

CronePhil: On Tuesday, Candice wrote about a film where both the plot and reality broke loose. This is a concept that exorcised me this week.

I was watching the film “Drag me to Hell“. It was on. I was in front of the telly. My of need was for some entertainment to stop my brain whirring rather than a conscious decision to view although I remembered reading about the film when it was released so I was a bit curious.

The plot revolves around a bank teller who, trying to prove she is tough enough for promotion, refuses to extend a home to loan to a wizened old crone. Said crone gets upset (she’s losing her house) and curses the teller. There’s a fight in a car park and lots of shouting and mystic stuff. You’ll not be surprised that it’s a romcom horror flick.

I got bored and switched it off after half an hour.

I’ve read horror but it’s not a genre I can really get in to. My problem is, I can’t suspend my disbelief sufficiently.

This is weird, because the other film I’ve caught up with this week is Star Trek: Into Darkness. I really enjoyed this even though it’s set in the future and there are space ships and it’s a “reboot” of a much-loved franchise. I don’t have a problem with this even though there is next to nothing familiar on-screen.

Perhaps it’s easier to accept a completely fantasy universe then a story based in reality where really strange things happen.

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Sci-fi short stories

Space 2 and all Asimovs Robot Stories.Phil: When Candice mentioned a couple of weeks ago that she’d met someone who write for Starburst magazine and that perhaps we ought to think about some sci-fi short stories, it sent me scurrying for my bookshelf.

While I own a huge number of books, very, very few of them are fiction. Those that are, are probably sci-fi because I like that sort of thing. Ignoring the complete set of Douglas Adams Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy books (which I have as well as all the radio series on CD and the TV series on DVD but don’t mention the terrible film) this leaves three books, two of which you see in the photo.

Whatdayaknow ? They are all short stories. Space 1 and 2 are compilations of shorts and the fat book is a collection of all Isaac Asimov’s robot stories.

Which makes me wonder why. I’ve read proper fiction at book length, but I didn’t want to keep it. Chatting this over with the Nolan, we both have the same problem. Reading a book is a voyage of discovery. Once you’ve been through this, a re-read isn’t as much fun. Thus, the books are destined for the charity shop to be replaced with something new but for some reason, I kept these.

As far as science fiction goes though, I’ve never been into the big books. Asimov wrote many short stories but also his magnum opus, the Foundation Series. I tried to read this, but like Frank Herbert’s similar Dune series, I couldn’t get into it. Monumental fiction doesn’t grab me. I’m sure that when you get into it, you love it. I can’t.

It’s not just books either (God this post is making sound really nerdy) but TV too. Start Trek is fine. I can handle the Next Generation of the same. Each episode is a story. Move on to Deep Space 9 or Babylon 5 (I know the later is a different “universe” but the point is the same) with its massive story arc that provides fans with endless hours of internet chat and I really can’t be bothered. These guys aren’t just writing about worlds but entire star systems with a breadth of imagination that makes the Total Perspective Vortex in Hitchikers seem sensible. (For the non-geek, this is a torture device where the victim is shown how unimportant they are in the whole universe. It’s powered by fairy cakes, thus justifying its place on this blog). I prefer to stick to a single species in a story, maybe two if pushed.

Be warned though, giant sci-fi can catch you when you least expect it. As a youth, I dabbled with the Perry Rhodan series of pulp fiction books. I foolishly thought I could read the set but then discovered that this German (translated into English, I’m not that clever) series actually ran to more volumes than there are people on the planet. When you find number 136 on the shelf of a bookshop, you get the message that there is more to this than you thought. My excuse is that I was introduced gradually with some fun stories and found myself hooked…

Anyway, I’ve re-read some of the books and you know what ? They are pretty good. Not too geeky – good sci-fi takes a real plot line and simply transfers it to a fantastic location or time – and very interesting. If nothing else, all this has made me re-discover some excellent writing.

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