Star Trek Technobabble vs. Magic

So in last week’s Star Trek: Discovery, the ship got a major upgrade (in just three weeks). What we’ve seen so far includes programmable matter bridge and spore drive interfaces, detached nacelles, and even (though not yet seen on screen) holodecks.

Discovery 1031-A

Today I noticed one thing in the new promo pic (embedded above) that I hadn’t noticed while watching the episode: apparently the four corridors connecting the saucer’s inner section to its outer ring have been removed. Here’s a top view of the original design for comparison.

Discovery 1031

This seems like a really odd design decision to me. Before, while getting from the inner to outer sections may not have been super convenient if on foot and not using a turbolift (especially given the size difference between the Disco and any non-Abramsverse version of the Enterprise…and geez, I hadn’t realized just how huge all the Disco ships were), at least if it needed to be done they wouldn’t have had to go more than a quarter of the way around the gap. And there must be times when a turbolift isn’t practical — for instance, moving material, supplies, machinery, or other such things too large to fit in a turbolift around the ship.

I guess it all relies on everyone using those fancy new site-to-site personal transporters embedded in the new badges. But what if they’re not wearing a badge (taken off, fallen off, forcibly removed, etc.)? What if something goes wrong and the transporter system isn’t working properly (which, I know, never happens in Star Trek, but allow it for the sake of argument)? Now the only way to get from the inner ring to the outer ring is to take the primary corridor at the back of the inner ring towards the body of the ship, and then go around the outer ring to your destination. I just hope they don’t have to go from a point on the front of the inner ring to the front of the outer ring! Heck, now I wonder how hard it would be to estimate just how far that distance actually is….

Anyway. It looks cool, sure. But there are practicality considerations.

In a similar vein, how is maintenance done on those fancy new detached nacelles? In our first glimpse, it looked like they can be attached to the body of the ship, and were in the process of detaching in the shot, but what if something goes wrong while they’re detached?

One of the things I absolutely loved about Star Trek when I was a kid, and part of what has always fascinated me about it, was how real everything felt. Even fantastical elements, like the warp drive or transporters, always felt like there could be real, logical science behind them. And obviously, I’m not the only one who was drawn to this part of Trek, as I wouldn’t have all these Star Trek technical manuals and blueprints on my shelves if there weren’t enough of a market for them to get them published in the first place.

Trek Manuals and Blueprints

But so much of modern Trek (both Abramsverse and Discovery) seems to fall into the hand-wavey, might as well be magic, “because it looks cool” school of thought that breaks my suspension of disbelief.

Programmable matter I’m fine with — I want to know more about it, sure, but so far, I’m cool with how they’ve presented it. Detached nacelles (and other ship parts) could really use some serious work on defining what makes them desirable, possible, and accounting for practical considerations. We’ve seen lots of equipment, from space suits to prisoner anonymity hoods to asteroid-catching gravity platforms that just seem to fold open and create matter out of nothing — how is that explained? Where are all these fold-away pieces being stored when they’re not in use? Specifically regarding the asteroid-catching gravity platform, how do you get that much matter and mass into a suitcase that a human can carry around when it’s not in use?

And sure, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic“, and sure, we’ve jumped another 900-some years into the future, and yes, we’ve just been introduced to these things, so there’s still plenty of time to develop the technobabble to justify them (or write scenes and scripts that deal with the situations outlined above). And, of course, these are modern shows, and I in no way expect them to be slavishly beholden to the set designs and special effects of the 1960s or 1980s.

But for me, at least, they’re really dancing on the line of believable technology vs. magic. And going too far towards magic is very likely to break a fundamental part of what has defined Trek for me for my entire life.

🖖 #StarTrekDiscovery S02E14 (Late, because I was at Norwescon.) So many explosions! I’m not exactly opposed to getting a little Star Wars in my Star Trek, but this may have been a bit much. Ending on the Enterprise was pretty, but odd. Overall: imperfect, but satisfactory.

🖖 #StarTrekDiscovery S02E13 So many questions; quite glad there’s still one more episode. Enjoying the Short Treks tie-ins (maybe even Calypso?). But…wow. The Enterprise bridge! That was an incredible modernization that still obviously respected the original. I was blown away.

🖖 #StarTrekDiscovery S02E12 Klingons that didn’t annoy me (L’Rell’s dress was great)! The time crystals are a bit too magic-y (much like the dark matter that seems able to do whatever the plot needs), but okay. Pike’s vision was a pleasant surprise. And Control is a T-1000 now?

Another ST:DIS Theory

After watching tonight’s episode of Discovery (S02E11), Prairie and I came up with what we think is a very possible theory about where this season might go in the next few episodes, and it’s one that impacts a fair amount of the future Trek universe.

Details behind the cut, as this will be in definite spoiler territory, both for tonight’s episode, and potentially for the next three episodes if we’re right (though my last theory didn’t pan out, so keep that in mind).

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🖖 #StarTrekDiscovery S02E11 Another solid episode. Glad they didn’t drag out the Burnham family reunion drama over multiple episodes, but the scenes with Michael and her mom were really good. Spock continues to evolve nicely. And we have theories about ties to future series….

🖖 #StarTrekDiscovery S02E10 Much better to end on a note of “okay, wasn’t expecting that” instead of last week’s, “oh, come on….” Laughed at Tilly’s comment about knocking on Trek doors being kind of pointless. Continue to be impressed by Peck’s Spock. Not a bad week.

🖖 #StarTrekDiscovery S02E09 Goddammit, DSC. So much potential here, so many good moments, but also a lot of pieces that don’t make sense, and an ending that just annoyed me. Overall, uneven but mostly good until the end, which wasn’t truly earned and just came off as exasperating.