Modern Star Trek Needs More Technobabble

Okay, fine. Because absolutely nobody asked for yet another Star Trek hot take from some random nobody on the internet, here we go. This is the stuff that I don’t like about modern Trek:

Warping within solar systems is risky at best (Kirk in TMP: “…we must now risk engaging Warp drive while still within the solar system…”). Ex Astris Scientia has a good rundown of when that’s been mentioned, when broken, and theories as to both situations. But while classic Trek shows were inconsistent, modern trek (Abramsverse, Kurtzman revival) appears to have entirely given up on this. Which I think is a shame both for canon/continuity reasons (even with the inconsistencies), and for suspense/plotting reasons.

If warp is limited or constrained within gravity wells (planetary or systemwide), there’s an extra element of travel time that has to be figured in. This could be used for suspense (are impulse speeds enough to get them there in time?), for final discussions on strategy, or just for giving space travel the more realistic feel that is one of the things that drew me into Trek as a kid. There was so much about Trek’s technobabble and the design of the Enterprise that made this feel like a real, considered, thought-out universe.

With modern Trek, much of it feels more like magic. (Yes, any sufficiently advanced tech etc., but still.) Ships just “poof” in and out of wherever they need to be, even to the point of entire fleets popping into existence with relatively inconsequential separation among ships. Impulse engines seem to be practically inconsequential; warp travel is almost at (possibly already at) the point of just being an oversized cargo transporter. The only thing defining how long it takes to get from point A to point B is how many pages of dialog have been written.

In the words of Douglas Adams: “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.” And modern Trek seems to have forgotten that, or at least forgotten how to use that as a restriction that can be used to enhance the plots (like how 280 (or remember 140?) characters forces us to carefully consider how to structure our Tweets to make the most impact, break in the right places, etc.).

Okay, next complaint: The public transporter booths in #Picard (mostly S1, but I think a few times early in S2?). People just casually stroll in and out of them willy-nilly. Are there set destinations? I don’t remember seeing any signage, how do they know where they’re going? And more importantly, since the booths appear to be bidirectional (not just in outgoing or incoming, but regarding which side you walk in or out of): How in the world are they not constantly colliding with other users? Those things must have caused so many bumps and bruises. And what if you’re walking in right at the same time as someone is beaming in? What if two people walk in from opposite sides at the same time? Does the destination get a new Tuvix? I have so many questions about the implementation and safety of these things.

Next: I can cope with holographic technology being more widespread and advanced than we’ve seen before. At least they (very amusingly) handwaved that away in DIS with Pike declaring that all holographic tech be removed from the Enterprise after it caused problems. But I’m absolutely baffled by the level of telepresence that the holograms apparently have. We’ll see a hologram not just able to see the environment they’re being projected into (even though the person on our end doesn’t see the other corresponding environment), but even able to do things like “sit” on a desk. I can’t point to exactly where in DIS this happens off the top of my head, but it happens more than once, and it jumps out at me every time, because they would have to be in near-identical environments on both ends.

I guess the person on the other side might be using a holosuite that is duplicating the environment of the person we’re seeing, but 1) that seems contextually unlikely for most, if not all, of these conversations, and 2) holographic technology (usually) doesn’t seem to be as advanced in DIS S1/S2 as we see in the TNG holodeck (and it was presented as new and amazing at the time, so that’s a good nod to continuity; holograms might be common, but not at that level of realism) so it seems unlikely that a TNG/DS9-style holosuite would be in use for these conversations. So we go back to it making no sense that the holographic conversations can have that level of cross-environmental interactivity.

Next: I would love to know if the DIS S3/S4 designers put any thought into the detached nacelles of the DISCO redesign (and the many other ships designed in that way) beyond “it looks cool”. I mean, yes, it does, but…why/how does it work that way? Part of why the original Enterprise felt so real is that Jeffries drew upon his aeronautic background and put a lot of thought into how the vessel might work, and (as may be obvious from this thread) a lot of what fascinated me for years were the tech manuals and related geekery. Because (for those of us who were interested), it wasn’t just “a rocketship”; it was “matter/antimatter annihilation energy focused by the dilithium crystals into power that flows up the struts to the engines that generate the warp field” and on and on and on…. Sure, it was fantastical, sci-fi pseudotechnology, but it was thought-out, considered, understandable fantastical sci-fi pseudotechnology. Sure, much of that was developed over time and retconned when necessary, but the basic pieces were there, and it felt possible.

Basically, I want more than “looks cool”. There’s nothing wrong with “looks cool”, but I also want the technobabble, the geeking out over how the technology works, the “pieces that fit together in this way do this”, and even if we can’t do it now, someday we might be able to. So, what’s the benefit to the detached nacelles? Is it safer? If the warp core and primary power generation is still in the engineering hull/body of the ship, how does the power get to the nacelles? Why are they attached when not at warp? I want there to be reasons.

Last one (for now), also DIS S3/S4: How do the personal transporters know where to transport people to? They regularly just go tap-“poof” and show up where they want to be, but how is that decided? How are they setting destinations? Again: Make it feel real, please.

Scaling Back Star Trek

Adapted from a Twitter thread:

My biggest hope for Star Trek going forward (Strange New Worlds, Discovery S5, whatever else comes out) is that the writers rediscover the ability to tell small stories.

Disco S1 was the Klingon/Federation war, with a half-season jaunt into the Mirror Universe that removed the Emperor of the Terran Empire, returning to a decimated Federation. S2 was the Red Angel and the battle against Section 31’s Control to save all life in the galaxy. S3 had a shattered Federation because of the Burn, which destroyed most of Starfleet and nearly entirely wiped out warp drive; the actual damage and death toll (both immediate and long-term from the lack of intersystem transportation) is never specified but likely isn’t small. And then S4 had the entire galaxy at risk from a randomly moving literally-planet-shattering device, with at least one inhabited planet destroyed and Ni’Var and Earth under threat (because, of course, Earth must be under threat of destruction fairly regularly).

Then in Star Trek Picard S1 we have synthetics on a mission to destroy all organic life before they can be destroyed. S2 ups the stakes from there with a timeline variant that has altered the course of the entire known galaxy.

It seems like every season of every show has to have some sort of Big Bad that is Bigger and Badder than the last Big Bad. The stakes are always so high that it’s become virtually meaningless. One death is a tragedy, millions are a statistic, billions are a plot device.

This is part of where the first season of Prodigy has been a bit of a breath of fresh air. So far, at least, it’s been relatively small-scale: One group of young adventurers finding a ship and trying to escape their captor. There are signs, of course, that this may change, with the Protostar apparently carrying some sort of viral doomsday weapon that could wipe out Starfleet. Which…well. Here we go again. Why must everything be super-sized?

Lower Decks is the sole entry that has been doing well at having a more focused, smaller scale. Whether intentional or a side effect of having lower deck crew for main characters, it hasn’t gone too large-scale (or when it has, it’s been in the background and we only get hints for comedic effect).

Maybe the stated goal of going back to a more “planet of the week” format for Strange New Worlds will also mean that not every event will be an EVENT. I really hope so. Because while yes, sometimes it can be fun to have a Big Bad that’s Very Big and Very Bad, if you do that every time, it ceases to be particularly interesting.

Big drama can come from small events. Not every threat has to be planet-, system-, galaxy-, or universe-spanning to be threatening.

None of this is to say that I haven’t been enjoying the modern reinvigoration of the Star Trek universe. I have, quite a bit! I just find myself wishing that the stakes weren’t always turned up to 11. That’s good for Spinal Tap. Less so for Star Trek.

📚 23/2021: Wonderlands by Una McCormack ⭐️⭐️⭐️ #startrek 🖖 Fills in the year between Burnham’s appearance in the future and when she finds the Discovery. Lots of expansion of the new setting for season three and beyond, with some entertaining ties to much earlier Trek bits.

📚 2/2021: The Dark Veil by James Swallow ⭐️⭐️⭐️ #startrek

A year after the attack on Mars and Picard’s retirement, Riker and the Titan (including Troi and Thad, their first child) face off with Romulans while assisting a mysterious alien ship. More good backstory building.

This entry was published 2 years ago. Since that time the information may have become outdated or my beliefs may have changed. I strive to grow as a person as I age, and I likely posted things in the past that I wouldn't post today in the same way or at all. In general, assume I've moved politically leftward as time has gone by.

Got out of the habit of my weekly Star Trek: Picard mini-reviews, thanks to the coronavirus stress, but just watched the final episode of the season, and I’m satisfied. Quibbles here and there, sure, but overall, a very good first season, and I’m looking forward to more. 🖖

This entry was published 2 years ago. Since that time the information may have become outdated or my beliefs may have changed. I strive to grow as a person as I age, and I likely posted things in the past that I wouldn't post today in the same way or at all. In general, assume I've moved politically leftward as time has gone by.

📚 fourteen of 2020: The Last Best Hope by Una McCormack ⭐️⭐️⭐️

A direct prequel to the Picard series, detailing the struggles, triumphs, and travesties of the Romulan relief effort. Also the most politically & socially currently relevant Trek novel I’ve ever read. 🖖

Star Trek: Picard S01E07 Nepenthe

This entry was published 2 years ago. Since that time the information may have become outdated or my beliefs may have changed. I strive to grow as a person as I age, and I likely posted things in the past that I wouldn't post today in the same way or at all. In general, assume I've moved politically leftward as time has gone by.

Star Trek: Picard S01E07: As has been the case, the Borg cube pieces were weaker, but everything on Nepenthe with Troi, Riker, and their adorable daughter Kestra was so strong that this is by far the strongest episode of the season.

Read more

The Naming of Romulans

This entry was published 2 years ago. Since that time the information may have become outdated or my beliefs may have changed. I strive to grow as a person as I age, and I likely posted things in the past that I wouldn't post today in the same way or at all. In general, assume I've moved politically leftward as time has gone by.

A bit of silliness. Very minor spoiler for ST:PIC S01E06.

The Naming of Romulans is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a Romulan must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Pardek, Colius, Donatra or Vrax,
Such as Vreenak or Tomalak, Thei or Rekar—
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Parem, Tal’aura, Karina, Livara—
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a Romulan needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his ears perpendicular,
Or spread out his schemes, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Alidar Jarok, Zhaban, or Telek R’Mor,
Such as Narissa Rizzo, or else Caithlin Dar-
Names that never belong to more than one Romulan.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover–
But THE ROMULAN HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a Romulan in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

(No, they don’t rhyme. But I limited myself to those named Romulans listed at Memory Alpha, so that’s what you get.)

This entry was published 2 years ago. Since that time the information may have become outdated or my beliefs may have changed. I strive to grow as a person as I age, and I likely posted things in the past that I wouldn't post today in the same way or at all. In general, assume I've moved politically leftward as time has gone by.

This moment from Deadline’s Picard podcast made me laugh: in a discussion of how the various Trek governments mapped to real-world governments, Jonathan Frakes ends with, “And now we have a Pakled as a President.”

This entry was published 2 years ago. Since that time the information may have become outdated or my beliefs may have changed. I strive to grow as a person as I age, and I likely posted things in the past that I wouldn't post today in the same way or at all. In general, assume I've moved politically leftward as time has gone by.

Star Trek: Picard S01E06: Much better than last week. Borg cube action that isn’t just squicky siblings, Soji hits a point of no return, and Picard comes face to face with parts of his past, good and bad. But who gave the Romulans a Lament Configuration? ;)