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Posts Tagged ‘Star Trek’

I discovered Star Trek in my early teen years, sneaking watching the show when my fundamentalist parents were away. It was everything I could ask for in television–spaceships, adventures to new worlds, a universe of characters who showed that life still has meaning, even when surrounded by and built on machines. And more than that, when it was at its best, the series asked deep questions about philosophy, morality, politics, and science.

With that in mind, it comes as a shock–not an unexpected one, alas–to see the death of Leonard Nimoy. He was, of course, many things–a photographer, poet, director, and actor in many roles on stage and screen, but just as with other people who became icons for one role, he will always be remembered first for one character he brought to life:

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In these last few years, he also made his mark on Twitter @TheRealNimoy. His final tweet, found here, reminiscent of Candide, sums up how we must all now feel:

A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP

Live long and prosper in that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns. You will be remembered.

Crossposted on Greg Camp’s Weblog.

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My fellow Trekkers will recognize the reference in the title. It’s the question that the brainwashed people of Beta III ask each other when anything seems amiss. Until, that is, Captain Kirk and the Men in Tights come calling.

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Kirk performs his usual denial-of-service attack on the planet’s controlling computer, causing its avatar to have a bad hair day.

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And all, ultimately, is well, despite yet another gross violation of the Prime Directive.

But other than a trip down Memory Alpha, what is my point? I had it here somewhere…

The other day, an acquaintance saw my library. She asked me why I don’t just get an i-Paddle, or whatever the latest gadget is. I had my Samuel T. Cogley, Esq. moment, as I always do when asked such questions. You remember Samuel T. Cogley, right?

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He’s the lawyer who defends Kirk in “Court Martial.” He also has physical books, despite having been given a computer with lots of stored files. Like Cogley, I love the feel of a printed book. I love the pages that I can turn at my own speed, not what the machine allows. I love being able to go directly where I wish and to write a comment there. And I love the fact that some evil corporation can’t delete my books when it concludes that I’ve had them too long or haven’t paid enough for them yet.

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But as a writer who would very much like it if you’d buy my book, I have to accept that the world has changed. People today want electrowhizbangs. They want things with power switches and screens.

And that’s the essence of freedom. You can choose whatever form of my book you want to read. Er, um, you can choose whatever form you wish for the books that you read. As an author, I just want you reading. It’s good for the business, regardless of the format you select. Yes, you’re free not to read, but don’t expect to remain free for long if you don’t. If you are reading, you escape being a mindless drone.

But perhaps those are enough Star Trek references for one article.

Crossposted on Oghma Creative Media.

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In a post on the Oghma Creative Media blog about genre, I told you why I like science fiction and related types of stories. I went on at length, but the short answer is that I love the world of Faerie, the world that the author gets to build. In that way, speculative storytelling is a lot like the myths that shape our culture.

But what about westerns?

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Gene Roddenberry did say that Star Trek was a wagon train to the stars, so there’s a connection, but this genre is typically defined as stories set west of the Mississippi River between the end of the Civil War and the death of Queen Victoria (points if you know that last reference). Yes, Lewis and Clark fan fiction could be a western, as could a tale about the doings to the left of the Allegheny Mountains in 1782, but the general idea is easy to understand.

So what is it that I like about westerns?

1. Research

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As I’ve said before, research is an essential part of good writing. That’s especially true if you’re going to dive into a genre that is known and defined. Yes, John Wayne schlepped a Colt Single Action Army revolver and a Winchester 1892 rifle in movies set well before those tools were available, but today, we’re less forgiving. Writers of westerns need to know the period. And that’s the thing: I love that time and place. Learning about it is fun, and I can immerse myself for hours in digging through books and websites. Of course, that can be a way to avoid writing, but we all have our weaknesses.

2. Ethos

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Remember in Lawrence of Arabia when the reporter asks our hero what attracts him to the desert? Lawrence answers, “It’s clean.” That may seem like a strange reply, given all the sweat and blood that he spills in that story, but what he meant was that the choices in a harsh environment are simple and stark. You fight with every ounce of your being to win against the odds and perhaps die anyway, or you die for sure. You survive by being worthy to meet that land and by joining in common cause with other good people. Sometimes, particularly if Clint Eastwood is the star, the morality tale becomes ambiguous, but the principle remains. A western is about good vs. evil, played out in a world that rewards the skillful.

3. Epic

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Westerns are the American genre. At the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner gave a speech titled, The Significance of the Frontier in American History. His thesis was that our nation is defined by the concept of a frontier, a boundless horizon over which we can always journey. The fact that our frontiers are now closed, at least until we get serious again about pushing into the final frontier, only sharpens our desire for stories about staking our claim in the freedom of the wilderness. The fact that westerns also deal with that stake being driven through the heart of those who were in that wilderness before us is a good corrective to our unrestrained impulses. More than stories about our founding, more than the woes of slavery and the Civil War, more than the fight against fascism and communism, the western is a tale of who we are.

That’s my answer to why I like westerns. I even write them, if I may promote myself. If I didn’t love this kind of story, I wouldn’t read them, watch them, or write them. For the genre to survive, I need more of you to join me. Hit the trail, pilgrim, and I’ll see you out there.

Crossposted at Oghma Creative Media.

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My fellow Star Trek enthusiasts are surely familiar with the various iterations of the phaser. There’s the version found in the original series:

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The infamous dustbuster of the Next Generation:

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that was later modified to a sleaker form:

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and the phase pistol of Enterprise:

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Notice anything about all of those? I see no sights on any of them. When fired, Starfleet personnel and others typically use a one-handed duelist stance or some variation on hip shooting.

There’s a reason for this. Gene Roddenberry was writing long before Jeff Cooper and the Modern Pistol Technique became well known. The version of the future that Roddenberry and his successors remembered for us (J. J. Abrams, you may stick your version somewhere dark and smelly–oh, wait, you already did that) came before a better future was invented, at least with regard to small arms technique.

Why does this matter? Those of us who write science fiction, and I include myself in that list, have to bear in mind that what we are writing is an imagined future, subject to all the limitations that our imaginations come with. The writing of such futures is really about us. That being said, we owe it to ourselves to know as much as we can and to explore as far as we can. Having done that, we then must write, hoping that people who come afterward will forgive us our limitations.

Crossposted on Greg Camp’s Weblog.

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If you spend much time studying the writing process, you’ve heard the advice to write what you know. As with other bits of pseudowisdom, this sounds good until we analyze it. For example, I write science fiction and westerns. In the interests of full disclosure, I have to say that I don’t know from living on the Moon or wandering the Old West–not in the sense of personal experience, at least. So what’s a writer such as I supposed to do?

First off, a better piece of easy advice might be to write what you research. A while ago, I wrote a short story, The Driving Flame, which has my western character, Henry Dowland, battling a gang of toughs along the line of the first transcontinental railroad. All I knew about said project was what any schoolchild (who pays attention–a rare breed) knows. That wasn’t nearly enough to sustain a story about a specific period. To prepare for the writing, I read a weighty tome (redundant, much?) on the subject, Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad. Some might say that reading an 816 page book for a twenty-some-odd page story is excessive, but I enjoy history, and I want to get the details right. If I’m going to say that something existed in Cheyenne in 1867, I damn well want to know that I stand on solid ground in saying it.

This goes against another bit of pseudowisdom that a person ought just to write. That’s fine for writers who enjoy going back and making huge changes ex post facto, but I’m not that kind of writer. I write slowly, and only when I know what I’m talking about. Is that writing what I know? It’s writing what I’ve researched. Again, I didn’t live in the period, so I can’t claim to “know,” if by knowing we mean something that I’ve experienced.

The beauty of writing in this present age is that information is available. If you want to know what the top of Mount Everest or the inside of an Old West mine, pictures are on the Web. As a substitute for personal experience, this works well for an author, though it removes the excuse of needing a vacation to be able to write. (Really, honey, I do need to spend three months in Nepal for this stunning piece of literature that I’m working on…)

But as I’ve said, this is not the form of knowing that our Founts of Wisdom (TM) proclaim. Uh huh. So? The real question here is what writing is about. Travelogues are about a place and time. Good for them. But literature is about human beings. (Even if they’re rabbits or Klingons.) When we write stories worth reading, we’re exploring what it means to be human.

That takes a bit of explaining. Good stories are about characters, not events. The plot is a vehicle that shows us how characters act and react, based on their natures. Bad stories are just a series of events. (And no, Dan Brown, you don’t get a link.) That being the case, authors who care about the craft are writing something of what they know.

There’s more to be said, though. (You knew that was coming, no? [Just as you knew there’d be a parenthetical statement?]) Various writers have said words to the effect of “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” What that means is that writing is the process of discovery. What we know expands when we write. We see the world in a new way. We explore a new means of dealing with life. We plumb new depths of the human condition.

As an example of this, I now see that “write what you know” in fact does have some good advice in it. How would I have known about that if I hadn’t written it?

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