Essays, Star Trek: The Next Generation

Making it So: the Return of Jean-Luc Picard & Star Trek’s Nostalgic Future

A couple of months ago, I pontificated on whether the pursuit of nostalgia was a good thing for my second favourite entertainment franchise, Star Trek, in the wake of rumours that Sir Patrick Stewart may well be reprising his iconic role as The Next Generation’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard. This weekend, at the Star Trek Las Vegas fan event, those rumours became reality. The second captain of the USS Enterprise is, officially, on his way back.

What does this mean, now, for the future of Star Trek?

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Essays, Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: Voyager

Nostalgia & Star Trek: Picard, Discovery and the Future

Nostalgia seems to be a double edged sword right now in Hollywood. What on the surface appears to be a comforting guaranteed winner in terms of audience satisfaction and cinematic box office is becoming something of a poisoned creative chalice. The lacklustre critical (if not box-office) responses to pictures such as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom or Ocean’s Eight, sequels to long-standing, well-regarded franchises; or Lucasfilm’s decision to put a hold on more A Star Wars Story anthology movies after the tepid box office (by Star Wars terms) of Solo, seemingly putting immediately paid to rumoured Boba Fett & Obi-Wan Kenobi-centric films. There is a nostalgia blowback in progress, the ripple effect of which we are only beginning to understand.

Is this a ripple effect that, like the Nexus in Generations, threatens to engulf the future of the Star Trek franchise?

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Books, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – ‘The Beginning / Forgotten Light’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

These stories take place, in part, 200,000 years ago.

One of the most exciting aspects of the Strange New Worlds, non-canonical anthology books which were released amidst Star Trek novels over roughly a ten year period, is how they could explore all kinds of territory the TV shows or movies would never have gotten near – perhaps even to a greater degree than the tie-in novels, which always usually had to revolve around characters we know from the screen. The Beginning and Forgotten Light are two such key examples.

Now I’ve decided to talk about these short stories together because both of them, unusually, cover the exact same topic, just in different ways and contexts: the creation of the Borg. If ever a race in Star Trek were likely to have an origin story, it would be the terrifying cybernetic beings first encountered by the USS Enterprise-D in The Next Generation’s second season episode Q-Who?; a collective of telepathically linked drones who travelled the galaxy in cubes assimilating every species they come into contact with, believing they were technologically superior and that knowledge of all cultures inside their collective would allow them to reach perfection. A fascinating alien creation, the Borg cast arguably the biggest shadow over Star Trek in the 90’s as the Klingons or Vulcans did in the 1960’s.

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Essays

Ready Player God: Technology, Spirituality & Nostalgia in Modern Fiction

Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s pop-culture busting novel Ready Player One has a more than overt reference to ‘God in the Machine’, a conceptual fusion of spirituality with near-future advancements in technology which suggests our models of worship are changing and evolving alongside how we interact with entertainment, media and the wider online world.

That phrase sounds a little similar to ‘God From the Machine’, better known as deus ex machina in fiction in the original Latin, which has emerged as a symbolic description over the years in narrative terms whereby the resolution of a plot comes at the hand of a character or object, equivalent in relative terms to a God, which quickly and unexpectedly solves the insoluble problem faced by the protagonists.

This doesn’t equate directly to Ready Player One, because the deus ex machina is coded into the very DNA of the entire concept behind that fictional world; James Halliday, the programmer and creator of the OASIS, developed a world he wanted to give back to the people once they found him, his soul essentially, deep inside the hidden corners of the machine.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation

Star Trek: The Next Generation – ‘Q-Strike’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 600,000 years ago.

The conclusion of Greg Cox’s three-part exploration of the Q Continuum brings proceedings to a natural and understandable close, as Q manages to win the day over the evil entity 0 (aka Nil) and save reality as we know it. ‘Q-Strike’, thankfully, despite being the longest of the three books, also comes off as the breeziest read of the trilogy.

‘Q-Zone’ spent a significant amount of the page count establishing the central relationship between Q and Nil, which very much reflected an abusive friendship or destructive father/son dynamic; Nil presented himself as a cool, dangerous and exciting role model, but in short order proved thanks to his devastating destruction of the Tkon Empire, when they dared to challenge his omnipotence, that he was little more than a self-aggrandising bully who simply wanted to treat mortals in the universe as his play things. The Q we have seen across The Next Generation and later in Voyager has always been considered to be the ultimate omnipotent trickster, but he never overstepped the boundaries into outright genocide. What ‘Q-Strike’ does is play the line between making Q much more *human* in terms of his character and give him certain shades of grey on his moral compass.

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Star Trek: Voyager

Star Trek: Voyager – ‘The Escape’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 446 million years ago.

‘The Escape’ is proof that Star Trek: Voyager was prepared to boldly go in no small measure right away when it came to the tie-in novelisations which regularly accompanied the television shows on screen across the 1980’s, 90’s and 00’s. Dean Wesley Smith & Kristine Kathryn Rusch, existing stalwarts of the Star Trek novel scene, throw the crew in the first Voyager tie-in novel right into an ambitious storyline which would make the Department of Temporal Investigations’ heads explode.

Voyager may have been a proxy for The Next Generation in many instances across its seven year shelf life but the approach the series took to time travel was right out of The Original Series playbook. In the 1960’s, it felt as though Captain Kirk and crew were zipping back through time every five minutes for some kind of adventure, and many of the show’s most memorable episodes involve the Enterprise travelling through time as well as space, such as ‘City on the Edge of Forever’.

Despite being made three decades later, with the more advanced narrative sensibilities that came with the 90’s, Voyager often seems defined by the show’s use of time-travel. Captain Janeway’s crew found themselves in different time zones far more than Captain’s Picard, Sisko or Archer in their respective shows, while Discovery to date has only dealt with it via a Groundhog Day-style time-loop episode.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation

Star Trek: The Next Generation – ‘Q-Zone’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 1 billion years ago.

The middle part of any trilogy can be tricky, and Greg Cox’s ‘Q-Zone’ suffers from such pacing and momentum issues as he continues weaving the interesting backstory of Q, the all-powerful being who has tormented Captain Picard and the Enterprise-D crew from The Next Generation pilot onwards. If ‘Q-Space’ established the problem and the stakes, ‘Q-Zone’ adds the context we need to understand what not just Picard and his crew, but the entire universe, are facing.

Star Trek has a fascinating relationship with God, and or Gods. It doesn’t really know what to do with them. The Original Series often made them strange, meddlesome or simply annoying. The Next Generation held a firmly atheist, rigid orthodox view that there was no Almighty, and indeed Q was the perfect example of that; he was the culmination of the message Gene Roddenberry wanted to convey all along, that he might be fascinated by God, but he doesn’t really believe anyone all-powerful is all-knowing, given how frequently Q ends up proving he’s little more than an omnipotent trickster. Deep Space Nine, perhaps because it was more egalitarian in how it developed a galaxy of species, built its whole mythology around the Prophets and a belief in more than just scientific ‘wormhole aliens’. Subsequent series, on the whole, tended to avoid the thorny subject altogether.

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