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Star Trek: The Next Generation and more future of the past

TNG_head Last year during the month of December, I was unemployed and had a lot of time on my hands. Businesses are usually down to a skeleton crew, and everyone is on vacation; so, the job hunt was on hold. I had a bunch of seasons of TNG on my laptop, and started watching them.

This year, I’ve accumulated a bunch of vacation that I had to take or lose; it snuck up on me actually, and I didn’t really have any plan of what to do with two weeks off. While sitting around the apartment,  I decided to rewatch TNG. Maybe it will turn into an annual thing?

TNG is now firmly obsolete; it has become a future of the past. In a time where we are talking about transhumanism and the singularity, none of these topics are even briefly mentioned. The characters are surprisingly like modern humans. What do I mean by that? Well, TNG is supposed to be taking place in the 24th century which is about 300 years away from now. 300 years ago would be the 18th century. Watching TNG is like going back to the 18th century and watching a play about people living in the 21st century but whose outlook and attitude are still grounded in the 18th century . The reality will be soooo much weirder! Just look how much things have changed since the show debuted in 1989! Considering the rate of change and the technologies that are around the corner, I wouldn’t be surprised if humans are barely recognizable as such.

This time around, my suspension of disbelief kept running up against road blocks. I found myself wondering a lot about where exactly the Enterprise was and where it was trying to go. “At warp 8, we will be there in 16 hours.” Okay…How far is it from your current position to this place you’re going? I know it’s 2 light years between us and our nearest star. I guess light speed is warp 1 which means it would take 2 years to get from Earth to Alpha Centari. Are warp speeds some kind of logarithmic scale so that warp 9 is exponentially better than warp 1? Still, where the hell could you be that it would only take 16 hours to get anywhere in space? I’m sure you could go on Archive Alpha, the Star Trek wiki, and read a detailed description of how it works; but, I’m not going to do that. I’d rather it be clear within context of the show.

The saying, “form follows function”, kept coming back to me as I was watching the bridge crew dealing with their stations. Like, what happens at the “ops” station, and how is that different between what’s happening at the helm or tactical? Those consoles seem to be plot ticket generators and nothing more. Whenever they need something for the plot, it’s available at one of the bridge interfaces; and, when it’s not convenient, the interface won’t work for some trumped up reason, “the moon’s gravity disguised our warp signature.” It got me thinking about what kind of controls you would need on a star ship. What are all the systems involved? What kind of adjustments would you need to make them? What information is available? I feel like the Enterprise runs more on science-magic than anything real. “Well, we could go to warp 9, but you’ve got to be livin’ right!”

In 300 years, I think we’ll be lucky if we have colonized the solar system. I know that to hold people’s interest you need to have anomalies in the space-time continuum, warrior races, and extinct alien empires. But, I would love a more hard-science fiction approach to a series. Space is really hard to live in; just building a self-contained environment that could self-sustain is really challenging. Trying to live in such a hostile environment would have plenty of drama on its own without Romulan Warbirds showing up. I would also like to see an alien species that is as diverse as humans are with a rainbow of cultures, religions, philosophies, and governments. I’m getting really tired of monolithic alien species that don’t really make any sense. How, for example, did the Klingons ever develop warp drive? How did they avoid wiping themselves out once a weapon of mass destruction was invented. In an infinite universe, anything must be possible; but human technological advancement depends on community. As methods of communication improve, we see technologies jump forward. The kind of community necessary to make the sustained advancements over generations to figure out faster than light travel would have to be in an atmosphere unbroken by struggle and violence. If history is any example, the societies that are really good at making weapons, usually aren’t good at anything else. Soviet Russia was awesome at weapon design, but they had a hard time with refrigerators. Anyway, I think you could do something like Firefly, but set in the Sol system, with a diverse human race that has colonies on most of the planets and planetoids. I’d watch it…

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