Posts Tagged ‘star trek’

Modern Art

1 March 2010

Dear J-

One of the blurbs in the paper gave a quick rundown of aphid survival through numbers: extreme reproduction, where embryos are created with embryos inside. And of course like any good Trek fan I immediately thought of The Trouble with Tribbles and whether to call David Gerrold visionary or lucky. The real trouble with Tribbles is its place in the universe; it’s an outstanding episode, but outstanding because of its quirks — it’s got serious issues tempered with humor and levity, so not quite as comic as the Harry Mudd episodes, but not as scowl-serious as Balance of Terror or The Doomsday Machine, say.

Every morning we pass by the Del Mar Fairgrounds and see the Cirque du Soleil big top standing prominently above the wetlands. Growing up it was a treat to head out to the Shriner’s Circus that would come into town a few days each summer at the old Spokane Coliseum — that was a traditional circus, with animals, clowns, and acrobats where Soleil emphasizes aerialists and costumes instead. Depending where you are on the clown phobia scale, this hybrid could range anywhere from good thing to nightmare (they are still heavily made-up and mostly mute), but it’s the state of the art today. When was the last time you heard about Barnum & Bailey?

Sea World is all about animals and shows, and the best one I saw last year was Cirque de la Mer. Again, aerialists and acrobats, but with one specific twist: virtually no animals. We learn to enjoy less; subtraction and simplification lend a spare elegance to anything, and that’s why Tribbles makes me laugh, but doesn’t make my top five episodes — there’s too much stuff going on all at once. My life is full of that as it is; every so often I have to pull back and appreciate the razor-sharp focus that pervades modern art.

Mike

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Start Trek

31 December 2009

Dear J-

I will say this; unlike Enterprise, the new Star Trek movie does a convincing job of making old technology seem old enough instead of forty years on from the original series: nothing’s quite as clunky as those old tricorders and control panels from the sixties, and you’d think that the prehistory would be something more like the difference between, say, a Model T and a T-Bird. I’m still predisposed to dislike the whole movie based solely on the director’s professed lack of Trek fandom (that and the whole overhyped Lost thing) but at least he clearly sweats the details, it’s all I can ask for.at this point.

I don’t want to ride out the rest of the year this way, these few hours left. There’s been enough rancor and bitterness this year already, but I can’t let go that easily, it seems; it feels a little like I’m Comic Book Guy, one eye on the movie, and hands poised over the keyboard to drop vitriol at the slightest mis-step (I always thought that Enterprise was built in the Mars yards, huh), but having to explain yourself (oh c’mon, the Klingons didn’t have a cloaking device until Search for Spock) for years regarding a freakish interest in Star Trek makes me a touch sensitive to opening up this particular piggy bank for all to rummage through.

I suppose that’s the heart of it; for some reason I keep thinking that if something’s worth it, it’s worth keeping obscure; on the other hand movies and TV shows aren’t exactly rare wine. They’re easy enough to get access to, and we all need to learn how to share our toys or knowledge.

Mike

P.S.  I fell asleep for the last half hour of the movie — yes, it was late, and yes, I hadn’t gotten much rest all week, but still, you’d think that I’d be able to stay up if the movie was that good.  Was it?

Out There

12 November 2009

Dear J-

What is actually out there?  If you accept that of all the stars in the universe, surely some have planets and of those planets, there must be a few that have Earth-like conditions, then there must be someone else out there wondering aloud what’s out there too.  Distance and relativistic limitations mean that we’re unlikely to ever meet, barring some kind of Star Trek warp drive and the acceptance of unacceptable risks (unless you assume that successful extrasolar exploration is predicated on society being peaceful/united enough to support it).

I used to play a lot of Spaceward Ho! when I was in college; it’s a game with some strategy, but it ends up being closer to Risk in space, with some minor resource management issues.  When you start the game you pick the number of planets (I’m assuming planetary systems), the size of the universe, and the number of players; my winning strategy invariably revolved around creating colony ships with long range, no weapons, and slow speed; fighters swift and well-armed; scouts lightly armed but as swift; and ringing all colonies with layers of satellites with state-of-the-art weaponry in case of accidental discovery.  Scouts were expendable to figure out whether a planet was worth going to (or to feel out the other player), with whole fleets of fighters along the front lines until satellites could be established, and colony ships bringing up the rear, ready to pounce on new discoveries as needed.

I would count the number of players I’d run out of existence, and sometimes it was less than we’d started with, meaning that the computer had exterminated itself in internecine warfare.  For some reason it would make me obscurely sad:  though I realize that the goal of the game was being the sole player standing it felt a little like electronic genocide — rather than seeing them as separate players, they always seemed like separate species, unreasoning and uncommunicative, rapacious and just like the player in front of the screen.  I haven’t played Spaceward Ho! in a long time, now.

Mike

Hollow Sky

11 August 2009

Dear J-

One of the longer (if not entirely baroque) episode titles of Star Trek (original series) is For the World is Hollow, and I Have Touched the Sky; the Enterprise encounters a planetoid where the inhabitants are living on the inside of a hollowed-out asteroid.  Told of their true situation, at first only disbelief reigns; later as more touch the sky, the word spreads and a new understanding is established.  We all live in our hollow worlds, sometimes never bothering to extend ourselves beyond car, house, or work.  Things are not done for us, things happen to us.  Fatalism becomes an excuse:  was it fated to happen?

I know that I’ve got plenty to do; I know that the reward for doing more is more to do.  Whole careers are built on the chain of increased responsibility and stress — I draw uncomfortable comparisons to a lot of role-playing games here; we grind levels in order to be able to tackle more challenging quests and fiercer monsters.  Your carrot is something that leads you on to the next carrot; meanwhile you continue on your chosen path of destruction and plunder as some nameless hero out to save the world.

There are many different roads to choose, each rewarding in various ways.  Enlightenment and knowledge, materials and wealth, fame, celebration; there is no one right goal for everyone.  Our culture assigns values to each, but it’s ultimately a personal choice of pursuit.  Yet when we touch the sky, or see the ceiling, what do we do next, what’s the next fork in the path?  That first step starts with realizing the situation and accepting it.

Mike

Star Trek

2 May 2009

Dear J-

Late to the party, and oddly busy today. Why I’m not going to watch the new Star Trek movie has to do with the nature of series reboots as well as the way JJ Abrams is being treated like some kind of visionary messiah for pushing out deliberately cryptic plots. First, though, we haven’t had the time to watch much in the theaters, and I’m going to sound like the world’s youngest Andy Rooney, saying that the movie experience isn’t what it used to be.

The reboot of Star Trek implies that the franchise was in imminent danger of collapsing under its own weight, burdened under the load of the canonical storyline, tie-in novels, and fan expectaions. I’ll be the first to admit what a huge fan I am — not in the vein of camping out for tickets, but trivia-oriented. Some kids followed baseball statistics, I spent my time poring over Joseph Franz’s Star Fleet Technical Manual; I built numerous ships according to the FASA rules; I spent part of third grade learning Klingon. Point is that the franchise was a seriously geeky endeavor, made that way by a steep bar of admission and a philosophical acceptance of the Great Bird’s vision of a hopeful future, instead of the dystopia forced on us by the Cold War pundits.

Now, though, I’m being told that was all for naught: this is a Trek that anyone can enjoy, thanks to accesible action scenes and unburdened writers. JJ Abrams is a noted non-trekker; handing the reins over to him is like asking John Madden to coach the Leafs: expert in his own field (though in Abrams’ case, that expertise seems limited to creating open-ended plots going nowhere — Lost is an apt title), but not the right choice. I understand the business decision, but I can’t support this movie.

Mike

Rank & File

15 January 2009

Dear J-

I find the military ranks fascinating in the way that someone on the other side of the glass sees a world they can’t touch.  Actually, I blame Star Trek for the idea that I would end up in the service — all that gold braid and wonderfully-colored tunics, the shiny boots and dark pants, the sense of adventure.  At eighteen you don’t seriously contemplate the consequences of how many years you want to invest, what the life of discipline means.

I’m not getting down on the military — without an exception, every one on active duty or those who’ve mustered out have been unfailingly upstanding people.  It’s just strange to me that I could have thought myself a match for the system:  that I would have demonstrated my excellence and been recognized for it.  As I get ever older the one thing I do manage to realize is the sheer amount of self-promotion that’s needed in order to keep from getting hidden away somewhere in a corner.  That’s not the way I was raised, and it’s tremendously uncomfortable to me — but perhaps it’s a lesson worth learning.

I sometimes find myself enormously pleased and embarrassed.  You want to stand out, but at the same time, you don’t want to make a fuss about it:  maybe a quick little handshake in some private office and a pat on the back, but not trumpets and hosannas.  I want to hand as much praise out as I receive, because I always secretly suspect in the back of my mind that all I’ve done is build on the work of others, that any cleverness is merely a party trick, not something inherent in my makeup — sort of like typing with my hands hidden (this is thanks to my piano teacher, Miss Harper, who would throw a towel over our hands when she saw us staring at the keyboard too much).  Funny how our creative industries — acting, writing, music, athletics — all require agents; promotion is, after all, a full-time job.

Mike

Custom Job

25 October 2008

Dear J-

I’m an unrepentant browser of, for lack of a better term, stuff I’ve already got, online. Whether it’s to check for better deals, looking for upgrades, or just salivating over something unusual (read that as “desirable”) chances are it’s flickered across my screen at some point. So, despite being my primary writing tool for the past six months, I’m starting to get interested in the Nokia E62/E61 twins (also apropos of nothing: who’s already frustrated with the new eBay search results/format?), as they promise better personal information management software, slicker interfaces, etc.

And yet the Palm OS, antiquated as it may be, still has tremendous software support, so that you can customize your handheld to do everything you need it to do; I have mine set up with a movie player (Lilo & Stitch, ripped from a DVD I own, and mostly just to say I can watch movies, not that I’ve made it past the first five minutes), an RPN calculator, and an eBook reader (the Baen CD-ROM library is a beautiful thing). Now all I need to do is find a version of David Ahl/Mike Mayfield’s Star Trek game and I’ll be in heaven.

Mike

Little Professor

19 November 2006

Dear J-

Sometimes I wonder about how much I really could have known way back yesteryear, when I spouted off regularly on such various topics as WWI-era Dreadnoughts, Star Trek (embarassing myself last night, having recited some details of Amok Time to a half-asleep theVet — I got the priestess’s name right, but not the betrothed), and hockey (hey, Spokane is close enough to Canada to count, and the Chiefs did win the Memorial Cup around the time I graduated). TheVet often tells me that I slip into an unconscious lecture mode; I think it’s a habit that I picked up from my dad and also from debate (thankfully, the only other lasting debate aftereffect has been a predilection for Phoenix Wright games). It makes me wonder (with a fair amount of dread) what kind of horrible influence I’m going to pump down to the next generation, and if they’re doomed to the same corduroy-wearing factoid-spewing fate.

No secret, theVet is pregnant. We are with child, in gentler terms. But that was the easy part — six months from now, how do I suppress the urge to cram the sum total of human knowledge into an unsuspecting infant, how I do know I’m doing right by the child, how do I blend the same measure of steely discipline and self-esteem needed for this world? Here’s a shiny new life, now just make sure you don’t mess it up for them. Agh, the responsibility.

I know I’ll be able to associate answers with questions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I have the answers. We’ll muddle through together, unborn fetus, theVet, and I; we’ll learn together and as much as I know I’m going to be able to teach you, I already can’t wait to learn more from you. So hurry up already and stop making your mom nauseous and tired (and some sort of amazing ravenous eating machine) so we can meetcha. I want you to know as much happiness in your life as I’ve known in mine; I want to watch you laugh, watching me with bright curious eyes; I want to lead you to the same castles and pyramids and knights and emperors to see the new blooming bright every day. I already know you’ll be wonderful.

J-, I want you to meet baby nemo, and don’t tell me you’re too busy or don’t know the way. Anyone who can sit through Scent of Green Papaya (will he pee into the pot or not?) can spare a few moments to meet someone completely new.

Mike

Cold Water on Your Back

5 November 2006

I must have really been homesick those two years in Boston. That’s all I can excuse myself for.

*****

All the same, I really enjoyed grade school. You got crayons, glue, pencils, and a notebook in September. You listened to stories after lunch. You wondered what was on top of the roof, over the fire escape, past the fences, behind the bushes, under the slides, inside the teacher’s lounge. I personally had a huge fear of being in the sunlight with the bloodstones present. As my friend described it, it would suck the blood right out of your body, much as lab reports and midterms were to do in a few years.

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