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Progress Backwards: Star Trek’s Voyage Away From the Leading Edge

My friend Crystal over at Geek Outsider was kind enough to ask for my thoughts on the recent media coverage of Star Trek’s progressive legacy.  So I whipped up this little Op-Ed (basically just an excuse for me to be exceedingly contrarian) that ended up being equal parts criticism and justification.  Here’s a quick look…

Quark as Lumba

This week’s Star Trek hype started me thinking.  How does a series that we in the Geek community so singularly associate with progressiveness become what it is today?  It’s shockingly easy to criticize later iterations of Trek for their failure to live up to the original’s legacy of equality.  But maybe we’re coming at this from the wrong direction.  Maybe it isn’t about what Star Trek became.  Maybe the question should be, ‘what was Star Trek in the first place?’  And to answer that, we need a little context.

For starters, what does ‘progressive’ mean anyway?  Is it just being politically liberal?  Does it have to do with technological progress?  Is it about being ‘edgy?’  What made The Original Series (TOS) progressive?  There isn’t a quick and easy answer to any of these questions, but they lie at the core of what TOS was and why it remains iconic today.  These are also questions that have very different responses today than they did in the 1960s.  And that is my argument in a nutshell.

Now don’t get me wrong.  My argument isn’t that TOS isn’t progressive, just that it was progressive in the context of the 1960s.  It’s not that the ideals of TOS aren’t progressive anymore; it’s that the forefront of being progressive has changed.  So when The Next Generation (TNG) tried to capitalize on the progressive success of TOS by featuring, among others, a blind, black helmsman and a female chief of security, it didn’t manage to resonate the same way that Nichelle Nichols’ Uhura or George Takei’s Sulu did.

You can read the rest of the article over at Geek Outsider.  It’s also a pretty great place for getting some alternative perspectives on SF, fantasy and comic culture.

A few thoughts on Mass Effect and Space Operas

First, read this.  Or skim it.  Or take in the title.  Whatever.

I caught wind of this via (here).

Now, I’ll start out by saying that, yes, for all the reasons above and a few more, Mass Effect is a compelling and fascinating piece of sci-fi literature.  At its core, it is the natural progression, and the shiniest of the new-series space operas.

However, (and here comes the kicker) anyone who is foolish enough to hail Mass Effect as the most important SF Setting of our generation hasn’t been getting out enough.  Mass Effect is fundamentally built upon the foundations laid by the current generation of Space Opera writers.  Authors like Iain M. Banks, Alistair Reynolds, and to lesser extents, Peter F. Hamilton and Ken MacLeod have been toying with the ideas present in Mass Effect for more than two decades.  But if Mass Effect was simply reaching great heights by standing on the shoulders of giants, I wouldn’t have a problem.  The flaw of any media is that in order for it to be successful, it must appeal to its audience.  Mass Effect has had to dull the edges of its social commentary, its science, it’s very philosophical message in order to be a marketable version of its predecessors.  It may hold up to the even more popularized television and film worlds, but to hold it up as superior, simply because it is closer to the goal than its ugly cousins is an affront to the literature and to our intelligence. Read the rest of this entry