Posts Tagged ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’

The Philosophy of Good Sci-Fi

This week saw the premiere of APB, yet another in a long line of police procedurals with a thin veneer of sci-fi slapped on top (the thinnest yet), the third on FOX in particular following the abysmal receptions of Almost Human and Minority Report (still can’t believe that got the green light). The basic premise is a Libertarian power fantasy: a tech billionaire, personally affected by crime, takes over the incompetently run police precinct by throwing his money around against the city’s politicians and turns it into his privately run force that works perfectly through the use of apps and drones and tech buzzword #37 not found. Admittedly, the premise annoys me on its face; this kind of billionaire “altruism” is just not true to reality, and by forcing this into the setting of a real, modern city like Chicago, it just makes the difference that much more stark. Yes, I’m aware it’s “inspired” by a real event, and the show had a female cop to voice the audience’s potential concerns in the pilot…

But, ironically, that’s exactly where it falls apart. In an attempt to head these off, they fall back on standard police tactics even where it doesn’t make sense, eschewing the tech advantage that they’ve built for “experience and street smarts beat all.” Trust me, the show had plenty of other issues in terms of acting and storytelling, but if it could commit to the idea at its core, it wouldn’t fall into the same category as its predecessors. Because after looking at dozens of these sci-fi TV shows over the last few years, there’s a pattern that’s emerged:

The longer a show has run, the more likely it is to have a clear philosophy to its story. Shows that aren’t founded on a core belief inevitably flounder and fail.

Why? Let’s take a look.

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4 Tips to Avoid Body-Snatching–Friday Four

A shockingly common adaptation for life among the stars, body-snatching is a problem that any would-be explorer needs to consider before setting off. Even if the alien being in question doesn’t set its sights on your body directly, it can still be a serious issue that your ship has to deal with; after all, you wouldn’t want to accidentally facilitate some kind of subversive invasion of another planet, slowly occurring behind the scenes, would you? I mean, could you imagine if the planet’s leadership just suddenly went totally nuts for no apparent reason? Like, if they just started making nonsense declarations and lying about things you’d just seen them say and do with your own eyes. It’d be so obvious that something was seriously wrong, and yet no one seems to notice this suspiciously body snatcher-like agenda…

Oh, sorry. Maybe that just happens sometimes? Either way, here are 4 points to consider when dealing with aliens that can steal the appearance and/or minds of another.

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4 Surprising Technologies for Your Next Superweapon–Friday Four

death-star-firingSo you’ve got some very big dreams of destruction to fulfill, and shopping around for Death Stars is a little bit tricky. I mean, there aren’t many manufacturers, and there’s sort of a de facto monopoly on who gets to own one… it’s hard for your average Joe Supervillain to get his hands on the kind of weapon. And hey, we might be mad scientists, but that doesn’t mean we’re all mad inventors, right? But fear not, my ambitious world-conquering friend. Superweapons are actually a lot easier to come by than you’ve probably been led to believe. Giant lasers aren’t the be-all, end-all of earth shattering kabooms. So here are 4 sci-fi technologies you might not have realized double as great superweapons (in order of difficulty to obtain, not destructive force).

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A Dismal Reflection: Apocalyptic Alternate Realities

turn-left-titanicWhen it comes to TV, things are always at risk of getting stale; if a series has a twenty episode season, for example, then a savvy viewer might realize that the lead actor’s character won’t die in episode 10. Characters rarely die at all, in fact, and permanent injuries mean permanent makeup (just ask Coulson how long he went one-handed). Even sets are rarely destroyed, since so much money goes into building them; with so little seemingly at stake (usually), it can be easy for the audience to stop seeing the enemies as threatening. How can you show the danger posed by our enemies without upsetting the status quo? Enter sci-fi’s favorite trick, the parallel universe/alternate timeline, where events and circumstances differ from the primary setting of the show in specific ways. By using these familiar-yet-strange settings, the writers can explore facets of the characters and the world in which they live that would usually be unavailable: how they might react to the destruction of their home, or the death of a critical character. Better still, since this alternate world is only around for an episode or two, massive changes to the status quo can be made, giving the writers a chance to explore apocalyptic themes that are usually out of reach.

What? No, it’s an utter coincidence I’m writing about apocalypses the same week as the election…

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4 Dangers of FTL Travel–Friday Four

millennium-falcon-hyperdriveSince the dawn of spaceflight, mankind has been stalled by the limiting factor that is the speed of light. But no longer–with the advent of Faster-Than-Light (FTL) travel, the entire galaxy is now our backyard. The idea of visiting other worlds, perhaps to seek out new life and new civilizations, going boldly where no one has gone before… it’s very appealing, isn’t it? And it’s finally a reality, so you might be tempted; Earth is boring and well explored, after all, and no new intelligent species are likely to be popping up any time soon. But before you sign up to join the space exploration agency of your choice, consider all the ways this FTL trip could go horribly, horribly wrong. Warp drives, Jump drives, or Hyperspace, they all have their problems, and here are 4 of the biggest dangers of FTL travel.

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4 Clues the New Futuristic Drug is Deadly–Friday Four

TekWar Futuristic DrugLife’s hard in a dystopian world, and sometimes you really just need any escape you can get. That’s why there’s no shortage of new and exciting drugs being created in these kinds of places–or at least, they always sound exciting. A lot of the time, these futuristic drug offerings aren’t quite what you’re promised, and come with some major downsides. The next time someone offers you a first hit for free, pause and think over the points below before you wind up the latest victim of a half-baked narcotics fad.

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Star Trek–The Humanist’s Guide to Morality

Enterprise TOS50 years ago today, Star Trek debuted on television for the first time. I know there’s no shortage of similar articles today; but whatever the motivation behind them, it all stands as a testament to the powerful impact the show has had, on both American culture in particular and the culture of the world in general. Star Trek, more than any other series, exemplifies the hopefulness and positivity in the future, to such an extent that it’s often the bar that other creators measure their work against. It was easy to be positive in the do-anything early days of modern sci-fi, but by sticking to its guns through 5 (and soon, hopefully, 6) live action series, Star Trek proved that it meant what it said.

But why does Star Trek appeal to the people that it does, and what makes it capable of staying so popular for so long? Let’s look at this briefly, by using myself as an example. That can’t be a bad idea, right?

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4 Risks of Cryogenic Freezing–Friday Four

Star Trek Cryogenic FreezingSo your time machine has turned out to be a bust. Never fear, though; there are other ways to reach that far-off future year that you wouldn’t have lived to see otherwise. I see that you’re eyeing the cryotubes, but in the interest of full disclosure, there are a few things about cryogenic freezing that we need to talk about before you hop in. After all, this isn’t really time travel. There’s no going backwards if you’re unhappy with what you find when you get there.

Still unswayed? Allow me to lay out for you 4 of the biggest risks of cryogenic freezing, and we’ll see how determined you are to become a “human popsicle” after that.

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What Could Have Been: 4 Unproduced Star Trek Episodes

Unproduced Star Trek EpisodesWhile RetroPhaseShift’s focus is heavy on shows that didn’t make it so far, even sci-fi fans’ favorite shows, lasting several seasons, can have episodes that just never got produced, for whatever reason. Budget, practicality, or even the unfortunate demise of a character’s actor can all put the brakes on a script everyone was waiting to see. You’d think that with 7 seasons each, Star Trek‘s TNG-era spinoffs would’ve covered just about everything one could possibly want to say, and yet unproduced Star Trek episodes are definitely out there. Since we’ve already got a whole article dedicated to an undeveloped season of Enterprise episodes, I figured that this week, we’ll take a look at one episode from each of the other four shows and consider what could have been if these shows had been made.

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4 Ways to Prove You’re Trapped in a Simulation–Friday Four

Star Trek Holodeck SimulationAre you sure the world around you is real? You probably said yes, but are you really sure? What if you’re just trapped in a fabricated reality, completely unaware of what’s happened to you? If you’re a high ranking official, or someone with secret knowledge, then this is a constant threat, but it could be something as stupid as pissing off the wrong guy that’s landed you in this predicament. It happens more often than you think, and the mere idea is enough to drive some to madness; but fear not, because I’m here to help. Or maybe this article was planted in the simulation by your friends on the outside, but either way, here are 4 methods to prove whether or not you’re stuck in a world of illusion.

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