Trekkies Way of Life

April 5, 2007 at 12:25 am | Posted in genre fiction, new age, science fiction | Leave a comment

trekkies.jpgTrekkies (1997) A documentary film. Directed by Roger Nyland. startrek_logo_2007.jpg

It’s been almost 40 years since the Star Trek TV show’s cancellation set off shockwaves, catalyzing distraught fans to mobilize in protest. The series’ appeal evolved rapidly from its initial cult status into a multi-billion dollar franchise of today. It is a fan-driven industry which encompasses feature films, TV spinoff series, websites, clubs, conventions, retail outlets, books and a staggering array of collectible merchandise. The franchise was a perennial TV presence until the prequel Enterprise series ended in May 2005.  For the first time in decades, no Star Trek series is in production. This event was so significant that it was a lead news story worldwide.  yar.jpg

 The 1997 Roger Nyland documentary, Trekkies, attempts “to boldly go where no man has gone before” (Starship Enterprise Mission) by exploring Star Trek’s appeal from the perspective of its fans . The host of Trekkies, Denise Crosby aka “Ensign Tasha Yar”  of Star Trek:The Next Generation is a bemused, convivial host and guide navigating through dozens of interviews with trekkie fans, fanatics and Star Trek cast members. 

 I have long been aware that Star Trek is more than a classic TV series: it is a cultural phenomenon. It has enriched our lexicon, contributing catch phrases and visual icons to the pantheon of American popular culture. To illustrate Star Trek’s sway on consumerism, note how similar the  2007 flip cell phone is to the circa-1960’s Enterprise tricorder . The meaning of Star Trek expressions such as 1) “putting your shields up”, 2)”beam me up, Scottie” or the curt dismissal  3)”illogical” are so familiar that people use them as conversational shorthand to convey emotions respectively  of 1) defensiveness, 2)frustration and 3) contempt. 

After watching Trekkies, the most surprising realization is that Star Trek represents much more than a hobby and “casual enjoyment” for some enthusiasts. For these fans, Star Trek constitutes a “way of life”, delineating beliefs and practices grounded loosely in  humanistic philosophy. The series was a model of racial diversity, tolerance and cooperation; its mission stressed altruism and non-interference with alien civilizations.  It was one of the only TV series to celebrate the positive potential of technology, with scientists and engineers as heroes rather than geeks or psychos. In Trekkies , Nichelle Nicholes (Lt. Uhura) tells the anecdote of the young black girl astounded to see a black woman on TV  “who ain’t no maid”.  Lt Uhura served as role model for this child, who grew up to become Whoopi Goldberg.   

How the Star Trek message and world view are embraced by some, however  can crossover into fanaticism from fandom. One example of a fanatic in Trekkies is barbara-adams.jpgCommander Barbara Adams. The Commander gained notoriety as a Whitewater Trial juror who came to court daily in a full Star Trek uniform regalia. She considered herself to be first and foremost a Star Fleet officer with an obligation to adhere to the Academy code. Her Arkansas co-workers noted the Commander always wore her phaser and insignia, expanding to full dress for formal events. The Commander explained: “My officers should never feel ashamed to wear their uniform. We’re like anyone else in the military “.  It’s the fact that we’re speaking of an imaginary alternative relative with Star Trek military, that shifts Ms. Adams from the fan to the fanatic category 

Another example of a fanatic versus a fan occurs in the Trekkies interview  with two pleasant female hosts of the “Talk Trek”  radio show. They choke up as they confess: “People don’t realize how important a show can be”. The documentary reveals the show’s transformative power with a call-in fan who testifies that watching Star Trek helped him cope with his father’s death. The fan reported that the show’s holographic images held a promise of redemption and afterlife that fanatics.jpgoffered him solace .He spoke with religious fervor about Star Trek’s philosophy. The Star Trek message of tolerance was mentioned often by the trekkies interviewed.

Even those who are fans versus fanatics are attracted by Star Trek’s promise of a new, better world.  It offers a safe environment in which to cut loose, don alien costumes and role play an alter ego identify.  Klingons are one of the most popular alien cultures emulated at Star Trek conventions because, in the words of a fan “It lets us express a part of our personality that’s not acceptable”.   

The Star Trek philosophy is not a New Age philosophy. New Age stresses the spirituality and actualization of the self. In contrast, the Star Trek philosophy stresses collaboration and the good of the group, although it does respect the individual. There is also the Star Trek adherence to community principles such as the Prime Directive and the ruling of the Council. Such automatic deference to higher authority would not be appropriate for a New Age movement offshoot.  klingon.jpg

So how do you define a Star Trek fan versus a fanatic? The guy who wears a Klingon costume and can quote Star Trek trivia may be just a fan. The guy who speaks Klingon and pays $1500 for “speedbumps”(Klingon furrowed headgear) has probably passed over to the realm of the fanatic. For the latter group, Star Trek is the context of their life.              

Sidekicks: Neuromancer

February 26, 2007 at 6:47 pm | Posted in cyberpunk, science fiction, sidekicks | Leave a comment

berger-culture-genres.jpgBerger, A.A. (1992) Popular Culture Genres: Theories and Texts. NY: Sage.  neuromancer-sidekicks.jpg

Gibson, W. (1984). Neuromancer. NY: Ace Books.  

As the quintessential example of science fiction cyberpunk, Neuromancer’s characters and plot structure are the antithesis of classic science fiction defined by Berger (1992). The protagonist Case is not a heroic spaceman but a selfish, drug-addicted cybercowboy (computer hacker) with the morality of a street hustler on the make. 

Molly Case’s first sidekick is a bioengineered “razorgirl” named Molly who’s assigned by Case’s employer to keep him off drugs and on task. Molly sounds like a cyborg because of her flat affect, superhuman reflexes and optically enhanced eyes protected by mirrored shades. However, Molly reveals her humanity by confessing that she’s helping Case to capture one sleaze who murdered her boyfriend and another who made her commit degrading acts in her former life as a prostitute. Molly herself paid for the painful razorblade finger modifications.  Molly is elevated from sidekick to heroine but is certainly neither the helpless nor plucky spacegal prototypes of classic SF. Molly is incredibly tough, dragging broken limbs through the Matrix with nary a whimper.

Although  Molly protects Case, has sex with him, and watches his back, you never sense that Molly has “feelings” for Case. Case, on the other hand, uses the “SymStyn” to get inside Molly’s head while she’s battling the villains, and to make sure Molly is okay. 

Dixie FlatlineThe second major sidekick is a technician, consistent with SF secondary character roles outlined in Berger. Dixie Flatline is a computer AI with the speech patterns of a 20th century flyboy or astronaut.Dixie is a computer ROM so he lacks emotional capacity, even though he is a computer replica of a human cybercowboy, McCoy Pauley. Pauley survived three brain deaths (flatlines) while hacking the Matrix and was then reduced to being “on call” for hackers like Case.

Dixie foreshadows  Case’s likely fate, and AI Dixie sounds a bit like HAL in Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Unlike HAL, all Dixie wants is to complete his mission and to be permanently deleted. Dixie appears to get his wish at the end of the novel. 

Maelcum  The third sidekick is also a technician, responsible for keeping Case’s hired ship operational. Maelcum is a member of Zion, a Rastafarian space station community, and he speaks a stereotypical Jamaican patois, blasts reggae music and affably smokes dope while working on machinery. He spoke like a stoned Scotty (Star Trek)  minus Scotty’s perennial agita over whether he could get the ship going. Maelcum serves Case well but is clearly a hired helper, rather than a friend or confidante for Case.  

Science Fiction Subgenres

February 25, 2007 at 5:20 pm | Posted in fantasy, science fiction, speculative fiction, subgenres | Leave a comment

flash-gordon.jpgBerger, A.A. (1992) Popular Culture Genres: Theories and Texts. NY: Sage.

Herald, D.T.& Wiegand, W.A.(Ed.)(2006). Genreflecting  A Guide to Popular Reading Interests (6th ed.).Westport,CT: Libraries Unlimited.  

Saricks, Joyce G (2001). The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction. Chicago: ALA Press. 

aliens.jpgThe science fiction and fantasy genres encompass a rich variety of themes, and both may be subsumed under the category of  “speculative fiction”. Berger (1992) identified 8 science fiction subgenres: aliens, alternate history, dystopia/utopia, postcastrophe (apocalyptic), sword & sorcery (fantasy), space travel (technology), time travel and unknown worlds.

Below are  recommended online resources which define and give examples of popular SF subgenres. Although the lists differ, most distinguish between “hard” technology or science driven works vs. “soft” works focusing on psychological or social  aspects of the “what if?” question.  

Fiction Factor: Science Fiction sub-genres   Concise descriptions of more than a dozen SF sub-genres, including a few missing from other sites: dystopia, extrasensory perception, and religious SF. (Accessed 2/24/07) http://www.fictionfactor.com/articles/sfsubgenre.html 

Genreflecting.com  Science Fiction  Good list of themes, but no explanation or examples provided. Genreflecting observes that SciFi genres are numerous because they’re based on content rather than being driven by plot or structure differences. Subgenre themes include: aliens, alternate history ,bleak future, cybernetics, high tech (hard), humorous ,militaristic, parallel worlds, shared worlds, space opera, time travel, and cross- genres (detective, fantasy or romance Sci Fi). (Accessed 2/24/07). http://www.genreflecting.com/Science02.html 

 CT Readers Advisory Intro to SF Good overview of style and content characteristics of the SF genre. Discusses Joyce Saricks’ model of two major SF subgenres:  Storyteller Focus and Philosophical Focus. Fascinating discussion of which works example each type and why. (Accessed 2/24/07) http://www.conknet.com/~fullerlibrary/ReadersAdvisory/SCIENCE%20FICTION%20READER/Introduction.htm 

SF Site: Science Fiction & Fantasy: A Genre with Many Faces Defines and lists representative books for seven science fiction subgenres: alternate universe, cyberpunk, military, hard, space opera, speculative and science fantasy as a cross-genre. (Accessed 2/24/07)  http://www.sfsite.com/columns/amy26.htm

Writing-World.com :  Sci Fi Sub genres Overview for potential science fiction writers on alternate history, apocalyptic, cyberpunk cross-genre, first contact, Hard SF, militaristic, humorous, near future, future fantasy, time travel, slipstream, sociological and space opera. Doesn’t address “speculative”. (Accessed 2/24/07)   http://www.writing-world.com/sf/genres.shtml

Cyberpunk Sci Fi

February 23, 2007 at 4:05 pm | Posted in awards, cyberpunk, SCI FI, science fiction, SF, sidekicks | Leave a comment

Gibson, W. (1984.) Neuromancer. New York: Ace Books.  

neuromancerfirst1.jpg

Neuromancer achieved both instant critical acclaim and cult status, earning Book of the Year, the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1984 and the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award in 1985.  It is credited with launching a new SF subgenre, termed “cyberpunk” and remains a SF classic today.  In 1982, Gibson coined the term “cyberspace” in his story. “Burning Chrome”.  In Neuromancer he delineates his concept for “The Matrix”, a global information network which is today’s internet. 

  “Cyberpunk” merges the amoral, urban anarchy of  1980’s punk music and drug  culture with “cybernetics” exploration of the human-machine interface. Cyberpunk’s bleak, dystopian vision of the corrupted near future is typified by the disturbing film Blade Runner.  For more info, see   Cyberpunk as a SciFi genre 

Synopsis:  The protagonist, Case, is a drugged-out “cyberspace cowboy” (hacker), who is banished from the Matrix and close to death after stealing from a client. Desperate, Case agrees to hack the network for a shadowy militaristic figure, Armitage, in exchange for renewed health and wealth. Case works with and fights against a parade of unsavory characters from Tokyo to Paris, aided by Armitage’s razor girl assassin Molly, and an  Artficial Intelligence (AI) cybercowboy named Dixie, plus other shifty sidekicks.  

Throughout the novel, humans are portrayed as weak, flawed beings incapable of intimacy or honest personal relationships. At the start, Case’s prostitute girlfriend Linda Lee betrays him to get drug money; shortly thereafter, Case fails to intervene when Linda is murdered (though he agonizes and has a few nightmares about his indifference throughout the book).

 As Case penetrates the  Matrix “ice” (security layers), he discovers his real client is an AI called Wintermute, whose goal is to merge with another AI, Neuromancer, to exponentially grow in power and psychosocial awareness (cyberspeak for “take over the world”) The only hope for human intervention is from threeJane, the brilliant but emotionally bereft teenage heiress in a  dysfunctional family of capitalists. Her father is a pedophile and necrophiliac. 

The novel fizzles out after the AI components unite, with Case back to his old cowboy and body-abusing habits, and his sidekicks scattered around the world. The lack of full resolution is understandable, not just because it’s cyberpunk. Author Gibson wrote Neuromancer as the first of a cyberpunk trilogy, followed by Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988).  

SCI FI Online Resources

February 22, 2007 at 4:09 am | Posted in fantasy, SCI FI, science fiction, SF, websites | Leave a comment

isfdb.jpgInternet Speculative Fiction DataBase (ISFDB)   A respected, top -five site for SF fiction bibliographies, author biographies and myriad links to SF resources, maintained by Texas A&M University.  ISFDB  includes 38,327 authors and 92,750 publications. They have added a community, editable wiki link.  (Accessed 2/21/07). http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/index.cgi 

Locus Online  Since 1997, online version of award-winning SF magazine Locus . Daily news updates (blinks) about science fiction publishing ,plus interviews, reviews, and new releases coverage. (Accessed 2/21/07). http://www.locusmag.com/  

SciFan   Site for fans and readers of science fiction and fantasy. Foscifi_fans_deviantart_id_by_scifi_fans.jpgcuses on reviews, bibliographies and biographies of authors, with entries searchable by series and themes. Searchable database includes 58,000 books, 15,000 writers and 3600 web links. (Accessed 2/21/07). http://www.scifan.com/  

Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database   Searchable index of 76,000  articles, news clippings, movie reviews and other print material  from 1878-1991 devoted to science fiction and fantasy, with some coverage of horror, gothic and utopian literature .Excludes book reviews, and SF fiction. Index maintained by Texas A&M. (Accessed 2/21/07). http://lib-edit.tamu.edu/cushing/sffrd/ 

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America  Founded in 1965, writers’ organization responsible for annual Nebula Awards.  Links for bestseller lists and awards, press releases, industry and publisher news, and site of the week. (Accessed 2/21/07) http://www.sfwa.org/ 

Science Fiction  Bibliography  Excellent resource for SF research project, with extensive list of reference print resources available in public and academic libraries. Last updated 11/06 by Washington State University, it recommends encyclopedias, critical analyses, and SCI FI literature review indexes. (Accessed 2/21/07). http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/science_fiction/sfresearch.html 

SF-Lovers    Since 1979, dedicated to SF-fandom and updated by fan S. Jaffe. Archive of SF- Digest, Convention lists, WorldCon history, Resource Guide and info on SF TV and movies. (Accessed 2/21/07) http://www.noreascon.org/users/sflovers/u1/web/ 

SF Site  A mainstay on “top 5 links” lists for science fiction and fantasy, this  website  offers biweekly reviews, interviews, fiction excerpts, lists, news and previews with a searchable archive spanning more than a decade. It covers print, online (zines), TV, and movie SF works, with links to fan tribute sites, conventions, publishers and writer resources. (Accessed 2/21/07). http://www.sfsite.com/         

 Uchronia The Alternate History List is an annotated bibliography of over 2800 novels, stories, essays and material involving the “what ifs” of history. (Accessed 2/21/07)  http://www.uchronia.net/ 

Ultimate SF Web Guide    Text-heavy and last updated in 2004,  but over 6000 links to SF web resources  and unique features: SF readlikes by themes, SF timeline by decade, pages on aliens, time travel, games (Accessed 2/21/07) http://www.magicdragon.com/UltimateSF/SF-Index.html  

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