TNG Rewatch: Code of Honor (Season 1, Episode 4)

Episode summary at Memory Alpha.

Themes and Discussion

The Ligonians are also isolationist and distrustful of outsiders. They use their own transporters to beam aboard the Enterprise. This won’t be the first time the crew encounters an isolationist or xenophobic species. Some parts of our own political spectrum lean more towards isolationism, and I think Star Trek knows that and wants us to have a conversation about that over the course of the series. The Prime Directive has some part to play in that conversation; I’ll address some of that here, and some of it in a later, longer post.

The Ligonians value honor and respect above all else and have a rigidly ritualistic culture. They are a male-dominated culture, but it is the women who hold the land and money, so there is a small reversal there.

I can’t talk about the episode without talking about race a bit. The culture presented here is referred to as being influenced by ancient Chinese culture, but it seems clear that it also draws influence from African cultures, too. Not to mention the fact that this species seems to be made up only of people of color. It’s more than a little bothersome that they are dressed in a somewhat provincial way and portrayed as backwards. That looks racist to me. However, a tiny bit of that is mitigated by the fact that they outsmart the Enterprise crew initially by taking Tasha, but that’s not enough to offset the negative stuff.

Here, the crew is also faced with a common Trek theme: weighing the lives of the many versus the lives of the few or the one. Just based on my past viewings of the episodes, I’d have to say that it is this scenario where the crew pushes against the Prime Directive the most often. The crew values the lives of individuals, but they are also often trying to help a group of people.  

A lot of this episode also centers around cultural misunderstanding, and how the Prime Directive comes into play when this happens. For those who don’t know, the Prime Directive is Starfleet’s policy of non-interference. Basically, they are not allowed to take sides in conflicts or politics; they can’t give their technology to a species that isn’t technologically on the same level; and they are to respect the cultures and laws of other species. Here, Picard relies heavily on his crew for background information about what the correct response to the Ligonians is, based on the research they have done on Ligonian culture. He wishes to respects their customs and laws, but he is also faced with the kidnapping and possible death of one of his officers. This leads to an innovative solution (giving Yar’s opponent the antidote to the poison after allowing the ritual fight to play out as Ligonian custom demands) that perhaps satisfies both the Prime Directive and Ligonian custom.

In the last rewatch, I looked at the issue of relationships in Starfleet and that is brought up again here. She is attracted to the Ligonian who captures her (she admits this), but she says that a relationship with him is impossible because she is a career Starfleet officer. Later, after her opponent is brought back to life and revealed to the Ligonians, Yar is asked if she wants the Ligonions who took her. She turns down the offer, remarking that there would be complications. What sort of complications, I wonder? Long-distance relationship complications? Keeping a man on the ship with her complications? It is never specified, but I suspect it has to do with this unspoken code of singleness that Starfleet seems to have.

Technology/interfaces

Most of the episode is focused on people and not technology so much. The Ligonians are pretty interested in the holodeck and its use for tactical training, so they are given a demonstration by Yar. When Yar creates a virtual opponent, one of the Ligonians exclaims “You can create a person without a soul!” Yar explains that the holographic fighter is merely an embodiment of a computer program and not a real person. I don’t know about anyone else, but this was one of the moments where I cringed. Did the Ligonians really need to be told what a hologram is? They are advanced enough for the Federation to make contact with them, and they have a transporter, so a hologram shouldn’t be beyond their comprehension. However, the episode seems to want to portray the Ligonians as antiquated–their mode of dress, their heavy reliance on rituals, their belief in spirituality (the series is told from a humanist point of view and is almost always suspicious of religion of any variety, portraying it as backwards) are all used as evidence for this.

Information seeking behavior

Though Riker, Troi, and Data conduct much background research on the culture of the Ligonians, it isn’t clear how they search for the information or where–presumably in the ship’s computer. I’m actually curious if they split up the research areas and searched individually, or if they all collaborated in the search process (much like Riker does with Data in “The Naked Now”). Sometimes having more than one point of view about how to conduct a search can take the search in many fruitful directions. My former boss and I would often bounce ideas off each other when we received a research request, and I always found that helpful; she inevitably thought about an issue in a different way than I did, so we found a good assortment of sources between the two of us. In other episodes of TNG, we see the crew using this kind of collaborative approach.

In the later portion of the episode, we see Picard telling Data and Geordi to gather information about Ligonian armaments: “especially important is an analysis of combat capabilities.” Geordi asks for more information, and Picard tells him to look at the cutting edges of the weapons wherever applicable and to analyse durability, composition, and weaknesses in material. Data asks if they should look with any particular point of view. Yar’s use of the weapons in combat is the perspective that Picard has them consider. Picard should have been giving Data the search instructions in the last episode. He clearly has a specific information need and clearly formulated query.   

Side note: I assume that a large amount of information gathering is happening by using the ship’s computer. How often are the ship’s databanks updated? Is there something like Windows Updates in the future that pushes information to the ships of the fleet over subspace? Do they get updates from the computers of starbases or other ships? How does the transfer and updating of information happen? It would be useful to know how current the data is on the ship at any given time.

Use of weapons/force by Starfleet/Federation

A lot of force is used in this episode, though only some of it is used by the Enterprise. In the initial encounter with the Ligonians, they are to hand over the vaccine. As one of the Ligonians brings it to Picard, Yar insists on inspecting it, but the Ligonian tries to move around her. She grabs his arm and flips him to the ground. So, the Enterprise is the initial aggressor in the encounter.

After the Ligonians kidnap Yar, Picard orders the firing of photon torpedoes to detonate above the surface as a display of firepower to try to convince the Ligonians to give her back. This doesn’t work.

The Ligonians give the Enterprise a way to get both the vaccine and Yar–a fight between Yar and Lutan’s first wife. The fight is to be to the death. Yar fights and wounds her opponent with the weapon coated in poision, but she doesn’t allow the woman to die. Instead, they are beamed to the Enterprise so she can be treated.

Assorted musings

I had forgotten how much advising Troi does in these first few episodes. I don’t think she’s the voice that a decision hinges on, but she does advise Picard on policy issues, not just what others are feeling. While she was pretty emotional in the first episode, she’s been a pretty good advisor in episodes 3 and 4. I have the sense that her role, going forward, is more as a lie detector than an advisor, but I’ll be interested to see if I’m proven wrong about that.

The colors of the ship’s decor are so 1990s. The tan and mauve and dusty blue. There are office chairs in my workplace from the same time period in that color scheme. In many ways, the show transcends its time period. In others, it is very dated. I don’t think there is a way to avoid this; it is extremely hard to get outside one’s own historical moment, especially when you are projecting into the future.

And the shiny clothes. Shiny == the future. Or, if you are Wesley, frumpy and uncomfortable sweaters == the future.

We get the first instance of Data and Geordi exchanging some humor. It is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

So, just based on the costumes that the Ligonians are wearing here, I have to wonder if a more ridiculous costume is supposed to be equivalent with a less advanced species/race. When we meet the Ferengi in the next episode, some of this is happening, but as I am thinking about the species I can remember, the ones with the worst costumes do stick out as being the most backwards (technologically and/or culturally). I’m curious to see if this bears out over the series. Clothing is used as a signifier in our culture, so it is plausible–and perhaps inevitable–that it becomes one in this future world. 

TNG Rewatch: The Naked Now (Season 1, Episode 3)

Episode summary at Memory Alpha.

Themes and Discussion

The major themes in this episode are temptation, lack of control, self-inhibition, and intimacy. Something that is becoming more clear is the crew is still a bit regimented. They don’t know how to be easy with each other, trust each other, or have a little fun. This is probably more emblematic of the newness of the show and the ship, but there’s something here that speaks to a particular ethos that seems endemic in Starfleet. Starfleet is not a fun organization; in fact, in several episodes throughout the series and the movies, we are shown that Starfleet is a humorless and often clueless bureaucracy that is not always to be trusted or followed.

Even though Starfleet is an exploration outfit, it is still a lot like the military. And, like the military, fraternization does not appear to be encouraged. The crew is already, then, in the awkward position of having families on board, but having the officers living mostly celibately. But the officers form their own family among themselves. It’s almost as if they do it despite Starfleet’s inherent coldness.

Looking at the apparent stiffness of Starfleet and the contrast between that and the very public displays of affection and lack of inhibition in this episode makes me think about the Victorians. Stay with me. Victorian cultural norms were a bit prudish about sex, sexuality, and lack of inhibition. However, read Victorian literature and you’ll see lots of bottled up sexual frustration and pushing against those norms. This TNG episode is functioning on a similar level. We see that the crew does have needs and desires that are not necessarily being met. This isn’t only sexual. Consider Wesley Crusher’s need to be accepted and his desire to be a part of the crew. Or Geordi’s desire to see with real eyes. All of these are brought to the surface by the intoxicant.

I find it interesting that it is the women who are acting overtly sexually aggressive in the episode. That could be seen as a reversal of traditional gender roles (only brought to the fore by intoxication). Or it could be a variation on the misguided idea that women are all sluts. In any case, I find it problematic that only the women become sexualized here and not the men. One would think that Riker would be out prowling the halls with Tasha (and maybe he would have if the full intoxication had been allowed to set in). In large part, these advances by the ship’s main women characters (Yar, Troi, and Crusher) are not welcomed by most of the male characters. In later episodes, we also see a discomfort with female sexuality: almost any episode featuring Lwaxana Troi shows this, but several others. We’ll revisit this as we come to those episodes.

Technology/interfaces

In this episode, we get a better view of the tricorders used in TNG; however, they are reasonably useless in this episode as they do not pick up any unusual readings of the intoxicating substance. We also get a better view of sickbay.

We also see Wesley’s science project: a small-scale tractor beam. When he is showing this off to La Forge, he also shows off a voice simulator he has created. It simulates Picard’s voice giving orders. Wesley has created this so that he can pretend that he is on the Bridge. So, this is Wesley’s version of fan fiction. He ends up playing out the fantasy of taking over the ship by using that voice simulator to get key members of the Engineering staff to leave. He then uses his tractor beam as a repulsor and effectively locks everyone out of an important area of Engineering. And then he gets to save the ship once he’s sobered up by using the same technique he used to reverse his small tractor beam, and he shows up the Chief Engineer. Wesley saving the ship and outsmarting the adults is going to happen a few more times in the series before the writers adjust his character to be a little less “Gary Stu” (the male analog to the “Mary Sue” fan fiction trope.)

Information seeking behavior

A search query of the ship’s computer gets some prominence in this episode and is worth looking at. Riker approaches Data on the Bridge and asks him for help finding computer information about “someone taking a shower in their clothes.” Riker states that he remembered reading something that contained this information. Data starts with this very vague information and searches for some time. Later, we come back to Riker and Data and Data asks if Riker has any other information, but Riker initially tells him that he does not. Data’s use of the word “historical” reminds Riker that he had been reading a history of ships named Enterprise. Data focuses the search on “Enterprise history, aberrant behavior, medical cross reference.” These criteria allow them to find the information about the incidents in TOS’ “The Naked Time” and a lead for an antidote.

As a librarian, I had to chuckle at this search request. This is the kind of request I would get on a fairly regular basis at work. Folks always seem to think that such a request is quick and easy, when, in fact, they often take a long time. I am pleased that Riker and Data seem to know that such a vague query would take a long time. However, I wish Data would have conducted a better reference interview on Riker during the initial request; he would have saved time if he had pressed Riker initially about where such a thing was read. Data may have been able to narrow the search field down to Enterprise history within the first minutes of the search rather than spending valuable time looking for a needle in a haystack.

Use of weapons/force by Starfleet/Federation

No uses of force in the episode.

Assorted Musings

Troi calls Riker “Bill” in Engineering. She is the only one who calls him this, and it is used as a sign of their past intimacy, but the nickname only shows up in the first season. The rest of the series, she calls him “Will” like everyone else.

 

 

TNG Rewatch: Encounter at Farpoint (Season 1, Episode 1)

Introduction

For a while, I’ve been meaning to go through and not only rewatch all of the TNG episodes, but to write about each of them. Doing so will allow me to examine the overarching themes that develop over the course of the series, and how all of those are in dialog with each other.

I don’t plan on recapping each episode super thoroughly; by now, most people have (or should have) seen the episodes since TNG is almost (gulp) 30 years old [if you haven’t watched this series, stop now and go binge watch them on Netflix]. For very detailed episode summaries, I’d advise going over to Memory Alpha and reading what the fine folks there have written. Here’s the episode summary for “Encounter at Farpoint.”

Themes and Discussion

This first episode sets up the notion that humanity has changed for the better and is more than a “savage child race.” Star Trek holds the notion that we can change and that we will. Having the crew “tested” in the opening episode is a way of saying to the audience, “here’s why humans are pretty terrible now, and why we’ll get worse, but then we’ll get better, and this crew is here to show all of you what is possible for all of us.” The idea that we can, as a society, rise above violence is a critical part of Star Trek’s underlying ideology.

In this particular series, Picard differentiates himself from Kirk immediately by being a thinking man, not a fighting man. His goals are to assess and understand the situation and try to find a peaceful or diplomatic way out, not fight his way out.

Even though Picard tells Riker that he’s not a family man, this episode is, in many ways, centered around the notion of family and loved ones. In this episode, we see or explore the relationships of the Crushers, Riker and Troi, and that of the two space entities the Enterprise reunites. This theme is fitting, as the rest of the series revisits it again and again; it is arguably one of the series’ most important themes. Picard may not think of himself as a family man, but he is the man around whom the crew build a family, and that family is their most important one. Perhaps that is a comment on the families you build versus the families you are born into.

You will notice as we go through the series that none of the main crew members are married or have a family (with the exception of Beverly, who has Wesley, and later, Worf, who will have Alexander), despite living on a ship supposedly full of families. Many of the senior officers have various relationships, but most of those only last an episode (Riker and Troi are the exception, and they are on-again-off-again). Did you ever notice that the beds in the crew quarters of the senior officers are just large enough for one person? And many of the families introduced throughout the series are single-parent families, where one of the parents has died. Let’s look at that some more in future episodes and see how this tracks throughout the show.

 Information seeking behavior

When I was doing research in grad school for this paper and others, I found that there was not a lot of literature on the representation of information seeking in literature or popular culture, so part of this exercise is to chronicle that behavior in TNG here.

Most of the information seeking in this episode comes out of direct sensory experience rather than looking for information in the computer. Geordi uses his enhanced vision to examine the walls of Farpoint station. Troi uses her empathic abilities to sense the entities. Riker and Picard question Zorn directly.

Technology/interfaces

We get a first view of many features of this new Enterprise: the transporters, the sleek touch interfaces, Gerodi’s VISOR, and the voice controlled computer. The most impressive is the holodeck (and this one gets the most screen time), which converts energy into matter much the same way the transporters and replicators do. We also get the first view of the saucer separation, which is only used two other times in the series (“Arsenal of Freedom” and “The Best of Both Worlds” part 2) and once in the movies (Generations). 

Use of weapons/force by Starfleet/Federation

Something I’ve been thinking about tracking for a while in Star Trek is the actual use of force. The Federation can easily be read as imperialistic (a flip side of the Borg, really, but that’s a long post for another time), so I’ve been interested in seeing how this plays out in terms of use of force. This is an issue that we are more attuned to now, especially in light of the many instances of the overuse of force by police, so I’m curious how TNG’s portrayal of force might appear to a modern audience.

Uses of weapons/force in this episode:

  1. Torres goes for his phaser when Q initially comes aboard, but Q freezes him before he can use it.
  2. Picard fires photon torpedoes at the Q entity when it is pursuing the ship, but as a way of distracting them and allowing the saucer section to continue to Farpoint.
  3. Riker and Data use phasers to release Zorn from the entity.
  4. Picard has the phasers rigged to send an energy beam to the entity on the planet.

What’s interesting here is that Torres apparently carries a phaser around everywhere. That doesn’t seem like standard procedure, especially when not even the chief of security carries a weapon on board.

The other uses of weapons in this episode by the Enterprise crew are pretty benign in nature; in the last case, the use is subverting the weapon to turn it into aid.

Assorted Musings

Although Picard later tells the story of “a young lieutenant commander I recruited as a first officer,” (in “The Best of Both Worlds” part 1) we hear in this episode that Riker has been assigned to the Enterprise and Picard seems to know little about him.

In the marketplace on the station, Crusher tells the Bandi merchant that she’d like to buy the entire bolt of fabric, to send it to the ship, and “charge it to Dr. Crusher.” As Starfleet and the Federation do not use currency, this seems out of place. In other episodes later on–and in First Contact–we are often told about how the drive for money is ancient and a bit unseemly.

Troi tells Groppler Zorn that she is only half Betazoid and that her “father was a Starfleet officer.” Um, that’s not a species or a race; that’s a job title. He couldn’t have been a Betazoid Starfleet officer? Are we to assume that Starfleet = human? Even though Star Trek is anthropocentric, this still seems a bit heavy-handed.

In this first episode, Conn and Ops are in different places. Here, Conn is to the captain’s left and Ops to the right. In later episodes, Conn is on the right and Ops on the left.

When Picard is on the battle bridge, he sends a signal of surrender with “no terms or conditions.” In one of the few other scenes on the battle bridge, in “Best of Both Worlds,” Riker and Locutus discuss surrender and terms.

Boy, is everyone jumping out of their seats in this episode.

It’s very interesting to me that a show that eschews religion begins and ends with an omnipotent being (alpha and omega, anyone?). Q starts the Enterprise D on its journeys and is with them at the end of the series. He shows up in 8 episodes (well, 10, if you count each half of the premier and finale as separate episodes), with an average of 25 episodes between appearances. Most of the time, Q is there to be the show’s Loki and cause trouble. Other times, he changes the trajectory of the show: testing the crew at Farpoint, bringing the ship in contact with the Borg, and helping Picard with the anomaly at the end of the series.

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Science Fiction and Fantasy Collections, Museums, and Exhibits

Collections

University collections

Harvard College Library has a Science Fiction Collection in the Houghton Library that has over 3,000 volumes of “trade paperbacks, magazines, fanzines, and prozines.”

The University of California, Riverside is home of the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy. It claims to be the largest publicly accessible collection of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and utopian literature in the world. It has over 300,000 items, including fanzines, pulp magazines, comics, hardback and paperback books, and various collectibles.

This is also the home of the Eaton Journal of Archival Research in Science Fiction. The folks at Eaton Journal have created a Google map of science fiction archives throughout the world.

The University of Iowa Library is the home of the M. Horvat Collection of Science Fiction Fanzines. This collections houses 15,000-20,000 items from 1925 to 2002 (with most items from the 1960s to 1980s).

The University of Iowa is also home to the James L. “Rusty” Hevelin Collection of Pulps, Fanzines, and Science Fiction Books. The university is working on digitizing the collection. They are charting their progress on tumblr.

Georgia Tech also has a science fiction collection that holds more than 10,000 science fiction and fantasy novels, as well as many periodicals.

The Cushing Library at Texas A&M University is the home of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Collection, which holds monographs, periodicals, and manuscripts, and has over 20,000 titles.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University is home to the William J. Heron Collection of Speculative Fiction.

Cal State Fullerton’s Special Collections has a science fiction collection that includes, among other things, original manuscripts and related materials of Philip K. Dick and Frank Herbert.

Non-university Collections

The Internet Archive has a Pulp Magazine Archive that contains almost 5,000 items. Lots of cool stuff to browse online.

Project Guttenberg has created a Science Fiction Bookshelf, a Precursors to Science Fiction Bookshelf, and a Fantasy Bookshelf.

Museums and Exhibits

The EMP Museum in Seattle, Washington is home to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame and regularly has science fiction exhibits.

The National Museum of American History (part of the Smithsonian) currently has an exhibit called Fantastic Worlds: Science and Fiction 1780-1910.

Two museums of science fiction are in the planning and fundraising process: the Museum of Science Fiction (to be house in Washington, D.C.) and the Hollywood Sci-Fi Museum (to be located in Hollywood, CA).

Inspired by science fiction and fantasy – article roundup

Even though science fiction can be predictive, its greatest power is that of inspiration. Fantasy has the power to inspire, too. And, truly, all stories have the potential to set fire to the imagination. Below I’ve collected some links to various articles, academic and popular, about science fiction and fantasy stories that have inspired people.

Fantasy

Vedantam, Shankar. “Does Reading Harry Potter Have an Effect on Your Behvior?” NPR, 1 May 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

“New research suggests that school kids who read and identify with Harry Potter display more positive attitudes toward people from disadvantaged groups.”

Ulaby, Neda. “Harry Potter: Boy Wizard … And Real-World Activist?” NPR, 18 Nov. 2010. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

“Stories like Avatar and the Harry Potter series might seem like unlikely starting points for civic engagement, but they speak a global language, and they stir something in people.”

 Science Fiction

Gunn, Eileen. “How America’s Leading Science Fiction Authors Are Shaping Your Future.” Smithsonian.com, May 2014. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

“But the task of science fiction is not to predict the future. Rather, it contemplates possible futures. Writers may find the future appealing precisely because it can’t be known, a black box where “anything at all can be said to happen without fear of contradiction from a native,” says the renowned novelist and poet Ursula K. Le Guin. “The future is a safe, sterile laboratory for trying out ideas in,” she tells Smithsonian, “a means of thinking about reality, a method.””

Purdy, Patrick. “From Science Fiction to Science Fact: How Design Can Influence the Future.” User Experience Magazine 13(2). Web 12 Mar. 2016.

“Gene Roddenberry could never have imagined that a prop from his TV show would change the world, but that’s exactly what happened when he introduced the communicator on the first episode of Star Trek in 1966. Just six short years later, in 1973, Martin Cooper made the first public cell phone call from a handheld device. Afterward he acknowledged that Star Trek had inspired him to develop the technology.”

Bassett, Caroline, Ed Steinmueller, and George Voss. Better Made Up: The Mutual Influence of Science Fiction and Innovation (No. 13/07). NESTA Working Paper, 2013.

Why society needs science fiction.” The Star Garden. 3 Apr. 2012. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

“Science fiction is important for at least three reasons. Firstly, by considering worlds that are logically possible, science fiction can be used to explore our place in the universe and consider fundamental philosophical questions about the nature of reality and the mind…Secondly, science fiction can inspire more people to become scientists…Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, science fiction is the only genre that depicts how society could function differently.”

Kahn, Laura H. “The science fiction effect.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 6 Feb. 2012. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

“[I]f the scientific community wants to engage and inform the public, science fiction is an excellent strategy. Stories captivate people, they survive the test of time, and they become part of the popular culture. So, if any scientists with a creative-writing affinity want to captivate the public and inspire the next generation to pursue careers in science and technology, perhaps they should put pen to paper and start writing. The world needs more stories with scientist-heroes, not more scientist-villains.”

Cheatham, Dennis. “The Power of Science Fiction: exploring sci-fi’s relationship to real-world innovation.” Design Research Theory, Dec. 2011. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

Hon, Adrian. “Science fiction isn’t just fantasy: it changes lives and can change Britain.” The Telegraph, 20 Sept. 2011. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

“But what is it that inspires young people to have a love of discovering how the world works, and how to make new things based on those rules? The Apollo missions were hugely influential for a whole generation of children, but what inspired the Apollo engineers in the first place?”

Sydell, Laura. “Sci-Fi Inspires Engineers to Build Our Future.” NPR, 21 Aug. 2010. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

“Search engines, virtual worlds, the Internet — ever get the feeling you’re living in a science fiction fantasy? Well indeed you are. For more than a century, inventors have been driven to create what sci-fi writers have boldly imagined before.”

Milburn, Colin. “Modifiable Futures: Science Fiction at the Bench.” Isis: A Journal of the History of Science Society. 101 (2010): 560-569.

“Science fiction remains an alien dimension of the history of science. Historical and literary studies of science have become increasingly attentive to various “literary technologies” in scientific practice, the metaphorical features of scientific discourse, and the impact of popular science writing on the social development of scientific knowledge. But the function of science fiction and even literature as such in the history of scientific and technological innovation has often been obscured, misconstrued, or repudiated owing to conventional notions of authorship, influence, and the organic unity of texts. The better to address those close encounters where scientific practice makes use of speculative fiction, this essay proposes that we instead analyze such exchanges as processes of appropriation, remixing, and modification.”

Sterling, Bruce. “Science Influenced by Science Fiction.” Wired. 22 Sep. 2010. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

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Science fiction and fantasy databases

The following are some of my favorite databases of science fiction and fantasy. For this post, I’m sticking to broad databases; there are many, many wikis and other databases for specific ‘verses (like Star Trek).

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database from Texas A&M University covers history, criticism, commentary, fan writings, and some reviews. It is essentially a giant, searchable index that will provide you a citation to an article. I found it a good place to start when researching librarians in science fiction and fantasy.  Be sure to check out the scope note to see what’s covered.

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database has been around since the dawn of the Internet and contains catalog records for works of science fiction and fantasy. Works covered include novels, short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, chapbooks, and collections. The database also has an extensive amount of information about awards.

Speaking of awards, there’s also the Science Fiction Awards Database, which is an extension of the Locus Index to Science Fiction Awards.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. This began as a print volume and evolved into a CD-ROM and then a website. Here’s a note about the content of the encyclopedia.

And, of course, there’s IMDb that you can use to look up movies and television.

Selected Studies of Star Trek

Star Trek turns 50 this year, so what better way to celebrate then to dig into some critical analysis of it? A lot of academic and popular commentaries have been published on the topic, so I’m rounding up some of them here. This is by no means a comprehensive list – more of a taste of the kinds of material out there.

The Star Trek universe is enormous, so, for the purposes of this post, I have some limitations on what I will cover here. This post is focused on secondary sources about Star Trek and its influence on cultural, social, and scientific issues; this includes documents that span a range of subject areas from law to feminism, and would be appropriate for college students to use for a class paper or for personal interest.

What is not covered in this post: fan fiction, research on Star Trek or other fandoms (that’s a whole other post), Star Trek novels, information about the cast and crew of any of the series, conventions, tributes, photo books, collectibles, and games. Much of this isn’t considered part of the canon, and it is much less likely (aside from the study of fandom) to be of wider interest.

There are a couple of resources that have already collected extensive bibliographic information on scholarly studies of Star Trek:

Geraghty, L. (2002). Reading on the frontier: A Star Trek bibliography. Extrapolation, 43(3), 288-313. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.3828/extr.2002.43.3.06

While this bibliography is not annotated and is almost 15 years old, there are still hundreds of sources cited here. Geraghty has also been so thorough as to add chapters that come from books that may not deal exclusively with Star Trek, and also articles that may only touch on Star Trek peripherally. The bibliography is broken down by type of source: books, articles, and dissertations. Anyone wishing to do further research on Star Trek would be well served by looking at this document.

Robey, S. (2012, August). The complete Starfleet Library: Analysis and criticism [website]. https://web.archive.org/web/20120819210734/http://www.well.com/~sjroby/lcars/critindex.html

This is defunct now, and mostly contained information related to Star Trek novels, but the page linked above does have a list of critical works on Star Trek. The list is not in any apparent order, but there are many entries and it is a little more current than Geraghty’s bibliography. The entries for each work are not in any approved publication format like APA, but the contents of the book are listed, as well as basic information about the book (name of author, title, how many pages).

I’ve grouped the entries into three topic areas – Humanities, Law and Politics, and Science.

Abbreviations used: TOS=”The Original Series”; TAS=”The Animated Series”; THNG=”The Next Generation; “DS9=”Deep Space Nine”; VGR=”Voyager”; ENT=”Enterprise”; MOV=”Star Trek movies”

Humanities

ethicsBarad, J. & Robertson, E. (2001). The Ethics of Star Trek. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
Series covered: TOS, TNG, DS9, VGR, MOV
Subjects covered: Ethics, philosophy, morality, cultural relativism, Christianity, duty, responsibility

This book explores the ethical context of Star Trek. It examines Star Trek in contrast to classical thought, Christianity, and the concepts of duty. The authors—one a professor with a Ph.D. in philosophy and the other a pop culture specialist—examine whether the ethical principles remain the same across all series, how those principles relate to the issues we face in reality, and what philosophers such as Aristotle may have thought of some of the conflicts in Star Trek. In addition to more general analysis looking at trends across the series, the author also frequently examines the ethical issues presented in particular episodes.

This is just one of many books on Star Trek that are designed for a general audience more than a scholarly audience, but that does not mean it is short on breadth and depth of content. The book clearly chooses to forego dense scholarship in favor of reaching a wider audience. Concepts in ethics and philosophy are clearly explained. Also, the authors do not automatically assume the readers are intimately familiar with every single detail of the Star Trek universe; they take the time to give enough background that even newcomers to Star Trek will be able to follow the discussion.

musicBarham, J.  (2008).  Scoring incredible futures: Science-fiction screen music, and “postmodern” as romantic epiphany.   The Musical Quarterly, 91(3-4), 240-274.doi:10.1093/musqtl/gdp001
Series covered: VGR
Subjects covered: Music, romanticism

The author of this article is a lecturer in music at the University of Surrey, and he is also an expert on Mahler’s works having written a book of scholarship on Mahler. This article examines the use and representation of music in science fiction, with an emphasis and utopian and dystopian science fiction. A large part of this article discusses music from science fiction shows and films that are outside the Star Trek corpus. Nonetheless, it is unique in that it seems to be the only article written on any of Star Trek’s musical choices and what those might mean. The series that is focused on in this article is VGR, specifically an episode in which the music of Mahler is used. What is particularly interesting is that the music used in VGR is seen as a compelling take on the 19th century musical ethos. As it is noted in other works represented in this bibliography, Star Trek (especially TNG) hews closely to 19th century humanism, so examination of this article may complement those other works well.

philos.jpgEberl, J.T. & Decker, K.S.(Eds.). (2008).  Star Trek and philosophy: The wrath of Kant.  New York, NY: Open Court.
Series covered: TOS, TNG, DS9, VGR, ENT, MOV
Subjects covered: Philosophy, morality, metaphysics, religion, social values

The 18 essays in this collection tackle issues of metaphysics, ethics, culture, logic, epistemology, politics, and language. The essays are grouped into four sections: Major Philosophical Themes, Federation Ethics, Social and Religious Values of the Future, and Metaphysical Conundrums from A to E. The essays in the collection seem to keep in mind that Star Trek has become more than just a television show, and has become a force for change in the way we live our lives. And the point of view of the editors is that Star Trek is a way of preparing us how to think about a variety of ethical issues.

Both of the editors are professors of philosophy. They have also co-edited another volume about philosophy and Star Wars. With the wide variety of topics covered in this collection, students should be able to find one essay to help further their research. Many of these essays would pair well with other essays and books represented in this post.

strategiesFerguson, K.E.  (2002).  This species which is not one: Identity practices in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.   Strategies: Journal of Theory, Culture & Politics, 15(2), 181-195. doi:10.1080/1040213022000013894
Series covered: DS9
Subjects covered: Identity, race

Ferguson examines the issues of sex and gender identities and how those fit within a livable life, as she calls it. She argues that the space station, Deep Space Nine, is a heterotopia, which has the potential to be a disruptive space. The station is home to people who may otherwise be classified as misfits—the odd people out in other settings. She also argues that there are interesting dynamics on the station because of it being located between the known and the unknown—on the border. She proceeds to discuss the Trill, which are beings that are symbiants with other beings. She examines the identity issues that the Trill face. As there are fewer examinations of DS9 than of TOS and TNG, this article is essential for those looking into the deeper meanings and themes in DS9.

geraghtyGeraghty, L.  (2007).  Living with Star Trek: American culture and the Star Trek universe.   New York, NY: I.P. Tauris.
Series covered: DS9
Subjects covered: Culture, social justice, myth

Geraghty is somewhat of an expert in Star Trek. He has made it the subject of much of his academic work, including his dissertation. In this work, he looks at how Star Trek fits into and has affected American culture. He does examine some fan behavior and psychology in this book, but he seems mostly focused on how Star Trek tackles difficult social problems and proposes to fix them. He also explores topics such as the relationship between Star Trek and Puritanism, and how Star Trek employs myth.

Geraghty has clearly dedicated much of his academic life to this topic, and it shows. He has a depth of knowledge that is sometimes lacking in other work about Star Trek. Students will find his work authoritative, useful, and approachable

enter_zonesHarrison, T., Projansky, S., Ono, K.A., & Helford, E.R.  (Eds.). (1996).  Enterprise zones: Critical positions on Star Trek.   Cambridge, MA: Westview Press.
Series covered: TOS, TNG, DS9
Subjects covered: Gender, race, sexuality, imperialism

This collection contains academic essays on a variety of topics including gender, imperialism, sexuality, humanism, and identity. Unlike other collections of essays, this collection lacks an overarching theme. Some of the articles are very technical, others are more approachable. The collection focuses mostly on TOS and TNG. The authors are not afraid to challenge and probe the inconsistencies they find in the Star Trek universe, but instead they view them as opportunities to examine possible anxieties in the text. Some of the essays seem to reach a little too far to make their conclusions, but students should see those essays as opportunities for article reviews and discussion in their own papers.

religionsKraemer, R.S., Cassidy, W., & Schwartz, S.L. . (2001).  Religions of Star Trek. Cambridge, MA: Westview Press.
Series covered: TOS, TNG, DS9, VGR, MOV
Subjects covered: Religion, myth, ritual, death

All of the authors of this book are professors at various universities where they each teach religion. In the preface, they note that they found Star Trek useful when teaching religious studies courses. Their focus in this book is on the treatment of religion in the television series and movies and not how Star Trek fandom can be viewed as a sort of religion (The next book in this annotated bibliography discusses this topic a bit). The books explores such issues as whether or not God is in the universe, evil, ritual, what happens after death, and the representation of religious figures such as priests and prophets in Star Trek. There are some instances where the authors gloss over a point or misread something, and it is unclear whether this might be because of a lack of intimate knowledge of Star Trek. It is interesting to contrast some of the discussion in this work with the essays in the following work. Taken together, the two books provide a broad range of opinions on religion in Star Trek.

sacredPorter, J.E. & McLaren, D.L. (Eds.).  (1999).  Star Trek and sacred ground: Explorations of Star Trek, religoin, and American culture.  State University of New York Press.
Series covered: TOS, TNG, DS9, VGR, MOV
Subjects covered: Religion, culture, myth, ritual, fandom

This book looks at many aspects of religion in Star Trek, including how fandom can be seen as a religious activity itself. Other topics covered in this collection include the biblical interpretation of Star Trek, religion and science in Star Trek, New Age spirituality, and sacrifice. This collection came a couple years before Kraemer’s book about Star Trek and religion, and seems to cover more scholarly ground than that book. The variety in this collection will serve students well if they are interested in the portrayal of religion.

Meaning_ST.jpgRichards, T. (1997).  The meaning of Star Trek: An excursion into the myth and marvel of the Star Trek universe.   New York, NY: Doubleday.
Series covered: TOS, TNG
Subjects covered: Myth, culture, social issues

Richards takes the long view in this book that seeks to explore how Star Trek fits into our culture. In the Introduction, he argues that no work has been done to explore this issue. His aim is interpretive rather than descriptive. He examines the larger themes and issues in Star Trek rather than focusing on individual episodes. Richards seeks to analyze Star Trek on its own terms instead of brining other critical theories to bear. The book is broken down into four sections: Contact and Conflict, Character and Identity, Story and Myth, and The Sense of Wonder.

Richards is a former literature professor at Harvard University and a Guggenheim fellow. Even with this highly academic background, he presents a book that is very readable and accessible to people of all levels. For students who are trying to understand the bigger themes of Star Trek, this is a good work to look at.

Law and Politics

lawChaires, R. & Chilton, B. (2003). Star Trek: Visions of law and justice. Dallas, TX: Adios Press.
Series covered: TOS, TNG, DS9, VGR
Subjects covered: Law, legal systems, social justice

This collection of essays examines how law and legal systems are viewed and constructed in the Star Trek universe, as well as how justice is perceived and realized. The collection is heavily focused on social justice issues such as race and equality. The book is organized in three sections—Star Trek and Law, Star Trek and Justice, and Star Trek and the Future. In addition to articles on law and justice, there is an essay on using Star Trek as a teaching tool and one about legal reasoning and information technology.

This collection was put together by two scholars—Chaires has a JD and a Ph.D, and Chilton carries a JD, Ph.D, and an MLS—and all of the contributors are scholars in a variety of fields. As this is the only collection about law in Star Trek, it is a good source when examining this topic. It is also a good book to look at in combination with Barad’s The Ethics of Star Trek.

weldesNeumann, I.B.  (2001). “Grab a phaser, ambassador”: Diplomacy in Star Trek.   Millenium – Journal of International Studies, 30(3), 603-624. doi: 10.1177/03058298010300031501
Series covered: VGR
Subjects covered: Foreign relations, diplomacy, Prime Directive

Neumann examines the nexus between the kind of diplomacy portrayed in Star Trek to the kind practiced in America. Neumann argues that sometimes we must examine “re-presentations” of the world because some issues do not present directly. Star Trek is such a re-presentation. Neumann spends several pages discussing how Star Trek was produced, largely in service of the argument that it is valid to examine Star Trek critically. He then discusses the historical representations of diplomacy in America, from Benjamin Franklin to the United Nations. Neumann looks at how the Prime Directive is used as part of Starfleet’s diplomacy, and argues that the Borg are post-diplomatic. This is one of the most detailed explorations of diplomacy in Star Trek and would be particularly useful to students.

ualrPeltz, R.J. (2003). On a wagon train to Afghanisan: Limitations on Star Trek’s prime directive. University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Review, 25, 635-664. Retrieved from http://ualr.edu/lawreview/
Series covered: TOS, TNG, DS9, VGR
Subjects covered: Foreign relations, diplomacy, non-interference, Prime Directive

Pelz examines one of Star Trek’s core principles—the Prime Directive, which is a policy of non-interference. Pelz argues that the Prime Directive is not only a creation that was influenced by the Vietnam conflict in the real world, but how the Prime Directive has also influenced real impact in our culture. He also discusses how it evolved from something inviolable to more of a complicated best hope or aspiration. Pelz notes that the Prime Directive comes out of a world that is very utopian in nature and that the principle shouldn’t prevent U.S. involvement in the Middle East.

The author is an Associate Professor of Law at the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Many of the articles on law, politics, and foreign relations that relate to Star Trek deal with its relation to Vietnam or Clinton-era diplomacy; this is the only one that looks at the Prime Directive in context with the modern conflicts in the Middle East.

Science

bioAndreadis, A. (1999).  To seek out new life: The biology of Star Trek.   New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.
Series covered: TOS, TNG, DS9, VGR
Subjects covered: Biology, exobiology, sociology, psychology

This book examines Star Trek’s approach to human and non-human biology and other issues such as whether some of the medical technology is possible. Andreadis does not restrict herself strictly to biology and life science, but discusses the social and psychological implications for the discovery of alien life and the meaning of interacting with it. She also looks at the issue of artificial life—both androids like Data (TNG) and life on the holodeck.

Andreadis is a researcher and biologist who is currently a professor of Cell Biology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Her area of research is abnormal brain development. She is also involved in the 100 Year Starship Study, which is backed by DARPA, and has the goal of developing a model for investment into the variety of disciplines that would need to be involved to make long-distance space travel a reality.

nasaBatchelor, D.A.  (2009, May 5).  The science of Star Trek.  NASA website.  Retrieved from http://www.nasa.gov/topics/technology/features/star_trek.html
Series covered: TOS, TNG, DS9, VGR, ENT
Subjects covered: Technology, warp drive, transporters, replicators, androids, aliens

This article on NASA’s website goes over some of the technology in Star Trek and whether or not it is plausible. Batchelor covers technologies such as androids, transporters, aliens, and phasers. Batchelor notes that even though Star Trek stretches science or gets it wrong sometimes, the show is still important because it inspires many people to go into science. He also notes that the shows are more faithful to science than other science fiction. Interestingly, NASA has recently teamed up with Tor Books (a major science fiction publisher) to create works of science fiction inspired by NASA.

The article would be useful to students who are interested in the scientific aspects of Star Trek. Even though there are many books that have been written on the topic, this article gives the point of view of a NASA physicist—someone who is involved in the scientific exploration of space. This article would be good to examine in contrast with Kaku’s book.

Chyka, P.A. & Banner, W. (1999). The history of poisoning in the future: Lessons from Star Trek. Journal of Toxicology — Clinical Toxicology, 37(6), 793-799.  doi:10.1081/CLT-100102459
Series covered: TOS, TNG, ENT
Subjects covered: Medicine, toxicology

Chyka and Banner have a unique approach to TOS in this article. They examine the circumstance of poisoning in the 79 episodes of TOS to see what lessons might be learned from the future. They found 28 episodes dealt with poisoning in one manner or another. There is a comprehensive chart that shows the circumstances and toxin type, as well as the episode title, scenario, and year (of the future) of the occurrence. They conclude the poisonings reflect the state of society as it is now, but they also believe that toxicologists can learn a few things from studying the future.

This was a paper that was presented at the Toxicological History Society, North American Congress of Clinical Toxicology Annual Meeting in 1998. Chyka is a medical doctor who works at the University of Tennessee, and Banner is also a medical doctor and toxicologist. Students interested in the field of medicine and how it is portrayed in Star Trek will probably find this article interesting.

lit_medHughes, J.J. & Lantos, J.D. (2001). Medical ethics through the Star Trek lens. Literature and Medicine, 20(1), 26-38. doi:10.1353/lm.2001.0004
Series covered: TOS, TNG, DS9, VGR
Subjects covered: Medicine, ethics, technology

Hughes and Lantos discuss the issues presented in Star Trek that are related to medical ethics. They specifically discuss how they have used the TNG episode “Ethics” to get first-year medical students talking about ethical issues. The article spends a lot of time on this episode, but also looks at some issues on DS9 and VGR. In addition to examining the ethical dilemmas, the authors note that Star Trek makes a great teaching tool because it serves as a parable. This article pairs nicely with Judith Barad’s book about the ethics of Star Trek because medical ethics aren’t discussed in depth in that volume.

This article comes out of a respected scholarly journal, Literature and Medicine, which is the official journal of the Institute for Medical Humanities. The journal explores interdisciplinary connections between humanities and medicine. Hughes is a sociologist and bioethicist, and Lantos has an MD and is also concerned with bioethics.

kakuKaku, M. (2011).  Physics of the future: How science will shape human destiny and our daily lives by the year 2100.  New York, NY: Doubleday.
Series covered: TOS, TNG, DS9, VOY, MOV
Subjects covered: Physics, warp technology, quantum mechanics, social impact of technology

Although this book is not specifically about Star Trek, as some other works are, Kaku still explores many of the technologies that are to be found in the Star Trek series. What he does that others do not (at least, not in as much depth) is explore the social and ethical consequences and issues that may come with new technologies. He is interested as much in the effect on humanity as the inner workings of any new gadget. How we deal with the challenges that come along with rapidly developing technology will help define our direction as a species. This is also something that Star Trek is concerned with.

Kaku is one of the originators of string field theory and is a professor of physics. This book will be of interest to any student who is interested in more than just the whiz-bang technology. This work would fit well in a discussion in either the humanities and social science fields, as well as discussions coming from the scientific area.

metalWeiss, D.  (2009). Foundries: The final frontier the next thousand years of casting technology.  International Journal of Metalcasting, 3(3), 7-11.  Retrieved from http://www.metalcastingjournal.com/
Series covered: TOS, TNG
Subjects covered: Metallurgy, foundries, material science

This article explores the possibilities of materials science in the near future. Weiss notes that the starship Enterprise was built in the 2130s, which is not all that far away. In his discussion, he gives a brief history of metalcasting then considers some materials that are featured in some science fiction. Weiss relies on Kaku’s classifications of “impossibilities” to frame his discussion of the future of materials science. Weiss includes a nice graphic on the relative importance of materials over time that shows which materials were used and relied on the most over the years. He also discusses what needs to happen for significant advances in metalcasting to occur.

Weiss is Vice President of Sales and Engineering at Eck Industries, Inc. He is also part of the 100 Year Starship Study, which is backed by DARPA, and has the goal of developing a model for investment into the variety of disciplines that would need to be involved to make long-distance space travel a reality.