Archives: Star Trek

Fredric Brown

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Continuing my infrequent looks at the authors mentioned by Gary Gygax in Appendix N of the DMG, today I consider Fredric Brown. Fredric Brown is one of the forgotten authors of the mid-twentieth century. He was popular enough, by all accounts. He made a living with his writing alone, quitting his job as a proofreader. And he was influential, a couple of his novels were adapted for film, and one of his stories famously inspired an episode of “Star Trek.”

But we don’t read him now and I think we are missing out. I’ve read only a single collection of his short stories. But now I’m going to keep him in mind whenever I forage through a used book store.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard – Science Fiction’s Greatest Villain

The captain of the Enterprise D, Jean-Luc Picard. James T. Kirk’s antithesis. A scholar, a diplomat, a man of culture.

And the perpetrator of monstrous crimes. Ming the Merciless, Darth Vader – pikers. Their villainy amounts to little more than a string of misdemeanors compared to the enormity of Captain Picard’s genocidal activities.

Count 1. Picard is a mass murderer on a galactic scale. After the Enterprise captured a lone Borg drone, Star Fleet had the opportunity to introduce a virus that would wipe out the Borg menace. Picard – on his own authority, without consulting with his superiors – ordered otherwise. The Borg subsequently murdered billions of sentients. Thats the big number with a ‘B.’ Billions. Picard would claim he couldn’t have expected that. A laughably weak defense. The Borg actions were eminently foreseeable. Picard’s failure to introduce the virus was reckless, negligent. All of those fictional billions deaths can be laid at his feet.

Count 2. Picard is also a prospective murderer on a vast scale. In the rather forgettable “Trek’”outing “Insurrection” the good captain was faced with an ethical dilemma that shouldn’t have stumped even a frosh philosophy major for more than five minutes. A colony of 600 or so were squatting on the secret of immortality. Star Fleet wanted to relocate them. Picard made the determination that the potential health and longevity of untold numbers of humans were trumped by a rather recent land claim of 600 people. Get that – he made the decision. Were I a Federation citizen facing my looming mortality I think I might be a bit irked that I wasn’t consulted, that Captain Picard personally eliminated the option of my continued existence. Thanks ever so much.

Verdict: Guilty on both counts.

Disagree? Go ahead and lay into me for impugning the good captain. And let’s face it, he could be a pretty cool character and Patrick Stewart was terrific in the role.

Technobabble

The thing to bear in mind is that it is science FICTION. If you were describing actual scientific advances you’d be an inventor and the world would be a truly fabulous place, complete with jet packs, flying cars, and anti-matter engines. Or a smoldering cinder, slowing cooling in the deep freeze of space. Depending. The aim, therefor, is not viability but verisimilitude. Not necessarily plausibility, though that’s a bonus. Your gadgets need to pass without raising an eyebrow within the context of the world you’ve created, not of this one.

Technical jargon, or technical sounding jargon, is the primary tool in your verisimilitude chest. Engage in a bit of research, absorb the language of scientific journals. But keep the research wide rather than deep. It is easy to drown in the topic you’re investigating. You forget the aim – verisimilitude – and begin to despair because your essential piece of sci-fi hardware – the hook upon which your story hangs – appears implausible. Take a step back, breathe. Remember the goal. Look, if we science fiction consumers were that insistent upon rigid, peer-reviewed science backing the fiction then the shelves would be empty and television would consist of nothing but police procedurals and reality programming.

So learn your technobabble. And set the stage for your plot-necessary tech with throwaway descriptions of other context-appropriate future gadgetry. If such other wonders are commonplace then this key breakthrough shouldn’t threaten suspension of disbelief.