Monday, November 17, 2008

Get well soon, Carla and Lance

You've probably heard by now that my friend and colleague Carla Hoffman was badly burned, as was her husband Lance, while trying to escape the Southern California wildfires. They'll probably be in the hospital for a while, and are expected to recover, but they've lost their house. Goodness knows I can't imagine what they've been through.

I "met" Carla (in the online/email sense) when she joined Blog@Newsarama in the summer of 2006, but I didn't meet her in person until the 2007 San Diego Comic-Con. (Unfortunately, I haven't met Lance.) If you think her blogging is energetic and passionate about comics, she moves about ten times as fast in real life. She is a real dynamo, and I can't imagine her not in perpetual motion, let alone laid up for days or weeks.

Please help them out. I know I will. Donations may be made to

The Lance and Carla Burn Fund
Santa Barbara Bank and Trust
1483 East Valley Road
Montecito, CA 93108-1248
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Thoughts on Star Trek '09 (Trailer Edition)

After spending an unhealthy amount of time following our thrilling Presidential election, I had been wondering whether I’d find a new obsession...

... but then the new Star Trek trailer appeared. I am (in a word) stoked, and can’t wait the (barely!) six months which tick away just to your right.

Of course, other fans -- who appear to be a small but insistent faction -- are not so sanguine. For them the trailer, like the pictures which have been trickling out over the past several weeks, confirms their collective fear. The long-dreaded reboot (gasp!) of Star Trek must necessarily explode four decades of canon (or “cannon,” if you’re not particular). To this point the history of the Trekverse had been assembled out of plot points and throwaway references into a workable structure, albeit rickety and creaking in parts, upon which had nevertheless been hung hundreds of hours’ worth of stories and characters. Without canon, Star Trek is merely a collection of stories. With it, though, Trek is a vast centuries-spanning galactic tapestry. I understand why it’s maintained so intricately, and I’ve enjoyed the interconnections (intentional and otherwise) myself.

Star Trek ‘09 aims to reveal finally a new wing of the structure -- the “origins” of the famous Five-Year Mission -- while looking back into Kirk’s and Spock’s childhoods. With so much background material available, the participants in this story seem obvious: all those trivial (in the strictest sense) names and events relevant to this period which had already been mentioned on-screen. The story itself seems like a mere matter of connecting the dots, from “The Cage” to “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” Thus, the subplots would be Pike to Kirk, Number One to Spock, Boyce to Piper to McCoy, etc. For good measure, throw in all the people from Kirk’s Academy days and early career: Mallory, Finnegan, Ruth, Carol Marcus, Captain Garrovick, Ben Finney. Perhaps most importantly, there’s Gary Mitchell, Kirk’s best friend, who may even have been his first officer when he died as part of “WNMHGB’s” climax. A “Year Zero” story would need to address the doomed Kirk/Mitchell friendship ... wouldn’t it?

In a word, no. Star Trek ‘09 appears to answer those kinds of issues in the resounding negative -- or perhaps worse, with resounding indifference. Pike is in it (the trailer casts him as a father-figure to Kirk), but the other “Cagers” are nowhere to be found. Neither is Mitchell or Number One. Furthermore, the sets are pristine, the Bridge is spacious, and the bulkheads are concave. It all looks familiar, but obviously it’s been changed -- and for some, those changes are dealbreakers.

Now, I can speak only as a second-generation fan who grew up on the movies and ‘70s syndication, but the original Star Trek may be the last major bit of pop culture associated indelibly with unsocialized geeks. Not surprisingly, many fans have turned this perceived stigma on its head, charging that any attempt to update or “make cool” the Original Series is actually “dumbing it down.” Thus, like any other so-called cult phenomenon, Star Trek is too good for the unwashed, who must prove themselves worthy of it, and not it of them. Having spent most of my life trudging up such steep learning curves, I have some sympathy for this perspective. It’s only natural that, with our efforts rewarded, we want others to be rewarded similarly only after similar efforts.

However, when think about re-registering at the TrekBBS ... well, it’s literally asking for trouble, isn’t it? The memories of debates gone by, and the spectacle of today’s polarized fanbase, are huge obstacles. Writing about comic books is much easier by comparison. For example, the Legion of Super-Heroes boasts a vocal fanbase doggedly supportive of, say, the Adventure Comics days and/or Levitz/Giffen, but to my knowledge they don’t go around making dark pronouncements like The Legion died in 1989.

No, these bitter, angry Trek fans are people who feel betrayed, and again I am sympathetic -- but I have to ask, by what have they been betrayed? By the foreseeable effects of advances in time, age, and technology? By the business aspects of movie production, which necessarily demand stories with wide appeal? By the thought -- and here I freely admit I’m speculating -- that accepting a new version of Star Trek somehow betrays one’s fidelity to the original?

Look, I know what it’s like. Because there are fewer and fewer old-school fans out there, you think that if you don’t stand up for the good old days, pretty soon no one will. Although you came in late, you were converted just the same; and therefore others can be converted similarly. There’s nothing wrong with the basic ideas, just their execution. Above all, you don’t want the thing you love to sell out, because you don’t want it to lose that unquantifiable spark that makes it special.

Nevertheless, I am now officially stoked about ST09 because I can see Pine and Quinto as Kirk and Spock, even in the fewer-than-two-minutes they’re on the screen. The differences in the Enterprise, the bridge, etc., aren’t big enough to be distracting.

Besides, when you get down to it, Star Trek is about the boldly going. So what if the Enterprise doesn’t line up exactly with the original? It is still recognizable as the Enterprise NCC-1701, and these folks are recognizable as her crew. I’ve said before that the key to making Star Trek viable for new generations lies not so much in creating yet another new crew, which will be compared inevitably to the five previous -- but in finding ways to re-acquaint the general public with the original. As much as I enjoyed having eighteen years’ (!) worth of TV sequels and spinoffs, at their core those shows could only riff on the original. For Star Trek to start over it had to do something like this ...

... and for something like this to work, it can’t be hamstrung with minutiae. The Star Wars prequels had to hew to a certain structure, because they were parts of a single large story. Conversely, Star Trek takes an almost entirely opposite approach. It’s set up to tell individual stories, not one big one. ST09 may be concerned with the two biggest individuals in all of the series, but it’s not the final piece of any narrative puzzle.

Indeed, the earlier movies helped frame the exploits of Kirk and Spock in recognizable character arcs. The Motion Picture showed Spock reconciling the inner conflicts between logic and emotion; and The Wrath of Khan featured Kirk’s midlife crisis. Naturally, both movies built on the original series, but had less to do with character moments in individual episodes (“Space Seed” notwithstanding, of course) than a general sense of who the characters were. By that I mean that I can recall nothing in either movie which is a specific callback to, say, “The Naked Time,” but obviously Spock’s struggles in “Naked” (and “This Side Of Paradise,” “Amok Time,” “All Our Yesterdays,” etc.) inform his growth in TMP.

It bears repeating too that the Kirk and Spock of ST09 are not quite the characters who appear in those episodes, or for that matter in “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” Instead, by coming to know each other they are in the process of becoming those characters. While it might be informative to see how Gary Mitchell or Number One affected that process, it’s not necessary, and in fact those characters might be more of a distraction to the casual moviegoer than a redesigned Bridge will be to a hardcore fan.

So, with all due respect to my fellow Trekkies and Trekkers, I say engage! to this version of Star Trek. As a certain velvet-voiced officer once said, “any chance to go aboard the Enterprise...!”

[P.S. I know that the trailer shows a familiar-looking starship being constructed out in an open field -- but are we sure that this ship is the Enterprise, and not one of her sisters?]
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