Trek Club at the Movies

It has been a few months since the movie came out, but I wanted to share some photographs from my local screenings. Here’s a short peek at what it’s like to be part of a Star Trek group when a new movie opens.  
My local Star Trek group, the USS Wernher von Braun, had tables at two different theaters on the Friday and Saturday of the opening weekend of Star Trek Into Darkness. Two members of my group went above and beyond your usual movie promotional table, and made hundreds of gift bags with a comic, action figure, or tribble in each. Our group helped out a little with stuffing and sewing the tribbles at a few get togethers, but truthfully, Michael and Joanna and their family made the gift bags almost entirely on their own.
Tribbles in the making

They gave the gift bags away for free to anyone attending the movie. But that’s not where the awesomeness ends. They also donated a ton of amazing Star Trek memorabilia for free drawings at every movie screening. And we are talking about some super cool items.

Gorgeous plates
Lovely TOS action figures
The movie events were really fun. It was interesting, though, how many people couldn’t believe that we were giving away items for free. No fee to enter. No catch. Not even requiring that you sign up for an email list first.

It was fun to stand behind the table and have short, enthusiastic conversations about Star Trek with movie goers. I didn’t get to see the movie until Sunday of the opening weekend, but in the end, meeting so many old and new Trek fans was my favorite part of the movie experience. 

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Being Shy on the Enterprise

Season 3, Episode 21 – “Hollow Pursuits”

I loved this episode. It’s a character-driven short story with a protagonist we’ve never seen before – some shy guy who everyone (even Wesley Crutcher) calls “Broccoli.”

Lieutenant Barclay pisses Geordi and Riker off by being late to his post, and delivering his engineering analysis in stumbling sentences. He spends his time on the holodeck hanging out with variations of the crew – a much shorter and squeakier Riker, Troi – goddess of empathy in flowing robes, and a wonderful caricature of Wesley as Georgie Porgie.

But outside the holodeck the ship is crumbling, and Barclay’s creativity is needed to solve the mystery of the sudden ship malfunctions.

The previous episode, “Tin Man”, also dealt with an outsider. A prodigy empath, who seeks the solace of alien creatures that communicate at Ent-like speeds so that he won’t be overwhelmed with their voices inside his head.

But while the main character in “Tin Man” was too far removed from the rest of the crew to evoke empathy from the audience, Barclay is a Starfleet officer. He’s what many people – including myself – would probably be like if transferred from real life onto the Enterprise. Picard would be terrifying as a boss. And even if given the chance to show your skill, then Wesley pipes in, telling you your half-spoken idea is incorrect.

So it’s no surprise that Barclay’s perilously close to holodiction. Geordi’s the only person in the real world who feels as real to Barclay as the projections on the holodeck. But Geordi surprises Barclay with an admission:

“Listen, I know how you feel. I fell in love on the holodeck once, but you’ve got to know when to let it go.”

Anytime there’s holodeck shenanigans it can be easy to brush off the episode as silly. Look – there’s Picard, Geordi, and Data as a very rowdy set of Musketeers! (Everyone on the Enterprise looks better with long, flowing locks, apparently.)

But if you look back through the crew’s use of the holodeck, Barclay really isn’t that different.

Remember Riker’s perfect woman, impossible to replicate without the complex interactions of the Bynars?

And what about that moving scene between Worf and K’Ehleyr, when he proposes marriage after they’ve made love in the rush following a satisfying holodeck battle?

And of course Geordi falling in love with a woman he’ll never meet, the holodeck representation of his intellectual peer. Together solving an engineering quandry that’s nerdy, sensual foreplay.

So we might expect for the crew to understand Barclay’s desire to escape. If there weren’t holodecks on board, he’d be reading books. I bet he’d have great discussions with Picard.

Early on in the episode, when the stakes are low, everyone’s taking potshots at Barclay. Geordi forcing himself to be civil to a crewmate – it isn’t a scenario I had expected. It’s interesting, and it opens up space for this exchange:

Barclay: Being afraid all of the time, of forgetting somebody’s name, not, not knowing…what to do with your hands. I mean, I, I am the guy who writes down things to remember to say when there’s a party. And then, when he finally gets there, he winds up alone, in the corner, trying to look comfortable examining a potted plant.

Geordi: You’re just shy, Barclay.

Barclay: Just shy…Sounds like nothing serious – doesn’t it?

Watching episodes of The Next Generation, especially in sequence night after night, the Enterprise can begin to seem like a perfect environment, where the threats are almost always from external forces. The crew will come through in the end, thanks to teamwork and individual competence.

But I like having life on the Enterprise be a little less perfect. It makes the crew feel more open to failure, more vulnerable to even small dangers. After all, they’re out in the far reaches of space, often very alone.

The world they live in is made more realistic by showing that it is a place from which people need to escape.

Barclay on the holodeck, after deleting all but one of his programs

Trek Out: TNG at the Movies

Last night I went to a screening of two episodes from the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation at my local movie theater. It was a one time showing, and was mainly to promote the release of the Blue-Ray editions.

My local chapter of Starfleet, the USS Wernher von Braun, was there handing out free Star Trek trading cards and entering people in a raffle for an autographed picture of Brent Spiner (Mr. Data).

I picked two trading cards to bring home. I haven’t gotten a good look at the trading cards before. Quite a few of them were trivia questions with slightly blurry photographs from episodes. But near the bottom of the stack I found these beauties:

Star Trek trading cards

I’m going to try framing them in a shadow box using tips from my favorite craft & geek blog, Epbot. I’ll let you know how it goes.

One of the cutest moments of the evening was when two young boys came in dressed in Star Trek outfits. They got their picture taken with the head officers of the USS Wernher von Braun, with everyone grinning and proudly signaling “live long and prosper.”

I was also able to borrow a uniform for the showing. It was my first time wearing a Star Trek uniform, and I was a bit nervous I’d look goofy or out of place.

Me in a Star Trek uniform

I wore black dress pants and black shoes, and then borrowed the top and the pin. This style is from Deep Space Nine. I like the simple cut and style of the top, even though my heart is more with TOS and TNG. I’d really love to have a science officer uniform (blue) from The Original Series someday, and make my own tricorder. In addition to my Gorn costume, of course.

The screening itself was a lot of fun. Watching Where No One Has Gone Before and Datalore was really enjoyable with a theater full of people. Where else can you hear the right kind of laughter when Picard says “Shut up, Wesley”? Fan community is why I love going to midnight screenings, why conventions feel like a party with friends I just haven’t met yet, and why I love to write and read genre.

The USS Wernher von Braun is having a workday next spring. We’re getting together to make tribbles to give away at the Star Trek 2 movie coming out next year. I hope they do what tribbles do best – multiply, and grow Roddenberry’s vision of a better future.

Star Trek: For the Love of Gorn


“I weary of the chase. Wait for me.
 I shall be merciful and quick.”
~ the Gorn to Kirk, “Arena”

I fell in love with the Gorn captain from the original series episode “Arena” pretty much at first sight. Maybe it was the short gold tunic, or his metallic eyes. Definitely his no-nonsense approach to fighting factored in somewhere. Even though he lumbered around, there’s still an awesomeness to the Gorn that few other alien species in Star Trek possess.

We’ve been watching The Next Generation lately, heading into season three where the episodes are really starting to come together. But a little thing happened that made me want to pause our TNG odyssey and go back to TOS just for one episode, just to “Arena.”

I joined Starfleet. 
And once I joined Starfleet, I discovered Starfleet Academy, where you can take courses on Star Trek topics. 
I figured I’d take a couple of Klingon classes, see what else was available. And then, I came across this:
Institute of Alien Studies (IOAS)

Oh. My. Goodness.

Now, these courses aren’t really courses in the usual college sense. You don’t attend lectures or interact with a professor.

You watch the episode/ read the book and then take a multiple-choice quiz online for the 100 and 200 level classes. At the 300 level, you can write a Gorn Thesis, which is a short story about the Gorn.

When you pass, you get an awesome certificate.

The Hermione-Anne Shirley part of my brain compels me to complete each of these Gorn courses. And yes, that means I’ll write some Star Trek, Gorn-centric fan fic sometime in the next few months.

(I bet Gorn ladies are badass. And I’ve been challenged to write a badass character.)

I’ve seen the Gorn vs. Kirk fight scene labeled as the Worst Fight Scene Ever. And if you watch just this scene, well, it does come off a bit slow-moving and silly.

You really have to watch the entire episode to love the Gorn. Then you’ll see him chuckle to himself as he makes a trap. You can admire the Gorn’s wit as he silently listens to Kirk babble on about his strategy over an open airwave.

The Gorn is menacing and alien. He makes Kirk run around in circles, lose his cool, and ultimately wins his respect – which influences the Metrons in their decision of whether or not to blast both ships to pieces due to their aggressive natures.

So before you skip over the episode “Arena” in your Trek watching, give it a shot. You may find yourself liking the Gorn more than you thought you would.

As for me, I’m moving on to the next logical step for my Gorn obsession.

A Gorn costume.

Have a Geeky Holiday!

I love my library.

Definitely for the books, where would I be without them? But also for all of the awesome events and programs that the library organizes to make me feel more connected with my community.

Right now the library is decorated with about thirty Christmas trees, all sponsored by community organizations. These organizations decorate the tree with club-themed ornaments and have informational displays and brochures by their tree. It makes the whole library feel festive, safe, and warm.

All of the trees are lovely, but there’s one that is my favorite.

This is the tree sponsored by my local chapter of Starfleet – the USS Wernher von Braun. I took one of the brochures home, and it made me smile for the rest of the day. I’m going to their meeting in January to see what the club is all about, and just to meet new people who like to talk Trek. 
Here’s a closer look at some of the ornaments:
Kirk overwhelmed with tribbles!
Astronaut outside the shuttle bay doors
Rocket launch, complete with fire and dust cloud at takeoff

Aren’t these awesome? I’m so glad my local Star Trek group has a tree at the library, so that I can daydream about having my own geek tree someday. 

Here’s hoping your holiday is full of the people you love and all of the geekery your heart desires!

Lessons Learned from Star Trek: Replacing Your Characters

Here at the little apartment in north Alabama, we’re done with our viewings of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season One, and are well into Season Two.

The second season began with a horrible mindscrew for Deanna Troi, where she was forcefully impregnated by an alien life form. The next episodes began to get better and better, thank goodness. We got to see Riker as the cultural-savvy vagabond he is at heart in “A Matter of Honor” when he joins the crew of a Klingon vessel as part of an exchange program. This was immediately followed by the best Star Trek TNG episode so far – “The Measure of a Man”, where a court decides whether Data has the legal right to decline an operation which would very likely erase the essence of his self. But after this episode, the stories took a nosedive again. We watched “Samaritan Snare” last night, and it was tedious and boorish.

There are times when I feel the burning desire to skip the poorly rated episodes. To just toggle past them on the menu screen when my partner says, “Oh, I read that this one is one of the worst episodes ever.” But I’ve watched them all. Every moment of techno-jargon, of A and B plot lines that never intersect, of Riker’s father in a too-tight onesie.

But I’m glad I stuck it out, because I was able to watch a fascinating character development in one of the Enterprise’s new crew members.

Doctor Pulaski.

[ At this point, I suppose I should alert you to spoilers about Star Trek: TNG second series episodes. I’ll only be referencing a few episodes, but in order to talk about Pulaski’s character arc I need to reveal the endings. So proceed with caution. ]

At the beginning of Season Two, we learn that Dr. Crusher won’t be journeying forward with the Enterprise. She’s been given another assignment. This creates two problems:

(1) Without Dr. Crusher on board, Wesley Crusher becomes 100x more annoying. His plausibility for remaining on the starship after his mother has left is non-existent, and Riker gets shoved into being Wesley’s guardian.

(2) The Enterprise needs another Chief Medical Officer.

Dr. Beverly Crusher may not have been the greatest physician in the world, but she was likable as a character. Sure, her “will they or won’t they?” chemistry with Picard was only 1/6 of a Mulder-Scully, but she and Picard had a past together. They had friends and coworkers they knew in the larger world of Starfleet that made the often flimsy plots of the first season feel more like stories. And I admired her ability to coach Picard through taking care of her injuries as she slipped into shock after falling into a giant hole on a hostile planet. She often seemed flabbergasted by medial traumas, but she always came through in the end.

In the first season I scoffed at the notion that Wesley Crusher was annoying. I loved “Coming of Age,” where Wesley takes his first try at the Starfleet Entrance Exam. Maybe he’s made humbler somehow just by us knowing that his mom is on board the ship. But with Dr. Crusher gone, Wesley turns into a bit of a third wheel. Since it is awkward for him to stay there after his mother is no longer acting Chief Medical Officer, his every action is open for speculation. “Why are they letting him take charge of a geological survey team? He’s not even supposed to be there!”

So replacing Dr. Crusher was a bit of a conundrum. How do you go about replacing a main cast member in a way that fans will not reject? This happens all the time in long series. Mulder disappeared and was usurped by liquid Terminator guy. Samantha had two Darrins.

You can either have a new character replace the position held by the old character (X Files), or you can place another actor in the character’s role and hope no one notices (I Dream of Jeannie) or make fun of the change (a la Roseanne) so that no one cares.

Thankfully, Star Trek: TNG chose to create a new character to fill the role of Chief Medical Officer, and  whether by luck or by design, the writers at Star Trek: TNG pulled this transition off gloriously.

This is how they did it.

STEP ONE: MAKE THE AUDIENCE HATE THE NEW CHARACTER

From NikiSublime’s Flickr 

How do you do this swiftly and effectively? You give that new character a prejudice, a flaw so unappealing that you did not think it possible in the story’s universe.

In a word: bigotry.

In the first season we learn a lot about Mister Data. He’s the most capable person on the Enterprise. He has a drive to become as human as possible, and his attempts to become more human are heartbreaking, annoying, and funny. (Like the time he tries to sport a Riker-beard). They’re complicated, because he’s a complicated, self-aware being.

But Pulaski will have none of this. She’s a medical officer. Her jurisdiction is the human body. When she meets Data, she refers to him as “it.” Pulaski constantly questions Data’s abilities to reason, to feel empathy, and even to die.

From watching the first season, I thought everyone in the 24th century was enlightened and accepting of alternate life-forms. But it seems as though the Enterprise is a bit of a protective bubble for Data, and that there are people out there – like Dr. Pulaski – who view Data as nothing more than a collection of mechanical parts.

After two episodes of Data-bashing, my dislike of Dr. Pulaski was cemented.

STEP TWO: MAKE THE NEW CHARACTER ALMOST DIE

And then she almost died.

The key in this near-death experience is the method of how the character falls into the deadly situation.

For Dr. Pulaski, it is her drive as a Medical Officer that pushes her to take a risk.  On the planet below,  the adults are rapidly aging. The children are genetically modified, and are kept in a contained facility apart from the adults. The children show no signs of the rapid aging disease. The lead scientist appeals to Dr. Pulaski to save their children, and Pulaski, being thorough, takes a shuttle craft away from the Enterprise and beams the child there in order to conduct a physical exam. This exam will tell her whether it is safe for the children to beam aboard the Enterprise so that they can be taken care of when all the adults die from the disease down on the planet.

The exam goes well until – ARTHRITIS! Dr. Pulaski grabs her arm, and hails Picard. The children are contagious. Dr. Pulaski’s caught the rapid aging disease. She’s going down to the planet to see how she can help them now that she’s infected.

She begins to age, but she works steadily on towards trying to find a cure. She takes full responsibility for her actions, and despite my frustration at her treatment of Data, I begin to feel sympathy for her. And I start to understand how it is possible, maybe, for a person so dedicated to the art of healing the human body to feel umbrage at an android, whose body is alien to her.

STEP THREE: EASE OFF THE BIGOTRY AND SHOW THE CHARACTER’S UBER-CAPABLENESS
Mister Data was on that shuttle craft with Dr. Pulaski. And he points out to her that it is not certain that he will remain unaffected by any contagion. In other words, he could die, too. Maybe this shared near-death experience with Data clicks some gears in Pulaski’s brain, because pretty soon she backs off her admonitions of his non-personhood. Perhaps she just becomes less outspoken about her beliefs, but she certainly begins to treat Data with more respect.

The final step in establishing Dr. Pulaski as an accepted member of the crew is when she saves Picard’s life. This happens in the amazingly awful episode “Samaritan Snare”. One I would rather not have watched. But I’m glad I did because this is when I knew Dr. Pulaski had truly arrived. And I forgot all about Dr. Crusher.

Picard has an artificial heart. It’s not working properly, and he needs a replacement. He takes a painfully long shuttle journey with Wesley to a starbase while the Enterprise is off being boorish without his command, all because Picard is afraid that if Pulaski performs the operation then word will get out and the crew will no longer respect him.

For some reason the surgical staff wear all red scrubs on the starbase. We see Picard slip off into anesthetic bliss from a tiny piece of metal stuck to his forehead, and then the lead surgeon declares they’ll all be home in time for supper.

But complications arise.

The lasers won’t keep stuff together.

Everybody starts sweating on their foreheads.

Dinner is cancelled.

Lead surgeon guy calls in a specialist. The specialist says they have to take the artificial heart out and do the procedure again.

Lead surgeon guy freaks out. “I’m not qualified to do that.”

But he knows someone who is.

The Enterprise hits Warp 9 back to the starbase, and Picard wakes up to a familiar face.

Picard: What the hell are you doing here?

Pulaski: Saving your life

Picard: Oh, come on. This is a routine procedure, quite commonplace.

Pulaski: True, but you are not a commonplace man. You’ll be out of recovery in four hours.

Picard: I didn’t want you involved in this.

Pulaski: You’re welcome.

Picard: If you’re here the entire crew must know.

Pulaski: You’re still the captain. Invincible.

Picard: huh. Thank You

Welcome to the Enterprise, Dr. Pulaski. 🙂
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[Or should I say, Welcome Back.]

Subtext and Star Trek

My boyfriend and I are on a quest to watch every episode, in order, of Star Trek: The Next Generation. We have recently finished Season One.

It’s interesting to see the genesis of the characters, to see actors figuring out which gestures and tones to use. Riker doesn’t have a beard, and has a fantastic layer of ADD, wanting always to Do Something. Mr. Data is sweetly annoying, and even the computer interrupts him to say, “enough.”

There’s one character, however, who I have little patience for, and view her presence as not only completely unnecessary, but also as detrimental to the storytelling:

Deanna Troi.


“I’m sensing hostility from this blog post.”

Let’s take, for example, the first season episode “We’ll Always have Paris.”

Picard is practicing his fencing with a partner when a strange time phenomenon occurs.

Random Lieutenant: “Interesting move sir. But what technique was that?”
Picard: “The technique of a desperate man.”

Random Lieutenant: “Interesting move sir. But what technique was that?”
Picard: “The technique of a desperate man.”

Picard confers with Riker via comlink, who says that they have experienced a similar phenomenon on the bridge. Picard runs up to the bridge in his fencing outfit, grabbing his towel and bringing it with him.

They receive an Emergency Transmission from Dr. Paul Manheim, asking for immediate assistance. The Enterprise lays in a course for Pegos Minor and heads off at Warp 8.

After we return from the beginning credits, Mr. Data gives Riker an infodump on Manheim. Picard supplements it, mentioning that Manheim was teaching physics at the university when Picard was in Paris.

As Picard relates this, he twirl-slaps the towel against his legs. This is really weird for Picard. Usually he is very calm and collected, even during the most dangerous assignment. Any viewer is going to pick up on the physical cues, and is going to appreciate the heightened tension from this character action.

Picard abruptly announces that he must change his clothes, and leaves a few acting commands before heading back to the fencing room.

But Deanna Troi can’t let it pass without comment. This is the whole reason she’s there. Her title is Counselor, but her storytelling purpose is to spell out the subtext of the characters’ actions so that everyone, Absolutely Everyone, will be completely sure of what is happening.
She power walks to catch up with Picard before he steps on to the turbolift, and confronts him, saying that he acted very agitated at the news of Manheim, and that it is her duty to remind him that strong emotions can effect judgement.

Picard asks Troi to advise him.

“There are a few hours until we arrive. Perhaps you should use this time to analyze your feelings and put them into perspective.”

Not only has she erased the tension and excitement that Picard’s interesting actions set-up, but she’s also given Picard advice which he was almost certainly going to employ using his own good judgement. He’s heading back to the fencing room to change his clothes and shower. Everything’s taken care of for the moment on the bridge. Why wouldn’t he take a moment to reflect on the emotions bothering him? If Deanna Troi had not been in this scene, it would have moved more concisely and with greater tension.

There’s a tricky balance between clarity and subtext. Your readers need to know what is happening, but they also want to be able to discover pieces of the narratives for themselves. The importance of clarity was one of my first lessons learned at Clarion West. It is, perhaps, the single most important aspect of a story. If you don’t have clarity, then it is hard for others to even know how to help you fix your story.

But subtext mouthpieces are almost unbearable to me in fiction. I would rather be totally lost in a story than to have another character explain to me what is happening. That is one of my killswitches. Voiced subtext? Let’s see what other books I want to read instead.

In order to have clarity in stories, it might be useful to have a Deanna Troi around in an early draft, to make sure a writer knows what the story is trying to say.

And then the writer can delete her in the next draft, long before showing the story to anyone.

I hope Deanna Troi’s character grows stronger in the next season, and that she can help add to the tension of the Enterprise’s adventures. But the other characters are charging ahead, becoming real people, while Troi is stuck as a scribble in the margins, a writer’s Note to the Self.