Tag Archive for: Star Trek

Scroll down to Trek Book Club (TBC) episode 5 for a conversation with author Michael J. Foy.

In a YouTube interview, Jonathan Frakes (who played Lieutenant Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation) stated that the cast of that show had supplanted the cast of the original Star Trek series as the recognized guardians of the Star Trek legacy. Blasphemy!

The original series (TOS) ran from 1966 to 1969. The Next Generation ran from 1987 to 1994. For you, which series sounds like it starred the rightful legacy guardians?

I understand that some fans weren’t born in time to catch the original Star Trek. They could be forgiven for thinking the followup series was the original idea. I’ll grant that it was very good — but those characters stood on the shoulders of Kirk, Spock, et al. And I don’t mean the Kirk and Spock of the rebooted movies; I mean William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Those actors gave real substance to the characters and the concept of a star-spanning United Federation of Planets.

The Next Generation wouldn’t have even existed if it weren’t for Gene Roddenberry’s first series. Those first shows were spellbinding, especially given what else was on TV in the 1960s. I’m sure it opened the minds of many young viewers to ideas that they couldn’t have come by in any other place.

So, Mr. Frakes, instead of assuming the mantle of keeper of the Star Trek legacy, how about a little humility in the face of who and what came before?

By the way, I loved your direction of Star Trek: First Contact. Big fan.


The End


At Star Trek’s military service Star Fleet Command, there’s a strict code of conduct for its captains. Officers have to play nice with others, no matter how many ridges or spots or off-putting facial features other Federation of Planets species may have. In other words: fairness to all, no matter the discomfort it may cause you.

And there is also a hard-and-fast rule that transcends all else: the Prime Directive. It dictates that none of its captains can interfere with the internal affairs of other species. And that seems to go double for any aliens who haven’t attained the same level of technological advancement as the Federation.

In the original series, Captain Kirk violated the Prime Directive on numerous occasions, with dubious rationale.

  • In A Taste of Armageddon, Eminiar VII was fighting a war with its neighboring planet. The 500-year-old conflict was fought like a computer game, with no collateral damage. But those marked for dead voluntarily disintegrated. Kirk sabotaged the disintegration stations — thus inviting a real war. Maybe now they’ll end the conflict, he reasoned … or hoped.


  • In A Private Little War, Kirk armed the primitive Hill People with deadly rifles. But as he pointed out, the Klingons started it first by arming the townspeople. All seven-year-olds concurred.


  • On Sigma Iotia II, the population had adopted a 1920s-style gangster culture that they’d learned from an earlier ship’s visit. In A Piece of the Action, Kirk et al combated the severe cultural contamination by dressing up as gangsters too and “leaning on” the inhabitants to shape up.


There are other examples of starfleet captains’ misbehavior, but Kirk never really paid a price for his conduct — other than to be labeled the worst kind of cowboy diplomat. Perhaps because of Kirk’s example, subsequent captains viewed the Prime Directive as more of a suggestion than a hard-and-fast rule.

In The Next Generation, Captain Picard found the PD understandably inconvenient when he rescued ensign Wesley Crusher from a death sentence while visiting a new world. Wesley had committed a capital crime by falling into a bed of flowers.

In Voyager, Captain Janeway violated Federation policy by allying herself with the Borg to defeat Species 8472. Still, the Federation was tens of thousands of light-years away — so out of sight, out of mind.

Archer’s adventures in Enterprise mostly occurred before the formation of the Federation, so he gets a pass for ignorance of its subsequent code of conduct.

Sisko’s misconduct in Deep Space Nine, however, goes way, way off the scale of bad behavior when he puts the entire Alpha quadrant at risk with a deceitful scheme.

  • For those bad at geography, the Alpha quadrant is our home — along with the Cardassians, Klingons, Romulans, and all of our favorite Federation aliens.

Realizing the value of this real estate, the Dominion — a race of shapeshifters — decides to move in. And they don’t intend to be accommodating co-inhabitants.  They breed genetically-engineered soldiers who live to fight and take territory. They’re called the the Jem’Hadar, and they’re quite effective.

The Dominion is also good at subterfuge. They peeled away the Cardassians from the Klingon-Federation alliance, and they signed a nonaggression treaty with the Romulans. The alliance was getting boxed in.

Worsening weekly casualty reports strained morale, and things went from bad to worse after a Federation member world, Betazed, fell unexpectedly. Time for a new ally, reasoned Sisko.

In the excellent Deep Space Nine episode In the Pale Moonlight, Captain Sisko devised a scheme with the morally ambiguous Garak. They would falsify evidence to convince the Romulans that the Dominion were planning to attack them. Had the plan been exposed, Sisko risked the Romulans actively joining the Dominion’s side of the war, dooming any chance for the Federation and Klingons. Bye, bye, Alpha Quadrant if so, thanks to Sisko’s monumentally questionable conduct.

But after a few false starts, the Romulans unknowingly bought into the lie and joined the alliance, turning the tide of the war.

In this case, the ends arguably justified the means.


The End


When I was a kid, I aspired to be like my heroes; most of us did. I liked the superheroes, but I also liked those without any supernormal abilities too, such as The Lone Ranger. He proved that one didn’t have to be born on the planet Krypton to be something special; ambition and training could transform someone as well.

The theme of improved humanity, however, served as a cautionary tale in a memorable episode of Star Trek: The Original Series.


In Space Seed the Enterprise happens upon an “ancient” Earth vessel from the 1990s. In the background story, the 1990s were notable for a third World War, waged by leaders selectively bred to have superior abilities. Now a submarine-shaped craft from that era drifts aimlessly as the Enterprise pulls up beside it. To the crew, it represents a historical mystery that they’re compelled to investigate.

Kirk, Bones, Scotty, and a historian, Marla McIvers, beam over to find that the vessel is a sleeper ship: its crew is in a state of suspended animation. The discovery explains the mystery of why their bioscanners picked up only extremely slow heart rates. Apparently they forgot there was a time when ships were so slow that suspended animation was necessary so the crew could endure long flights.

Scotty turns on the lights and it triggers one of 84 life-support canisters. It malfunctions, threatening its occupant, so they beam the man to sick bay. Doctor McCoy marvels at the unconscious man’s refusal to accept death.

When the patient wakes, a little misunderstanding ensues involving a knife and the doctor’s throat. With the incident peaceably resolved, the captain is summoned to sick bay to interview the man who’ll only give his name as Khan. He is evasive and suspicious, and Kirk comes away from the meeting with his curiosity unsatisfied.

When Kirk confides in Spock about his impressions, Spock makes a statement that has stuck with me for a long time. It’s the title of this post, and you’ll have to decide whether or not you agree with it.

An excerpt of Kirk and Spock’s conversation about Khan:


Kirk: Would you estimate him to be a product of selective breeding?

Spock: There is that possibility, Captain. His age would be correct. In 1993, a group of these young supermen did seize power simultaneously in over 40 nations.

Kirk: Well, they were hardly supermen. They were aggressive, arrogant. They began to battle among themselves.

Spock: Because the scientists overlooked one fact: Superior ability breeds superior ambition.


When I heard that, I thought it was so profound. But is it really true?

I think we’ve all known gifted people who never took advantage of their skills. And who doesn’t know of someone who lacked innate talent, yet overcame it to succeed in some endeavor that appealed to them?

So superior ability may lead to superior ambition — but not always.

A counterargument is made in Gattaca, a terrific movie that I’d describe as moody and stylish, where astronauts board spaceships in business suits. It was released in 1997.

Ethan Hawke stars as Vincent, an older brother who didn’t receive the genetic engineering benefit his younger brother did. The younger boy, Anton, exceeds him in almost everything — including height, health, and athletic gifts.

The one area that Vincent excels, however, is his passion for the space program. It’s this passion that drives Vincent to excel, despite his inferior makeup.

One scene has the adult brothers engaging in their version of a game of “chicken.” They’d swim out from shore, and the first one to turn back lost. Vincent always lost — but not this time. He even has to rescue Anton. When his humbled brother asks how he did it, Vincent tells him he was willing to die before he would turn back.

At some point, haven’t all of us made up our minds to accomplish something – grand or trivial — no matter what the cost?

So does superior ability breed superior ambition? Or is it the other way around? Does superior ambition breed superior ability?

The End

In 1979 I graduated college, so to all outward appearances I was an adult. However, seething under the surface of this grownup was a rabid Star Trek fan who had closely followed the rumors of a big-screen production of the old show.

Several of my classmates anticipated reliving the wonders of life in Starfleet ten years after the original series was cancelled. Funny how most of the engineering class had that in common. Could it be why we went into that technical discipline in the first place?

Anyway, the rumors proved true, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture premiered on December 7. Despite feeling intimidated as applause arose for each actor’s name, critics reported that they were underwhelmed.

They didn’t understand the significance of what they witnessed; this was like a religious experience. Long-absent old friends had returned after there was great doubt that we’d ever see them again.


I stumbled across the movie on TV recently as I surfed channels, and I caught it near the beginning. Comparing it to subsequent Trek movies, I happily noted that Kirk looked like Kirk, and not TJ Hooker. I got drawn into the world of the Federation again.

Wait — that would be a gross understatement. I was more than just drawn in; all the feelings returned that I remembered having when I learned there would be a movie. Some might call it nostalgia, but it felt more like some kind of homecoming.

An enormous cloud of energy threatened the earth. It passed through the Klingon Empire on the way, and it made mincemeat out of three Klingon battle cruisers. It was nothing to be trifled with.

Only one ship was in a position to intercept it: the Enterprise. The only problem was that it was in an orbiting space dock, undergoing a major upgrade.

Kirk – now an admiral — convinced Starfleet Command to return him to the captain’s chair. He also mandated that the final refit schedule be compressed from 20 hours to 12 to have more time with the cloud while it was farther from Earth.

With the Enterprise’s transporters down, Chief Engineer Scott shuttled Kirk from an orbiting space station over to the starship. Great reverence went into this sequence as they toured the outside of the iconic vessel. It probably bored the critics, but true fans devoured every second.

The Enterprise left space dock early, and shortly thereafter ran into trouble precisely because it left space dock early. Thankfully, Mr. Spock boarded the Enterprise in transit to help balance the engines and avoid getting caught in a wormhole.

As they engaged warp drive again, the familiar roaring pitch of the engines increased as they accelerated. On a tense bridge, helmsman Sulu announced each warp factor that they safely surpassed. Finally, cruising at Warp 7, Kirk winked at crew member Chekov — and it felt like he was winking at me, as a father figure might.

Why did it make me feel that way? I’m a rational adult.

That’s when it hit home. That’s when I realized the lofty place I hold for these characters in my heart of hearts.

Kirk and company eventually come to know the invader as V’ger. It was only in the final moments of the movie that they discover that V’ger is actually Voyager 6, which had been enhanced by a planet of machine intelligence to fulfill its original mission: to transmit all its data discovered on its voyage.

Simple, right? Not so fast.

At the last moment, V’ger decides it wants more than just a cold upload. It wants to intimately (and destructively) merge with its creator: with humanity.

Thankfully, Commander Will Decker (demoted from Captain for this mission) was available to willingly take the fall. Or was it a rebirth? We are left guessing as the Enterprise emerges from the glare of a symbolic dawn as V’ger’s avatar, Ilia merges with Decker in an erotic digitized coupling.

There have been better Star Trek movies, but I’ve gained a new appreciation for the first one. After all, it built a failed TV series into a franchise with movies, merchandise, TV series, and who-knows-what-else to come. Not a bad legacy for an idea that sees mankind with such an inspiring potential.

The End


Do you know where the title of this piece comes from? No, it wasn’t Star Trek. It was first uttered by Sir John Dalberg-Acton, a European Baronet from 1837 to 1869. But in my opinion, it was never uttered more powerfully than in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode Where No Man Has Gone Before.

In that show, the starship Enterprise attempts to penetrate an energy barrier at the edge of our galaxy, in order to discover the fate of a previous expedition. They failed, and were lucky to extract themselves from the barrier without blowing up. With the ship badly damaged, they decide to limp to an automated facility on the uninhabited planet Delta Vega and attempt repairs. As a result of their contact with the energy barrier, Captain Kirk’s friend Gary Mitchell (he of the glowing eyes) seems to have developed telekinetic abilities. And they’re growing every day.

An ever-more-powerful Gary eventually decides that the ship and its crew aren’t worth his caring. Before he can take over, however, Kirk and Spock manhandle him down to the planet’s surface. There, they imprison him as they cannibalize the station to fix the ship’s warp drive.

But it wouldn’t be a show if everything went smoothly; Gary escapes. He takes a female psychiatrist, Dr. Elizabeth Dehner, with him after he converts her into a godlike being as well.

Recognizing a threat to the whole of humanity, Kirk follows Mitchell with a phaser rifle — like that’s going to kill him!

During their confrontation, which Kirk is losing, he turns to Dehner and asks: Do you like what you see? Absolute power corrupting absolutely.” Pause there.

Let’s think about this for a minute. If you were suddenly given godlike powers, how would you behave? Would you respect the same things? Would you respect human life, for instance?

My guess is that it would depend on your individual makeup.


I created a character, Cord Devlin, who also comes by near-absolute power in Ghosts of Forgotten Empires. He’s an intelligence freelancer, and his handlers at the CIA wonder if he can be trusted. Like Gary Mitchell, they know he faces a similar moral dilemma. Will he be corrupted? Will he lose respect for humanity? They deploy him anyway, because they don’t have any other way to counter an enemy that’s also armed with unearthly powers.

In addition to Cord’s suspect loyalty, he also has an inexplicable preoccupation with Star Trek. It does, however, provide him with a moral compass and typically restrains him from causing undue destruction. But would some personally-held ideal of human behavior be enough to restrict his darker impulses? The stakes are high, given his newfound abilities to annihilate.


Kirk defeats the corrupted Gary by using his phaser rifle to dislodge several tons of rock from above. The rocks fall on Gary while he’s conveniently standing in a grave he meant for Kirk. Problem solved, and humanity is safe from Kirk’s former friend.

So does absolute power corrupt absolutely? Who can know, judging by the experiences of a couple of fictional characters? But it’s a worthy thought experiment.


Do you know anyone who is typically virtuous? How do you think they’d behave, given absolute power?


The End


A long time ago, Sci-Fi fans flocked to a big-budget space opera movie: Forbidden Planet. It was in theatres in 1956. I saw it a good many years later on TV, and I could see why some people credited it as the forebear to Star Trek.

It’s set in a future where a united civilization of planets is patrolled by quasi-military spaceships with alphanumeric designations. Unlike other science-fiction movies from that era, it wasn’t an inferior B-movie monsterfest. It did have a monster, but the premise was far deeper and the production values were superb, thanks to a then-huge $2 million budget. That’s twice what Dr. Evil demanded from the government in Austin Powers.

Forbidden Planet was remarkable to me because, among other things, it tried to justify religious belief — an issue that caused a lot of consternation at my house when I was in my early teens. I had announced to my parents that I wasn’t a believer. I further stated that I couldn’t understand how anyone could have any use for religion.

As strange as it sounds, Forbidden Planet colorfully illustrated a use for religion.


Twenty years before the events of the opening act, the spaceship Bellerophon transports a party of scientists from Earth to the planet Altair IV. Soon after landing, they discover relics of a long- dead alien race: the Krell. One of the party, Dr. Morbius, tries to use a Krell device he finds in one of their labs; it nearly kills him, but it also increases his IQ. He’s delighted to find that his increased mental capacity enables him to learn about Krell society more quickly. Unbeknownst to him, however, his subconscious is also enhanced by the brain boost.

Morbius researches the mystery of the Krell’s disappearance, as well as their super science. At their peak, they had built a civilization free from crime and disease, and they had explored the galaxy. They had accomplished wonders, yet the race was wiped out –virtually overnight – by some catastrophic event.

But how?

Have you ever been cut off in traffic? Have you witnessed someone who arrived after you in a restaurant, but was served before you? We’ve all suffered these slights, but after fantasizing about smiting our offenders, we move on. Our civilized side wins out over the mindless, primitive side, and we don’t act on our rage.


But let’s say a part of your mind wasn’t under those constraints. Further, let’s say that part of you could conjure up monsters that would have no problem rending a fellow human being to pieces for taking your shopping cart.

Dr. Morbius had that power, and he didn’t even know it. His subconscious had accessed a Krell device that enabled it to manifest an invisible monster that punished anyone who didn’t meet his standard of behavior. His colleagues from the Bellerophon had been torn to pieces when they voted to return to Earth despite Morbius’ wishes. He, his wife, and their daughter are left untouched by something that he describes as a planetary force.


As the movie opens, a team of would-be rescuers of the United Planets Cruiser C57-D descend on the scene, led by Captain J. J. Adams. He’s happy to find survivors after twenty years, but he is dismayed when Morbius advises him that he wants to be left alone. Adams questions him about the deaths of his shipmates, and he doesn’t believe that the remaining survivors — the doctor and his daughter — are safe.

He proposes evacuating them, which causes the monster to reappear and start killing Adams’ men. Adams eventually recognizes the pattern, and he tells Morbius that he’s the cause of the murders. Adams also reasons that the Krell disappeared because their subconscious minds were similarly endowed with monsters after they activated the machine Morbius discovered.

The doctor takes offense at the notion that he’s the cause of so many murders. During their argument, Adams, Morbius, and his daughter are chased into the Krell lab by Morbius’ destructive alter ego. They feel safe, but Adams points out that his monster is melting the superdense Krell steel doors like butter. Adams ultimately convinces him of the truth by saying “we’re all part monsters in our subconscious, so we have laws and religion!”


This was my Aha! moment. More than Sunday School ever could, the movie illustrated that religion is meant to keep people from acting on their violent impulses. For a moment, I understood its appeal — but history, recent and otherwise, provides examples of violence in the name of religion.

Wouldn’t it be transcendent for the race if mankind could decouple doing right from religious faith?

The End