Wednesday, December 15, 2004


The television networks of Australia apparently believe that only shift-workers, witches and pumpkins watch science fiction. This is the only logical explanation for the fact that all science fictiony programs are broadcast at or around midnight. To be a local science fiction fan is to be the possessor of a sturdy video recorder, many blank tapes, the presence of mind to hit 'record' before going to bed, and the inability to reformat one's mind to subsist entirely on the primetime diet of reality television and CSI franchises.

I had limited space on my sole remaining cassette, so I had to stay up to hit record just as 'Firefly' was starting. While I was waiting, I watched 'Voyager'. It was an episode from towards the end of the show's life, when you could just start to detect the writers' ambivalence towards the whole Star Trek universe. They twisted it to bring out the sexy excitement, getting more space battles and chances for heroism going, but the dead hand of Gene Roddenberry still lay draped over it, weighing it down with worthy humanist pontification.

Last night's plot was basically this; one of Earth's late 21st century probes is intercepted by aliens, who used the technology databases to build antimatter weapons and obliterate themselves. They figure that this was Earth's intention all along, and the few remaining survivors take it out on the crew of Voyager.

The aliens say, "You sent out this technology as a so-called gift, knowing full well that we'd use it to destroy our civilisation," and this argument is met with mournful gazes and gently shaken heads by the humans. Some even go so far as to forgive the cold-blooded murder of a lieutenant, because, you know, they can sort of see where the aliens are coming from.

At no point does anyone say, "Hey, our ancestors sent out that probe in good faith. Nobody forced you to use the information it contained to eradicate yourselves. You're sentient beings, not labradors! Take some responsibility for your own damn actions!" Even when humanity is more or less entirely innocent of wrongdoing, they still have to fret and endlessly analyse their behaviour.

It's been said that each Star Trek reflects the age in which its written. The original was gung-ho and imperial, Next Generation was full of 1980s touchy-feeling new age self-improvement, and Enterprise reflects a low-key hostility between us (representing the US) and the rest of the universe. Voyager reflects the peculiarly Western turn-of-the-century idea that anything we give to others is their right, and all complaints they have against us, no matter how inane or, indeed, insane should be treated with respect and introspection. Unless we attain moral perfection, which by its very definition is impossible, everything is Our Fault and Our Responsibility.

This is further bourne out in the vast sea of legal dramas, especially those produced in the US. It's not enough for a person to commit a crime, be found guilty following an examination of the evidence, and sentenced. All concerned have to perform semantic and logical gymnastics to see if there is even the slightest hint that someone else, or better yet 'society', might share a fraction of the blame. It invariably does, and then there are tortured frowns, wrung hands, and expressions of moral equivalence all round. There's nothing like really smug nihilism to turn my stomach. No wonder I find Star Trek almost unwatchable these days.

In that vein, time for a Geekout!

10 Reasons Why 'FireFly''s Malcolm Reynolds Is Better Than 'Voyager''s Katherine Janeway

1. Reynolds kills bad people without hesitation. Janeway strikes dramatic poses.
2. Reynolds has snappy one-liners written by Joss Weedon. Janeway has leaden exposition and ham.
3. Reynolds' love interest is Inara. Janeway's is Chakotay.
4. Inara versus Chakotay, people! It deserves at least two places! Even straight women would think Inara was the better deal, if only for the conversation!
5. Reynolds has a strong moral sense and an inner compulsion to follow it. Janeway has the idiotic Prime Directive, and an inherited culture of weaseling out of it.
6. Reynolds' ship has a preacher-man. Janeway's has... er... Neelix.
7. Reynolds champions the rights of ordinary people. Janeway champions the rights of irritating holographic computer programs.
8. Reynolds threatens people like he means it. Janeway just whines and gets bitchy.
9. That Inara/Chakotay thing again! I mean, come on!
10. Reynolds is a cool character. Janeway just puts it into my head to write geeky "10 Reasons Why X Is Better Than A Star Trek Franchise" lists.


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