Wednesday, August 23, 2006


We’re 16 days away from the show, and I still want to hear from you about how Star Trek has influenced your life. Send it to Amy Ulen as soon as possible. I would love to fill up next week with guest bloggers!

Blog #25 by Dr. Seth Shostak,
Senior Astronomer, SETI Institute
Sure, there were obvious mistakes in Star Trek, version 1.0. I mean, every time the Enterprise zipped by the camera en route to some far-off M-class planet, there was a nicely audible “whoosh.” Well, everyone over the age of five knows that in space, no one can hear you whoosh. But it was a necessary dramatic device. As a viewer, you expected to hear that sound (after all, how many of us, other than David Oreck, live in a vacuum?) It was akin to the sound-track convention of gun battles in the early western movies. One bullet in five would make a high-pitched, deeply satisfying ricochet sound: “piiinng.” Must have been a lot of sheet steel out there in the old west.

Then there was the Enterprise’s artificial gravity. It was always exactly 1G, as I’ve noted before. Convenient for actors and film crew, but kind of hard to explain on a ship that wasn’t slowly spinning. Who knows? Maybe the 23rd century had mastered synthetic gravity, just as they had mastered synthetic fabrics (all those stretchy uniforms… I kept hoping that one of the crew members would put on weight so I could see if they came to resemble the Michelin tire guy.)

And speaking of crew members, there must have been thousands of them hunkered down in the enormous bowels of the Enterprise. Mind you, we didn’t see many of them: just the occasional anonymous lackey harvested from what was surely a vast pool of underlings, to be beamed down to a planet as expendable (and always expended) bait for nasty aliens. But there was the larger question of what did all those people do? Swab the decks? There weren’t any decks (other than of the holo variety). Launder the stretch uniforms? Grease the phasers? Give Spock page boy haircuts? What?

Then again, Shakespeare wrote about the royal court of Denmark, and didn’t bother to give speaking lines to the few million Danes who were just farming beet roots outside the castle, so I suppose you’ve got to expect this.

Then there were the aliens who, no great surprise, were nearly always humanoid. Oh, sure, they had faces that sometimes suggesting they had shuffled genes with an insect, but these aliens sat in chairs, they had the usual number of grasping appendages, and they talked with their mouths. Now mind you, there is at least one evolutionary biologist who thinks it’s likely that a humanoid shape is the best design for a thinking creature, and therefore the extraterrestrials (if they exist) will look much like us. But his is a singular view. After all, not many terrestrials look like us (the exceptions all eat bananas). And truly advanced intelligence might not be biological at all – more like the Borg without the lovely, chief Borgette. But Gene Roddenberry, according to my barely reliable sources, always insisted on being able to see the eyes of the aliens. So, perforce, they had to have eyes (and more than one). If the aliens looked like Linotype machines, it would be hard to gauge their mood, or decipher what they were up to.

And finally, the biggest mystery of all. No, I’m not talking about Jean-Luc Picard, who took over the helm from Kirk. I mean, this drama takes place in the deep future, when interstellar travel is a lark, virtual reality is a… reality, and beaming folks around is a legitimate transport option. And yet they still haven’t managed to cure male pattern baldness. But no, that isn’t the greatest mystery of all. The greatest mystery is… in a world where technology has reached stratospheric heights, when matter-antimatter drive is prosaic, when tricorders can tell you the biological state of an entire planet, and when lasers, masers, and phasers are all kiddie toys… When all of this is true, the automatic doors to the bridge of the Enterprise still make noise when someone walks in!

I think the sound effects man had a whoosh fetish.


  • Now, just a minute there! Of course the bridge doors whooshed when someone came through them. It was their security device, you see. "Here comes someone!" the ears (or any shape) would discern, so no one would be caught unaware. The door was to their backs, you recall.

    OK that's my contribution to trying to create rationale for the irrationale, for what it's worth!

    You're a hoot!

    By Blogger Kristine M Smith, at 3:27 PM  

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