“The Prophets teach us that while violence may keep an enemy at bay, only peace can make him a friend.”
-- Kai Winn
There’s a difference between what your characters care about and what your audience cares about. This is initially a hard disconnect to grasp, and many beginning writers fall victim to it. Imagine your main character has a younger sibling, but this sibling has never been onscreen. Sure, your character cares about this person more than life itself, but to your audience, this is just some asshole they’ve never seen before, stopping their awesome favorite character from being cool.
“Having seen a little of the 21st Century, there is one thing I don’t understand. How could they have let things get so bad?”
“That’s a good question. I wish I had an answer.”
-- Bashir and Sisko
I’ve said time and again that much of sci-fi, and DS9 in particular, uses the far-future format to explore many different genres. Well, you probably never guessed that would include a Dog Day Afternoon-style hostage drama with Sisko and Bashir in the roles of Al Pacino and John Cazale. That’s exactly what Part 2 of “Past Tense” turns into.
“It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Are humans really any different than Cardassians or Romulans? If push comes to shove, if something disastrous happens to the Federation, if we are frightened enough, or desperate enough, how would we react? Would we stay true to our ideals or would we just stay here, right back where we started?”
“I don’t know. But, as a Starfleet officer, it’s my job to make sure we never have to find out.”
-- Bashir and Sisko
The biggest danger when writing speculative fiction is that you will be dramatically, hilariously wrong. Science fiction is littered with stories that seemed like a good idea at the time, but in a few yeas become the sorts of things that one racist uncle of yours might post on Facebook as the One Cause of Society’s Destruction. Just have a look at some of the internet panic movies of the ‘90s for recent examples. Most SF authors -- myself included -- will set stories in the far future as a way to avoid this problem. Occasionally, though, a writer will want to do something in the near future, knowing full well that once 1997 happens and Skynet doesn’t blow up the world, they’re going to feel a little silly.
“Commander, you throw one hell of a party.”
Critical consensus is the way we judge entertainment from the past at a glance. We all know Casablanca is a great movie without ever having seen it, because everyone says it is, and we know The Day the Clown Cried is terrible for the same reason. The internet has changed things (as usual) by giving everyone a voice, so that the old metrics of professional criticism and box-office returns are no longer the sole methods. You can’t go for a week without a thinkpiece about how Ang Lee’s Hulk is a misunderstood masterpiece or GoodFellas is overrated crap. Any jerk can just post whatever opinion about anything. I mean, who the hell do I think I am?
“Terrorists don’t get to be heroes.”
-- Major Kira Nerys
Riker is the lost boy of TNG. While he was originally intended as the Kirk-equivalent, the dashing adventurer and audience-PoV character (Remember, the pilot is him meeting the crew of the Enterprise.), in practice he was whatever the writers needed him to be. If they wanted a free-wheeling, authority-flouting rebel, he was that. If they needed a by-the-book authoritarian, he was that, too. The only thing that remained a constant was that he didn’t understand how chairs worked. It was, therefore, with a certain irony that the writers decided that their most muddled creation needed a clone.
“I am a moron.”
-- Ira Steven Behr, on using Brigadoon as a model for a DS9 episode.
I feel like I should start this review with one of my meandering, digressive paragraphs about some aspect of writing. I can’t. Why? I hate this episode. Seriously, hate it. Like normal folks hate lines at the DMV or people who say “hella.” I’d be tempted to just have this review be one long string of curses, but cursing at Fanboy Comics tends to read like Morse Code, and I don’t want to summon any boats.
“There is no dilemma that cannot be solved by a disciplined Cardassian mind.”
-- Gul Dukat
Geekery has a tendency to spread. Unlike measles, this is generally a good thing. As your interests gravitate toward one end of geekery, whether it’s tabletop strategy games, obscure cult cinema from the ‘80s, or the comedy stylings of Monty Python, chances are that the friends you will gain will educate you on one or all of the parts that you missed. Seriously, there was a point in the ‘80s where you couldn’t have a D&D game without a spontaneous recitation of the Knights Who Say Ni. It was . . . exhausting.
“I’m not like these other humanoids. I’m a Jem’Hadar. And, that’s what I want to be. You’re not like these other humanoids either. But, they’ve done something to you. They’ve filled your mind with . . . with ideas, with these beliefs. I don’t know what the other Changelings are like, but I know they’re not like you.”
-- The Boy
The best thing about subtext is that it’s present whether the writer puts it there or not. A single work can have multiple subtextual interpretations, too, and in many cases, these are equally valid. Aliens, for example, is both an indictment of the arrogance and unpreparedness of the Vietnam War, an examination of the nature of motherhood, and carries on the sexual assault imagery from the first movie. On the other hand, one of my favorite things in the world about movies is unintentional subtext. Tony Scott didn’t set out to make a gay fighter pilot movie, it just kind of happened, and now Top Gun (even the name sounds like gay porn) is at the top of any list of the most unintentionally homoerotic movies ever made. This week’s episode, “The Abandoned,” has a very obvious subtext that borders on text, but Avery Brooks interpreted it in a different, equally valid, and far more fascinating way.
“Treason, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.”
-- Elim Garak
Theme is one of those things that makes writers clap our hands in childish glee and makes the rest of the world either roll their eyes or do nothing at all, because they never noticed. Really, there’s no reason you should notice theme on first viewing/reading/however our alien overlords process entertainment. The responsibility of the creator is first to craft a good story, and all other priorities, to paraphrase the Nostromo’s Science Officer, are rescinded. Theme makes subsequent viewings richer, basically because everything in the work is making the same point.
“If you want to know who you are, it’s important to know who you’ve been.”
-- Lieutenant Jadzia Dax
One of my selfish motives when starting this ill-advised project (I’ll be done in two years! Two!) was finding patterns that I never noticed in my previous fandom. The oddest trend I’ve found is that the fourth episode of the first three seasons is a Dax episode, and it’s invariably a bit of a let down.