“Too much spirit can be a dangerous thing. Tends to infect others.”
-- Intendant Kira
One of the most difficult parts of writing fiction is conveying realistic movement when your characters are away. Villains -- well, good ones anyway -- aren’t just sitting on a throne in a room someplace, waiting for the heroes to show up and beat them in a swordfight. Villains have goals. In fact, villains tend to be the proactive ones, bucking the social order, while the heroes are the ones enforcing it, but that’s not really important right now. The point is that the world moves even when the heroes aren’t looking directly at it. It’s like Shrodinger’s Cat, but without the animal cruelty.
“I can do anything I want. It is my mind.”
-- Dr. Julian Bashir
I have an uneasy relationship with spoilers in this space. There are elaborate rules to navigate the revealing of spoilers in our current culture of extreme interconnectiveness. It’s considered bad form to instantly tweet crucial plot twists as a show is airing, for example, but when exactly it becomes okay to discuss in a public forum is very much a subject of intense debate. In this space, I’m never certain how many things I should spoil before they happen.
“I hate temporal mechanics.”
-- O’Briens, past and future
A franchise is exactly as versatile as fans will tolerate. Take James Bond, for example. He’s taken on several markers over the years, from espionage for Her Majesty, to special gadgets, to proto-supervillains, to bevies of beautiful women, and everyone has a weird name. At times, the formula deviates, with Bond out for revenge or in outer space, and, predictably, a certain portion of the fandom rebels. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with either embracing or rejecting a change in genre; the franchise that exists in each of our minds exists only there. We have rules those running it could not know and can’t possibly obey, since they’re bound to contradict one another.
“So many needy people, so little time.”
-- Grand Nagus Zek
If Quark is in any kind of record book, it has to be for one thing: In the entire sweep of television history, he is the recipient of the most on-camera handjobs. Look, we can beat around the bush (No pun intended.), but the show certainly doesn’t. And, when this week’s episode opens on Quark’s O-face while a young woman rubs his lobes in the midst of a business meeting, I can’t ignore it. There’s even a clip of Regis Philbin giving Quark a bit of the old oo-mox available on YouTube. Check it out, if you never want to sleep again.
“Trakor’s Fourth Prophecy says that the Emissary will face a fiery trial, and he’ll be forced to choose . . . ”
-- Vedek Yarka
The most fascinating thing about the Bajoran religion is that their gods are real. I’ve touched on this a few times, but this is the episode that really begins to examine what that might mean.
“It’s been my observation that you humanoids have a hard time giving up the things you love, no matter how much they might hurt you.”
In every stage of the writing process, there is a disconnect. The first is between your mind and what ends up on the page. You picture the most awesome, innovative scenes ever, fraught with emotions and big ideas but only in dreamlike glimpses. When you set it down, it’s usually a pale echo of what you wanted, with only flashes of that incredible story in your mind. When you’re writing for another medium, like film, TV, or comics, the next disconnect is what’s on the page versus what ends up drawn or filmed. There are realities like, how well does your artist read? How much budget do you have for this spectacular effect? This is how Star Trek ends up with aliens made out of what looks like an old carpet covered in pizza stains, or this week’s episode which has what Nana Visitor described as “a giant sundae with my head as the cherry.”
“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?