Big doings since we last met here! As of Friday the 13th (Now officially my favorite day!), the series that prompted me to start this little ditty, Star Trek: Enterprise, Ist Kaput! (A little German Lingo there.) It's Done! Cancelled! Quote one of my favorite lines: "In French: Fini! In Italian: Finito! In Gaellic: Oh, Crap! Here come THE ROMANS!"
As you can probably tell I'm just the teensiest bit pleased with this. Why? Remember the episode example I gave in the first installment? Season 4 of Enterprise? From the season premiere to the time I gave up on it for good: Twenty Times Worse! Now, there are obviously people who disagree with this assessment. I'm sure you've heard of them. They're the ones that tried to bribe Paramount to bring the show back for another season. (Yep. That's right, because one of the biggest and oldest movie and television studios in history is just desperate for a couple of mil from Trekkies to produce another season of a show one of their own corporate cousins didn't want to air anymore!)
There's another reason I'm happy. I see this as a great opportunity. Now that the final episode of Enterprise has gone to rerun heaven there is a creative vacuum in the broadcast Star Trek universe, and before Paramount attempts to fill that void in the future they must figure out what kind of series they can put on that won't spend its entire run getting stomped on by half the people it was meant for. Before they can figure it out, though, the Trek fan base has to get its collective act together and hash out once and for all what it wants to see. Am I expecting a perfect consensus? Of course not, but if Iraq - a country in the midst of the War On Terror - can manage to elect its first democratic government in decades, Trek fans ought to be able to come up with a majority opinion on the shape of the next series that can be hammered home to Paramount so that the debacle we know as Enterprise will never be repeated!
This essay is my take on what the next series should be. It should be a plot-driven, space exploration series, and by "space", I mean SPACE! Not just one quarter of one galaxy with bumpy-forehead and pointy-eared "aliens"! I mean if TV shows nowhere near as old as Trek and generally considered by Trekkies to be of lesser quality (Stargate, Andromeda…) are reaching other galaxies on purpose while Trek characters and ships can only get to them by accident, if PBS specials like Origins and Discovery Channel specials like Pompeii are more entertaining than a show involving fantastic spaceships, I feel the writers are kind of missing the point of the words "Star" and "Trek"!
I don't blame the writers for this, at least not completely. As I said last chapter, the biggest limiting factor on the growth of Star Trek is the guy who created it. In that instance, following Gene's Maxim has severely limited the range of stories Trek writers can tell. In the instance of what we're about to discuss - the technology of space exploration in science fiction - the limitations come from Gene Roddenberry not following his own maxim. There are two instances when he let himself worry about technology, and thus imposed wholly unnecessary and often harmful limitations on the evolution of technology in Star Trek.
Now, before we get into this, a note: In order to have a serious discussion about technology in a fictional universe we're going to have to totally suspend disbelief, so no copouts like "Since it's all fake anyway it doesn't make a difference." Yes it does. It makes a difference in how it progresses the narrative.
"IT'S ABOUT WHAT MATT WOULD HAVE WANTED…"
Okay, so any Trekkie worth the term knows who created the original Starship Enterprise. That would be Walter Matthew Jefferies (1921-2003), or "Matt" Jefferies, as he's more commonly known. I think we can all agree that Jefferies is to Trek production design what Jack Northrop was to Northrop Aviation (Now Northrop-Grumman). Most of the ships designed for Trek since he did the Enterprise refit for Star Trek: The Motion Picture have been, in one way or another, an homage to his work. Jefferies described how he got the job in a brief interview at the official Star Trek website:
"Became a freelance aviation illustrator and basically that's the way I got into the business. I went in to Warner Brothers to help them with some technical stuff on Tab Hunter's 'Bombers B-52'.
Since I went into Warner's as a technical, they handed me a project to do a twenty-foot mechanical, man-carrying shark for 'Old Man and the Sea'. Then they said, 'Well, if you can do that stuff you can do ship interiors.' So there were two or three projects at Warner's and then over to MGM for 'The Wreck of the Mary Deare'. And that seemed to qualify me to go with 'The Untouchables' to do a Ford Tri-Motor interior and then a couple of breweries, which we had to break up, and a number of other things. Actually, a bordello was one of them - I've never told anybody why I was qualified to do that. And then into 'Ben Casey'. And at that point we took a month off and went to the East Coast to visit the family. Came back and I couldn't find my equipment. My little cubicle was empty. So I went into Bud Brooks' office, head of the art department, and said 'Where's the next Casey script?' and he said, 'You're not on the show anymore.'
It served me right for taking a month's vacation. At any rate he said, 'Your stuff is in the big drafting room.' That was a room that's about twenty-five by fifty, I guess. He said, 'Your stuff 's in there and there's a man coming in this morning by the name of Roddenberry to do a space show.'"
And then he met Gene:
"He said he had already told Gene that I had been on B-17's in Europe. Gene had flown 'em in the Pacific so we had a mutual meeting point, I guess. So when he came in we re-fought World War II for about twenty minutes."
And then Gene described what he wanted:
"Actually, about all he said that would help me along was several 'don'ts.' Such as, 'no flames, no fins, no rockets.' And one 'do,' is 'make it look like its got power.' And then he walked out."
Now, consider the above for a moment. Gene's 'don'ts' and 'do' are significant, because this is an instance of him following his own maxim. He isn't quoting chapter and verse the kind of spacefaring technology he wants to see. He's making the show about the characters, and he's leaving the technology side in the capable hands of someone he's decided he can trust. The irony here is that if he'd stuck to this policy, the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) that you know today may only have been visually similar to the one that would have resulted.
To understand this you have to consider what Jefferies wanted to put into the design, something he termed "aircraft logic". According to Star Trek: Communicator, "He had worked hard to give his design the credibility that many ships in science fiction had lacked. At the same time, he tried to avoid the familiar conventionality of real-life rockets and missiles." Basically, he had to create a futuristic spacecraft from scratch, and to do it he reverted to what he knew: Aviation and Space technology. What resulted was a spacecraft that, while futuristic-looking, was mainly a high-performance aircraft mutated into a starship. You have the fuselage (the Secondary Hull), the two powerful outboard engines (the Warp Nacelles - and even the term "nacelle" is aviation technology jargon) and even a high-mounted cockpit (The Bridge, riding high on the Saucer). You can see this best when you compare Jefferies's final sketches for the original ship with a drawing of, say, an A-10 Warthog. The most obvious difference is the absence of wings and tailplanes on the starship, but it gives you a good sense of where Jefferies was going when he put the design to paper.
Here's where his ideas diverge from what you know: In Jefferies's final drawings, the nacelles are almost totally smooth, without the protuberances and moldings that observant fans of the original series would recognize. This makes sense, because according to Star Trek: The Magazine, "Jefferies theorized that since space was an extremely dangerous place, starship engineers would not put any important machinery on the outside of their vessel." In Jefferies's words: "I constantly had to fight anyone who wanted to put surface details on the thing." Also, the nacelles were meant to be the ship's main source of power, not a reactor in the main body of the ship. This is indicated by the "Power Units (Paired)" notation in the color rendering he did. The Secondary Hull is devoid of windows, which makes sense, because it was mainly a Service Section in Jefferies's mind. It would have been a storage space for special equipment and supplies, but not a highly populated section of the ship. The crew was supposed to live and work mainly in the Saucer.
Of course, nothing is set in stone in TV production design. Jefferies actually went through a bunch of drawings before he got to what he thought was the best design, and Gene was in on the process as he kept the best things and discarded the worst. From Star Trek Sketchbook (The Original Series):
"Gene would come in to look over what I was doing and say 'I don't like this,' or 'This looks good.' If Gene liked it, he'd ask the Boss Herb Solow and if the Boss liked it I'd work on that idea for a while."
No problem, so far. Even though Gene is involved in the design process he's still letting Jefferies pursue his ideas, at least as far as the surviving sketches show. Featureless hulls, engines set back from the populated area of the ship, easily distinguishable on the screen, powerful and fast-looking. While Gene had input, none of it fundamentally changed the principles Jefferies was letting drive the design. Gene was, in spirit at least, still following his maxim.
No, the problem didn't start until they were putting the finishing touches on the final design and were ready to start shooting the series.
GENE'S FIRST VIOLATION: "PUT IN AN ENGINE ROOM."
In the interview he did with Star Trek: The Magazine, Jefferies mentions that one of the clashes he had with Gene was over putting an Engine Room on the ship. Gene insisted it have one, Jefferies insisted it didn't need one. Obviously, Gene won that battle, but I think we ought to take some time to examine whether or not he should have.
Remember, at the time Jefferies was doing aviation art for a living, and he had a practical aviation background. He wanted to apply the knowledge that went along with those fields to the project he'd been given. So think about it: Aviation means airplanes, right? What's the one thing no airplane design in history has ever had?
Fifty points if you said An Engine Room! In fact, no spacecraft design in history has ever had an engine room! In fact, most modern airplane designs don't normally include engineers, much less engine rooms! And this couldn't have been something Gene didn't understand. Gene had a practical aviation background as well. It was because of that background that he chose Jefferies. I'm sure he could plainly understand why Jefferies would insist that an engine room on the spaceship wasn't necessary.
So why put one in? The only explanation is that Gene thought including the Engine Room would help tell the stories he wanted to tell. Much as he established His Maxim as a way to help the writers focus on the part of the narrative he thought was most important, he violated the maxim himself in order to make sure Enterprise had something he thought the viewers would expect to see. After all, they were going to call it a ship in the scripts. Ships have Engine Rooms, and Engineers that sit in them watching the Engines. You'd have to violate the maxim anyway to explain why this particular ship didn't have one, so why not just violate it from the outset and make sure the question never came up?
Here's why: Putting an Engine Room in the ship compromised its design and the design of every ship based on it by flying in the face of Jefferies' Principles. Mainly these:
1.) The Engines Are Dangerous. Keep Them As Far Away As Possible: "My thinking was," Jefferies said, "because of the ship's speed there had to be terrifically powerful engines. They might be dangerous to be around, so maybe we'd better put them out of the way somewhere…" You can see from the development sketches that Jefferies was trying to find a way to keep the engines away from the crew. He found a way. He mounted the engines on long struts and mounted the struts on the far end of a part of the ship that would have been mostly dead storage space. In this configuration, both "power units" could have been blown to smithereens and taken the secondary hull with them and the bulk of the crew might still have survived in the saucer. BTW, that means that whether or not the saucer on the original ship was meant to separate on its own is a superfluous argument. In this configuration unless it got blown up first, the saucer would likely be the only thing that survived either way. In fact, it would make more sense to jettison the nacelles at the first sign of trouble. And speaking of that…
2.) Build In Good Redundancy: Jefferies gave the ship two power units for the same reasons most large aircraft have two or more engines. One of them is it's less likely that both the engines will crap out at the same time, so if one goes down you still have main power and a way to get back home. (Yes, I know. "Unless the plane runs out of fuel." We'll discuss that later on.) If one of the nacelles died, was too damaged to repair or got blown off, Enterprise could still get back to Earth, or at least to a starbase, to repair or replace the lost engine. Its position on the ship allows for that. They would be "what in aviation circles we call Quick Change Units…where you could easily take one off and put another one on."
Adding an Engine Room undid all that. The most immediate effect was that the crew was no longer protected from the engines by distance. You don't put an engine room in a ship unless you mean for the engines to be there tended by engineers, and a catastrophic failure would destroy the ship from within. The long-term effect evolved as Star Trek and its spin-offs progressed. Eventually, Good Redundancy was replaced with Bad Complexity:
-Divorced from their power-providing role, the nacelles stopped being engines in their own right and were reduced to being propulsors, ones that were dependant on the energy provided by the internal power source.
-Even in the original series, the ship was said to run off a single reactor. Good Redundancy ends here.
-Bad Complexity begins as canon (Official Trek-related) sources establish that the nacelles and reactor must all be in working condition in order for the ship to go Faster-Than-Light.
-A reactor mounted in the center of the ship is not a quick change unit. Removing it normally would be a time-consuming process. It can be removed by drastic measures in an emergency (the famous "jettison the Warp Core"), but because of the aforementioned FTL requirements, doing this causes as many problems as it solves.
In the novelization of The Wrath Of Khan, Captain James T. Kirk complains about the ribbing he gets from other starship captains about his ship being a "flying deathtrap." Well, Jim, if it's a deathtrap, it's not the designer's fault. Blame his boss.
Still, the first ship managed to last a whole series and (after a refit) three movies before it finally kicked the bucket (and that was Jim's fault, and he made it a deathtrap on purpose, so he has no right to complain), so no harm, no foul, right?
Sure, if Gene had left it at that, but The Great Bird had other ideas.
GENE'S SECOND VIOLATION: THE WARP 10 LIMIT.
How fast does a starship go? Since the debut of the original series many reams of paper and millions of electrons have been used to come up with all manner of answers to this question. It's something us Trek watchers want to know, and the creators of the show, God love 'em, have bent over backwards to try and educate us on the subject. Without going into a bunch of really annoying details here, let's just say that the thing's speed in normal space depends on the "Warp Factor". This is actually pretty simple. Captain says "Warp Factor One", the sucker's going the Speed-O'-Light. He says "Warp Factor Two", the ship goes a few times the Speed-O'-Light. He changes up and drops the "Factor" and says "Warp Three", the ship goes a bunch of times the Speed-O'-Light. With me so far? Good! Let's do some math!
For the first series, we were given a simple formula for figuring out how fast the ships go. You take the Warp Number, You cube it, then multiply the Speed-O'-Light by it. Neat, huh? Now, when you watch ol' Bill Shatner swagger out "Ahead Warp Factah One!", you can be giddy with the knowledge that you can figure out in your head how fast that sucker's going! It's like, One cubed is One, so like, One times the Speed-O'-Light is the Speed-O'-Light! Cool! And the best part of this trick is, you can slam any number in for the Warp Factor and anybody with a pocket calculator can still figure out how fast the ship's going! Could Warp Speed Calculations get any better??
Well, apparently Gene and the boys thought so, because for some reason, when they were developing Star Trek: The Next Generation, they decided that the ships ought to be significantly faster, so the Warp Factor Calculation became slightly more complicated - as in, now you need a spreadsheet to work it out yourself - with the end result being that when Ol' Pat Stewart pontificates "Warp Two! Engage!" his Warp Two is a bunch faster than Bill's Warp Two!
And the Great Bird looked upon the new Warp Calibrations and saw that they were good…with one or two caveats. The ships were potentially too fast! They might get to really far places too quickly! In fact, they might get everywhere at once! Horrors! And Warp Numbers like "Warp 510" might be too confusing for us dumb Trek Watchers! So the Great Bird stretched out his hand and said "Thou Shalt Not Travel At Or Above Warp Ten!" And they did not. Halleluiah.
As with anything in science fiction, there are in-universe and out-of-universe explanations for the Warp 10 limit. The in-universe explanation is that you'd need infinite energy to even reach Warp 10 and, should you accomplish this miracle, you'd simply end up everywhere in the universe at once, so it's impractical. The out-of-universe explanation is that Gene was trying to avoid confusing the audience with cumbersome numbers like, well, Warp 510. The Warp 10 Limit keeps all the Warp numbers at single digits.
So Gene, once again, was violating His Maxim in an effort to make the Trek creating and watching experience more enjoyable for everyone. Wasn't that nice of him? Hmmm?
I vote "No" because, as with the insistence on the ships having engine rooms, The Warp 10 Limit added Bad Complexity to the technology side of Trek and as a result, much like His Maxim, did the exact opposite of what Gene intended when it was imposed. You may not have to juggle numbers like Warp 510, but the concept of Warp Speed in Trek has become just as clumsy and jumbled in practical application as it would have been if you did, more so in fact.
This is because Science Fiction Writers and Fans are Human Beings, and as such have a natural tendency to want the greatest possible gain at the least possible cost (A little more Capitalism-inspired phraseology). Making the ships faster shows that Gene and the TNG crew were on the same page with the writers and fans on the gain part, but they blew it by imposing greater costs in the form of spreadsheet Warp calculations and the Warp 10 Limit. They failed to realize something every halfway competent IRS agent knows instinctively: as soon as the government demands more from the governed for what it does, the first thing the governed do is look for loopholes. When you apply this to the Warp Speed Concept, you can see that while some loopholes involved plausible things (like wormholes) others were little more than mildly annoying technobabble (Like "Transwarp Conduits", "Warp Vortices", "Quantum Slipstream Drives"), still others involved characters of debatable believability (Like "Q", "The Traveler" and "The Caretaker") and still others were pure BS (Like an entire mathematical abstract devoted to demonstrating why "Warp 9.9" is a much greater increase beyond "Warp 9" than the numbers 9 and 9.9 would lead one to believe). I don't care what you say, no way in Hell does this hash qualify as Gene keeping Warp from becoming too confusing by imposing the limit!
The purpose of any depiction of a Faster-Than-Light Propulsion System in a Science Fiction Story is to inform the audience that the characters can do something that the audience can't, which is reach other stars in their lifetimes. Once the audience has this information, you've done all you need to do to allow them to suspend their disbelief while watching a show where characters traveling to other stars in their lifetimes is one of the central themes. That means that any information you include about the device itself is automatically overkill in storytelling terms! You don't go out of your way to increase overkill if you want the story to progress!
For example, there are minimal references to FTL technology in series like Space: Above and Beyond and the old and new Battlestar Galactica. In fact, I think the concept of traveling Faster-Than-Light was only mentioned once during S:AAB's entire run, yet since the show was meant to be an allegory of the Pacific Campaign during WWII, and neither MacArthur nor Nimitz had access to time-traveling or suspended animation technology, it makes sense that the only reason it was mentioned at all was simply to make sure the audience understood that the characters' "planet-hopping" strategy was taking place across interstellar distances, yet within reasonable spans of time. Still, it amounted to a throwaway line used by one character to make a different point entirely, yet it did its job just fine. The same with the original BSG. The first and last time anybody bothered to talk about FTL technology was in the pilot movie, when Apollo warned his father that the ships that were gathering to flee with the Battlestar were real short on FTL capability, yet the "rag-tag fugitive fleet" managed to reach a lot of star systems during the show's run. By comparison, the current BSG's mentions of FTL capability are legion, yet the mentions are only there to demonstrate that the ships depicted in the series have the capability. There isn't a lot of excess verbiage devoted to how that capability works.
The point here is that the moment Jeff Hunter Intercrafted "Our Time Warp: Factor Seven!" in the first pilot, Star Trek's creator had already included too much information about the ship's FTL capability as far as telling the story was concerned. Engine Rooms, Matter/Antimatter Intermix Formulae, Dilithium Crystals, Cochrane Deltas, Millicochranes, Warp Speed Calculations, Asymtotic Speed Increases, Subspace Fields, Subspace Destroying Particles, Warp Factor Limits (Hell…Warp Factors Period) all piled on the overkill without contributing significantly to the storyline, and a lot of it is attributable to the fact that in two instances Gene violated his own Maxim without considering the consequences.
ADMIRAL'S LIST OF THINGS TO DO TO SAVE TREK (CONT'D):
4) If You Dump The Maxim, Know What You're Doing!
I'm sure the very first reviews I get for this chapter will consist of "But you said dump Gene's Maxim and now you're dumping on him for having done what you said!" No, I'm dumping on him for doing it stupidly. He violated his own Maxim in two ways that actually interfered with his stated goal: making the show about the characters. As I'm going to demonstrate next chapter, dumping the Maxim, if done properly, would actually result in good character stories being told. That may seem like a contradiction, but most rules in good storytelling are contradictory!
5) Matt Was Right! Follow His Lead!
Trek's various illustrators need to stop "paying homage" to Matt Jefferies and really study what he did and what he said when creating the original ship before they attempt to create the next one. No spacecraft in Science Fiction beats the Starship Enterprise in terms of uniqueness. It's not a clone of the pointy rockets and flying saucers of the pulp fiction that came before it. It's not a clone of the Surface-Acne-Riddled monstrosities that came after it. It's not like any spacecraft Humanity has created in Real Life, yet it does look like something we might create in the future. It is an amalgam of forward-thinking vision and common sense, yet for forty years Gene and Trek's other creators have done nothing but futz with the concept, until we're left with art-deco ships with anemic looking FTL engines overloaded with bay windows and "pretty lights"! This has to stop! They're supposed to look like they're flown by us, not Little Grays!
6) "All Decks Prepare For Hyperdrive!"
This quote from Spock in the original pilot says it all. Once that new ship is created Warp as we know it needs to be abandoned. Not "simplified", not "deconflicted" - abandoned. Whether the ship joins its sci-fi sisters in the Hyperspace Revolution or we keep the name "Warp", or come up with a new name altogether, the Faster-Than-Light Concept that drives the ships of Star Trek needs to be reduced to a basic statement: "The Ship Started Here. It Arrived There. It Went Really Freakin' Fast." Once that statement is made, the writers need to get on with the story. If somebody out there wants to know how it went Really Freakin' Fast or how Really Freakin' Fast it was going, let them load up on Stephen Hawking's books and the New General Catalogue and figure it out for themselves. You're producing a TV show, not a seminar on Hypothetical Physics (Which is all a discussion of Faster-Than-Light travel is in Real Life anyway)! This is not to say that the writers don't need to know how it's done - they just don't need to write a video textbook on the subject for the benefit of the audience. Great gain, little cost!
Okay, like I said, we talk about ways to dump Gene's Maxim that will actually help the next Trek series. As they say in the radio biz, keep it right here!