[Blog] Wars vs. Trek

If you’ve spent any amount of time among nerds, then you’ve likely come across the Star Wars versus Star Trek debate, or perhaps even taken part in it yourself. Die-hard trekkies might bemoan the relative lack of philosophical speculation and/or scientific curiosity. Dyed-in-the-wool Star Wars fans feel compelled to argue that their universe is more believable and compelling, as it doesn’t try to sell the idea of a fully functional utopia. (Also, light sabers!) And of course, there are those on either side who scoff at the idea that a single person can appreciate both universes.

Which is just silly. Why limit yourself to one galaxy to nerd out about when you can have two?

Granted, my parents probably gave me a head start on appreciating both. I couldn’t have been much older than six or seven when we watched A New Hope as a family for the first time, and it wasn’t many years later that we started working our way through old VHS recordings of The Next Generation and watching reruns of Voyager in the first few years after the series finale. Basically, both universes formed an integral part of my childhood.

I don’t mean to say that one doesn’t have strengths over the other. One would be hard pressed to argue that Star Wars is better on the hard science fiction front than any of the Star Treks– though even Star Trek takes plenty of liberties with the laws of physics (conservation of mass/energy and transporters, anyone?). But the lore of Star Wars has always seemed, to me, to go so much deeper, with all its many different worlds, species, and cultures that are developed fully in their own right and not as much to fill the needed philosophical niche for one episode or another. Or, put another way, Star Wars is less obviously didactic by nature.

Then again, sticking both into the same genre (science fiction) and calling it a day is over-simplifying things. As mentioned above, Star Trek is more truly science fiction than Star Wars: it’s a future universe that looks fundamentally different from our world today because of the introduction of the warp drive. Sure, you can make fun of the fact that (almost) all the different alien species are basically humans with different sorts of ridges on their foreheads, but what they might be missing in physiological differences is made up for in their wide variety of philosophies and histories. In particular, the Bajoran culture is fantastically fleshed out, which in turn adds a ton of depth to the Cardassians as well. The Klingons end up being, more or less, your standard warrior race, but that doesn’t mean they don’t provide the basis for some fascinating episodes. And the relentlessly capitalistic Ferengi are so ideologically opposed to the Federation that the conflicts between the two are often quite interesting as well.

On the other hand, Star Wars is more accurately described as space opera than straight science fiction. Its focus isn’t on science of any sort, but on the huge, epic conflicts that take place in its fictional galaxy. It has more in common with high fantasy tales like The Lord of the Rings than it does with sci-fi yarns like Niven’s Ringworld or Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. It sets the rules of its universe and sticks to them (especially if we don’t talk about the midi-chlorians), and so can focus more on what happens than why things happen.

So there you have it. Anyone trying to force you to choose either Star Trek or Star Wars over the other is selling you short. For me, my favorite tends to vary. Unless you’re asking about Stargate too. Because if you are, then Stargate wins. Every time. SG1 forever!

But what do you think? Are you more a Star Trek or a Star Wars fan? Did I hit the mark or am I way off? Tell me why in the comments below!


[Blog] Regionalism

Way back in high school, we had a unit where we studied American literary regionalism. (Click here for the Wikipedia article, if you’re curious!) I remember it being interesting, and our teacher tied it in with the idea that the setting of a story, when properly done, can be as much a character as any of the ones walking around on two legs. At the time, I thought it was a fascinating idea, but didn’t quite get it– certainly not enough to be able to articulate it all that well.

If I’m honest, that might still be true today, though I’m certainly closer than I was. At the very least, I’m close enough to start coming up with some theories of my own. In particular, considering how it relates to the ubiquitous advice to “write what you know”.

Now, as you can imagine, us science fiction and fantasy authors have a harder time applying that advice in its most boring sense. I’ve never been a freelancer on a distant planet, but that’s not stopping me from writing about a couple of siblings who do, so some folks might suggest that I’m not taking that advice to heart. That being said, I am one of several siblings, and I can guarantee that I’ve got the sibling banter thing down pat, so in that sense I am writing what I know.

Now, imagine you’ve got a locale you’re particularly familiar with. For me, that could be the Palouse area of Idaho and Washington: farming country, with lots of hills and fertile soil and not so many people. Next, add in the fantasy, magic, and adventure that I particularly enjoy writing about. Combine the two, and and you’re going to get a modern fantasy story set in the hills I grew up in. Probably involving werewolves.

Or, for those of you who watch Angel, you’ve got the same sort of thing with Los Angeles. It’s definitely set in LA… there’s just vampires and demons as well.

Basically, using a region that you’re familiar with is a fantastic way to write what you know– because as poor as that advice is when applied badly, you can’t get around the fact that it does have some truth to it. If you know something, you’re going to be able to write about it better. If, like me, you’re more the type who likes writing science fiction and fantasy, that’s probably going to look more like writing about relationships between friends and family than the the mundane adventures of a twenty-something-year-old. But it can also mean setting those same stories about the relationships you know in the places you know. Because it’ll make the story that much more real.


[Blog] (More) Musings on Spacestations

It’s entirely possible that working in an actual, honest-to-goodness city has gotten inside my head. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been spending sizeable portions of every week actually in Los Angeles for the better part of a year: I still stare up at the buildings like the country girl I apparently still am. In case there’s any question, yes, I’m completely okay with that.

Now, nerd that I am, staring at the seemingly never-ending stretch of buildings inevitably leaves me considering the logistics of space stations. Well. Some of the logistics. I don’t mean things like creating gravity and making sure life support works (okay, so maybe now I am, in a purely theoretical sense) but more what it would be like to have a city’s worth of people living suspended in space.

Assuming for a moment that the fictional civilization in question figured out how to build and maintain a structure that could support millions of people, what would it be like to live there? How would someone move between the different places they need to go? LA has its chaotic mess of tangled freeways, but it’s hard to imagine that this:

would translate well to this:

If only because it’s going to be hard to find a place to put all the cars (or their 25th century equivalents). It’s just not the most efficient use of space. Plus, in our modern day cities, you’ve got to deal with miles and miles between the places people live and the places they work. Or play. Or run errands. And part of that is because there’s a limit, either cultural or physical, to how much we want to build up as opposed to out, and because we do, to one extent or another, have the space to build out. That’s not going to be a luxury the fictional inhabitants of a massive space station are going to have.

On the one hand, that’s going to mean that anyone living in that kind of orbital city is going to feel more or less like a sardine. On the other, there’s a certain convenience to being within walking distance of anywhere you need to go. Add in a few snazzy, high-tech elevators that can bus you from floor to floor or from section to section at remarkably high speeds, and things might be a little more reasonable.

And maybe people will continue to be more and more able to work remotely, cutting down on even more of the need to scramble from one place to another. Or maybe some sort of complicated shift system would exist, which would preempt any overwhelming surge of people at a particular time of day. Imagine that… a world without rush hour! Even so, I suspect it would take a certain sort of person to be able to thrive in orbit.

It’s all speculation, of course. But then, isn’t that why so many of us enjoy the science fiction genre? Hard or soft, there’s something about such speculative fiction that keeps us excited, engaged, and curious. Something that keeps us wondering about what might come…

… in the 24th and a half century!


[Blog] Too Many Hobbies, Not Enough Time

As a kid, I didn’t recognize time as a limited resource. Sure, there was only so much reading, playing, writing, etc. one could do before it was time to go to bed, and sure, I recognized that there was a point which, if passed, meant I would not finish my homework on time, but that’s about it. The idea that I could possibly not have enough time to do everything I wanted to was completely foreign.

Oh, shush. You can stop laughing any time now.

Anyway. That, in and of itself, is hardly an earth-shattering revelation. Figuring that out is part of growing up, part of maturing. It’s good and necessary, but not a sign of any special insight.

All this to say, no one ever warned me that I was going to reach a point where I was going to have to choose what interests to pursue. Or if they did, I was too young and foolish to listen. That’s a distinct possibility. Either way, the fact remains that I’m at a point where I have to balance the amount of time I spent reading, writing, having a social life, playing video games… and the list goes on.

I know. Poor me. Perhaps a better way of putting it is to say that I get to make that choice. After all, it’s silly to complain too seriously about having too many good options.