[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] Great Big Planetary Empires


Across the planet today, there are around two hundred different countries, between three and eight thousand different languages, and more cultures (and subcultures?) than anyone could possibly count– if they could even find a reliable definition of culture in the first place. Or put another way, our Earth is both very big and very small.

This is the sort of thing that comes to mind after watching entirely too many episodes of Star Trek in a row. Or pretty much any science fiction TV show or movie or video game or book, for that matter. Compared to our own, all the biggest, grandest worlds that we’ve created are just so small, so limited.

And some of that is by necessity. Take the aforementioned episodes of Star Trek*, for example: if you only have a little less than an hour to tell a complete story, then you just don’t have time to develop a complete and complicated set of geopolitics for your strange, new world, and to try it would be to take away from the story you actually want to tell. When a bunch of humans, Klingons, and tribbles all end up on the same space station, we don’t need to know anything about the inner workings of Klingon geopolitics in order to enjoy the episode.

Even in the infinitely more complex Deep Space Nine that spent numerous episodes exploring the conflict between the Bajorans and the Cardassians, both species have only a single culture, and any hypothetical divisions among them are ignored. It seems there is no such thing as Northern Bajorans and Southern Bajorans, and even those separate groups that appear as the series progresses all stem from the same basic culture, only different in the way they react to their common history. And again, that’s not a bad thing. Even as simple as it is by real world standards, it’s plenty complex enough for the purposes of the story.

That being said, I’d love to see a story that plays a little more with the ramifications of multiple major powers on a single planet with the capability of interstellar travel. What would happen if American explorers made contact and formed an alliance with the Greys from the planet Heru at the same time that Russian explorers hit it off with the Purples on one of the same planet’s other continents? And what would happen if the Greys and the Purples didn’t get along?*

I’m inclined to think that that’s exactly the sort of question that science fiction was born to answer.


* It strikes me as I write this that I’m poorly enough read in science fiction that someone may have already written such a story, and I just don’t know about it. If you happen to know one, do mention it in the comments below, as like I said the idea fascinates me!