Many series, including Star Trek, could learn from 40k.
This week, Pimpcron (that’s me!) talks about dealing with corners that writers paint themselves in. Being that I’m a life-long Star Trek fan, I’ll use that as an example.
Technology Is The Problem
I have loved all of the Star Trek series, but even though I enjoyed it, Voyager ruined a lot of things. That show went out on a limb on several topics and essentially ruined the odds of having any “present day” shows. I’m not talking ratings, acting or anything like that, I talking about writing themselves into a corner with the advancement of technology. Keep in mind: no hate here (I love Voyager), just facts.
Voyager actually had quite a few awesome (and awful) moments.
Remember when Paris and Janeway turned into reptiles and mated? Awkward!
I will use the EMH Doctor as my example, though there are many from this series. Here is a very brief over-view for you non-Star Trek fans. The Emergency Medical Hologram Doctor is the doctor aboard their ship that was a hologram that could draw it’s knowledge and computing power off of the ship’s computer. He could initially only materialize in the sick bay or holodeck due to where the holo-emitters were. He wasn’t ever designed to be used constantly, but for (reasons) they didn’t have a flesh-and-blood doctor. Over the course of the series, his “consciousness” became more and more complex as he learned, and eventually earned the title of “sentient entity”.
I love the Doctor, but this one character ruined any chances of any new “present day” (TNG era) shows being made. That’s why they’ve been doing prequels with Star Trek: Enterprise and the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery.
Holograms are the elephant in the room now for Star Trek. It’s been established that holograms do a ton of menial jobs for the Federation, but have extremely low A.I. intentionally. It could be argued (and the Doctor does argue this) that those holograms should be given full sentience and freedoms like other citizens. They are intentionally being held down, and have potential.
If that’s the case, why risk human (or alien) lives discovering the galaxy? If the hologram hooks up to all of the ship systems, why not make “drone” starships for exploration and warfare where there are no flesh bags on it at all? Just hook a hologram up to the entire ship and he could run it all, risking no lives.
“But, who is gonna seduce the alien women?”
Well, for starters that would be really boring; but it would be practical. And Star Trek viewers are notoriously keen on small details, so somebody has to ask this.
Projecting Future Tech Is Impossible
The other reason why we will have a hard time making a Next Generation-era show after Voyager is because it is so hard to project what new tech we will get. Especially several hundred years in the future. The technology that we have now in many ways surpasses what we see on screen, and Voyager was just in the late 90’s!
Ultimately, technology is about cutting out the middle man. Just take a look at sending a message. It started with couriers physicaly having to send messages, then training pigeons, then sending letters via people. After that we could send messages via telegraph, then corded telephone, then mobile phone. But there were drawbacks to all of these due to cost and international calls prices. Nowadays with things like Skype and other services, international calls are free and instant requiring no middle man. I can text a dude in China if I want. This process went from me sending some dude around the world to send a message by hand, to a couple button presses.
I’ve often thought that with all of the complex computing in Star Trek, why don’t they just have a skeleton crew and nearly everything be automated? With the computer running all of the tedious tasks, couldn’t the bridge crew just run and maintain everything?
“What a profitable idea!”
Of course someone will respond with, “No they couldn’t because of [reasons].” How automated is your car right now? Now add three or four hundred years of innovation. It’s really a no-brainer. Technology’s habit of cutting out the middle man is a real problem for futuristic settings. The reason is:
It All Leads To Singularity
Cutting out the middle man at it’s most extreme end means turning humans into Gods with the help of technology. This is the foundations of a line of thinking called Transhumanism. Cutting out all middle men from everything in life means a pretty boring show. Given smaller and smaller miniaturization of technology and the leaps and bounds into energy sources, you could assume (at the extreme end) your day would be like this.
“I want some food.” -Thinks and nutrients are pumped into your system from some device.
“I’d like to go to Paris.” -Thinks and is transported there instantly.
“Let’s talk to someone.” -Thinks and is instantly in contact.
An extreme and flawed example but you get what I’m saying. Every far-flung show deals with this issue. First, just trying to figure out what future tech could be like. Second, trying to handle it and still make a story with conflict.
“But where’s the STORY in that?!”
40k Got It Right
So if a series like Star Trek has this issue just a couple hundred years in the future, how could a series set TENS of THOUSANDS of years in the future handle it?
They did the smart thing and “forgot” a bunch of stuff. They started over, and have to re-discover all of it. When you look at Warhammer 40k, the technology is more or less World War II era. Tanks? Just nuke it from orbit. Obviously some missions wouldn’t involve nuking everything from orbit, but what about low-altitude nukings? Yeah, that could work. Ya know, trying to fight and fund a ground war with tanks and soldiers is why, why less efficient than just making targeted strikes against what you need dead. Just the sheer food, water, ammunition, fuel, etc to fund a ground war would make nuking OPTION A in a lot of cases.
Not quite like this.
I’m speaking in generalities of course, but you get what I mean. I feel like the only why a futuristic show like Star Trek could ever progress the timeline would be to have some sort of terrible thing happen to their technology and have humanity and all other races sent back to the drawing boards. But at the end of the day, that’s not the optimistic Trek everyone knows and loves.
But I feel like they’d have to follow in 40k’s footsteps in order to deal with all of these tech issues.
Picture Credit for the Captain Kork: http://www.bloody-plastic.com/miniatures/orkerprise.html