The Orville or Star Trek: Discovery?

STD_Orville

Star Trek: Discovery vs the “New” space adventure series The Orville

So, which is it to be? Seth MacFarlane’s sci-fi parody, The Orville, or CBS All Access’s new flagship series, the latest iteration of the 50 year old franchise, Star Trek: Discovery?

Well, honestly, there’s no comparison. The clear winner here is Star Trek: Discovery which pulled well ahead with it’s third episode, taking the series in a completely unexpected direction and confounding critic’s predictions. It is traveling the inroads that have been made for televised science fiction by series like Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica reboot and currently with The Expanse.

Star Trek is reinterpreting itself to fit in with the modern television landscape. It’s a series that has been designed with the binge-watching audience in mind. It also doesn’t feel the need to slow down and explain everything.

The Orville, on the other hands is firmly planted in the same territory that was mined by Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation decades ago. The stories are heavy handed and moralistic, but with a lighter than ice cream tone. It is meant to be a parody but it only seems to remember that occasionally when it tries to inject some lame joke in the middle of the drama. And the jokes are lame. Seriously.

The funniest moment of a recent episode was probably one of the subtlest bits of comedy the show has ever attempted. Bortus, an alien crew member, stops and stares at his partner who is eating Rocky Road ice cream and watching The Sound of Music because he is depressed and has chosen a human cure for depression. That one silent moment was the high point of humor for a series that has relied on crude jokes and cultural and racial stereotypes for much of its comedy.

Discovery, on the other hand, seems to have its feet firmly in the stirrups. Once the viewer realizes that the entire season is one whole story arc (and in this day and age of Netflix and other streaming services, that realization shouldn’t be difficult) then the first two episodes, what would, in iterations past be presented as the “pilot” episode, was, in fact, merely the cold open of a much larger story. To judge the series, as many have done, based on the first two would have been akin to giving up on one of the other series episodes based solely upon the pre-credit teaser.

The other aspect of The Orville that has been remarked on by others, most notably by Steve Barnes, author of Twelve Days, and co-author of Dream Park and The Legacy of Heorot, is it’s tendency to cast actors of color as aliens, while the human cast remains mostly white. Of the main cast only Penny Johnson (Cassidy Yates from Deep Space Nine) as the ship’s doctor is not portrayed in a culturally stereotypical way. I have commented elsewhere that The Orville is Star Trek for white viewers who are uncomfortable with too much cultural diversity.

Discovery, on the other hand, embraces diversity right out of the gate with the main character being Michael Burnham, a woman of color (played by Sonequa Martin Green) as first officer to Captain Georgiou, an Asian woman (played by Michelle Yeoh)

Though that relationship does not continue throughout the series, the diversity in cast members is laudable in comparison with the half-hearted attempt at it by The Orville.

The Orville has further added to its unoriginal provenance in its fourth episode which posits a generation ship that situation that mirrors Harlan Ellison’s The Starlost so closely that I wouldn’t be surprised if Harlan were to launch a lawsuit against Fox in the coming days. That episode more closely resembled The Starlost than James Cameron’s The Terminator resembled Ellison’s Outer Limits episode “Soldier”, but we all know how that turned out.

I’m not going to draw this out any longer. For my money, Star Trek: Discovery is the superior show. It is traveling down new roads and, I am confident, it will blaze some roads of its own before the current story arc has finished unspooling.

The Orville, meanwhile, seems destined to boldly go where much better shows have gone before.

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DEBT’S PLEDGE

ImageMy latest science fiction novel, Debt’s Pledge┬áhas been a long time coming.

I started this book many years ago. I wanted to write a military science fiction novel about a soldier who is down and out.

At the time I had been doing research on Ancient Rome and the conditions faced by soldiers in the years before Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his army. There was opportunity for reward and glory for Roman soldiers, but there was also much deprivation and hardship. I wanted to translate this situation to a traditional military science fiction milieu.

I also wanted to examine the idea of debt. Not just monetary debt, or the debt that a society exacts upon its citizens, I wanted to try to separate what individuals owe to society separate from what is mandated by taxation.

What I discovered, as I wrote, is that we, as individuals owed the existence we have in the present to those who came before us. This seems obvious, though sometimes we forget how much of what we have today we owe to those who came before us. Not just fathers and mothers, but “founding” fathers are owed a debt by all of us in the present. A simple experience like going out for a meal represents an immense societal effort over many years to create the situations where today restaurants and fast food outlets are commonplace and affordable.

Even the simple act of flushing a toilet is the result of decades, even centuries of hard work and building of complicated infrastructure. For that hard work and ingenuity, we owe a debt.

What I also discovered was that the debt goes both ways.

It’s fashionable now to talk about leaving a better world for our children (as if our ancestors didn’t want the same things for us) but do we really appreciate what that means. Parents will sacrifice and work hard for their own children and I am no exception, but what about the many children who are unborn today and who may never be born. What debt do we owe to them?

The concept of debt becomes more nebulous and contention at this point but while I was writing I wanted to explore a situation where that concept suddenly became clear. I think that I was successful in doing that in Debt’s Pledge.

I wrote the first draft of this novel and most of the second well before the global economic crisis happened. World events have borne out much of what I had been thinking at the time and, I hope, have made this story even more relevant and timely now than when I started.

Certainly you can read the book and enjoy it as an exciting, military, space opera adventure. The book contains spaceships, space travellers, future soldiers, aliens (and some really badass aliens) enough to content the lovers of science fiction, military SF and Space Opera.

But there is also a human story mixed into all that, and some thoughts on the relationship between individuals and society and what each owes the other. That is what Harlan Ellison refers to as the “fibre” hidden within the story. I’m quite pleased at the way it made it into the narrative.

I am also happy with the characters that developed and grew along the way. Some were created consciously and others just kind of showed up during the writing. This is their story and I am pleased with the way that it has been told. I believe I was able to stay out of their way sufficiently to allow them to tell the tale as it needed to be. That, for a writer, is the best feeling. It’s like some sort of magic has been invoked and it has infused itself into the text.

Debt’s Pledge is available now at Amazon.com for the kindle. It will soon be available in other e-formats as well as a print edition soon afterwards. Personally I think you owe it to yourself to check it out, maybe even buy a copy. If you have already purchased a copy, then sincerely, thank you.

I am in your debt.

THE WRITER’S PERSONALITY (OR LACK THEREOF)

The other day I got an email from my wife. it said: “Did you know that You possess way more of a personality via written word than you do one-on-one?”. That kind of threw me for a moment. If that was the case, and I had no reason to doubt her, then why?

The answer, once I thought of it, was obvious. It’s because when you are talking one-on-one to someone they usually don’t give you half an hour or more to come up with a snappy reply.

That got me thinking about the personality of a writer. Writing is a solitary profession and in general writers are not usually known for their outgoing and bubbly personalities. That’s not to say that there aren’t writers with sparkling personalities, there are, but I think it is fairly safe to say that they are rare. While we hope that we as writers can come alive on paper, our words providing the reader with a scintillating frisson of pleasure and the sense that they have heard from someone who is dynamic and charming, the reality is usually somewhat different.

Radio interviews are a good example of this. I spent several years hosting a weekly radio show and many of our episodes featured interviews with sf and fantasy writers. For every firebrand like Harlan Ellison or entertainer like Spider Robinson (who could play the guitar and sing during an interview) most of the authors I was able to sit down and talk to were, frankly, dull. These were authors whose work I had loved over the years, writers whose prose was exciting and stimulating. Speaking to them in person was a bit of a let down.

Such is the case with most writers, I think. It’s certainly true of myself if my wife is to be believed (and she is, make no mistake abut that). I hope that my prose is readable at least. I like to think that it is exciting where it needs to be. I take particular pride in my dialogue. I spend a lot of time crafting it, making it sharp and witty, or full of impact when need be. Sometimes I sit at my computer and say it aloud to hear how it sounds.

I sit alone in a room having imaginary conversations between made up people that have nothing to do with me. You know what they call people who do that on a regular basis, don’t you?

I’d be interested in knowing if any other writers feel the same way? Are you exciting in your prose but dull in person? Are you the life of the party? Does your writing have snap and crackle as it is going down on the page or do you labour for hours to craft your words to have that brilliant, off-the-cuff feel?

Leave a comment. Let’s start a dialogue. (I will endeavor to be “Mister Personality” in my replies).