The Orville or Star Trek: Discovery?

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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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Dark Worlds Quarterly #2

DARK WORLDS QUARTERLY #2 is available as a free download from Rage Machine Books. I have a rather longish piece in this issue about Science Fiction and social relevance which has contributions from Daniel Abraham, one half of the writing team James S. A. Corey, author of the Expanse novels, and from David Gerrold about the original Star Trek..

There’s lots of other great stuff in this issue as well. Check it out:

The second issue of DARK WORLDS QUARTERLY is here!

Our second issue features an interview with BYRON CRAFT about his novel THE CRY OF CTHULHU and its sequel SHOGGOTH. Byron regales us with his stories of trying to sell a faithful Lovecraft film to Hollywood back in the 1970’s and his encounters with film producers James R. Nicholson, Samuel Z. Arkoff and Dino De Laurentiis.

G. W. Thomas examines the tales featuring Etheridge and Peters, Thorp McClusky’s supernatural policemen.

We take a lighthearted look at that most sci-fi of science fiction tropes, the Big Brained Aliens! We also take a look at depictions of Cave Men (and Women) in SF and Fantasy from the serious to the silly.

G. W. Thomas writes about Keith Laumer’s BOLO stories, M. D. Jackson looks at how we view aliens and Jack Mackenzie examines science fiction as social commentary.

And for you nostalgia fans we take a look back at the Long Playing Record Album – the LP – and highlight some of the best SF and Fantasy themed music from the old “Prog-Rock” days!

Our second issue of DARK WORLDS QUARTERLY tops our first one at 106 pages of articles, essays, opinion and interviews are ready for your enjoyment! It is colorfully illustrated, loaded with good stuff and it’s FREE!

You can check out our download page or just click on the button below and begin reading it on your preferred device.

Download Now!

SDCC: a rant about ungrateful fanboys (slightly NSFW)

sdcc_logo_grande_4542ff10-4626-4dce-91e0-f0e916457862_largeI’m at that point.

You know the one, especially if you’re a parent and you’ve been listening to the kids whine about how unfair everything is and how their life sucks. You get to that point and suddenly the Dad comes out in you and you lecture your kids about how good they have it compared to when you were a kid.

You try to resist, because you know that it never really makes a difference and your kids will just stare at you like some alien that has just walked into the house speaking Klingon.

But I’m there now.

This past week I’ve been watching all this incredible stuff coming out of the San Diego Comic Con, arguably the biggest and the best convention for fans of comics, science fiction and other genre movies. As is usual during Comic Con I’ve also been listening to the whiny-ass fanboys complaining about how nothing is exactly how they want it. How (insert adaptation of your favorite comic/SF novel/sequel/spin-off/whatever) had better not suck or how the (Insert Comic book company name here – which one doesn’t matter) cinematic universe has lost it and has to be rebooted post haste.

To all you fanboys: STFU.

No… better yet, I’m not talking to you in textspeak anymore… I’m Dad now and I’m talking like a dad. Fanboys, shut the fuck up!

You’re getting so much amazing stuff and all you do is whine and complain. It’s like getting a huge fucking haul at Christmastime and complaining because the phone I got you wasn’t the exact brand you wanted.

Oh, boo-hoo.

You know what I had at your age? I had Star Trek re-runs. Heavily edited on old and dirty and badly spliced film reels. We didn’t have the restored versions with new and shiny cgi effects.

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We didn’t have a blockbuster movie to watch and a new series to look forward to.

7a28a7f7959c09777e756b71a5b23083d6e2fe8c4de98bfa0713da1e513234a4We didn’t have a DOCTOR STRANGE movie with A-list actors and top notch visual effects to look forward to. We had a TV movie done on cheap sets and starring Peter Hooten with a 70’s porn ‘stache.

We didn’t have Justice League starring an OSCAR WINNING ACTOR, we had… never mind. You don’t want to know what we had. 90 minutes of our life we’ll never get back, that’s what we had.

hqdefaultYou fanboys (and I don’t care how young or old you are) are fucking ungrateful. You’ve got it made, kids! You’ve got it made in the shade and you don’t know just how good you have it. Yet you whine and you complain like none of this amazing stuff is good enough for the likes of you.

Now, I hear you say; “Yeah, Jack, but, cut us some slack! These aren’t gifts. It’s not Christmas. It’s a business transaction. The studios make a product and they sell it to consumers, and consumers have a right to criticize the products they’re being given. If I go into a restaurant, order a burger, and find it’s undercooked, do I not have the right to call attention that?”

Well, yes, you’re right. It’s not Christmas, and these aren’t gifts given to you by loving parents. the Christmas analogy was just meant to illustrate how I feel about the situation.

These films, TV series, comics, what have you, they’re product. And absolutely, you have the right to complain about an undercooked burger.

But telling the waiter  “This burger better be good or I’m never coming here again!” before it’s even on the plate or telling the chef that his meals suck based on a picture you saw on the restaurant’s website strikes me as a bit entitled, not to mention that it makes the one complaining look like a dick.

Look, if you watch something and you don’t like it, I’ll accept that. We may even talk about it. I frequently do with fellow fans. But I reserve judgement about something until I have seen the movie/series/comic/whatever rather than moaning about it beforehand.

Saying “I hope it’s great.” is better than saying “Oh, man this is gonna blow” in my opinion. And, yes. I’m not just talking about younger fans. I’m not trying to pull some ageist crap here. There are fans older than me who are just as bad and there are younger fans who have a fantastic attitude.

As a creator it just guts me to hear fans talking shit about something sight unseen. As an artist and a writer… see, this is where my frustration is coming from. I know what it’s like to put so much of myself into something, a book or a piece of artwork, only to have someone who doesn’t know, hasn’t seen/and/or read the work dismiss it out of hand.

I’m sorry, for having to go all “Dad” over it like this, but I’m at that point. I’m all out of fucks. I’m out of them. You like something? I don’t give a fuck. You don’t like something? I don’t give a fuck.

I’m. all. out. of. fucks.

The Captains (2011)

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A bit of a change of pace, now. Netflix also has a fine selection of documentary films and one that caught my eye as I was browsing was THE CAPTAINS, a feature length documentary written and directed by William Shatner.

I am a huge Star Trek fan. I’m never happier then when I am watching Star Trek. So this documentary was pleasant viewing for a lazy Sunday morning. William Shatner travels around the country (and, in the case of Patrick Stewart, to England) to conduct candid, one-on-one interviews with all of the other actors who have played captains in the various Star Trek TV and movie iterations. The interviews range from the silly (Shatner sitting in a cardboard box in New York waiting for Kate Mulgrew, Shatner arm wrestling with Chris Pine at the gate of Paramount Studios),Shatner trying to sing with Avery Brooks) to the confrontational, to the intimate (Shatner bonding with Patrick Stewart). Through the series of conversations Shatner explores the differences and the similarities of each actor’s experience with the lead role in each Star Trek series.

If you are interested in acting this movie might interest you. If you are interested in learning about the challenges of being a lead in a demanding TV series, then this documentary might have something for you.

But, honestly, I cannot recommend this film to anyone who isn’t a Star Trek fan. I suspect that Star Trek fans, and only Star Trek fans will ever really appreciate this film. Star Trek fans, and, in particular, fans of William Shatner, are about the only ones who will really appreciate what is in this documentary.

Because at the end of it all, the star of this film is William Shatner and Shatner’s ego certainly does come into play. This is particularly evident in the way he walks around the Star Trek convention in a number of sequences. His presence causes a stir among the fans and he know it and he plays it up.

I don’t mean to say anything too disparaging about Shatner. I’ve met him. He’s a fellow Canadian, so I do feel an affinity with  him. I like the man. He’s an actor, though, and as an actor he is, naturally, self absorbed, as, indeed are the other actors that are featured in this film (with the possible exception of Scott Bakula, who comes across relatively free of rampaging ego).

If you can look past the self absorption, the ego gratifying moments, this film will give you  an insight into what it is like to be a lead actor in a Star Trek series, or any TV series and the sometimes painful toll that exacts on one’s personal life.

There are moments of levity and silliness and there are moments of great pathos. Some scenes are emotionally raw, like when Shatner and Bakula compare the way that the series proved disastrous for their marriages. The pain in Scott Bakula’s eyes that he isn’t quite able to hide, is heartbreaking.

If you are not a Star Trek fan, if you’re only casually interested in Star Trek, give this film a miss. If, however, you are a die-hard fan of the series, in any or all of its various incarnations,then this documentary is for you.

 

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS: and How it Could be Made Better

  I’m not going to spoil the whole movie with this article. I’m only going to spoil the first five minutes.

If you want to see it completely fresh, then stop reading. If you’re not to concerned about having what is essentially a prologue spoiled, then you can read this article and still enjoy the bulk of the movie fresh.

 


The movie opens in the middle of the action. It hits the ground running as all action movies seem to want to do these days. That’s fine. All good action fiction should hit the ground running.


But what is essentially a prologue to the main film was, for me, a really good ending to a potentially great episode of Star Trek if it were back on TV (where it belongs). I would really like to have seen the first 40 minutes of that episode. It could easily have been more like Star Trek then the rest of the movie that comes afterwards.

 


The Enterprise crew has clearly chosen to break the Prime Directive by saving a planet full of white-skinned aliens. It would have been interesting to see the crew wrestle with their responsibilities not to break the Prime Directive, and their desire to save an entire species who are doomed to die. Do they break their Starfleet oaths? Or do they let an entire species die. That would have been riveting to see Kirk and Spock and McCoy wrestling with that dilemma. That would have given further gravitas to McCoy’s answer to Kirk’s question: “What would Spock do?”

 


Obviously Spock is argued into action because it is he who has to set the device in the volcano. I imagine Kirk wanting to do it himself and Spock pointing out that it should be he who sets the device as his Vulcan physiology would allow him to function long after a human would have passed out from the extreme heat. It would also have been a great opportunity for a scene between Uhura and Spock. “You may not care about your own life, but did you ever consider what your death would do to me, you selfish Vulcan?”

 


Why was the Enterprise hiding under the ocean? That would have been interesting to watch the decision making process that led to that development. I imagine Scotty’s initial resistance at such a mad idea, then watching as he reluctantly solves the engineering problems that allow them to do just that.

 


Why did Kirk steal the scroll? Perhaps it was a last minute thing. Perhaps Spock determines that he cannot set the device fast enough to guarantee the safety of the temple. Kirk has to figure out a way — fast — to get them out of the temple without revealing who he is. It would have been entertaining to see the aliens worshiping the scroll and Kirk’s spur-of-the-moment decision to steal it in order to get them out of the temple.

 


And what about McCoy? He obviously had to spend some time getting that beast that Kirk stuns to be cooperative enough to be their ride. Imagine The potential for a number of humorous scenes of McCoy trying to coax a recalcitrant animal into taking riders on its back. McCoy as a grumpy “alien whisperer” would have been priceless.


See? Now THAT would have been a decent episode of Star Trek if Star Trek were to return to television, like it should.It’s just too bad that the rest of the movie was not quite as good. I mean, it was exciting and thrilling (and in 3d!) but it wash’t really Star Trek.


Not my Star Trek, anyway.