Sideband #39: “Star Trekking It”

As a quick Sideband sidebar to the Star Trek holodeck article just published, I want to mention a metaphor I use to refer to a common science fiction fan phenomenon. The metaphor has a label: “Star Trekking it.”

A while back I mentioned another metaphor: “doing a Boston.” This is like that. It’s a specific reference applied to a general situation. In this case, the metaphor is a general idea in a specific context: explaining away ridiculous stuff in Star Trek.

And make no mistake, Star Trek needs plenty of explaining!

We accept warp drive (which Einstein showed is impossible) in a large fraction of science fiction, so that’s a total gimme. It’s necessary to the story, so Einstein turned out to be wrong, that’s all. Same goes for the transporters; we all know they were invented purely to save the cost of shuttle-landing effects. Transporters are also a gimme. A free ticket.

But, funny how all aliens look pretty much like humans with bits of putty on their face. The reality, of course, is budget; making really weird aliens is expensive!

As a viewer you understand that, as in a live play on stage, something is suggested and you fill in the blanks with your own imagination. You know the painted backdrops aren’t really the streets of New York, but you can pretend they are. You can pretend the aliens are a lot more alien then they seem.

You can also use your imagination to explain what is going on. (Or just borrow handy ideas from other bodies of work.) In Star Trek, for example, we can borrow the science fiction trope of an ancient ancestor race that seeded the galaxy with similar DNA (these ancestors can be, or not be, like us).

When you make up your own explanation (one not provided by the material), then you are Star Trekking it.

With regard to the similarity of aliens, on The Next Generation they did an episode that used a variation of the very idea mentioned above. At that point the idea became canon (no longer Star Trekking it).

Another well-known one involves the change in the Klingon face makeup between The Original Show and The Next Generation. The original Klingons looked different.

There’s a Deep Space Nine episode that references it (a fun one where Sisko and others go back in time to share the Trouble with Tribbles episode with Kirk.) In that one, they question Worf about the obvious difference, but Worf grumbles them off saying Klingons don’t discuss it.

It’s not until the Enterprise series with Captain Archer that we learn the truth and the explanation becomes canon. But if you’d made up your own fanish explanation, that was Star Trekking it. By extension, any time you back-fill an explanation for science fiction, that’s Star Trekking it.

I had a good one for the transporters, since the idea of energy-mass-energy conversion is problematic. I said the transporters were a gimme, but it’s still fun to imagine how they might work. There is such a thing as a quantum jump, and I thought that had some potential as a sensible explanation of transporters. But they ruined it by making it clear canonically that transporters really do use energy-matter (and vice-versa) conversion. I’ll explain that one in more detail another time.

The food replicators make more sense if there’s an automated kitchen somewhere that just builds the order from ingredients and cooks (very fast) to order. The replicator is just a small (quantum jump style) transporter from the kitchen to you. A high-tech Star Trekkin’ dumb waiter.

But no, those are true transporters, huge amounts of energy are used along with a template to actually make you a cup of hot tea by turning energy to matter. So there ya go. I guess that does explain the “EPS conduits.” You would need plasma super-conductors to move that much energy around the ship.

And now you know what I mean when I say Star Trekking it!  (And I’m not talking about the song.)

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

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