Gene Roddenberry's Unfortunate Legacy; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Hate Star Trek

Netflix in their pursuit of continual appeasement of the great god Mammon has etched a deal with Paramount Pictures that allows them to stream all day all night all Star Trek all the time. And lo it did come to pass that the great multitude of Star Trek Nerds were pleased. I have taken this opportunity to, with no extra expenditure than I would otherwise make, finally sit down and engage with the franchise as a text. I can now say unequivocally that it is without a doubt every bit as stupid as I always assumed it was, but I have nevertheless made some discoveries about it that I think have wider cultural implications that can be profitably unpacked.

I should note that I elected to watch the series in the chronological order internal to the franchise. I began with Star Trek:Enterprise, followed by 2009 Star Trek prequel/reboot, then watched the 60's Star Trek, then the Motion Pictures featuring the original cast, then Star Trek: The Next Generation, and finally Voyager (Deep Space Nine is not yet available on netflix as of this writing) flipping back and forth between them interspersed with the feature films with the Next Generation cast until Voyager gradually, finally, mercifully ground to an ignominious halt. In all of this, I find very little that is of any value, the Wrath of Khan and the interesting treatment of the "Mirror Universe" being the most notable exceptions. Of all of these particular cash cows, however, the one that I think is most consistently my favorite is the truly abhorrent Star Trek: Enterprise.

A now, a very special message from the WOLD NEWTON READING EXTRAVAGANZA

Announcing the next WOLD NEWTON READING EXTRAVAGANZA! Hosted by Wet Asphalt's own Eric Rosenfield.

Monday Oct 3rd at 6:30pm at an EXCITING NEW LOCATION:
The Way Station
683 Washington Ave
btw Prospect and St Mark's
Brooklyn, NY

The world's greatest steampunk and Doctor Who themed bar!

With a special comic book audio-visual experience! You will SEE and HEAR COMIC BOOKS right before your eyes! With the authors presented IN THRILLING TRUE-LIFE 3D!

With
Dave Roman
Two-time New York Times bestselling creator of ASTRONAUT ACADEMY: ZERO GRAVITY

“There will not be a better all-ages graphic novel published this year than Astronaut Academy. Period.” – Marc Mason, The Comics Waiting Room

And

Jim Ottaviani
World's preeminant writer of comics about science, writer of FEYNMAN, the larger-than-life true story of the SMARTEST MAN ALIVE, a physicist who grew up in Queens, worked on the Manhattan Project at 23, won the Nobel Prize and wrote funny things about picking up girls.

YOU MUST COME TO WITNESS THE SCIENCE!

And THEN!
On Thursday Nov 10th at 7pm
Also AT THE WAY STATION
Will be multiple Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy award winner MICHAEL SWANWICK, whose new book DANCING WITH BEARS is about con men in a delirious future Russia.

With him will be recently Hugo nominated and critically acclaimed NK JEMISIN, in honor of the release of the final book of her INHERITANCE TRILOGY, THE KINGDOM OF GODS, which is about deities as weapons of mass destruction, a city on a spire and one hundred thousand kingdoms.

AND ALSO! There will also be an exhilarating STAGE COMBAT DEMONSTRATION by stage combat instructor, stunt man and KUNG FU MASTER MIKE YAHN.

BE THERE OR BE SAD YOU ARE NOT THERE!

Reading the History of Popular Fiction Part 2: The Mid-to-Late Nineteenth Century

This article is part of my series Reading the History of Popular Literature.

Books marked with a red asterix (*) are recommended reading. Books that were read previous to starting this project are marked "(previously read)". The country indicated in parentheses is the country of the author's origin, not necessarily the country in which the book was written. If the country of first publication is different then the author's country of origin, it is noted.

Books marked "(Not finished)" I did not finish reading.

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott (United Kingdom - 1819) (Not finished)

A 1819 publication date is obviously a little early for a book's inclusion in an article called "The Mid-to-Late Nineteenth Century", but it's not a Gothic novel so I'm fitting it in here.

Ivanhoe, like The Castle of Otranto, is set in the 12th century, but trades the more spooky and fantastic trappings of the Gothic for Romantic knights in tournaments, historical intrigues, and bald soap opera. One of the supporting characters is Robin Hood, and a principle character is a Jewish lady in one of the early positive portrayals of a Jew in European gentile literature. The book was very popular, and was part of a long series of books the author wrote about the period, which in turn inspired numerous imitators and led to a boom in historical medieval fiction that's an important part of the lineage that stretches from the heroic epics of the 16th century like Orlando Furioso to the quasi-medieval fantasies of JRR Tolkein and his heirs.

Weekday Reading: 8/17/2011

Neil Gaiman talks to Grant Morrison about COMIC BOOKS naturally, and it's pretty great.

From 2004 but new to me, John Kessel's fascinating break down of the moral problems with Ender's Game and how Orson Scott Card manipulates our emotions.

Lev Grossman writes about fan fiction, and in particular Harry Potter fan fiction and the weird and wonderful little universe that has sprung up around it, with its own population and vocabulary.

And FICTION TIME

Speaking of Grossman, here's an excerpt from his new novel The Magician King which gave me chills when I heard him read it at the NYRSF Reading Series here in New York.

And Electric Velocipede has put up one of the better stories from its Logorrhea collection, "The Chiaroscurist" by Hal Duncan. I reviewed the whole collection for the New Haven review some time ago.

Sorry, not a lot of new fiction this fiction time, all my reading lately has been for the Reading the History of Popular Literature series.

Reading the History of Popular Literature part 1: The Gothics

This article is part of my series Reading the History of Popular Literature.

Books marked with a red asterix (*) are recommended reading. Books that were read previous to starting this project are marked "(previously read)". The country indicated in parentheses is the country of the author's origin, not necessarily the country in which the book was written. If the country of first publication is different then the author's country of origin, it is noted.


The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story by Horace Walpole (England - 1764) and an introduction to the Gothic

Rarely can a literary movement be traced so definitively to one book. So why is The Castle of Otranto subtitled "A Gothic Story"? The word "Gothic" referred originally to the Goths, a Germanic people famous for being the barbarians who sacked Rome during the fall of the Roman empire. For much of European history, then, the term "Gothic" was synonymous with "barbaric". In the Renaissance period, artists began to refer to earlier styles of Medieval art which they were rebelling against as ugly and Gothic. Eventually, the cultural period in which that art flourished, approximately the 12th to 16th centuries, became known to scholars simply as the Gothic period.

The subtitle of the Castle of Otranto, then, refers to the fact that it takes place at the beginning of that period, in the 12th century.

Reading the History of Popular Literature: Introduction

After considering the history of genre and popularity, and looking at my reading list full of popular novels I missed during my years of literary fiction snobbery, I decided the best thing to do would be to put all the books I wanted to read in chronological order, and with them other books I hadn't read that might help illuminate the lineage of contemporary popular literature -- which is to say the popular literature of the culture I live in, America in the 21st century. This way I could get a feel for how the the work developed over time and get a sense of its context.

Of course, any such lineage could be traced back at least to Gilgamesh. For practical purposes, I decided to begin with the Gothics because it appears that a lot of the tropes and tendencies we associate with popular genres developed there. The list is also, unfortunately, predominantly Western. With certain notable exceptions, such as The Arabian Nights, popular literature in the West has been almost exclusively from the West, with relatively little from other regions getting translated into Western languages and brought to Western shores at all. Even today, with the welcome exception of Japanese manga and anime, most of the popular culture we consume is Western, and in America most of that is American or, at best, British.

The list is also largely dominated by science fiction and fantasy and its antecedents for the simple reason that it's what I want to read. There will, however, be forays into crime, mystery, western, thriller and other popular genres, in order to get a flavor of what else was going on at the time. I'm also going to mention some works I read before starting the project if they help illuminate or represent something that I think is important about a particular period.

The World as I See it In Pieces: Part 2

It's increasingly apparent that what could once have been said about the privilege of place generally afforded by speech over writing being inverted in the normal mode of cultural production in the United States has at this late date completely collapsed. We are now living in a post-scribal politics where the authenticity of the word has been replaced by the authenticity of the sign, and that has itself been subsumed by the authenticity of the sensation. This is what lies in the middle of Stephen Colbert's celebrated "truthiness," which is an illusory ascription of truth values to bodily sensations which are neither public nor propositional and therefore paradoxically denied any kind of involvement in the semiosis of sentences. If what is true is what cannot be expressed, and also if what cannot be expressed is located temporally post-hoc to the dialog of democratic politics, then the assignation of truth values to sentential reasoning no longer exists and we have finally found ourselves living in a post-rational environment in every sense of the word.

Weekday Reading: Now with More Kelly Link!

Kelly Link has begun writing again!

Two new stories: Valley of the Girls

and

Swans

Go read!

Also: Brian Francis Slattery released the soundtrack album for his brilliant novel Liberation.

AND! SPEAKING OF! Have you seen the event I hosted with music by Brian at ReaderCon, where there were readings by Myke Cole, Jeffrey Ford, Scott Edelman, Theodora Goss, John Kessel and Matthew Cheney? No? Well, have a watch:

This event was part of the Wold Newton Reading Extravaganza, which is usually hosted in Brooklyn.

The world as I see it in pieces: Part 1

I don't see much point in psychedelic drugs anymore. We are now living in the future and hyperreality has taken such firm root that we now appear to be models of models that never existed in the first place that were themselves reflections of shadows of an irreal void-space and that likewise have been completely consumed before they could be produced. In such a world, why bother cooking acid and possibly going to jail for buying it and taking it, let alone the tedious process of hanging out with all the hippy drug-culture people that a serious psychonaut has to spend time with to get the tools of the trade, when you can blow off the back of your skull and get yourself twisted as far down the rabbit hole as you're willing to go just by watching CNN?

The ReaderCon 2011 Interviews

Once again I interviewed many wonderful people at ReaderCon, though I aimed for fewer interviews with more in depth questions this time. Click "Read More" for video interviews with Junot Diaz, Samuel R. Delany, Barry Malzberg, John Clute, Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman and Neil Clarke!