The Speculist: Top 10 Revisions to the Star Trek Universe that Would be Fine by Me


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Top 10 Revisions to the Star Trek Universe that Would be Fine by Me

There is no small amount of fear among the Star Trek faithful that the latest entry in the film series, due out in a few months, is going to present significant changes in the backstories of some of our beloved characters. Of course, the continuity between the various TV series and the movies (and even within each) has never been as pristine as the faithful would like. Still, things like having Kirk and Spock be roughly the same age and attending Star Fleet Academy together, if that is indeed what's going on, is a pretty big change -- bigger than any that have come before.

Some have been upset by the new trailer. Not me. I think it looks pretty cool. Perhaps it suggests that there are massive changes in store for the Trek continuity, but director JJ Abrams at least assures us that Chekov will still pronounce his V's as W's, even though Russians don't really do that.

Now that is some serious respect for tradition.

Of course, Star Trek fans have the right to be a little nervous about turning their baby over to this particular sitter. First Alias and then Lost have shown a tendency on the part of the unquestionably brilliant Mr. Abrams to apparently just sort of make stuff up as he goes along. And anyone who has heard about his script for a Superman reboot a few years back -- in which Krypton is never destroyed, Jor El is a martial arts expert, and Lex Luthor is a CIA agent (and, no, I'm not kidding) -- has reason to be anxious.

We can only hope that Abrams got most of that kind of nonsense out of his system in writing that script, and that any broad and sweeping changes he has made to the Star Trek universe won't immediately strike us as overwhelmingly and unforgivably stupid. Besides, let's get with the program, folks. They make big changes when they make movies about historical figures. Showtime has been retconning the life of Henry VIII like crazy on the The Tudors, and HBO did the same thing with Caesar, Mark Antony, and Augustus a few years back on Rome. So in that spirit, let's do a little creative destruction of our own. There must be a little dross amongst all that glitters in the Star trek treasure chest. If we could make a few changes to Star Trek as we know it, what would they be?

Here are 10 thoughts on the subject.

1. Lose the Andorians

Star Trek Enterprise made a noble effort to revise these loser 1950's-vintage alien caricatures, but what's the point? That's right, I said 1950's. Blue skin and huge antennas sticking out of their heads? These guys were out of date when the first episode aired in 1966. Here's hoping we've seen the last of them.



In 30+ years of Star Trek, the only character who has ever needed to go the bathroom was Zefram Cochrane in Star Trek: First Contact, and even he was just faking it in order to try to escape. It's a very revealing scene: first Geordi is perplexed by Cochrane's anachronistic euphemism -- "I have to take a leak" -- and then, upon understanding his meaning, he seems strangely confused and embarrassed. Annoyed, Cochrane asks whether people in the 23d century don't have to pee any more?

The answer, apparently, is no. They don't. I don't want this to become a major distraction or anything, but throw us a bone, here. Either establish that people in the Star trek universe do have to go to the bathroom sometimes, or give us a reason why they don't.


Not a scene from Star Trek.

3. Fewer People Named "Noonien"

Here's your proof that Star Trek takes place not in our universe, but in some bizarre parallel world. In this alternate reality, mothers have no qualms about sticking the name "Noonien" on their newborn man-children. First we have Khan Noonien Singh, the non-turbaned Sikh with a Spanish accent who uses his genetically superior mental and physical abilities to take control of spaceships, but who never gets as far as he would like on the road to total galactic domination. Then we have Dr. Noonien Soong, the man who built Data, his evil twin Lore, and a love-bot for himself using his comatose wife's memories. This latter Noonien was, in some ways, a little pluckier than his namesake. While Khan could never get the better of his nemesis (James Kirk), Dr.Soong was able to pull one over on the Bad Guy with the Dumbest Name Ever.


All very entertaining, but enough. Please, Mr. Abrams: no more Nooniens.

4. Quit Preaching

In the original series, Kirk was always having to step in and set an alien culture straight when they went all Nazi or gangster or ancient Rome. Plus there were lots of aliens driven mad with power who didn't mind exploiting puny humans, but whose confidence in their power was really their greatest weakness, yadda yadda yadda. Shatner was a master of morally superior condescension -- and he laid it on heavy.

In the Next Generation, they had the exact same attitude, but it was aimed primarily at humanity of the past -- beings who weren't as enlightened as our skant-wearing, tea-sipping New Age crew what with their detachable saucer section and all. Also, the Next Gen gang were way more prissy about the absurd Prime Directive (see item 7) than the original crew. In the Kirk days, they had to break the Prime Directive as a means of displaying their moral superiority over aliens. In the Picard days, they had to uphold it as a means of displaying their moral superiority over less enlightened humans.

Either way...people who are all impressed by their own righteousness are boring. Let it go. Somebody just grab a phaser and blast something already.


5. No More Facial Ridges. Ever.

That's right. No antennae and no facial ridges.

"Gosh, how in the world are we ever going to make white English-speaking humans seem alien?"

How about fur? Fins? Tentacles? Scales? Trunks? Feathers? Trilateral symmetry? Great big bug eyes? Note that many of these were tried in the original series. Facial ridges showed up in the Next Generation and hung in for the rest of the iterations of Star Trek -- until Enterprise brought antennae back, that is.

Another possibility would be to forget about making aliens look different and try to come up with some truly original alien cultures and behaviors. Sadly, giving an alien species a distinguishing facial characteristic and declaring that they are ALL warriors or scholars or interior decorators is not as cutting edge as it used to be.


6. Leave "Time Warp" in the Past

Time travel is too easy in the Star Trek universe. Anytime anything goes terribly wrong, you can just whip around the sun at warp 9+, go backward in time, and fix the problem. So why is it that this solution is introduced for only a very few catastrophes?

Well, because sometimes they write the story that way, but most of the time they don't. That's lame.

7. Kill the Prime Directive

Want to make absolutely sure that your travels through space aren't going to have some unexpected influence on developing alien cultures?

Stay home.

Otherwise, let's drop the Prime Directive nonsense. There should be a few clear-cut rules about not eating, enslaving, or otherwise exploiting aliens. How tired is this already: Well, we have the technology to cure their disease, but we dare not ease their suffering seeing as they don't yet have Warp Drive -- HUH? -- but don't worry, some bit of clever plotting on the part of the writers will justify our inaction before the hour is up.

Here's an alternative ending: the contrived justification for inaction doesn't show up on queue, so the Enterprise crew uses time warp to go back and cure the disease after all.

8. Computer Technology

In Dune, Frank Herbert went to great pains to explain why his spacefaring intergalactic civilization didn't have any real computer technology to speak of. In that case, it had to do with religious restrictions.

The Star Trek folks owe us a similar explanation. I mean, seriously, check out Janeway's laptop:


Really? 300+ years from now? Really? So what happened? I mean, something terrible has got to happen between now and the 2300's for that thing to be state-of-the art.

Computer technology can be advanced only if it's a big ship-sized mainframe or if it's human-shaped. The holodeck managed to produce an AI version of Sherlock Holmes' nemesis Moriarty who was self-improving and who apparently brought the Star Trek universe as close to the singularity as it has ever come. Data is more of a disappointment. He thinks much faster than the rest of us, but he was never smart enough to program himself to be emotional -- he had to rely on a chip invented by Dr. Soong. Heck, he couldn't even hack himself to the extent of using contractions.

The bottom line is this -- in the last couple of Star Trek movies, the computers used to create the CGI effects for the movie were probably more powerful than any computers portrayed in the movie (with the exception of Data.)

Let's broaden our horizons.

9. Ixnay on the Iversalunay Anslatortray

Like time warp, the universal translator is a short-cut for lazy writers. There were some heroic efforts to make the UT more realistic in Star Trek: Enterprise, but it's mostly just a huge lame-out. It would be interesting if we actually saw different species speaking other languages and then heard English after a short delay. But no. We see and hear them speaking English.

If it were shown being used the way I just described, that might be okay. If they can't be bothered to make it realistic, then maybe Star Trek should just go the Stargate route wherein the universe just happens to be full of English-speaking humans. Humans because they've been Stargeted all over the place by evil aliens. And English-speaking's just teh easy to write the episodes that way!

10. Bring Back Kirk

And, no, by that I don't mean some kid playing the young Kirk. That's fine, but bring back the real thing while you still can.

So he died--big deal. Spock died, too. Shatner has already written several novels about a resurrected Kirk. Well, okay, he probably didn't really write them, but his name is on the cover.

I'll tell you what -- just bring back Kirk, and you can skip all the rest of it. Just bring him back.



SF is dying. 50 years ago future technology was exciting. Now we live in that future and any kind of technology is possible within a few decades. We know that. Cures for anything, anti aging, protection, free energy, mass space exploration, etc. Exponential progress which will bring huge paradigm shifts. The world is already changing from day to day.

Star Trek doesn't resemble the future, it resembles the past. Writers should focus on that. Retro SF. There is no technological progress in the Star Trek world. Most of the technology used is already obsolete.

Real SF now would involve nanoclay, interconnected brains, the impact this and an ever involving universe have on personalities, mind/meme wars over what is correct and what is not, decay of economic structures, disappearing of privacy, power etc.

Here here!

George Dvorsky has a similar disdain of the Prime Directive.


Sci-fi is growing more difficult as we get closer to the Singularity, but even post-Singularity I suspect that the SF impulse will still be with us.

How? SF authors will build virtual worlds for us to explore. It will be possible to live Star Trek, Star Wars, or even Lord of the Rings.

And to some extent Star Trek is a past-future, but faster-than-light travel, transporters, and alien races keep it interesting enough for now.

I just hope they don't screw Star Trek up too bad.

What they need to do is make it more Iain M Banks or P F Hamilton. A film or TV series about agents of Special Circumstances would be radically new.

I grew up watching ToS with my dad. I don't think the tech they used was EVER that insane to consider, it was all just 'future gun' or 'future walkie talkie' and really the transporter was 'how to ignore travel time between the space-automobile and the planetary location'.

Real SF, my Aunt Fanny, it's a Western, and between the actor's chemistry and the frontier sensibility, that's where these movies seem to succeed or fail.

Also, whales.

I like the Andorians and find them fare more intersting than the generic ridge faced folk that apeared all the time. Having said that I would like to see some real odd aliens that took some time to think up like some of the ones in the Star Wars movies.

Technology can completely pass fictional stories and those stories can still be popular and relevant. HG Wells, Jules Verne still get re-used

Science fiction of the early 1900's and before almost always did not come close to addressing the changing technology of the time. We have already crossed over the 1980's and 2008 timeframe that some Trek stories referenced. WW3 and the Eugenics wars being the big thing and we are going to cross over the time of Zephram Cochrane and Trek will likely still be viable and stories will have to change. In the comics Iron Man was originally started in the Korean War. (then Vietnam, then Iraq etc... Boy what if the US had not had significant wars in reality or stopped having wars to update to..... OK so Iron Man is probably safe updating to the latest US War.)

I believe in theory Star Trek the old series/shows will start coming into the public domain in 51 years. Unless Disney can extend it further (now 95 years for work started in 1976). At that point fan fiction could become official. Will Star Trek copyright expire before the 23rd century ? We just need to write some new fiction universes with properly updated tech projections.

There have been various leaks on the internet, wired etc... about this Trek reboot.

Spoiler space ...

Do not proceed to avoid Spoilers

They will be an attempt to change Kirk's life in order to change the future universe. That would mean at least Khan Noonian would still be around. But it does mean that from the time of baby Kirk onwards all bets are off and we are not locked into the fate of next gen, DS9, Voyager etc... It re-establishes dramatic tension, because we don't know. But Star Trek is a multiverse so anything can happen and the old universes or something like them are still there and available to be accessed with a transporter accident or intentionally. How could classic spock/Nimoy give this new universe advice and a sendoff without the old one kind of being around.

Tech and visuals and laptops get updated because that has just happened many times anyway. No need to explain. Computer tech gets updated and even the effects of old shows have been revamped after the fact.

Chekov speaks like a 23rd century Russian.

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