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Tag: Science Fiction

Why Star Trek: Discovery is Finally Worth the Price of Admission

If you’ve previously ignored “Star Trek: Discovery,” it’s time to go back to the future. There’s been an unexpected course correction in this series’ sophomore season…

As a ‘Trekkie’ for most of my life, I’ve lived through “Star Trek’s” ongoing life cycle of failure, cult phenomenon, success, expansion, contraction and rebirth. What’s been especially frustrating of late has been watching some of its enduring core elements warped in “Star Trek: Discovery.”

In its freshman season…. hope, morality, humor and the generally positive outlook of the larger “Star Trek” universe were mostly sidelined for more flash, intensity, discomfort and darker episodes to meet the expectations of today’s HBO-trained audience.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the opportunity to watch the first “Star Trek” series since 2005. But this one was so different, perhaps necessarily so, because traditional “Star Trek” had become too tame and predictable for modern tastes.

Season 1 Was Not Family Friendly
“Star Trek: Discovery” was supposed to be “Star Trek”… reinvented. You can say a lot about how “Discovery” lost its way in Season 1, but you can’t say it was tame.

It was intentionally designed for an adult crowd, complete with a “TV-14” rating that included R-level violence and a few four-letter words.
(Really)

I found Season 1 a bit exhausting.

Oh yeah, and you had to pay for it (streaming on CBS All Access for $5.99/month or $9.99/month without commercials).

I think along its journey of necessary reinvention, the writers simply left out too many familiar “Star Trek” ingredients.

In the sophomore season, we’re told we’re getting a ‘course correction.’ And after watching the first two episodes, I am happy to report that it’s true!

New Captain on the Bridge!
The biggest change is our new captain… Christopher Pike. Yep… the Enterprise captain who came before the more famous Captain Kirk.

Played by Anson Mount, Pike beams onto the Discovery from his mysteriously ‘short-circuited’ Starship Enterprise which has to then be towed away… literally.

Pike immediately takes command to lead this new season-long mission.

Captain Pike’s character was first introduced in the original (and failed) “Star Trek” pilot, “The Cage,” back in 1965. Played by Jeffrey Hunter, Pike was serious and a little stiff, but certainly a model of Starfleet values and morality. The writers loosed things up a bit when they created Captain Kirk.

We saw Pike again in J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Kelvin-timeline movie reboot and 2013’s “Into Darkness” sequel. This time played by Bruce Greenwood, Pike was again the moral compass and a father figure to the young and inexperienced Jim Kirk.

“Discovery’s” Captain Pike gives us a similar leader with strong ethics, but still able to recognize inconsistencies that challenge his own beliefs. He is on his own journey of ‘discovery.’ And this mission with his new crew is clearly going to challenge his personal and professional rule book.

But compared to all of the questionable choices made by characters in Season 1, Pike has immediately become “Discovery’s” moral center. (Doug Jones’ Kelpien Saru held this responsibility in Season 1 and was briefly joined by Michelle Yeoh’s Captain Georgiou.)

Pike’s entrance is such a relief.

It may have taken decades of “Star Trek” storytelling for this to become entirely clear, but Pike… not Kirk… best reflects the essence of Gene Roddenberry’s foundational theme surrounding our destiny. In Roddenberry’s future, humanity has matured enough to avoid extinction, get it together and reach for the stars.

Pike has always been the grown up.

He’s serious and dependable, but the writers of “Discovery” have shaved the stuffy edges off of his character and given him a little dose of welcome humor. And Mount fits the role perfectly.

Be Bold. Be Brave. Be Courageous.
When Pike proclaims ahead of his first Spore-Drive jump, “Be Bold. Be Brave. Be Courageous,” First Officer Burnham cracks a small but proud smile.

I smiled.
And I think thousands of “Star Trek” fans smiled too.

That line touched a feeling in me that harkens back to when I was a kid and first heard the line “Space, the final frontier…”

Hope. Wonder. Adventure.
A little more humanity.

Yes, please.

The First Two Episodes Are On Course
At the end of Episode 1 (“Brother”), Pike turns to Burnham and says,
“Wherever our mission takes us, we’ll try to have a little fun along the way too…”

I think that’s a line clearly directed at fans to proclaim the show’s adjusted tone.

And if it’s not clear enough that “Discovery” is finally embracing its own roots, Jonathan Frakes (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”) was tapped to direct the second episode, “New Eden.”

As soon as I saw Frakes’ name pop up in the credits, I knew the space/time continuum was well on its way to resetting itself with old Commander Riker at the helm.

“New Eden” felt like the best of classic “Trek,” complete with visiting a strange, new world and questioning the Prime Directive. But it also focused on characters getting to know each other better. And of course, then we get to know them better.

Could this crew actually be developing into something of a “Star Trek” family?
Developing character connections and strong storytelling have always been the core of “Star Trek.”

“Discovery” has even demonstrated “Star Trek’s” traditional willingness to tackle big questions that really work your brain…

When Pike talked about Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law reflecting an updated view that “any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God,” we know we’re solidly in the “Star Trek” universe we know and love.

The Shakedown Cruise Continues
This is all not say that “Star Trek: Discovery” is totally fixed.

The introduction of the young Spock character is a bold and yet unproven move that currently feels like a plot device taken from “The Search for Spock” movie.

And what’s up with Cadet Tilly? Played by Mary Wiseman, we really need to see her character grow this season into something beyond awkward and flustered. It’s time to show her evolution…

And as the star of the show, Sonequa Martin-Green’s Burnham still has some work to do to win over our hearts.

Discovery is No Longer Lost in Space
The good news is “Star Trek: Discovery” has passed its core Kobayashi Maru test.

Yes, Season 2 still has a long way to go, but “Discovery” has now discovered the right formula to reinvent “Star Trek” in a way that’s fresh and challenging, yet also doesn’t repel its fan base.

Strong, uplifting storytelling with heart has always been at the center of great “Star Trek.”

Keep making these types of episodes, and the audience will show up
…and pay for it.

Why are Amtrak Trains at Grand Central?

Do you ever feel like you’re in a science fiction movie? When I saw this at Grand Central Terminal, I felt like I had entered another dimension…

Last week, I felt like I had entered an alternate reality. It could have been a scene from the TV series, “Fringe.” Or maybe “The Twilight Zone.” Here’s what happened…

I was traveling into New York City on my Metro-North commuter train. Upon our arrival, I stepped onto the platform at Grand Central Terminal and began walking to the track entrance with the crowd. Everyone else was oblivious to ‘it,’ but I clearly spotted an Amtrak train in the station, seemingly tucked away on track 24.

 

 

 

 

 

Something was very wrong with this image.

Why?
Because all Amtrak trains go through Penn Station… not Grand Central. That’s the way it’s always been.

I felt the need to rush upstairs to see if Zeppelins were flying overhead.

Science Fiction or Reality?
Everything else appeared normal. So, I went about my day.

Upon my return, I took a detour back to track 24. Yep, my alternate-reality Amtrak train was still there. But this time, there was more activity around it…I spotted two conductors and an engineer.

 

 

 

 

 

I had to ask. So, I walked up to the engineer.

He looked at me and said, “Are you here for Amtrak?”

I peered back. He seemed normal… human…of this temporal dimension.
So I asked him why this Amtrak train was messing with my reality…

And so he explained…

The Facts
In fact, Amtrak is running some of its trains this summer out of Grand Central due to track maintenance at Penn Station. This particular train was going to Albany.

I thanked the helpful engineer for his explanation and went home… eager to do a fact check on his explanation to confirm he wasn’t from a different universe.
(He wasn’t.)

I did some Googling and (of course) found the story, which reported that this is actually the 2nd summer that Amtrak trains have been diverted to Grand Central (Empire, Ethan Allen Express and Maple Leaf trains).

Huh.

And this type of anomaly also occurred back in 1991.

Good to know.

Pay Attention
It all checked out. There’s no temporal rift. No disturbance of the Force. Everything was as it should be. How silly of me to question the world around me.

So, I turned off my AI…walked downstairs to bed… and lowered the shade. I needed my sleep.

Both moons were full.

Ode to the IT Guy on Father’s Day

Someone placed this mystery spring on my desk at home, and it inspired me to pen another of my occasional ‘poems.’ Please be gentle…

A Tiny Spring is on his Desk

A tiny spring is on his desk
From whom he cannot fathom
It could be from his better half
Perhaps his little phantom

The IT Guy should know it all
His home tech in his control
All the gear working as it should
Not warped by a near wormhole

Like Sisyphus, it’s never done
You really cannot linger
Even superheroes feel woe
They can’t just snap a finger

But a Thanos he cannot be
He works hard to be a sleuth
Not so clever like MacGuiver
If you only knew the truth

Loading Minecraft on his iMac
His eight year old beams with glee
But when he gets stuck in a realm
He cannot help the boy flee

His wife’s old Macbook Pro runs slow
The fix is more RAM he thinks
He even does the job himself
But now the battery stinks

But with no quest, what good is that?
It’s the challenge that’s the fun
He needs that spring, it makes him think
About more than hot dog buns

To all the dads, the day is near
When all will scream your wonder
They have the faith you know enough
That you will never blunder

But do dads have some special skill?
This premise is so not true
They just treat tech like a hobby
No Kobayashi Maru

But if you want to help him be
A Jedi in his domain
Go right ahead and make him smile
Though you walk the same terrain

Still, he’s nifty at what he does
He keeps your ship a running
Even though there are lots of times
He’s not sure he’s so stunning

It’s the journey that builds his skills
His big brain… no marshmallow
Now go celebrate Father’s Day
And fill his desk tomorrow

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