The Twelve Days of Star Trek Original Series isn’t very good

Nothing says Christmas like moaning about old TV.  I am watching Star Trek The Original Series –  I used to love this when I was ten or so.  It lit up my world with wonder.  Now, rewatching, please send help, because it’s terrible.

I’m not particularly fussed about the terrible clunky sets, the lack of common sense like seat belts, and the fact that it was thirty years behind written SF in addressing either bold speculative ideas, or social issues.  In the Christmas Spirit of putting the boot in, I call in evidence:

  1. The teeth-gritting sexism. Female characters as one episode love interest, professional women constantly characterised as flighty idiots incapable of driving a shopping trolley, women getting no lines except screaming and screwing things up.  The uniform with incredibly short skirts.  Women who get married leave Starfleet.  Everyone wanting to shag Kirk (ewwwww).
  2. The balls-aching line of command. No-one ever has any independent authority.  Kirk has to tell Spock to tell someone to do the bloody obvious thing.  In a real warship, they’d be blown out of the sky waiting for permission to wipe their own arses.
  3. The teeth-gritting sexism can’t be entirely excused by the times. The pilot famously had a cool, competent, strong First Officer who was a woman, and they dropped the character because test screenings didn’t like it.  In the pilot, all the Starfleet women wore trousers and weren’t stupid.  So, don’t tell me the team were prisoners of their time – they backed down under pressure.
  4. Even as a kid I noticed that they sent exactly the wrong people down to the surface, and let’s all face front so the monsters can jump them from behind. Although some nerd has shown wearing a red shirt is not an indicator you are going to die.  Endless terrible decisions.
  5. Broadly racist, white Americans tend to hold all the positions of power. My ten-year-old-me’s crush, Nichelle Nichols, was urged to stay by Martin Luther King; she inspired other black women into TV; I know she’s an icon, but she’s never given that much to do.  Sigh of relief when Uhura’s shown with a soldering iron doing something.  Soldering, not just smouldering.
  6. The science. I don’t mind ‘handwavium’ – I don’t think the point of science fiction is to explain exactly how your faster than light works.  It is the GCSE level science that everyone watching ought to know.  Like, if you bombard a planet with incredibly bright ultraviolet light, aliens hiding in the dark still won’t be touched by it.  Light doesn’t bend round corners.  Humans looking up would be burned or blinded.  Also, antimatter isn’t ‘evil’.
  7. The world seems inconsistent from episode to episode. For example, if you don’t have enough energy to run the warp engines, can you still have enough energy to have shields and full impulse power?  This stuff really matters to the story, different episodes give different answers.  What happens when a nut locks themselves in Engineering, which happens every Wednesday?  Different solutions in different episodes.
  8. Primitive people enslaved by a god/god like computer – three times in the last eight episodes I watched.  Women choosing flightily.  Immortal chasing immortal for all time (twice).
  9. Spock is not that credible a character, Vulcan an unbelievable society, Amok Time might be the worst episode of any science fiction programme ever. Not least because of the teeth-gritting and illogical sexism.   (The modern take – Vulcans have emotions but suppress them, is far more logical, believable, and dramatic.)
  10. Jim, Bones and Spock ‘joshing’ humourlessly may cause cancer and should be banned.
  11. Characters give speeches which are plot points, not consistent with their character.
  12. The story telling is sometimes ponderous, the acting hammier than a pork sausage, but AT LEAST THE MUSIC SUBTLY TELLS YOU WHAT TO THINK. Oh, the Woman is Being Seductive
  13. Bonus point, Chekov is impressively annoying as a character. The Wussians probably agreed to a nuclear arms treaty on the promise Chekov would be frozen in ice for two billion years.

STTOS is optimistic.  It espouses diversity and peaceful cooperation, even if it doesn’t deliver.  It aspires to progress.  Its penal system is based on rehabilitation, the culture aspires to be meritocratic.  Not every episode is terrible.  But sometimes when you go back to something, the river has flowed on.  Nothing ages like the future.

(Apologies to Pigs In Space)

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Backstage: Why does publishing take so flipping long?

Everyone is astonished that a book accepted in Summer 2017 won’t be out until Feb 2019.  And I’ll be honest, I gulped.  Naively, I was hoping Our Child of the Stars would be out for summer or autumn 2018.

Reason 1: traditional publishing takes time.  If I was self-publishing, you’d be reading it now.

Reason 2: most books in the UK are sold ‘for Christmas’ and ‘for the beach’.  Tons of books are published to grab the shelves for those times.  October 5th, 2017 was this year’s Super Thursday, the day the largest number of titles hit UK shelves.  505 new books were published in that one week.  I mean, Jo Fletcher Books could launch a debut novel, a bit unusual, into a Hurricane Pullman of new books.  That might work.  Better chance for a quirky debut they don’t.

Reason 3: they really like the book.  But editors don’t buy a book and say, it’s fine, we can go straight to copy editing.  They bring their own commercial and artistic insight to it.  It needs some work – not massive but not inconsequential.  And it’s not, wouldn’t the trousers in chapter six be better blue.  Or change that character’s name.  It’s more like, bring this up, bring this down, I need to believe this character would do this.  When that’s right, there’s copyediting – real dots and commas – then proofing.  I will do a piece on Editing is not Ruining.

Reason 4: Covers.  People judge books by their cover.  It sells you the book before you even pick it up.  The wonderful draft design I saw really gives the feel of the book – the hope, the wonder, the beauty and the tinge of danger and darkness.  All that without spoilers. Publishers must factor time to get the cover right, and they need the cover right long before you see the book, to sell into the trade and to talk to foreign markets.

In short, they think the book will do better with more time.  They’re paying.  And as they cheerfully say, ‘You’ll never get this much time with a book in future.’   No pressure there.

The good news is that some lucky people do get to see it a lot earlier, when advanced copies become ready.  That’s for another time, but a very good reason to subscribe to my newsletter.

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Backstage: Do judge a book by its cover

Don’t judge a book by its cover.  That’s a weird saying.  Covers are designed to help you judge the book.  They’re designed to make you pick them up, or click on them, to find out more.

Look at these above – you can see which is science fiction, fantasy, horror and not sure.

Think of the last fifty novels you read.  In how many did you think, oh that cover misled me? It might have been a terrible book, but was it in the ballpark of the sort of book you wanted?  You didn’t pick up a light women’s fiction beach read and find duelling dinosaurs in it, for example.

Agents and publishers know covers matter, not least because booksellers care about them too.  Big publishers have been known to consult Waterstones and the supermarkets.  I’m told a publisher once paid for a special cover just for Tesco, cos the supermarket didn’t like the planned one.  Smart self-publishers pay for professional designs, even when their book is primarily sold on Amazon.  Covers matter.

Authors have rights to be consulted on the cover, and I detected just a touch of nervousness in The Big Publishing Office.  A little warming up work as they prepared to show me what they believe Our Child of the Stars should look like.  They showed me the proposal – and I loved it.  It really suits the book.  It has the mix of wonder, love, beauty and a hint of darkness that it needed.  They love it too.  We sat in the canteen and loved the cover together.   It’s been presented to the sales team, and they love it.

An important feature is that it is designed to appeal to a very broad audience, which is what the book wants and needs.  I’m very happy with where we are going.

No, it’s not quite ready yet, and probably the cover reveal will be next year when more is sorted.  Why not be the first to see it? 

And I will be trumpeting the designer’s name because we creatives gotta stick together.

PS: I could have given a million examples but contrast Alison Littlewood’s dark and chilling Gothic, and a beautiful take on Jeeves and Wooster

Jeeves and Wooster, Bertie up a tree

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