Why Charles Stross Hates Scifi Television's Technogibberish

Science fiction author Charles Stross hates Star Trek. He also hates Babylon 5 and can't be bothered with Doctor Who. Why? Because in so much science fiction television, the technology portrayed is so often irrelevant to the story being told.

In a keynote speech at the New York Television Festival, Ron Moore explained that the writers on Star Trek: The Next Generation would generally leave scientific terms out of their scripts, even if a certain technology was being held up as a solution to the episode's problems. The writers would use the word "tech" in lieu of actual terminology, and rely on the show's science consultants to fill in the blanks. The scripts the science consultants received would look something like this:

La Forge: "Captain, the tech is overteching."

Picard: "Well, route the auxiliary tech to the tech, Mr. La Forge."

La Forge: "No, Captain. Captain, I've tried to tech the tech, and it won't
work."

Picard: "Well, then we're doomed."

"And then Data pops up and says, 'Captain, there is a theory that if you tech the other tech ... '" Moore said. "It's a rhythm and it's a structure, and the words are meaningless. It's not about anything except just sort of going through this dance of how they tech their way out of it."

And that, Stross notes, is precisely what is wrong with so much science fiction. In fact, he says, it's anathema to what science fiction is really about. Science fiction is about observing the human condition when circumstances and technologies change. For example, how would world civilizations cope with an impending asteroid strike? How do convenient new gadgets and gizmos alter our daily lives and the way humans interact with one another? The drama of science fiction, he argues, come from those changes of circumstance. But when a show like Star Trek treats technologies as interchangeable, the science fiction is reduced to mere set dressing:

Star Trek and its ilk are approaching the dramatic stage from the opposite direction: the situation is irrelevant, it's background for a story which is all about the interpersonal relationships among the cast. You could strip out the 25th century tech in Star Trek and replace it with 18th century tech - make the Enterprise a man o'war (with a particularly eccentric crew) at large upon the seven seas during the age of sail - without changing the scripts significantly. (The only casualty would be the eyeball candy - big gunpowder explosions be damned, modern audiences want squids in space, with added lasers!)

In the end, Stross says, Trek delivers characters that are no different from the characters that have inhabited television since its inception. They may have wondrous technologies and travel to alien worlds, but they are strangely unchanged by the experience. He suspects that if Trek had treated technology as integral to the story rather than as an afterthought, the series would have created more alien — and more interesting — characters.

Why I hate Star Trek [Charlie's Diary]