mystery box

“What’s in the box?”

If you’re Brad Pitt the answer to that question is rather disturbing, but if you’re JJ Abrams… well, it may not be disturbing, but it’s probably equally disappointing. Thanks in no-small-part to JJ Abrams, the trope of the “mystery box” has become something of a trend into today’s media. From Lost to The Force Awakens, we have seen this lazy man’s plot device inserted and abused in almost every way. So, we are here to ask… from the deepest recesses of our hearts… PLEASE STOP.

Misled Talks
The idea of the mystery box comes from James Jonah Abram’s TED Talk, in which he discusses all the various ways movies influenced his thinking and the way he approaches them. He also talks about magic, and misdirection, and how he -thinks- incorporating those things into his movies makes them better. He breaks a lot of this down to the idea of the mystery box. In narrative terms it is an object or a person that just kind of exists in the script, but which has a big and unanswered question surrounding it, the bigger the better. Now, we’re not just talking about the normal sort of mystery or ambiguity that sometimes surrounds characters or objects. No, a mystery box’s main personality trait and quality, is that it is a “mystery.” It is characterized as being more about the questions, than the answers.

Lost is a good example. There were multiple mystery boxes, each more fascinating that the rest. These objects were unknown and they allowed the audience to speculate widely about their nature, their origins, and how they would play a part in the plot. That’s all well and fine from a marketing standpoint, but as Jessica Jones Abrams has proven time and again, it’s not really satisfying from a plot standpoint. Lost continues to be a good example, because the answers that audiences got were generally unsatisfying. The questions were what drew people in and made them keep watching, but the answers were sub-par, at best, and that is one of the major flaws of the mystery box device.

The truth of what is in the mystery box, will never live up to the expectations of what is in the audience’s mind. With Lost people endlessly debated the mysteries of the island. Everyone had their own wild theories or expectations. So, when the answers finally did come, there was almost no way they were ever going to be as satisfying or exciting as audiences had built them up to be. It was basically Phantom Menace Syndrome on a much smaller scale. The hype was great, but because of that the reality was dull by comparison. -Also, it didn’t help that the writers were creating questions they themselves did not have answers to

Speaking of Star Wars -which we will be a lot- one of the examples Jar Jar Abrams gives in his TED Talk is Luke Skywalker. He makes the claim that Luke’s father was the ultimate mystery box, because nobody knew anything about him, and then in Empire Strikes Back it was revealed that Darth Vader was his father. Here is the thing… He’s wrong. Luke’s father was not a mystery box. It was not something that was plopped in front of the audience with a big question mark on it, and a bunch of arrows pointing to it. Nobody left the movie theater in 1977 wondering about Luke’s father. People weren’t doing whatever-it-was-that-70’s-people-do-instead-of-blogging about “Who is Luke’s Father?” George Lucas didn’t even know who Luke’s father was at the time. The great mystery box that Abrams holds out as his example, is not even a mystery box. Yes, the reveal in Empire was one of the greatest moments in cinema history, but not because Lucas and his team consistently hit us over the head with the question of: “Who is Luke’s father?” It was great because the mystery and the moment happened organically, which is a word that is completely foreign to a Jacob Javits Abrams’ script.

The Force Stumbles Out of Bed
The identity of Anakin Skywalker was not a mystery box, because it was tucked away in the peripheral of the original Star Wars. A true mystery box, as James Joyce Abrams has so aptly demonstrated over and over again is something featured prominently. It is something that keeps the audience asking questions, and endless theorizing. In The Force Awakens: Rey is a mystery box, Finn is a mystery box; that old man at the beginning of the movie is a mystery box, Luke Skywalker is a mystery box… everything is a mystery box. In fact, the movie only seems to be filled with two things: blatant nostalgia and more questions than a four year old can ask in an afternoon… and just like a four year old, it gets a little frustrating. There are many other movies and examples we can use for this trope, but The Force Awakens is perhaps Abrams’ master opus of mystery boxes. It is the culmination of all the crappy plot contrivances and marketing techniques that he has perfected over a long and baffling career.

We know this, because The Force Awakens raises more questions than it does answers, and it feels more like it is meant as the first episode of a TV series, than it does as a stand alone movie. Do you know what was great about A New Hope? It was its own movie. It was not trying to set up a major universe or a trilogy of movies with a multitude of unanswered questions. It was just a good movie, by itself. Also, say what you will about the prequels, but at least they felt like complete movies. At least they tried to tell a complete story. At least they presented the audience with conclusions to most of the questions that were asked in the 2.5 hour time frame. That is the problem with the mystery box format. The Force Awakes feels like one-half of a movie. Luke doesn’t even get to say a line at the end. Abrams just cuts the scene like it’s a damn commercial break on The Bachelor, and that is kind of the point.

The main point of the mystery box trope is to sell interest, not story. Cloverfield, Jack Jack Abram’s epitomical monster movie was a fairly uninteresting take on giant kaiju monsters, but the marketing campaign was brilliant. It was full of mystery boxes that sold the movie, and sold it hard. If Cloverfield had been marketed normally -as just some shaky-cam monster movie- it wouldn’t have made half the money it did. It was the clever clues, the big questions, the shady reveals, and the months of speculation that drove sales, because that is what a mystery box really does. Abrams is not some movie genius, he is a marketing genius. The problem with applying that idea to Star Wars… is that it is Star Wars. You don’t need to market it. It markets itself.

An Open Letter

Dear Mr. Abrams,

Please stop. Seriously, just stop with the mystery box thing. We know it is kind of your ‘bag,’ err… ‘box,’ but it is becoming irritating. For once, we would like to sit down to watch one of your movies, and not have to try and guess at the complicated -and ultimately disappointing- backstory of every other person and every object that appears on screen. We don’t want to watch movies that tease later movies, and while we’re on the subject we don’t want to watch movies that keep reminding us of better movies. “Star Trek: Into Darkness” just made us want to watch “Wrath of Khan,” and “The Force Awakens,” just made us want to watch “A New Hope,” and both those two were filled to the brim with mystery boxes… and lens flare. Yes, we’re never going to let that go.

‘Oooo Luke’s original lightsaber? Where did it come from? How did it get in the possession of an alien that looks like a mix between Yoda and a Golden Girl?’ We’re tired of the mysteries and the boxes they come in. We are tired of walking away from movies feeling unsatisfied, with both your answers and your questions. For once, we want to sit down and have you explain something to us in a clear narrative form, plainly, instead of forcing us to guess it. That is fine if done, subtly and -here’s the big one- in moderation! Also, on a side note, please know the answers to the questions before you ask them. We know that sounds like a simple and obvious request, but we also know that it’s not… because ‘Lost.’ You’re the damn writer. You need to know what is actually in the mystery box before you create it. You can’t wait to be surprised, along with the audience.

We’re getting off track here… In conclusion, you have made us so mad that we are actually ending our letter with the words ‘in conclusion.’ Also, just stop. Please, stop. Stop. Stop. Stop.

The mystery box is a great marketing tool, but a crappy storytelling one. We promise people are going to go see the next Star Wars movie without your hype machine pushing it. They will always go and see Star Wars movies, even as our own sun burns out and the planet is consumed by super-heated gases. When alien archeologists discover the charred remains of our planets, they will discover that at lest 30% of us died watching something related to Star Wars. There is no need to sell us on Star Wars, so just make a regular movie. Just make a movie that poses questions at the beginning and answers them by the end.

Sincerely,
The NYRD

PS: Hyperdrives don’t work that way. There is no way the Millennium Falcon could ever come out of hyperspace inside the atmosphere of a planet. The gravity well of planets and other large bodies creates bubbles that interrupts hyperspace, which is why “Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy.” It is also why the Rebels on Hoth had to go through all that trouble to escape the Imperial blockade in ‘Empire Strikes Back’ instead of just being able to disappear randomly from its atmosphere… Well that and dramatic tension, which is also something you seem to not understand. In summation, hyperspace is a system that has rules, not just a convenient plot device for lazy writing.

Star Trek

Star Trek is turning 50 this week. The classic franchise that has always been about future people doing future things in a Galaxy far far… oh wrong one… where Kirk, Spock, McCoy and all the rest boldly go where no split infinitives have gone before. The Original Series spawned eleven movies, four more TV shows –plus one more coming in the Fall– and has become a cultural touchstone. The series’ message of hope for humanity and its ability to tackle weighty matters through classic science fiction storytelling has become a staple of the franchise, unless Jar Jar Abrams is in charge. Over the past five decades Star Trek has had its stumbles and flops -aka The Final Frontier– but it has always given us more than enough quality to make-up for the bad.

However, it has also given us something else, incorrect predictions about our future. By the very nature of a show like Star Trek, it had to make some assumptions about where humanity was heading. That means through backstory, set details, and other clues Star Trek has predicted some strange things for our present world. Some of them were not far off, some of them were very far off, and some were just strange. So in honor of fifty years of living long and prospering, let’s take a look at 50 years of predictions that Star Trek has made about our own time.

1968 Orbital Nuclear Weapons
According to Assignment Earth The Unites States of America launches a nuclear weapons platform into orbit above Earth. In the real world this didn’t happen, obviously. A nuclear weapons platform in orbit would have unbalanced the Cold War and possibly ignited a global war. In the episode it was done so that the Enterprise -which had traveled back in time- had something to contend with and use as a lesson to show the “primitive” 1960’s humans that nuclear weapons are bad. It also, worth mentioning that the episode aired on March, 29, 1968. So we’re also hoping that no one on the writing staff had government clearance enough to know something we don’t.

1986 Transparent Aluminum
During another time traveling escapade Kirk and crew travel back to 1986 to steal two whales… because reasons. However, in order to accomplish that Scotty gives an manufacturer the blueprints to design transparent aluminum, which is basically a tougher form of glass. Scotty needs to manufacture the material as a tank for the whales… again for reasons… so he gives the formula to humans of 1986. This whole thing was treated basically as a gag for the movie, The Voyage Home, but it is worthy of this list because in 2015 the US Naval Research Lab actually invented Transparent Aluminum. So Star Trek was right, they were just 19 years off.

1987 The New York Times Closes
Another throw away line from The Voyage Home claims that the New York Times Magazine closes its doors in 1987, as one of the last newspaper magazines of its time, which is a pretty ballsy statement considering the movie came out in 1986. Maybe the producers just didn’t like the New York Times. It is also worth noting that they were not completely wrong, just a little too early. Newspapers and news magazines are closing up shop quicker than ever these days thanks to the Internet, however the New York Times Magazine is actually still in production.

1992 Eugenics and Genetic Engineering
The biggest glaring prediction for Star Trek was their prophecy of the widespread use of genetic engineering by the year 1992. That is the year Khan Noonien Singh… KHAN!!!… rises to power in the Middle East and the Eugenics Wars begin. According to Space Seed and Wrath of Khan, humanity created a race of augmented humans, called Augments. These genetic supermen rose to power in various Middle Eastern and Asian countries the in 1990’s… because Bill Clinton… maybe… Khan at one point held power over a “quarter of the world.” The Eugenics Wars were a series of conflicts between the various Augment dictators of some forty nations. Normal humans eventually rose up and overthrew the Augments in 1996, condemning most of them to die as war criminals. Khan and 84 of his followers escaped Earth aboard the cryogenic-ship SS Botany Bay.

As you can tell none of this actually happened. In fact, the biggest news in genetic engineering to happen in 1992 was that China was the first country to introduce a virus-resistant tobacco plant. With the mapping of the human genome the benefits and risks of Human genetic engineering are still being debated in the science community today, but we are no closer to actually creating genetic supermen than Kirk is to successfully resisting the temptations of any green-skinned woman.

1994 Cryonics and Cryogenics
Speaking of cryogenics… According the Star Trek: Next Generation episode: The Neutral Zone, by 1994 cryogenics are so widespread and safe that people are willing to having themselves frozen at the time of death, and even stored on satellites until cures for their diseases can be found sometime in the future. As you may have guessed, we have not quite perfected cryonics or cryogenic preservation for humans. The closest we have come is being able to freeze human embryos in cryogenic stasis. There is however that portion of people freeze who their brains when they die, Walt Disney style… which our lawyer has reminded us to tell you is actually a myth.

1996 Life on Mars
In the Star Trek Voyager episode: Future’s End, it is briefly implied that scientists discovered ancient microscopic Martian life in 1996. The episode was filmed several days after the NASA announcement in August of 1996 of possible fossilized evidence of microscopic life from a Martian meteorite. However, that claim has never been confirmed fully and as of this article there is still no solid evidence of life ever existing on Mars.

marslife_96-12299

2001 The Millennium Gate
Another Voyager episode: 11:59, depicted the construction of the Millennium Gate. Construction began in 2001 and it was completed in 2011 as a way to commemorate the beginning of the 21st century. For some reason it was built in Portage Creek, Indiana and was a tower 1 kilometer high and 3.2 kilometers wide. The building was a self-contained biosphere with its own ecosystem and over six-hundred stores for shoppers to enjoy. It was covered in solar panels and eventually served a model for the first Martian colony. The Millennium Gate became a national landmark on par with the St. Louis Arch or the Empire State Building and it could be seen from space. This marvel of modern engineering was -of course- never actually built. The tallest building in the world is currently Burj Khalifa in Dubai, standing tall at only 830 meters in height. it is also doubtful that anyone will be looking toward it as a model for a Martian colony.

2002 The Nomad Interstellar Probe
According to Star Trek: The Original Series, in their episode: The Changeling, in 2002 Earth launched the Nomad probe, as our planet’s first interstellar probe with the mission to seek out extraterrestrial life. Of course in typical Star Trek fashion this comes back to bite Kirk and crew when the probe encounters an alien intelligence, gains sentience, and goes on a killing spree. However, as of 2016 we have yet to launch the Nomad, but Voyager 1 entered interstellar space in 2014, making it the first man made object to leave our solar system. And currently there are talks about creating the Starshot project, which might be able to propel a series of small probes to Alpha Centuari in a single human lifetime.

2015 Planetary Baseball League
In the Star Trek Universe by 2015 baseball had become such a popular worldwide sport that Major League Baseball was supplanted by the Planetary Baseball League, which included teams from across the planet, such as the London Kings, the Crenshaw Monarchs, and the Gotham City Bats. -Most likely that last one was meant as a Batman joke- One of the most notable players is Buck Bukai who breaks Joe DiMaggio’s 56 consecutive game hitting streak in 2026. In 2032 the Yankees win the World Series, and the last world series is officially held in 2042, after people’s interest in baseball fades. It is almost humorous that Star Trek created a world where baseball became anything but an American sport, especially since the last time baseball was played in the Olympics was in 2008. As Star Trek predicted the sport is growing less popular, but we doubt it will ever have enough fame to actually get a professional team from cricket-loving London.

2018 Sublight Propulsion
We suppose this one might be true, but it seems doubtful. In Space Seed, it is said that by 2018 sublight propulsion makes cryogenic sleeper ships obsolete. This could be true, considering that “sublight” is literally any sort of propulsion that goes slower than lightspeed. We have some pretty ingenuous forms of propulsion in space, including light-sails and ion drives. However, the bulk of our propulsion is still done through chemical rockets and we still do not have an engine that could get us to another star system in a shorter time than it would take to make the trip using the -also still fictional- cryogenic sleeper ships.

Other Future Predictions
Star Trek also has a few predictions for the coming years including:

  • 2024: Ireland Reunification – Northern Ireland becomes part of the Irish Republic, which could happen thanks to Brexit.
  • 2024: French Political Strife – France becomes unsafe for tourists thanks to battles between “Neo-Trotskyists” and “Gaullists.” Ironically, -and chillingly- France is currently facing similiar declines in tourism thanks to recent terrorism.
  • 2024: Sanctuary Districts – Sanctuary Districts are set up in major cities across the US and the homeless and poor are separated from the rest of the population and put into ghettos for the destitute and jobless. This is the strongest evidence to show that in the Star Trek Universe, Donald Trump was elected President.
  • 2026: World War III – The Third World War lasts until 2053 and results in nuclear genocide, population cleansings, and the near destruction of most world governments… Thank you, President Trump.

So we can look forward to that, but -all in all- Star Trek has been an amazing and sometimes weird ride though history, science, and imagination. Despite the fact that their history and our present don’t always line up we can still take the lessons of Kirk, Picard, Sisko, and the rest and apply them to our time. After all, warnings of a fictional World War III might be the best way to prevent it from actually happening. Our Earth has not suffered through or created the same things as Star Trek’s Earth, but that does not mean we cannot share in their sense of hope for the future. We may not have had the Eugenics Wars, but who knows what the future might hold? One day we might have space travel, Starfleet, the Federation… and maybe even a London baseball team.

The holy grail of any science fiction story, and truly any hope of extended manned spaceflight is -without a doubt- the ability to go faster than light. An FTL engine is a piece of technology that has been depicted countless times in literature, movies, television, and the sugarplum dreams of children for nerds. Whether you want to call it a hyperdrive, a warp drive, jump drive, mass drive, improbable drive, or whatever we have seen it over and over again and for good reason.

The Milky Way Galaxy is about 100,000 light years across, and it is more than 4 light years to our closest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri. We can never travel at the speed of light because that would be impossible, thanks to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, and not just because of all the weird time dilatation stuff. Traveling the speed of light would require infinite energy to accomplish, and infinite is kind of a hard number to come up with in practical terms, even with today’s cheaper gas prices. Yet, even if we were to figure out how to travel that fast it would still mean that it would take 4 years to reach Alpha Centauri, and that just won’t do when you are trying to keep a dramatic pace in your science fiction Disney-owned blockbuster. That is why the entertainment industry has given us to following:

It Ain’t Like Dusting Crops, Boy
Hyperdrive is the engine of the Star Wars universe. It allow ships like the Millennium Falcon and others to enter what is called “hyperspace,” Though Star Wars is not the only science fiction property to theorize such a dimension, they are the best known for it. According to Star Wars canon -at least we think it’s still canon but who can tell anymore- hyperspace is “a dimension of space-time that could only be reached by traveling at lightspeed or faster.” In essence it’s like a higher dimension or a pocket dimension that exists next to the Star Wars universe. Somebody took the time to do the math, but what is the most interesting aspect of this superluminal space is that it is still affected by the gravity of the normal dimension. Thus, hyperspace calculations are incredibly difficult because objects with enough mass can pull ships out of hyperspace, sometimes fatally. There are only certain routes that people use to navigate the galaxy, much like highways and back roads through hyperspace that avoid most major gravity wells. This also is used to explain Han Solo’s boast, “It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.” The mining world of Kessel is situated next to the Maw, a cluster of black-holes, so getting to it is more about daring the shortest and most suicidal route rather than the fastest time -yes, by the way, we’re those kind of geeks.

We have talked about the science of Star Wars before, but it is worth covering this part more in depth. To begin, the rapid acceleration that we see in the movies would leave Han and Chewie as a fine paste on the back of their seats. Human beings -and possibly Wookiees- can withstand about a max of 5 g’s for about 2 minutes. Accelerating to lightspeed, even at 9 g’s would take about 19 days, though our favorite smuggling duo would be dead long before they reached it. We know the crew experiences at least some of the force of movement, because in The Empire Strikes Back R2-Ds falls backward when they jump to hyperspace. So we can only assume that the Falcon has some amazing inertial dampeners.

As for the dimension of hyperspace itself, it is a very cool storytelling element, but for the most part it is fictitious. The closest we have come to even discussing it on Earth is in terms of the Heim Theory which tried to purport a unifying theory between quantum physics and general relativity. It allows for the existence of such higher dimensions that could theoretically be accessed and used like hyperspace. Burkhard Heim even speculated that a rotating magnetic field could reduce the influence of gravity on a spacecraft enough for it to take off, and -for a while- these theories actually made him something of a celebrity in the 1950’s. Unfortunately, they also never quite passed peer review and Heim is no longer studied as part of mainstream scientific research.

Spinning Up
The jump drive is another fantastical engine that is best portrayed in Battlestar Galactica where ships are instantaneously transported from one point in space to another, light years away, but is also appears in other science fiction media. Unfortunately, shows like Battlestar Galactica seemed to be too preoccupied with high impact drama and suggestive PG-13 sex scenes to really go into the mechanics of how their FTL drives worked. So we are left with only speculation.

It is possible that a jump drive would be related to a phenomenon known as quantum tunneling. In its purest form, tunneling is the process by which a particle passes through a barrier that it would not normally have passed through. It has a very low probability of happening at all, which increases as the target barrier’s thickness decreases. Also, as rare as this phenomenon is, it happens quite frequently inside the core of our own sun, mostly because the unfathomable number of particles in the sun means that statistically even low probable actions still take place on a regular occurrence. Scientists like Günter Nimtz, claim that when a particle tunnels through an object it does so instantly making its movement faster than light, though that has been heavily debated. Still, if that were to be true, this could be the basis for what you would call a jump drive.

Unfortunately, quantum tunneling has several major set backs. First of all, it has only ever been observed at the particle level, and would be incredibly hard to scale up to more complex forms of matter like you, or Starbuck, or Edward James Olmos. Even if we could scale it, quantum tunneling happens an improbably low amount of the time. An FTL drive that only allows you to jump 1 out of every 1,000 times is not going to be great when you’re fleeing from cylons. Even then, it is only possible over short distances, and we’re not talking four or five light years. We’re talking about minuscule distances, centimeters and multiple planck lengths. Lastly, scientists cannot even seem to agree if the particle even is traveling faster than light, as it would be inconsistent with Einstein’s Special Relativity. So we’re thinking a jump drive is probably fracked.

Chevrons Locked
Wormholes could offer a better solution. They have been portrayed in various science fiction properties, most notably in the Stargate franchise and the Mass Effect series. The best part about wormholes is that they are scientifically plausible. It has become almost cliche at this point to make the old analogy of space-time being like a piece of paper. You may not be able to go faster than light from the top of the page to the bottom of it, but if you fold the paper over and create a bridge through it than you could travel there almost instantly and still stay on Einstein’s good side. -We are also aware that we called the example cliche and then proceeded to use it as our example, but if it works it works- General relativity even predicted their existence, though we have yet to observe one.

Size is the first issue. If naturally occuring wormholes exist, they happen on a microscopic scale. Another issue is stability. As of right now we have very few ideas on how we could open a wormhole and even less on how to keep it open. It would require some sort of exotic negative mass or negative energy to do so. Both of which are theoretically sound, but we have yet to reliably observe them, let alone harness them for our purposes. Another tiny problem is the fact that, even if we could create or find one big enough, and even if we could keep it open and stable, we have no guarantee that inserting a foreign object or a human body would not cause it to immediately destabilize and collapse. Then even if does remain stable the affects of gravity inside the wormhole would unevenly affect anyone entering it, turning them into spaghetti, which would be very bad for MacGyver or whoever else was inside at the time.

Engage
We come now to the warp drive. It is one of the most talked about and plausible science fiction faster than light engines ever dreamed up, though we at the NYRD personally believe that is because most NASA scientists are also Trekkies. Star Trek has laid out the details of the warp drive pretty extensively. So we know it is powered by a mater/anti-matter reaction which is mediated through a non-reactive substance held in check by an electromagnetic field. This creates warp plasma which is channeled through warp coils that ultimately distort space around the ship. Now most of that is sci-fi technobable, but it has a foot in actual theoretical science, we mean at least as much as any show about Tribbles and green women can.

The Alcubierre Drive is a theoretical warp drive worked out by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, and essentially it works just like a Star Trek warp drive -again because Alcubierre is a Trekkie. According to Einstein, nothing can go faster than light, except -and its a big exception– space itself. At the moment of the Big Bang the fabric of space expanded faster than the speed of light, and space is still expanding to this day. The Alcubierre drive would essentially warp the space itself around a starship, causing the space in front to contract and the space behind the ship to expand. All the while, the USS Patrick Stewart is contained safely in a bubble of normal space time. Thus, a ship can achieve speeds faster than than light and the crew inside the ship would not even feel the inertia of acceleration.

Unfortunately, Alcubierre himself stated that this would take an amount of energy on par with the mass of the observable universe, though some scientists at the Johnson Space Center, believe they have gotten that down to about the mass of Voyager 1, which is better but still not ideal. Even more problematic, maintaining the stability of the warp bubble around the ship would again require negative or exotic matter, same as it would for the wormhole solution. However, and despite all its flaws, this theory is the current front-runner for the most plausible superluminal engine we have yet to come up with.

So, sorry Star Wars fans. You may have cool things like lightsabers, the Force, and a deep seated hatred of Jar Jar Binks, but Star Trek has the most plausible fictional way of traveling across the galaxy. Still, it is worth mentioning that Star Wars has always been more about myth and fantasy than science, and that is okay. The Jedi are samurai, Han Solo is a cowboy, and originally no one ever put much thought into how things work, just that they looked cool while doing it, but even impossible science fantasy is as a vital part of the human imagination and science. Ultimately, if you remove either science or imagination from the human experience, the remaining one would not be as strong as they it is today. The fantastical worlds of writers and artists inspire scientists and vice versa. Unfortunately, in the realm of interstellar flight our collective imagination is still outpacing our scientific achievement, at least until that day we all get a visit from a British man in a police box.

It has been rumored for quite sometime that Star Trek would be returning to the small screen. According to multiple outlets, Alex Kurtzman who co-wrote 2009’s Star Trek and its confusing and terrible sequel Star Trek Into Darkness, will be the executive producer of the new show. Many fans have already come out with comments on how troubling it is, as Kurtzman is among the creative team that turned a show about science, exploration, and idealism, into a two and half hour parade of explosions, lens flare, and plot holes so big you can comfortably fit a Galaxy-class starship through them.

The show will premiere in January 2017 and will be produced by CBS Studios. The pilot will air on CBS and then, the entire show will move to the CBS video on-demand and streaming service, CBS All Access. This is even more troubling news because it means that this new Star Trek is being developed specifically for the CBS streaming service, a paid for service that fans will need to purchase for an additional monthly fee. Internationally, the show will, however, “be distributed concurrently for television and multiple platforms.”

No one is yet sure of the time frame, universe, or plot points of the new show, but rest assured it seems as if it will be set in the new ST09 universe. We only have the official press release to go on:

The brand-new “Star Trek” will introduce new characters seeking imaginative new worlds and new civilizations, while exploring the dramatic contemporary themes that have been a signature of the franchise since its inception in 1966… The new television series is not related to the upcoming feature film “Star Trek Beyond,” which is scheduled to be distributed by Paramount Pictures in summer 2016.

That, at least, is a little bit of good news. If the official release is to be believed, Star Trek will look to return to its roots to explore socially relevant themes, hopefully with that dash of optimism and science that was have come to expect from the 50 year old franchise. The bad news is that CBS is really looking to use Star Trek to force people into paying for their streaming service.

“This new series will premiere to the national CBS audience, then boldly go where no first-run Star Trek series has gone before – directly to its millions of fans through CBS All Access,” said Marc DeBevoise, Executive Vice President/General Manager of CBS Digital Media. “We’ve experienced terrific growth for CBS All Access, expanding the service across affiliates and devices in a very short time. We now have an incredible opportunity to accelerate this growth with the iconic Star Trek, and its devoted and passionate fan base, as our first original series.”

This news has left a lot of people with a mixed reaction. It has been too long since Star trek has been on TV – more than 10 years- but many worry this could be more like a deal with the devil. The network is basically holding the show hostage to boost their sales, and that alone could be enough to kill it. Kurtzman and CBS think they will have the automatic loyalty of Trekkies, but they have a big hole to dig themselves out of. Without creative names like, Rick Berman, Jeri Taylor, Brannon Braga, or Ronald D. Moore attahced, a lot of people remain wary of the future prospects of this franchise on TV.

We at The NYRD will -try to- withhold our judgement until after we see the next movie, Star Trek Beyond. However, like a resurrected loved one, we have to wonder what we will actually be getting back: the franchise we all love and cherish, or just a shambling corpse that only serves the purpose to remind us what once was.


Image Courtesy: http://www.ibugtoday.com/trekkie-talk

Do you remember the Genesis Planet from Star Trek: The Search for Spock? It was created by Dr. Carol Marcus and the Genesis device. Ecologically the planet contained every possible weather system of Earth all “within a few hours walk,” from one another. That meant you could literally stroll from desert conditions to frozen tundras to hurricane level storms all in one leisurely -albeit- wardrobe defying journey. Well the past few weeks have left us here at the The NYRD feeling as if we are living on Genesis with its crazy weather and possible Vulcan graveyard. One day is hot, the next is cold, on the next it’s like Ceti Alpha VI exploded. Looking out the window these days makes us wonder if we should step outside in shorts or a parka, and it has us worried that we may not always “live long and prosper.”

A United Federation of Commitment
Last week, 150 countries made a pledge to cut carbon emissions, lending optimism to supporters that a real climate treaty could be a possibility for France’s 2015 Climate Summit. The United Kingdom, France, and Germany have promised to double their climate spending by 2020. President Obama has laid out a comprehensive plan to cut carbon emissions in the US by regulating power plants and their output of CO2, and more than 80 companies pledged to make big cuts to their emissions. Even more encouraging, a group of countries have agreed to create a $100 billion-a-year green climate fund, which will help fund climate projects around the world, especially in developing nations. These are all very good signs, but unfortunately they are only a start. The truth is that we have yet to feel the full impact of what is to come, and we are still short of realizing any real goals that will be necessary to save the planet from being just another cosmic redshirt.

The commitment of the international community is only going to halt the warming of our planet to about 3 degrees Celsius. Unfortunately, most scientists seem to agree that if the temperature of Earth raises by more than 2 degrees the damage to our planet could be catastrophic. It is hoped by many that the estimates of carbon reduction given by the countries are conservative and those amount will increase going forward with better technology and a growing sense of international urgency. More bad news, because damage has already been done. Even containing our levels of global warming below that 2 degree mark still means that we have changed the very balance of our planet’s climate.

The Neutral Zone
Even staying below the 2 degree neutral zone will still mean big changes for the way we live. According to the Proceedings of Natural Sciences who has mined the data of a large selection of different computerized models, they have identified a possible 18 different abrupt climate changes we could experience between now and 2100, even if we stay within conservative warming estimates. The 2 degree limit has been a guardrail of international climate discussions for decades, but we are beginning to realize that any warming -much like any incursion into the Romulan Neutral Zone- could have varying levels of repercussions.

Many simulated models produced events such as: rapid melting of Arctic sea ice, partial or full shutdown of North Atlantic current circulation, and even one model that showed an increased in growth of Indian Ocean sea algae. It is worth noting that other experts have expressed caution about these findings, but they acknowledge that they are not inconsistent with other collected climate change evidence. Messing with Earth’s climate is like letting James T. Kirk monkey around in the past, even the slightest change could alter our future. In fact, if oceans rise a mere meter -3 feet- that still spells a lot of problems for waterfront communities and island nations that could and will lose their homes. Worst of all, this isn’t some future occurrence, this is happening right now. The population of the small island country of Kiribati needs to be evacuated because the country is already sinking and the Maldives could be next.

Climate change is already here and it is already happening. Parts of the Arctic have warmed as much as 15 degrees Fahrenheit since 1960. Droughts and desserts are expanding all over the world, -just ask California- including place such as the Amazon, which is slowly losing its ability to cleanse the air of Co2. Miami is on the verge of sinking, having already lost 3.7 inches of beachfront. 2015 is on track to be the hottest year ever recorded in human history and the top 5 warmest years ever recorded have happened in the past decade. This is not a problem for just Miamians, the Kiribati, Andorians, Arctic polar bears, or people in the developing world -though developing countries will be disproportionately affected by climate change. It is a problem for everyone, “but Captain, what can we do?”


To Boldly Go
The nerd and geek community has never been shy about showing their commitment to anything. Just ask any Klingon at a Star Trek convention. Well, it is time we get involved again, and not just for us but for all the future Trekkies. What can you do to help? Well there is always the mainstays of recycling, conserving household energy, and carpooling to work, but there is  also much more we can do as individuals to help the problem, and the first step is being informed.

One of the most important things you can do is to stay up to date on the science and changes going on in our world today. So much of the climate debate is happening because people are taking what is said on cable news channels at face value. The Internet provides us all with a sort of universal translator. We can take what we hear on the news and certain nerdy/informational websites and go further. We can find out the answers for ourselves. Trust us, it doesn’t take a lot of time to come up with a wealth of resources and opinions on any subject just by doing a simple Google search. The more informed the public is about this -hugely important- topic the harder it will be to fall for misinformation or the scare tactics of the news media.

Secondly, get involved. There are multiple bills currently being considered by the US Congress, and not the least of them is the Keystone Pipeline, or the coming vote to ratify the Paris climate treaty. Let your representatives and congresspeople know how you feel. Remember, back in 1997 the United States signed the Kyoto Protocol on the environment, but it was never submitted for ratification by the Senate. In essence it became just a piece of paper with no binding legal authority. Eighteen years later we have to make sure that doesn’t happen again, because the world followed our example in 1997 and with any luck we can get them to follow it again in 2015. If you do not know who your representative is you can look up their contact information at OpenCongress.org.

I’m a Doctor Not a Weatherman
Regardless of who you are, you can do something, because this planet is worth fighting for. The Federation has the technological ability to terraform planets and heal environmental damage, but we do not. We have to work with what we have and that means slowing and stopping global climate change before it is too late. Our world is going through a change even as you read this, but we can still lessen the severity of those changes and save our world and our civilization from climate chaos. We want to believe that humans have good intentions, even if they sometimes lead us down the path to Gre’Thor.

In the time of Star Trek, the Federation and Starfleet travel the stars. They explore strange new worlds, and seek out new life and new civilizations, but Earth is still their home. Humanity, despite all its technological prowess and drive to go out into the galaxy still cherishes our small blue marble above all else. Perhaps it is ironic that those humans of a fictional future hold Earth in the highest of regards and yet we, a people who are still stuck upon its surface and depend on it for our own lives and health, only rank it as a mild concern or just another political talking point.

Remember the Genesis project resulted in an unstable world of drastic weather and geological shifts. We can’t just let our planet become that, another human failure borne of the best intentions. Green energy independence and other new innovations for slowing carbon emissions are already possible. We just need to have the will to implement them, because this problem can’t be left to The Next Generation. The recent flood of commitments from local, international, and business communities is encouraging, but there needs to be more. If we all do our part, then we can achieve a carbon neutral world. “Yes we KHAAAAAN!”

For anyone who is not in the “know,” and by that we mean a complete Trekkie, the Prime Directive is the first imperative of Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets. It is a rule of non-interference. The developed Federation and by extension Starfleet cannot interfere with the affairs of developing worlds, or they might taint their evolutionary progress, even if the planet and its refugees are under threat of destruction or death. Yet, is this a policy we should be adopting when it comes to our own planet?

Maybe there comes a time in the life of every person, and every nation when we need to ask ourselves the hard questions. What kind of people we want to be? is the Prime Directive any positive divisors other than 1 and itself? What kind of world do we want to live in? What Would the Federation Do? We suppose the short answer is: “boldly go wherever Captain Kirk’s libido has never gone before,” but another answer may become our very own Prime Directive, not in regards to any alien race, but in regards to how we treat other people in the world.

The Conscience of the King
As Jean-Luc Picard says the Starfleet Prime Directive is not just a set of rules, but “a philosophy.” At its core it is about letting a people fend for themselves. It is about teaching fellow sentient creatures self-reliance, to figure out the hard problems on their own, and without the technological and economical hand-outs of a more developed nation. In the end, one could actually interpret it as a fairly “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” type of policy from the normally leftist Federation, but is it one directive we are willing to put to use in today’s world? What would Picard do?

Currently, Europe and the world is facing one of the largest refugee crises in a generation. 4.1 million people have fled the violence currently taking place in Syria, thanks to ISIS and other warring factions. That is nearly double the amount displaced by the Rwanda genocides in 1994. Europe and other countries have had varying responses to the flood of refugees trying to stream across their borders. Countries like Hungary have been cracking down while countries such as Germany have been opening their nation to fleeing refugees, but they have been forced to “drop it down to impulse” in the past week. Yet, what is the right way to handle this crisis?

The humanitarian side would say that we have a moral and ethical obligation to help the people who are currently fleeing war and violence. After all they are fighting for their lives and the lives of their family to make it to safer grounds, flooding into Mediterranean countries by land and sea. However, a more practical side could also argue that from an economic and security standpoint, letting thousands of unknown refugees from a high risk area of the world, unquestioningly into your country may not be the best choice. After all, when the Klingon moon of Praxis exploded and threatened the lives of everyone on the Klingon homeworld of Qo’nos, did the Federation decide to take the risk and help its most hated enemy?… Well, yes they did, but in all fairness they never had the Internet.

Balance of Terror

Alleged Romulans at a rally in Germany.
Alleged Romulans at a rally in Germany.

There has been a lot passed around on Facebook and social media about this current crisis. The most currently famous image is the picture of what appears to be an ISIS flag being held aloft by refugees during a clash with German police. It often gets posted to show why countries should be closing their borders to this outpouring of humanity. The picture is also falser than Seven of Nine’s implants. It is a picture from 2012 taken at an anti-Islam rally in Bonn, Germany. the flag is not an ISIS flag at all, but another Muslim flag with a similar color scheme. Many Muslims believe that one of the banners carried by Muhammad was black and monochromatic, so it’s a very popular color scheme.

In fact, according to the ship’s LCARS and our own research the only violence that we could uncover -that was even remotely related to the surge of refugees- had to do with anti-refugee protests. We are talking about people who already live in the affected countries and commit violence against migrants and government facilities, such as the arson attack against a planned center for refugees in Germany back in August. So far it seems as if most of the Syrian refugees have been relatively peaceful, especially in contrast to some of the more horrifying conditions they have been met with. 22 refugees, including 4 children, drowned while attempting to reach Greece, and that story is not at all out of the ordinary. What would Sisko do?

The Trouble with Tribbles
The problem with the refugees is that there are a lot of them, and they keep multiplying everyday, but nobody seems to be able to agree on what to do. A meeting of the EU this week in Brussels by European Union Interior Ministers failed to come to any formal agreement or plan. The ministers failed to set any binding quotas for how many people each EU member nation should be obligated to take in. The group did propose a system of camps for refugees to be housed in Africa, which for anyone who is bad at geography, is not in Europe. The minsters also agreed agree, in principal, to share the current 160,000 refugees, which are already in Italy, Greece, and Hungary, but all 22 nations could not agree on a time schedule or a quota.

There is a school of thought that this may simply not be Europe’s problem? The United States pledged to take 70,000 refugees from all over the world this year and will take an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees next year, but many in the US look at this problem and feel very little responsibility toward the solution. The USA has donated $4 billion in humanitarian aid, but takes a view as if this is an issue to be dealt with by the Old World, if not the Middle East itself. Yet, what is our Prime Directive in this mess? Is this really just a Middle Eastern problem?

Many people have criticized, and with good reason, the lackluster response from other Middle Eastern countries and their failure to take in more refugees. According to CNN and Amnesty International Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and other Gulf countries have offered no resettlement places to Syrian refugees. Many of the wealthier countries have donated money with Kuwait giving $101.9 million; Saudi Arabia $2.7 million; Qatar $2.5 million; and the UAE giving $2.2 million, but those amounts are a small bit of latinum compared to the troubles being faced by the international humanitarian crisis. However, it is easy to point fingers and lump all Middle Eastern countries together, but the truth is more complicated than the plot of Star Trek V.

The Immunity Syndrome
First of all, not all Arab countries have turned their backs. Lebanon has taken the most migrants per capita of any country so far, housing roughly 232 refugees per 1,000 refugees. They are followed by Jordan and Turkey at 81 and 27 per 1,000, respectively. Even Iraq has accepted 249,000, and Egypt has taken 132,000. In contrast, Germany is only currently housing 2.6 refugees per 1,000 refugees, and the United States ranks at a measly 0.8 refugees per 1,000. Secondly, it is not only Arab countries who have shut their borders to their neighbors in need. Israel, has offered no resettlement for displaced Syrians, which many have criticized because Israel is one of the richest and most powerful countries in the region, shares a border with Syria, and because the Jewish people themselves should empathize with the plight of refugees.

We do not say any of this to be critical against any country, only to show that this issue is not as black and white as some Internet memes would have it appear. As humans we like to make generalizations: Arab countries aren’t helping, Syrian refugees are all terrorists, all Star Trek: Enterprise  episodes were horrible, but they weren’t. That was a decent show canceled before its time, but making unthinking gross judgements we risk falling into a Tholian Web of inaction and excuses. In fact, even a lot of people whom live in countries whose governments are refusing to lend aid or resettlement, are doing everything they can to ease this crisis. Israelis, Saudis, Britons, Hungarians, Americans and all sorts of individuals are helping, because as people humans can be amazing creatures. We feel a responsibility toward our fellow humans, but are the responsibilities of an individual the same as the responsibilities of a nation? Wouldn’t accepting these extra people put a burden on countries, like Greece, who can barely afford their own citizens? Is that even logical. What would Spock do?

The Way to Eden
There may be other reasons for developed nations to take in more refugees, we can handle it. According to a US News report, smaller countries such as Jordan will spend upwards of 2.4 billion dollars on caring for displaced migrants. They will strain their country’s already limited water supply and other essential services. However, European and North American countries tend to have a sturdier infrastructure, and a lot more employment opportunities when compared to Middle Eastern ones. That is actually a boon for developed nations because any country that can shoulder the initial costs of a large influx of migrants has, historically, benefited in the long run. There are more people to work jobs, more people to consume products, more people to pay more taxes, and to just generally do more things.

For example, in Cleveland, the local service for refugees spent roughly $4.8 million back in 2012 to help a small number of refugees get established, but, according to Chmura Economics & Analytics, those refugees had a long term economic impact on the community equal to about $48 million, or about 10 times the initial resettlement investment. It makes a certain a mount a sense. Refugees want to create opportunities and provide for their families, and they tend to be younger. Countries with younger populations often benefit economically, educationally, and militarily. Maybe it is not surprising that most Western countries are getting older, considering that the majority of EU members want less immigration. Yet, the United States continues to maintain a youthful population due to our constant influx of foreign immigrants -both refugees and non-refugees. New people means new ideas, new opportunities, and a new spirit of diversity, cooperation, and profit. What would Quark do?

Remember, the United Federation of Planets is made up of thousands of worlds, hundreds of different species, and each brings their own strength to the table, and that is the real philosophy of the Federation, and of our planet. The Prime Directive might be a guideline for technologically advanced civilizations, but we aren’t members of Starfleet dealing with a culture who are imitating early 20th century gangsters -for some reason. We are all humans, dealing with out fellow humans. There is this idea that we are somehow different from the people of the Middle East, or Europe, or any toher nation, but we are all the same. To any passing Andorian, we are just humans, and maybe its time we treat each other like humans.

Maybe that should be our real Prime Directive.


Photo courtesy: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/truth-behind-picture-claiming-show-6447418 

Who among us has not gazed out into the night sky and envisioned the possibilities. Science fictions are all about possibilities. Our graphic artists have taken some of NASA best images and used their skill to insert some of our favorite stories, because space is a vast and incredible place, and there is no telling what is really up there.

Who knows, we may even be up there ourselves someday. Until then, we can only dream.