Reflections on the New Star Trek

by Paul Gilster on May 13, 2009

by Athena Andreadis

This morning I have the pleasure of introducing my friend Athena Andreadis, who will give us her thoughts on the recent Star Trek film. Dr. Andreadis is Associate Professor of Cell Biology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and the author of To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek. In her basic molecular neurobiology research, she studies the fundamental gene regulatory mechanism known as alternative splicing. The long-term goal of her research is to understand how the brain works, and contribute to the struggle against mental retardation and dementia. When not conjuring in the lab, Athena writes essays on science and science fiction, while writing her own SF/F fiction, some of which appears at the site Starship Reckless, which she founded.

We Now Interrupt Our Regular Programming…

… so that, stepping into Paul’s hospitable parlor, I can hold forth on the Star Trek reboot (henceforth ST||, for parallel timeline). I assume that anyone not in a silently running nuclear submarine has seen it by now, so I won’t be coy about spoilers. My first impression was positive: I felt that it captures and renews the essence of its source without servility or campiness. It’s playful, energetic and based on a reasonably clever conceit. It eschews the tiresome snarkiness and angst of contemporary SF, retaining instead the original ST’s brightness and optimism. It’s an alternative universe fanfiction, in the best sense. Last but not least, Uhura is a bit less of a prop and Spock a bit less of a prig, of which more anon.

st-part-cast

Alas, after the euphoria subsided, several problems became obvious besides the standard-issue bogus science – which includes the dreaded, dreadful red matter and (yet again!) a leaky black hole horizon. I think that I, like many of the old(er) cognoscenti, was so relieved that ST|| is not the disaster it might have been that I was willing to overlook a lot of asteroid debris.

The original Star Trek generally opted for civility and diplomacy, employing violence only as a last resort. However, today’s Hollywood, along with several other segments of US society, seems to have firmly convinced itself that negotiation is not for real men. As people increasingly become beleaguered cubicle drones and deracinated couch potatoes, their tastes have reverted to the primitive: men and women are reduced to no more than the presumed primary attributes of their genitals. Besides, ST||’s almost exclusively male cast is in the high-testosterone age bracket. As a result, ST|| adopts the standard stance: maximum force as the first and only response to conflict. Even the nominally restrained Vulcans are bullies in this re-imagining.

My other quibbles were that the villain is a stale, boring cross between an orc and a Matrix goth and his evil drill might as well be called the Death Star; the new Kirk is even more annoying than the old one and the director must be aware of this, since he denies him the lone eligible woman’s favors; Spock Prime’s expositions and exhortations flagrantly violate the prime directive of Show, Don’t Tell, diminishing the Kirk-Spock friendship in the process; and the fist- and sword-fights look silly when the characters have phaser guns.

For me, the greatest loss was that of Vulcan, because this turn of events precludes the opportunity to explore that culture in depth. The last ST series, Enterprise, became truly fascinating when it started delving into that aspect. The decisions to destroy Vulcan and to make the Federation more prone to shoot from the hip make ST|| less unique, less nuanced, less adult, closer to the usual action flick geared to pre-adolescent boys of all ages. Destroying Vulcan was also probably a way to make this Spock’s feelings be permanently closer to the surface — but I hope that they will at least allow him a wider emotional palette than just anger. Certainly the embrace on the transporter pad gives him borderline snacho status.

Which brings me to ST||’s women, all two of them. Amanda meets the classic fate of every good mother in Hollywood: a death that gives her son an excuse to go on convenient rampages. Uhura fares marginally better, at least on paper. She’s a gifted linguist and assertive despite her tutu – er, uniform. Even so, she is still carefully excluded from all the action, whereas each of her male peers is given at least one major scene of derring-do.

ST|| is an odd-numbered film in the series, so I’ll give it a long space tether. However, if Uhura degenerates into the Angel in the House or if the certain-to-come sequels become more generic, I will put ST|| permanently in the same category as Star Wars. Those who have read my essay on Star Wars know how dire a fate this is. And though my wrath may not equal that of Khan, if enough of my ilk get disaffected we may abandon all the old lumbering dinosaurs and manage to relaunch the real McCoy — the Firefly-class starship Serenity, with its true love of endless skies and its persistent aim to misbehave.

sf-cast

Paul Titze May 13, 2009 at 10:25

I also found Serenity (the movie) and Firefly (series) were also great SciFi flicks (got the lot on DVD). If there is going to be any near term practical interstellar flight happening for us, I like the idea of a small ship, small crew model unlike the Enterprise which is like the Queen Mary in comparaison (lots of resources required etc). Only Physics will tell…

Cheers, Paul.

ljk May 13, 2009 at 11:00

This Web site looks at the new Enterprise from the new film. The
author also has numerous comments on this reconverted flick
that reflect my own feelings on the whole thing:

http://www.ex-astris-scientia.org/articles/new_enterprise_comment.htm

Abrams and company have clearly kept the shell of Star Trek while
gutting it for a new audience, one that is far more interested in fast
thrills and base humor than having to think too deeply about certain
issues of the day as the original series did back when television programs
were not supposed to bring up such things.

The redesigned Enterprise, as described in the Web page above, is a
definite reflection of the goals and direction of this remade Star Trek.
It will be interesting to see if they can generate the type and amount of
fan base that the original ST did or if the new ST will inspire people to
create new technologies and want to explore the Final Frontier for
themselves. Or will we just get more excuses to sell tickets and be
simply entertained for a few hours as ST 11 has done.

Darnell Clayton May 13, 2009 at 12:49

Why is it that some of the best movies/scifi shows lack aliens? Serenity/Firefly, Battlestar Galactica and Terminator 1 &2? Just a thought.

Anyways, I actually did enjoy the Star Trek film, scientific blunders aside (which were numerous–i.e. supernova destroying the galaxy crapola).

The whole “we must use diplomacy” only works with civilized societies, which is become rarer by the day (as one can only look at our planet).

If humanity and their green blooded goblins ever come across another alien civilization, my first bet is that they will not be all that friendly (at least not to us).

george scaglione May 13, 2009 at 14:25

athena,thank you for those few well chosen words.i saw the movie yesterday and have to admit that i liked it very much.i found it to be very interesting.thought that the “new” kirk was indeed very close to the old,something that i do not regret.loved that new special effect where starships accelerate so quickly that they seem to just disappear! the movie seems to be doing really well and i have almost no doubt at all that we are witnessing the birth of a new series of st movies.no matter how you slice it,in my opinion, they will be superior to what passes for sf movies these days,i.e. – “the mutated wolves that ate chicago”!? but seriously,thank you again for your comments…i hope that i will see alot of feedback under this topic.will be good to get alot of opinions.i also thank paul for giving you the opportunnity to bring in this new line of thought on what i am sure is a favorite for us all. very respectfully,george scaglione

Adam May 13, 2009 at 16:17

I’m envious of my mother who has already seen ST XI twice! Or should the new movie be dubbed ST* since it’s now a parallel universe to the old ST?

Style and substance are always at war in the movie business and this movie sounds no different, but I’ll wait to see it before I say anymore.

However the warp-drive is the most pertinent bit of the Roddenberry-verse to our mutual endeavours here and there’s some thoughts I’d like to share. The recent news promotion of 5-D warp-drive leaves me wondering if it suffers the same liabilities as the “old” Alcubierre metric? Does it have the mind-boggling Hawking radiation of the old? I suspect not as the micro-dimension that 4-space is warped in isn’t as narrow as the classic Planck-length by a factor of 10^29 or so. My BOTE calculations give the new warp a more benign temperature of ~100-1000 K. Challenging but not insane.

Not that I think we’ll be warping space anytime soon, but it’s a happy thought that we might one day “Boldly go…”

James M. Essig May 13, 2009 at 18:01

Hi Folks;

The Star Trek movie sounds great. I plan on seeing it this Friday night. Here in Northern Virginia, USA, there have been issues with sold out shows. It sounds like pandomonium but I am sure it will be well worth the regular evening ticket prices. I almost exclusively see new release SCI-FI space movies at night to match the blackness of space. This seems to add to the mystique and enjoyment of the movies.

kurt9 May 13, 2009 at 19:07

I usually don’t like TV or movie SF. Blade Runner is the only SF movie that I actually like. I do notice that movie SF comes in two types: “space opera” (Star Trek, Star Wars) and “cyberpunk” (Blade Runner, Terminator, Matrix). I think Hollywood does a reasonable job with cyberpunk in that the cyberpunk type SF does tend to be entertaining.

I did not and do not plan to see this Star Trek movie. I do plan to see the upcoming Terminator movie.

Administrator May 13, 2009 at 20:11

kurt9, I think that Bladerunner is the best science fiction film ever made.

Re the recent entrant, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the Star Trek reboot. I’ll grant every qualification that Athena, Larry and others have made, and can add a few of my own, such as the overbearing score with excruciating choral effects and the over-the-top pastiche of the Walter Koenig ‘Chekhov’ character. And sure, the science is as wonky as it is on most Star Trek shows.

But to me, Star Trek is basically a form of pulp fiction of the sort I collect from old magazines in the 1930′s and later. I don’t take The Shadow seriously, certainly not as science, but what fun it can be to follow his adventures. With Star Trek, the idea that the ST universe can now be re-conceived and extended is just delightful. Let’s hope the new version grows and matures along the way.

TheOtherEvilTwin May 13, 2009 at 20:32

Athena Andreadis:

Have you thought about dishing out the same kind of savaging you did to Trek || and Star Wars to the other two space opera franchises? Both Stargate and Babylon 5 are prime targets, even though the latter franchise is (mercifully) long dead.

Hungry4info May 13, 2009 at 20:55

Yeah, I agree with your views on how much the movie damaged Star Trek, and how unconventional this movie was as far as the whole philosophy of the Federation.

Special effects were nice. I don’t ever recall any other part of Star Trek where space was recognized as a soundless vacuum in at least one scene.

And finally, as it is a culture, Goth is capitalized, much like Asian, Native American, Aborigines, Slavic, etc.

Athena Andreadis May 13, 2009 at 21:02

Best SF film, space opera: Serenity.
Best SF film, cyberpunk: Blade Runner.

Thanks to everyone for the good words and interesting discussion! If time and energy allows, I’ll come back and comment at greater length on some of the issues you raised… but first I must deliver a post I promised to another blog!

Adam May 14, 2009 at 4:30

Hi Paul

“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” was improved by becoming “Bladerunner” though the omission of Mercerism was an opportunity missed, though Roy’s final confrontation with Deckhard was a beautiful scene of a recurring PKD theme “what is a real human?”

I tend to agree that it was the best SF movie, but it could’ve been better. However as an inveterate Trekker I still love the franchise, warts and all…

James M. Essig May 14, 2009 at 12:27

Hi Folks;

A very interesting film on the subject of astrobiological themes was the original film “The Blob” in black and white. I still feel that this flesh assimulating amebea like creature is highly plausible given the reality of flesh eating bacteria.

I was 7 years old when I first saw the movie, and it scared the jeebbers out of me. I would look under my bed at night at times before going to sleep at night off and on for about 1 year just to make sure there was nothing strange under neath (Grins and Giggles!)

If somehow an especially virulent form of amebea could evolve and its mass could grow to the order of one metric ton, we might have a problem. However, the rate at which such a creature could assimulate fat, protein, and bone would be limited to the rate of progression of amebea to surface flesh interface chemical reactions and so such a creature might not be able to ingest human flesh at the rate depicted in the original movie.

Still, as we venture on to Mars and other planetary bodies, we should be on the lookout for especially virulent pathogens including micro-organism based infections, parasites, and on other planets around other stars, highly mobile and physically strong and fast preditory or territorial animals.

ljk May 14, 2009 at 14:08

Don’t worry, James – all we have to do is freeze the blob and drop it
among the ice fields of the Arctic wastes. Then we wait for the big
The End sign with a question mark after it.

More seriously, the 1971 SF film The Andromeda Strain took a fairly
plausible crack at how we might deal with a truly alien microbe from
space, based on the 1969 novel by Michael Crichton.

http://www.crichton-official.com/books-andromedastrain-history.html

It is one of the few SF films where the scientists look and act more or
less like real scientists.

Explodicle May 14, 2009 at 16:35

Darnell:
“Why is it that some of the best movies/scifi shows lack aliens? Serenity/Firefly, Battlestar Galactica and Terminator 1 &2? Just a thought.”

!!!BATTLESTAR SPOILERS BELOW!!!

Actually, I think the worst part about the new Battlestar Galactica was the introduction of “human” aliens in the final episode.

Jon Lomberg May 14, 2009 at 16:55

Great essay, As long as there are scientists like Athena with enough interest and insight to keep Star Trek honest, there is hope for the future.

Caliban May 14, 2009 at 17:22

Actually Stargate, though often goofy, contained more real science at times than Star Trek. One episode involved relativistic effects due to a black hole. The scales were wrong — you wouldn’t get gravitational slowing of clocks unless you were nearly right on top of a black hole, not millions of miles away– but the basic ideas were remarkably correct, particular for a show whose villains favored campy pharoah outfits; certainly the black hole physics was better than that in the current Star Trek movie. In my opinion (and my wife’s, who also enjoys) Samantha Carter is also a stronger and more nuanced character than most of the women in the Star Trek canon.

Blake Stacey May 14, 2009 at 19:05

ljk said of The Andromeda Strain (1971), “It is one of the few SF films where the scientists look and act more or less like real scientists.” In this respect, I think the movie improved considerably upon the book, cutting out whole swaths of silly stuff — probably not even intentionally.

To quote Alexei Panshin’s review of the Crichton novel, published in the November 1969 F&SF:

Crichton bolsters his story with easy expertise and massive documentation, but the story never hangs together. The main reason is that Crichton invents his story as he goes along and is satisfied to put down the first thing that comes to mind, and one lie contradicts the next. Thus you have a bacteriologist who has won the Nobel Prize for work done in his spare time as a law student (Crichton consistently oversells)—but who doesn’t know that he has a vein in his wrist…. Thus you have an Army van with a rotating antenna on top tacking back and forth across the Mojave desert taking triangulations every twenty miles on a grounded satellite—the landing site of which has already been predicted with an error of a few hundred yards. Two vans, we are told, would be suspicious. Thus you have a portentous scientific report on the probability of contact between man and other life forms with all figures to four places and a list of possibilities of encountering a life form more advanced than our own (the “7 +” level of data handling, if you please), or the possibility of encountering a life form radically different from our own, or the possibility of encountering no life at all.

In trimming the material which didn’t fit, the movie cut away quite a bit of fat.

Athena Andreadis May 14, 2009 at 19:56

I’m happy to see so many fellow Firefly admirers! Also, it’s true that ST|| worked as entertainment, which is rare enough these days to make us go Yay. It’s interesting to ponder that the film is nevertheless fanfic… actually, more like the “authorized” novelizations of various franchises (which I consider beyond the pale, as I discuss in Dream Other Dreams and Better).

Paul T: I also like the idea of small starships. However, for long voyages large ships will be needed for the purposes of a self-sustaining ecosystem (and enough passengers, human and otherwise, to ensure genetic vigor).

TheOtherEvilTwin: If you think that was savaging, read Anthony Lane’s review in the New Yorker. As for the other two series, I have only basic TV channels — I watch so little TV these days that paying extra would be silly. So I haven’t seen enough of Stargate to form an opinion but I invariably trust my friend Caliban’s judgment. I liked some aspects of Babylon 5 very much, others less so. What I did like was that (like Deep Space 9) they couldn’t solve their problems by running away, and that the series made an effort to give the different cultures depth.

Hungry4info: goth as in the punk subculture (hence the Matrix qualifier), not the Teutonic clans who sacked Rome and environs.

Darnell: The topic of what aliens will be like, especially if they are technologically inclined like us, is an inexhaustible SETI topic. I’m with you on Firefly and Terminator (and I hear that the Sarah Connor Chronicles are also gripping). However, I detested the Battlestar Galactica reboot, despite my valiant efforts. I intended to shred it to bits after its finale, but Abigail Nussbaum and Roz Kaveney did a tremendous job, so I’ll be happy to pretend it never happened.

Larry, Blake: I agree that The Andromeda Strain is among the few films that 1) show quasi-real scientists and 2) is better than the book it’s based on.

James: Parasites (including viruses) are tailor-made for their hosts. It’s exceedingly unlikely that extra-terrestrial variants could use us for hosts, Alien notwithstanding. And predators would have to be based on very similar principles to recognize us as prey. Adversarial positions between technologically advanced civilizations are another matter, depending on details.

Thank you again, everyone, for the wonderful words. This was so much fun that I’m tempted to repeat it!

RedGuy May 15, 2009 at 9:33

Hi guys,

I wonder if the ‘red matter’ realy exist and how can we create it for antigravity?

george scaglione May 15, 2009 at 9:35

thank you very much one and all for your efforts above.i have just finished reading every word,including my own again ( lol ego maniac that i am!! :) ) i will happily look in again as soon as i can to see how much more has been added. respectfully to one and all your friend george ps warp drive IS the propulsion method we should be most interested in i agree with whomever said that above! between warp drive and nuclear – that is warp and “impulse” i now certainly see the greatest promise for the “near” future. there surely are other extemely interesting forms of propulsion yes! but as i just said…for the “near” future,perhaps it is best not to “bite off more than we can chew”! as always i look forward to any comments from anyone here by which i am sure that i could learn! thanks again george

ljk May 15, 2009 at 10:26

Cosmic Variance does the smackdown on time travel and parallel universes,
instigated by their appearances in ST 11:

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2009/05/14/rules-for-time-travelers/

Hey Hollywood, are you listening? Of course not.

george scaglione May 15, 2009 at 14:48

ljk – thank you for that http you included it was funny i enjoyed it.does anyone here watch the big bang tv show? i’ve seen it since it first came out. it seems to have caught on and i enjoy it very much.just one of those tv shows that i thought would never “catch on” but did! imho the new star trek movie was the best one yet. also in the i could kick myself dept.,many years ago when i was a teenager a friend of mine and i got to go downtown,i think to a hotel meeting room where mr gene roddenberry was giving a talk on star trek -(the first movie was still in that time in production),there where alot of uuuuh’s and aaaah’s as he described it.later he took questions from the group which as i recall was not over big,maybe just 100 people. like a dope i said not word one!!! here i am always full of ideas ,there – lol i was mute! i think as i keep saying that the new “crew” has a big future in front of them. i think they have their characters nailed! thank you all your friend george

magpie May 15, 2009 at 20:39

(Sorry to cut/paste myself, but I think this adds some to the conversation, even if it repeats a bit):

Liked it, but was annoyed by the stupid backstory.

Supersupersupernova WTF? Maybe this is explained in the backstory, but the idea that a supernova is going to detroy the entire galaxy is pure stupid. Galaxys are BIG. Hell, unless the edge is moving faster than the speed of bloody light(???), then they should have had years to save even the closest star systems. This had to be the universe’s slowest armageddon. When scifi lacks the imagination to grasp the scale they’re working with, it shits me.

Then there’s the guy who’s so upset about the death of his world he completely *ignores* his chance to save his world and instead spends 25 years plotting revenge against the guy who TRIED to save his world the first time around. And all his crew go along with it. BRILLIANT. Did his crew even have brains? It seemed Nero was the only one with motivations – if tremendously stupid ones.

Oh, and we get Nero’s big ship killing Kirk’s dad, then just completely vanishes for 25 years. Hmmm, something suggests a script edit – hey, wouldn’t it be cool if Nero killed Kirk’s dad? Let’s just tack that right on!

A bit I might not have been paying enough attention to: Enterprise spends some time in warp, but then drops Kirk on a planet within sight of Vulcan – so close that Spock could see details of the planet as it died, so we’re talking pretty much in orbit. Warp is slower in this new universe, apparently. And they drop Kirk right next to another character who just happens to be the only person in the universe who can explain the plot. Even with the right planet, the right region, hell, the right 12-mile radius circle, it still beggars belief that they’d just run into each other.

There was no reason they had to construct the plot like this. All of these things could have happened in non-stupid ways. It’s like they made a sketch plot to build the cool dialogue and interactions around, but never got around to going back and fixing the overarching storyline.

It was a lazy-ass plot. The dialogue and characterisation was good, the special effects were cool, and it was a good movie (I really enjoyed it), but the plot was just pure lazy placeholder bullshit. I enjoyed the movie only by furiously ignoring the plot.

I submit to evidence Wrath of Khan, which is a lot of people’s favourite (certainly mine), despite the gung-ho action. Some lessons to learn there.

1. Stop making enemies who are impossibly powerful, and thus require intense stupidity on behalf of said badguys to defeat. I want to see a stand up fight, where cunning is used to gain an advantage, not to find and hit an I-win button. The more supidly powerful the enemy, the less I’ve enjoyed the battles in Star Trek.

I want battles, not puzzles.

2. The good guys don’t have to be perfect paragons of perfect golden perfection. Sometime their enemies can have legitimate reasons to hate them, not random idiot 2-dimensional mouth frothing insane self-destructive reasons that can’t possibly make any sense.

Moby Dick was a good book and all, but does EVERY bad guy have to be Captain Bloody Ahab? Yeah, Khan was guilty there, too, but at least he made sense, and even his insanely loyal, equally messed up minions had enough depth to question his motivations.

3. The more complicated the story, the more opportunity to screw it up. Guy A hates his old enemy Guy B, and Guy B wants to stop Guy A getting away with a superweapon of doom. Simple motivations, go.

In popcorn scifi, characters should be deep, the action should be deep, but the exposition should come out during the action and the character development. You shouldn’t need some guy to stand there, look 10 degrees off camera, and explain what the hell is going on. That’s just flat out poor writing.

Again, look at Khan: his motivation (hatred for Kirk) comes out in a cool scary scene involving a brain eating bug (and compare this scene with the bug scene in the new movie: which was more effective? Which did most to progress the plot?). The deadly implications of the genesis device comes out in a cool special-effects “presentation” and some fun character interplay between Spock and McCoy. The naivety of the scientists comes out in pieces of dialogue, but no-one ever stands there and talks to camera to tell the idiot audience what’s going on. The rest of the movie is character development and action.

Again, I liked the new movie, but gaping plot flaws in SCIFI – where you control all the bloody variables, where you can wave your hand to whip up anything you want to make a satisfying plot – hurts me right in my balls.

I find their lack of imagination disturbing.

ljk May 16, 2009 at 10:03

Maybe this alternate Star Trek universe cannot exist after all:

http://arxiv.org/abs/0905.0624

george scaglione May 16, 2009 at 10:49

magpie,good comments and i get where you are comming from 100%,but i recall shatner being interviewed on tv years ago and saying in a similar vein about his tv show…”IT’S A TV SHOW!” don’t forget as good as this last movie was and as much as we all enjoyed it …we should not forget – “its a movie!!” respectfully as always,your friend george

george scaglione May 16, 2009 at 12:59

everyone,in another trek vein as long as the floor is open i wanted to say here : i believe that for now the most important means of propulsion we should be looking into are,warp and impulse (i.e. fusion drive).do not get me wrong it is NOT that i think that warp is so simple.in fact faaaar from it,in fact light years from it (no pun intended).sure there are other advaced propulsion methods but as i admit that i have said before,for todays technology they are perhaps just a little too far a stretch.that is why i advocate study of the methods that might be more reasonable at this time. and between warp and fusion i am forced to admit that the better of those two ,at this time,is obviously fusion.can i get some feedback? paul? jon? jim? ljk? everybody!?? as always,your friend george

Administrator May 16, 2009 at 16:29

George, is fusion supposed to be the same thing as impulse? I don’t know enough about Star Trek to know the answer, but I thought impulse was a different form of propulsion in the series. I’m sure one of our resident Star Trek mavens will be able to straighten me out. I bet it’s in Krauss’ book, but I don’t have that here.

Anyway, fusion and warp drive are at entirely different levels of understanding. Although we have a long way to go with fusion, it’s at least under active research and experimentation in various countries and will surely be achieved long before warp drive (if warp drive ever is achieved). Warp drive is at this point purely theoretical and takes so much energy to make it work that we really don’t know whether it will ever be possible. From raw theory to lab experiments can be quite a jump, and warp drive is about as theoretical at this point as it gets.

Athena Andreadis May 16, 2009 at 18:43

Paul, George: the ST impulse engines are indeed powered by nuclear fusion. They also have “magnetoplasma” thrusters for precision manoeuvering. Warp drive, of course, supposedly “folds” space (which, besides allowing them to zip about, pays off in the episode where too much “folding” starts to affect the spacetime fabric).

Administrator May 16, 2009 at 18:52

Thanks, Athena! I was hoping you would see that question.

ljk May 17, 2009 at 11:29

The summarized details on the impulse drive is here:

http://www.ex-astris-scientia.org/treknology/treknology-i.htm

To quote:

Impulse drive Propulsion system for sublight speeds. The fusion reaction generates a highly excited plasma. This plasma can be employed for propulsion, or can be diverted through the EPS so as to supply other systems (generic).

On Federation starships the impulse drive usually consists of a fusion reactor, an accelerator, a driver coil assembly and an exhaust director. The accelerated plasma is passed through the driver coils, thereby generating a subspace field that enhances the propulsive effect (STTNG Technical Manual).

In The Physics of Star Trek Lawrence Krauss discusses the amount of fuel required for impulse speed, based on the energy gained by the fusion reaction, and considering that mass significantly increases at relativistic speeds. His result is that much more fuel than the ship’s mass is required to accelerate the ship to high sublight speed. Focusing on real-life principles rather than on Trek tech, Krauss did not take into account that the subspace field generated in the driver coils lowers the apparent mass.

The TNGTM, however, states that the subspace driver coil was introduced as late as in the Ambassador class, although it must have existed earlier according to Krauss’s calculations.

One could suggest that the warp coils could generate a subspace field below 1 cochrane in order to achieve sublight propulsion or at least facilitate impulse propulsion. Yet, according to the TNGTM, the efficiency of the warp coils drops drastically below Warp 1 and therefore the warp drive would not be “wasted” for this purpose.

george scaglione May 17, 2009 at 12:19

paul,athena, i was just about to jump in and say ,yes to the best of my recollection impulse was indeed fusion. but i was afew hours late. thank you very much athena,i appreciate the lol vindication! the very best to both of you your friend george scaglione ps unfortunately ,yes,warp is “a little” beyond us for the moment! however as i like to say,things always seem impossible until they are done. :) g

Anonymous May 20, 2009 at 9:01

I was shocked and saddened at the loss of Vulcan but I quickly realized that it was a great opportunity for the writers of future Star Trek 2.0 films and novels to explore the evolution of Spock in the context of Vulcans being an endangered species (and their irrevocably damaged relationship with Romulans).

Like many people, I was disappointed with the last Star Trek: The Next Generation film, ”Nemesis”, so I will always be convinced that a film adaptation of Carmen Carter’great ST:TNG novel ”The Devil’s Heart” (with a few changes to reflect the fact some characters like Ensign Ro are no longer part of the crew and that the film is a swan song for The Next Generation cast) could have been the greatest Star Trek film of all. If you read and enjoy the book, you will probably agree. ;)

http://www.amazon.com/Devils-Heart-Star-Trek-Generation/dp/0671794264

That being said, I’m surprised Athena Andreadis hasn’t reviewed the FOX science fiction TV series FRINGE in light of it’s treatment of the fringe science of transhumanism, it’s tongue-in-cheek references to the Star Trek 2.0 film, and the fact that it may be an homage to the original Star Trek series episode ”Mirror, Mirror”, which introduced the Mirror Universe and the goateed evil Spock…

ljk May 20, 2009 at 14:33

I have not read this ST:TNG novel, The Devil’s Heart, but from the
description on Amazon.com it sounds like the author was a big fan of
J. R. R. Tolkein. :^)

At least it may have been better than the last ST film, which also had a
Romulan as the bad guy causing trouble for the crew of the Enterprise.
Maybe for ST 12 they can at least use some other species as the opponent.

Athena Andreadis May 20, 2009 at 18:38

To Anonymous: I have such working hours these days (let alone the blog essays!) that I watch almost no TV. Your description sounds intriguing! Now I’m curious…

Anonymous May 21, 2009 at 0:49

I imagined you would be curious but keep in mind those subtle or explicit references to Star Trek only appear towards the end of the first season… ;)

When you find the time, you can view some episodes of FRINGE on FOX or HULU.

http://www.fox.com/fringe

http://www.hulu.com/fringe

ljk May 22, 2009 at 11:25

This Web blog, which wonderfully took apart the terrible ending to
the reimaged Battlestar Galactica series, does an equally good job
with the new Star Trek film, both by itself and linking to other sites
which also called this piece of dreck and an insult to the original
series as it is.

Here:

http://wrongquestions.blogspot.com/2009/05/star-trek.html

Here:

http://wrongquestions.blogspot.com/2009/05/trek-dump.html

and here:

http://wrongquestions.blogspot.com/2009/05/trek-dump-addenda.html

Abrams and his gang has dumbed down Star Trek. Will the
series that we originally knew arise again one day, or is this
the end of Roddenberry’s vision?

The theaters are always full of light entertainment, especially in the summer
and this one is no exception. Can’t we have a little substance with at least one
of them, namely Star Trek. They did it with the first film 30 years ago.

Athena Andreadis May 24, 2009 at 10:10

Anonymous, I watched three episodes of Fringe, including — naturally — the season finale. X-Files on steroids! John Noble plays a variation of his LotR Denethor (who was a sad devolution of the complex character in the book, one of the few major fumbles in Jackson’s vision).

Larry, don’t be so distressed, old friend! I won’t say “it’s only a movie”, series like this do influence people. The Star Trek reboot is here to stay, we can only hope the second film gets better as the new developers ease into the old mansion. How would you like to be Greek like me and see all your myths get repeatedly mangled?

Athena Andreadis May 24, 2009 at 10:26

Oops, I pressed Send too soon! Continuing on Fringe: the idea of a parallel universe is of course exciting, but switching back and forth into it is the physics equivalent of the instant transmogrification of humans into werewolves or other creatures from dark lagoons. The acting, beyond Noble’s chewing of the scenery, is non-existent, and both young protagonists are bland beyond words. And the gore gets to you at some point.

I didn’t see transhumanism specifically showcased in the three Fringe episodes I watched. However, as I once said to the scientific advisor (?!) of X-Files when we both appeared at an MIT event, only a glutton for punishment would concern themselves with science in shows like the X-Files, Fringe, Star-Wars… They are really fantasy in science fiction/science clothing, which is also true of the extreme versions of transhumanism — as I opine in If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want to Be Part of Your Revolution!

ljk May 26, 2009 at 9:19

Athena, do you mean like in the 1997 Disney animated film Hercules where
Hera was the hero’s loving birth MOTHER! Of course even the ancient myth
stories themselves didn’t always agree with each other, so they must have
taken place in a parallel universe. :^)

I have been trying to watch Fringe, but most of it is a talky snooze fest.
To keep from being a complete copy of X-Files, they had to focus on
parallel universes instead of aliens.

ljk May 29, 2009 at 11:39

This article by Marc Bain in the May 6 edition of Newsweek hits a lot
of nails on the head regarding the new Star Trek film in comparison
to the original series:

http://philosophyofscienceportal.blogspot.com/2009/05/old-new-star-trek-philosophy.html

The quotes from the film’s writers show they want to reflect the people
and issues of the early 21st Century just as the original series reflected
the era of the 1960s. Not exactly a step in the world.

Either the writers “got” the original Star Trek but stripped out whatever
they didn’t care for (or what they considered would drive away the
money – I mean the potential new fans), or they didn’t really get it to
begin with and didn’t care, despite the constant declarations of being
“huge” fans – which producer J. J. Abrams admits he is not.

The more I have been thinking about Star Trek lately, the more it has
been hitting home that the Enterprise and its mission as dictated by
Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets is far more of a military
and political one than it is about pure exploration and understanding
new and alien cultures.

It’s not that I didn’t realize it before, but seeing the new film which got
me back into the original series for a bit again with a more mature
perspective really hit home how much the mission of the Enterprise
is to secure new territories (galactories?) and resources for the UFP
while finding potential new allies to strengthen the Empire – I mean
Federation – against its many enemies.

I will be the first to say that the first groups of humans to physically
move out into the galaxy some day will probably not be the noble and
talented astronauts we have been used to since 1961. However, in the
case of Star Trek going back to the beginning, the assumption is that our
explorers will really be working for a new version of the military with
scientific exploration going along for the ride.

Then again, the Apollo lunar missions were first and foremost about
geopolitical and technological showmanship, despite NASA’s efforts to
make it look like noble exploration was the real purpose. So maybe ST
will be right – assuming we have FTL drives – but that is kind of sad and
nearsighted on our part, too.

ljk July 6, 2009 at 10:38

Phil Plait, Mr. Bad Astronomer, recently posted two new items on the latest
Star Trek film here:

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/07/05/more-trekanalia/

One is a review of the science in the film, such as it was, and the other is a review of
the original script and what did and did not make it to the final version.

FYI – The two writers for Star Trek 11 also wrote Transformers 2, the other
overblown and nonintelligent megablockbuster of this sad cinematic summer.
Having seen both films now, I am convinced that these writers are teenage
males at least mentally if not chronologically.

Either that or they know where to aim the moneymakers at. Or both.

ljk September 19, 2010 at 18:05

At least one good thing came out of the 2009 Star Trek film – these really cool retro posters:

http://store.qmxonline.com/Star-Trek-Movie-Poster-Set-Series-1–Retro_p_101.html

ljk February 2, 2011 at 1:37

A rare ten-minute featurette about the first Star Trek film, which I think was a lot better than most of the fans did back then:

http://herocomplex.latimes.com/2011/01/20/star-trek-the-motion-picture-watch-a-lost-making-of-the-movie-video/

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