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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1998 > Jun > Jun 4

New Books On "Star Trek" Science

From: Stig_Agermose@online.pol.dk (Stig Agermose)
Date: Thu, 4 Jun 1998 07:00:43 +0200
Fwd Date: Thu, 04 Jun 1998 01:22:08 -0400
Subject: New Books On "Star Trek" Science

From: The Sci-Fi Channel.

URL: http://www.scifi.com:80/pulp/sfecurrent/bookshelf.html




Two books - and four scientists - examine the factual underpinning of
Star Trek.

By Lawrence Tucker

Some TV shows are just _ shows. Despite Seinfeld's popularity, for
instance, no one has ever written a Seinfeld guide to job-hunting,
dating, or sex. Search high and low, you won't find The Homer Simpson
Diet or the Xena, Warrior Princess, Exercise Manual, or the Melrose
Place Good Grooming Guide-at least not yet. True, all of these series
have inspired their share of fan-oriented books, often modeled on The
Twilight Zone Companion, or else on the order of "What This Show Can
Teach You About Life." There is no dearth of X-Files novels,
biographies (pro and con) of Roseanne, or behind-the-scenes peeks at
shows like ER and Beverly Hills, 90210.

But no TV show, it's safe to say, has ever spawned as many books as
Star Trek. A fast-growing segment of this nonfiction universe-a sort of
subgenre of a subgenre of a subgenre-has examined the show's science
(Lawrence M. Krauss's The Physics of Star Trek), philosophy (The
Metaphysics of Star Trek by Richard Hanley; All I Really Need to Know I
Learned from Watching Star Trek by Dave Marinaccio; The Klingon Way: A
Warrior's Guide by Mark Okrand); language (a Klingon/English
dictionary, a traveler's phrasebook, and audiotaped courses in
"Conversational Klingon" and "Power Klingon," all authored or
coauthored by Okrand); mythologic implications (The Meaning of Star
Trek by Thomas Richards), management techniques (Make It So-Leadership
Lessons from Star Trek: The Next Generation by Wess Roberts and Bill
Ross); business ethics (The Ferengi Rules of Acquisition by Ira Steven
Behr); and nerd allure (The Joy of Trek: How to Enhance Your
Relationship with a Star Trek Fan by Sam Ramer).


Life Signs: The Biology of Star Trek (HarperCollins, 204 pages,
$22.00), by the husband-and-wife team of Robert and Susan Jenkins,
approaches the series with the same mixture of skepticism, sympathy,
and hard scientific know-how that Professor Krauss brought to The
Physics of Star Trek; in fact, the authors-he's a geneticist, she's a
psychiatrist, and both are M.D.s-credit Krauss's book with inspiring
their own.

The game in books like these is to decide whether particular phenomena
depicted in the series are scientifically possible-or, as the Jenkinses
put it, "Is it possible even theoretically?" Most of the time, their
answer is yes. Salting their speculations with words like "probably"
and "likely" and "perhaps," they lean over backward to explain things
like synthehol (a Ferengi concoction that intoxicates like alcohol but
causes no hangovers, and whose effects can be instantly "shrugged off
whenever the situation calls for full alertness"); silicon-based life
forms like the burrowing, rock-dissolving Horta of Janus VI; and
mind-controlling parasites such as the ones infecting Starfleet
officials in The Next Generation episode "Conspiracy." ("Mosquitoes
bearing the malarial parasite," they point out, "behave differently
from noninfected mosquitoes. They develop an insatiable appetite -
frequently engorging themselves with so much blood that they cannot fly
away after they're finished.")

However, when it comes to things such as viruses the size of pillows
that float weightlessly in midair, Odo's effortless shape-shifting, and
Worf's ability, in the movie First Contact, to tie a tourniquet around
his leg in deep space, thereby remedying a rip in the foot of his
spacesuit, the authors are not buying. In fact, they relegate these and
other wonders to an amusing final chapter entitled "Where No One Will
Ever Go."

"When Odo takes the shape of a mouse," they remind us, "he might become
as small as a mouse, but he'll still weigh 180 pounds." As for Worf's
tourniquet, "Let's hope he tied it really tight," they note, "because
there's that vacuum-of-space thing. All the blood in his body would end
up in his foot, which would probably explode under the stress. Biology
can be messy!"


Star Trek on the Brain: Alien Minds, Human Minds (W.H. Freeman, 235
pages, hardcover, $21.95), by two psychology professors, Robert Sekuler
and Randolph Blake, focuses on the emotional lives of the show's
characters, both human and nonhuman. As they explain near the start,
their narrative "runs a slalom course, weaving back and forth between
Star Trek on one side and contemporary understanding of mind and brain
on the other."

This strikes me as an accurate metaphor, but it also suggests why the
book, though intelligently written and refreshingly sober in style, is
a little less compelling than the ones on physics and biology: Rather
than asking, "Is what we're seeing scientifically possible?" it more or
less accepts the validity of whatever the series depicts. After all,
we're talking about characters' emotional behavior largely expressed
through conversation; one doesn't judge that on the same terms that one
judges, say, the behavior of a nebula or a virus. Instead, the book
reads as a series of essays on various aspects of psychology - grief,
humor, anger, sex, memory - illustrated with examples taken from the

Sometimes their examples are delightful simply on their own, such as
the scene from the film Star Trek VII: Generations in which Data, who's
been trying to understand the strange human phenomenon called humor,
suddenly cries, "I get it! I get it!"

"You get what?" demands Geordi LaForge.

"When you said to Commander Riker, 'The clown can stay but the Ferengi
in the gorilla suit has to go.' During the Farpoint mission. We were on
the bridge. You told a joke. That was the punchline."

"Data, that was seven years ago."

"I know," says Data. "I just got it. Very funny."

And sometimes the examples from the series are marvelously apt, such as
the authors' illustration of "displaced aggression": a furious Worf
trying to control his temper as he hacks away at a slab of meat during
a high-level dinner with someone he detests.

Brain occasionally addresses some of the same material as Life Signs.
The Horta, for example-that "huge centipede-like creature" that lives
beneath the surface of Janus VI-appears here as well, illustrating how
imaginative empathy for a potential enemy can overcome our initial
impulse to destroy it. The creature has killed 50 Federation miners,
but the ever-rational Spock, mind-melding with it, learns that it is
the last of its kind and has simply been protecting its precious
50,000-year-old eggs. "One of Star Trek's delights," note Sekuler and
Blake, "is that things are not always as they seem."

Interestingly, the authors, like the Jenkinses, are also fascinated by
that miraculous Ferengi potion, synthehol. They advance a provocative
and subversive theory: "It may be that synthehol has no expensive,
psychoactive ingredient whatever, but merely produces a 'placebo'
effect." This is exactly what happens if people are told they are
consuming alcohol but in fact are given alcohol-free substitutes. These
misled individuals can become aggressive, gregarious, or relaxed,
depending on their environment. But their motor coordination and
judgment remain unimpaired. This description sounds suspiciously like
synthehol's effects."

Since the success of a placebo depends upon the consumer's belief in
its effectiveness, the authors add a perfectly sensible warning:
"Please don't discuss this possible placebo effect with any Starfleet
folk you happen to meet."


The Rogers & Gillis Guide to ITC, by Dave Rogers and S.J. Gillis
(Shrewsbury, England: SJG Communications, 486 pages)

With the advent of Britain's first commercial network, ITV, in 1955,
the programs that the BBC had been offering began to look rather
staid-especially in contrast to such lively and colorful fare as The
Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Richard Greene. Robin Hood, whose
143 episodes ran til 1959, was the first series created for the new
network by Lew Grade's Independent Television Corporation. Since then,
ITC has produced dozens of classic TV shows, including Danger Man (a k
a Secret Agent) and The Prisoner, both starring Patrick McGoohan;
Father Brown, with Kenneth More as Chesterton's crime-solving priest;
The Saint, starring Roger Moore; Space 1999; UFO; and the Gerry
Anderson "supermarionation" series Supercar, Fireball XL5, Stingray,
Thunderbirds, and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.

This massive oversized paperback offers a painstakingly detailed
show-by-show guide to each of ITC's productions, plus a 238-page
cross-referenced directory of the actors. (Peter O'Toole shows up in a
1956 episode of The Scarlet Pimpernel.) It was clearly a labor of love
for TV buffs Rogers and Gillis, who spent years assembling all this
information. Thank God for fans like these!

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