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 Stig ******* Bookshelf 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 series. 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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