Scientific weirdness in Star Trek

Discussion in 'Star Trek - The Original & Animated Series' started by Neopeius, Jan 7, 2022.

  1. Neopeius

    Neopeius Admiral Admiral

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    I often praise TOS for being the one iteration of Star Trek that is actually science fiction, the rest being sf-ish, but not really sf. This is, in part, because in the 60s, Trek was the pinnacle of a literary sf tradition, with many of its authors submitting scripts to Trek.

    (interestingly, as of December '66, sf authors were being told "no thanks" and Trek was instead turning to Hollywood writers. Why? SF authors wanted too much money!)

    Despite the sfnality of Trek, there are a lot of head scratchers. The latest one came up on Galileo Seven, in which the Enterprise investigates a "quasar or quasar-like phenomenon."

    This is what I'm writing in my latest review. This is written from the perspective of someone living in January '67:


    For those who don't know what a quasar is, they really are quite interesting, and probably nothing like the phenomenon depicted in the show (which is more like some kind of nebula). Quasars are actually cutting-edge astronomical science. When humanity first started turning their radio telescopes to the stars, they discovered sources of radiation that had hitherto been invisible. But they blazed like beacons in low frequency radio waves.

    They seemed no bigger than stars, but they clearly were not stars. So they were called "quasi-stellar radio sources" – quasars for short. No one knew if they were extremely small, close-by entities, or extremely powerful far away ones. A few years back, it was noted that every quasar had an immensely red-shifted spectrum. That is to say that all of the light coming from any quasar, every single wavelength of color, was stretched, as if the body were receding from us at great speed. You've probably heard of this phenomenon before: the Doppler effect you hear when a train whistle is heading away from you.

    This red-shift indicated that the quasars were actually very far away, billions of light years. They also offered proof that the early universe (since if the quasars are far away, they must be quite old – the light took billions of years to reach our eyes, after all) was different from the current universe since there are no nearby quasars. Thus, final conclusive proof that the universe arose from some kind of Big Bang, as opposed to always existing, as Fred Hoyle and many other prominent cosmologists suggested.

    What this all means is that Kirk and co. could not have investigated a quasar, for there are none close enough to Earth for his starship to reach! He did cover up with the possibility of it being a "quasar-like" object, whatever that means (a quasi-quasi-stellar source?!)

    I can usually squint my ears and forgive this scientificish wishiwash, but it drives the Young Traveler crazy.
     
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  2. Kor

    Kor Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Well Star Trek wasn't a perfect representation of literary SF. It was more like a 'lite' version translated and filtered for general TV audiences, though certainly better than stuff like "Lost in Space."

    And Trek leaned more toward exploring social themes, human behavior and the like, rather than a "hard SF" approach focusing on technological details and trying to depict something that's perfectly in line with current scientific understanding of the universe.

    As the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction says in its entry on Star Trek TOS:
    Kor
     
  3. XCV330

    XCV330 Premium Member

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    I could be wrong, but it's possible there was not a scientific consensus on just what quasars were or how far away they were, at the time. Of course Trek has never really been on the forefront of such things and has done better by just inventing its own universe of space storms, giant wormholes, gravity flooring, etc.
     
  4. Neopeius

    Neopeius Admiral Admiral

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    That's the thing. I'm just going by 1966 sources (I read a lot of 1966 sources last year :) )

    Indeed, I'm more prone to be behind the times these days than ahead of them...
     
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  5. XCV330

    XCV330 Premium Member

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    You and me both. I'm even behind 1960's sources :D
     
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  6. The Old Mixer

    The Old Mixer Mih ssim, mih ssim, nam, daed si Xim. Moderator

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    The tradition continues with
    the Protostar being powered by a protostar...because baby stars are smaller, right?
     
  7. Neopeius

    Neopeius Admiral Admiral

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    Jesus. Freaking. Christ.
     
  8. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

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    Who was saying that?

    @Harvey has looked at the script reports more than I, but my sense is the staff was uphappy with many or most submissions they got from lit scifi authors, and few of the submitted story outlines were approved to go to script. Then there’s Roddenberry feeling it necessary to rewrite “Shore Leave” on location and the brouhaha with Ellison plus they were frequently at risk of not having enough scripts, so that suggests they shifted to established television writers for practical reasons.
     
  9. Neopeius

    Neopeius Admiral Admiral

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    I linked it for convenient reference!

    Here it is again. :)

    If I never hear the term "space opera" again, it'll be too soon.
     
  10. BK613

    BK613 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microquasar
     
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  11. Neopeius

    Neopeius Admiral Admiral

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  12. ZapBrannigan

    ZapBrannigan Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    The only save I can think of is that, in Kirk's time, the word quasar has taken on a second, unofficial usage. Like how a whale can be a marine mammal or a wealthy gambler in a casino.

    Strange nebulae with unpredictable and poorly understood energy fluctuations have been nicknamed "quasars" until an official name is assigned. It's a nod to how poorly understood actual quasars were in the mid-20th century, and since nobody in the 23rd century calls those galactic nuclei quasars anymore, the quaint old word is available.
     
  13. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

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    Ah we just can’t see it because it’s behind Betelguese.
     
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  14. Commishsleer

    Commishsleer Commodore Commodore

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    We have gained so much knowledge about the universe in 55 years. For example - which is the closest galaxy, how many moons does Jupiter have, how many planets orbit our sun, we have (seen) planets orbiting other stars?
     
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  15. Shaw

    Shaw Commodore Commodore

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    Just to be clear on this, you reviewed popular entry-level astronomy books of the late 50's and early 60's and the previous decade ('56-'66) worth of Scientific American and National Geographic articles to get an idea of what a non-professional astronomer/astrophysicist would have had access to in the public library at this time... right?

    I grew up pre-internet, so I remember what it was like back then. Heck, when I was a double major in math and physics I still had professors studying Steady State Theory... and that was in the 80's.

    Someone from 2022 trying to put themselves into the minds of people of 1967 really needs to recognize the limitations of that time.




    Slightly off subject...

    On the broader subject of science fiction and Star Trek, writers/producers are more likely to date their work by attempting to ground it with current technology. This is best illustrated by the evolution (or more accurately, de-evolution) of the Enterprise since TOS.

    The first big step backwards being putting reaction control thrusters all over the refit in TMP. While this was a valid solution for 70's spacecraft, it shouldn't have been applied to a starship from hundreds of years in the future. This got even more ridiculous with the Kelvin Enterprise being covered with rockets.

    The best way to get a feel for how to approach the subject would be to take something like our current submarines/carriers and ask how someone of the 18th century would have explained their functionality using the science of that period. Would someone from that era call what we take for granted science fiction or fantasy? To them we move ships the size of cities at unimaginable speeds for years on a few pounds of a magic rock. They didn't have the science to explain what we do... just like we shouldn't have the science to explain what happens in Star Trek. Trying to shoehorn in current tech into Star Trek (like the aforementioned reaction control thrusters) is like adding sails to a carrier.

    In my opinion, good science fiction in Star Trek comes from internal consistency of the functionality of the technology, not trying to provide how it is possible.

    Sorry for the off subject rambling.
     
  16. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

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    Sorry, I missed that link when I read on my phone.

    Screen Shot 2022-01-08 at 12.53.39 AM.png

    No source, as I suspected. Oh well.

    They certainly had issues with some of the SF writers approached and/or employed, but then they had problems with non-SF writers too. Sturgeon was always late. Ellison was Ellison. Spinrad impressed some with "The Planet Eater/The Doomday Machine" and then utterly blew it with "He Walked Among Us", so much so that Justman retracted the nice things he said about him.
    • Sci-fi writers had problems with the needs of action-adventure commercial television (their stories were frequently critiqued for lack of drama and inaction by the characters).
    • Many TV writers had problems with SF concepts and the show's format or got lost in "the wonder of it all."
     
  17. BK613

    BK613 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Perhaps but it does put a form of quasars within Kirk's reach. "Quasar-like" could be instances where a super-heated, radiation-spewing accretion disk exists around a gravity well that is not a black hole.
    Maybe Lester Del Rey? ;):lol:
    https://www.fanac.org/fanzines/Degler/Degler158-01.html
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2022
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  18. Neopeius

    Neopeius Admiral Admiral

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    Sure, but in '66, we didn't know that's what quasars were. We only knew they were light year-wide emitters of radio waves billions of light years away.

    Yes.

    [Long, prideful explanation snipped.]

    For sure. The most timeless science fiction works that way. David Brin's Uplift saga was particularly good at that, and I took lessons from it for my own books. Nothing jars out of a perfectly prescient 50s or 60s story like the characters loading the next spool of microfilm. :)
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2022
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  19. Neopeius

    Neopeius Admiral Admiral

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    For sure. That snippet is definitely not the end-all of explanations, but at least it tells us around when the decision was made. Sorry the link was hard to find!
     
  20. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

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    It was not hard to find, My eyes just skipped over it as a link.
     
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