In the early 1980s, inspired by Nicholas Meyer’s Seven Percent Solution, which brought Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud together for ‘A Study in Rehab’; and, reading that Holmes was finally in the public domain; my literary friend and I decided to combine two adored universes in a rousing adventure, Elementary, My Dear Spock. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy travel back to 1890 in search of a renegade Tellarite and lock wits with Holmes and Watson. A plethora of books pairing Holmes with Fu Manchu, Jack the Ripper, etc, motivated our agent to take our finished draft to the editors at Pocket Books, the division of Simon and Schuster that oversaw the Star Trek franchise. As a published writer in newspapers and magazines, I was confident about the quality of our novel, but the letter from Pocket accepting our manuscript still came as a surprise. “EMDS” would be released in hardback in 1986, it said, in conjunction with the release of Star Trek IV, The Voyage Home, and the 100th anniversary of the first Holmes short story published in the Strand magazine.
But, as the Hollywood word ‘turnaround’ implies, our chickens didn’t hatch. Dame Jean Conan Doyle had become the curator of the Doyle estate rights for Holmes, and decided that she did not want pastiches to ‘sully’ her father’s creation any more. Apparently, Holmes was in the public domain in Canada and the UK—but not in the US. And Pocket needed the US market for the book to make a profit. I’d then reached out to Mr. Meyer in the hopes that he might be able to assist with negotiations, but, he kindly responded that he empathized, but was unable to influence the Doyle estate. So, Elementary, My Dear Spock was “pulled”, and never saw the light of day until the Internet allowed us to offer it as free fan-fiction 30 years later at www.extremelysmart.com/magrathea
I couldn’t help but wonder what road our career paths might have taken in a ‘Crossing Lines’ parallel universe if EMDS had been published at a time that Trek TOS books were instant best sellers. Would we have stood a chance of writing for ST: Next Gen or one of the subsequent Star Trek series? Launched our own series of sci-fi novels? Or been unemployed downwind and back in our parents’ figurative basement. Fortunately, like Dr. Watson, I was able to retreat back to my medical practice and write my medical thrillers in my “surgery” after hours, under the laminated posting of the relevant poem by Robert Frost.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Meyer in person at a screening of my favorite Star Trek film, Wrath of Khan, just a few years ago, and I thanked him for his kind reply and asked about the exciting projects he had been working on as a writer and director. Among the upcoming projects announced was the new Star Trek series, Discovery, on which Mr. Meyer serves as a consultant. The arrival of a new Star Trek series is cause for much celebration, as well as the writing of many words, most of which are easily captured via a search on our friend the Internet. Having praised the Orville a few weeks ago, I wanted to lend my voice to the Discovery discussion as well, and to honor Discovery’s role in bolstering the success of CBS All Access (to which I have a ‘no-commercials’ subscription).
Discovery is a beautifully produced and impressively filmed epic that follows in the footsteps of classics such as the Iliad/Odyssey, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, and Deep Space Nine. The eternal battle of good vs. evil forms the core of the show, inviting viewers to journey with complex and evolving characters who reflect the modern trope of, not ‘Good vs. Bad’, but ‘Breaking Bad and Less Bad’. Others can speak to the dialogue, acting, and allegiance to Star Trek canon, original and prime. But, there’s no question that the series has an eye clearly on the demographic that idolizes superheroes and Star Wars. The show’s renewal for a second season demonstrates that the market for space opera can be resuscitated by updating the genre for today’s video-game generation. Discovery may be Star Trek in name, but it is not ‘your father’s Oldsmobile’ (with apologies to Leonard Nimoy/Spock and his erstwhile commercial).
My sigh above, though, reflects my disappointment. Not only with Discovery, but with our decade’s video entertainment in general. In the late 90’s, I wrote an essay for the Washington Post about my mother’s family’s escape from ethnic cleansing in Asia Minor during the Catastrophe of 1922. The events that led to the beheading of my Greek great-grandfather and the death of my great uncles, along with the march of our refugee family to the flaming ruins of Smyrna for relocation in mainland Greece; were contrasted with the peaceful post-Vietnam era and shining bubble economy in the USA that supported an optimistic, if hubristic view of novis ordo seclorum. I wrapped the essay by reminding readers that we were blessed to be living in a world that was evolving beyond the eons of internecine battles and tortured victims, and that our ‘post-history’ role was to help others achieve the safety and luxury of American exceptionalism.
Sadly, the last twenty years have seen a devolution across the globe, with ongoing wars and human tragedy at home and abroad. Exceptionalism still remains, but it is an exceptionalism of paranoia, of fear, of monsters, and, yes, vampires and zombies, around every corner, on every street. I remember asking my mother how she and her family survived during the Nazi occupation of Greece, when bombs would fall randomly on the buildings of Athens and trap civilians in the rubble. As a young nurse, she said, she was driven by the desire to help those in need, and the faith that que sera sera would keep her safe—or not. It was difficult, but she insisted she never lost hope, hope that the war would be over, and that the war would be won. And that the default setting for life was “Good”.
Media today are pushing the meme that the default setting for life is “Bad”. No more tap dancing Shirley Temples and verbally sparring Carys and Kates to entertain Depressed Americans and provide an escape from the hardships of economic devastation and war. Shows today have embraced ‘violence porn’; the more blood and guts, the better. ‘Fear’ has become the word of the day. And ‘Fight’ is the word for tomorrow. Even so-called lighter shows, such as singing contests and Housewives soaps, opt for conflict and competition seasoned with anger and tears instead of happy endings. As science fiction tends to do, this new iteration of Star Trek is set in today’s zeitgeist, and promises no hope and no escape for the future.
Our vast oceans kept us from fearing assault for decades. The ocean may no longer be a barrier, as rogue state ICBMs improve and terrorism is supported from within the United States. The constant state of alert and militarization experienced by countries whose borders are at risk has become the new order of the day for the US as well. Be afraid, be very afraid. The enemies are out there, they are at war with us, and we have to fight or die.
But do we? Gene Roddenberry’s original vision leaned towards ‘no’, as did the peaceful philosophies of TOS and Next Gen Vulcans. Granted, American exceptionalism allowed us to share in the delusion that the US could be the Organian guarantor of world peace. Not true. But the moderation of that naïve imperial urge does not create a vacuum to be filled by a universe of Hunger Games. The moderation instead should be lessening of imperial/capitalist ambition—a recognition that the price for the profits of war is too high, even for the rich; and that a strategic retreat to a social democracy bodes the best for not only Americans, but our fellow citizens of the world. ShenZou officers set fire to the disorganized Klingon Empire and launched a conflagration that demonstrably killed thousands upon thousands of Federation officers and civilians. And the war against the Klingon Empire continues. How much more ‘Star Trek’ it would have been if the show had avoided the Two Suns trigger, and instead set a neutral zone around the Federation that did not intrude on Klingon space. This retraction could allow a focus on defensive technology that would guarantee safety without ‘stirring the global pot’.
IDIC, Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, describes a diverse infinite universe with many successful civilizations. Our hope for survival in space—and on Earth—depends on acknowledging such diversity and embracing and supporting it, not fighting it. We don’t have to be Number One. We can be one of a number. Otherwise, like the crews of the starships that engage in futile combat on Discovery, we are doomed to endless bloodshed on the hopeless path to extinction.
Star Trek Discovery supports the prison of endless war and presents an interesting view of purgatory. I worry for my children that that is all they will ever know. Mr. Meyer and the Discovery writing team, please rescue the characters from the time loop of a vicious and brutal world and offer them—and us—a parallel universe of peace, harmony, long life, and prosperity.