#23 – Captain Picard, of the OOC Enterprise

15 Comments on #23 – Captain Picard, of the OOC Enterprise

Originally I thought this strip was going to involve a much more elaborate metaphysical argument on Picard’s part, about the nature of being, the continuity of consciousness, thoughts on the implications of sleep and stasis and transporter technology on our sense of ourselves as constant beings, etc.

But it wasn’t really gelling, and so: Riker sex jokes. I hope you will forgive me.

But! It did get me thinking about something: the use of montage as a core storytelling technique in television and film work, and how it seems possible that that might fall almost entirely by the wayside in a future where holodeck programs were the new norm.

A montage of disjoint scenes in sequence works great in a film as a way to convey a sense of a story progressing quickly — Rocky Balboa is jogging, looking very winded! Now he’s working a punching bag! Now he’s sparring in the ring, takes a shot to the ribs, the coach hollers at him! Jogging again, but now with more strength! He’s sparring again, blocks the rib shot, jabs the other guy clean! etc. — but it depends on edits to work, depends on the ability to cut from one scene to the next to the next without logical transitions or explicit continuity, letting the viewer do the interpretive work that reassembles the collection of scenes into a meaningful story.

Which in a passive, interpretive medium like film obviously can work very well, but how well would it work in an interactive, fully-realized 3D worldscape with direct viewer/player agency? Seeing Rocky zip through weeks of training in a couple of minutes is fine, but imagine playing as Rocky in virtual reality and having your jogging track disappear suddenly, or your punching bag turn into a sparring partner, or so on. It’d likely be pretty jarring! Sympathetic immersion in the scene seems like it’d create a serious challenge for abrupt scene transitions.

You can see hints of this in the editing of contemporary 3D films, I think; the more information-rich visual field carries with it more of a need for visual continuity, a meeting of the viewer halfway in terms of mechanical expectations from the film. We’re not used to changing focus on the fly while viewing films; we’re also not used to dealing with the kind of impossible focus changes that editing two 3D scenes together can introduce, like having one scene with a distant foreground wipe cut into another scene with a foreground much closer (perceptually) to the viewer, or with depth of field changing abruptly across a cut. There are edits that work great in 2D film that are at best problematic in 3D, at worst Escher-esque, and in general the editing of 3D films seems from what I’ve seen to be at least incrementally more conservative about smash cuts and fast edits.

There’s a parallel here to the introduction of sound to film in the early 1900s, actually. Before talkies, the only limit on what worked in edits was what worked visually — if it was effective to look at, you’re all set. Adding sound to the equation created new constraints: your cuts had to make sense not just visually but audibly, and suddenly there was the problem of things that might work well on the screen but not make sense to viewer’s expectations in terms of the sonic logic of a transition.

Maybe it’s hopeful for 3D film to look at the change in viewer savviness over the ensuing decades to the point where clever editors and passively film-literate viewers make it possible to do unusual and jarring things with picture/sound editing that would have been seen as too esoteric 70 years ago to work. But then, maybe not!

Also, on the silent vs. sound film front and returning to the montage editing idea: consider how the classic montage scene in modern films and TV often dispenses with realistic sound in favor of a musical backdrop with maybe some incidental sound effects or maybe none at all. There’s the argument that music over montages is just an effective tool for emotional manipulation, but I think it’s more than that; it’s a smoothing out of that editing process, a way to let the viewer not be treating each edit as a new disorienting scene. (Look at how effectively unsettling it can be when a horror movie uses jarring edits without attempting to smooth them over with a nice soundtrack chaser!)

And there’s a whole additional, and probably actually pretty central, argument to be made about the parallels to video game experience vs. film/tv editing. But this is already pretty long, so, another day? Another day.

But so yes! Holodeck. Montage. Never the twain shall meet, is my Speculative 24th Century Film Studies thesis.

#22 – Comet Comet Comet Comet Comet Chameleon

18 Comments on #22 – Comet Comet Comet Comet Comet Chameleon

Geordi, man, you got to corral those players. They’re not even staying in character! I know you’ve got pages and pages of notes on this setting already, but try to start with the key concepts maybe.

But, yes, seriously, what is with that comet in the opening title sequence of Deep Space Nine? Why is the first thing we see a comet about which nothing is, as far as I can recall, ever said? It’s not a plot comet or anything; it’s just a random bit of stellar flotsam, the sort of minor phenomena that Enterprise or Voyager or Enterprise Bakula Edition might chase down and scan but which DS9 would at best grab some long distance pix of if it was a slow day in the astrometrics lab.

Maybe it’s a metaphor? Like for the way Deep Space Nine embraces a degree of momentum, of continuing arc, which contrasts with the more episodic structure of the preceding Next Generation? Not that a comet drifting in a straight line is really a good non-trivial example of an arc. Plodding along in a dull straightforward path is kind of an unflattering self-assessment.

But then, oh, there could be gravity wells? Suns, planets, spatial anomalies? The perturbation of its path by stellar masses seen and unseen? I suppose that’s a good example of how an arc can come from nowhere, a twist in the road, an unintended shift in one’s path so that one ends up treading into strange territory even as one tries to presses ever forward and onward? Is this metaphor shaping up? I feel like we’re reaching here. Feeling like the ol’ grasp is being exceeded.

Another thing that I suspect: somewhere on a datapad (yes, yes, they’re called PADDs in the Star Trek universe, shut up), Geordi has written down lyrics to a song about Deep Space Nine. Maybe those’ll slip out at some point. Maybe just.

#21 – pecking order more like holodecking order amirite

8 Comments on #21 – pecking order more like holodecking order amirite

Easing into the actually-commencing-with-the-roleplaying phase of this whole thing (and it only took twenty strips to get there! When that’s the core premise! Concision, that’s what I’m into…) and I think it’s inevitable that some of these next strips will be RPG basics disguised as Star Trek jokes more than they’re Star Trek jokes disguised as RPG setup.

Which if you aren’t particularly familiar with the structure of role-playing games might actually be handy? I don’t know! It could be educational. This might be worth college credit. I am willing to write your school registrar a letter of reference, just let me know.

But, yes, this goes back to that thought the other day in strip #15 about Picard and not liking to share, and I think not liking to share esteem or social standing is part of that. He fought his way up to Captain, dammit, earned every bloody inch of it, and no Engineer with a fancy dancy eyepatch gets to take shortcuts there.

And of course Picard wouldn’t drop petty shit like this on the actual show. And, look, Next Generation is an artifact unto itself, and provides the context for all the Star Trek stuff that has come since (and a cultural context against which other modern space serials are contrasted as well), so I wouldn’t really want to see it changed even if I had a magic wand or a favor to cash in with the Q Continuum. It is what it is, and that’s sort of historically important.

But there are times when I fantasize a little about some of that interpersonal conflict that showed up on Deep Space Nine (or other series like, notably, the new Battlestar Galactica) finding its way into TNG; a little more edge to the way the crew interacts could have been pretty interesting, and could have opened up some more possibilities for the show in terms of character development and the meaty territory of opposing desires held in tension by the demands of duty and career, of friendship vs. ambition vs. self-preservation.

Conflict on Next Generation is almost always the crew or a crew member against some externality (Riker’s ambition for his own command vs. his love of serving under Picard on the Enterprise; Worf’s desire to embrace his Klingon heritage vs. his sense of obligation and duty to Starfleet; Wes’ desire to locate the galaxy’s ugliest sweater vs. his eagerness to please Picard and fit in with the crew…) rather than being between members of the crew themselves, and even the rare interpersonal conflicts that do arise between major cast-members are routinely neatly resolved by the end of the episode and we’re back to status quo. It preempts a lot of potential interesting character friction that, if TNG were being made new today, I think writers and directors would likely want to take serious advantage of. But they’re not making it today, and it is what it is, and that’s okay too.

#20 – Secular Winter Holiday Extravaganza

3 Comments on #20 – Secular Winter Holiday Extravaganza

Worf is really into (a) Klingon opera and (b) Christmas carols; he wrote his Starfleet thesis, “Sleighing Song, Slaying Song”, on the formal and thematic similarities and contrasts between the two traditional musical corpora.

For example: it turns out that Good King Wenceslas, save for a couple of batleth fights and some ritual mating, essentially resembles the Klingon folk story of the ninth Emperor’s attempt to find a good bottle of bloodwine at three a.m. on a government holiday weekend.

Y’all have a good whatever you have or don’t have or have already had in this pre-utopian, pre-post-scarcity chunk of the human timeline. See you in a couple days.

#19 – Miles and Keiko IN: A Double Date with Destiny!

24 Comments on #19 – Miles and Keiko IN: A Double Date with Destiny!

I’ve been dancing around this, but let’s discuss timelines. NO DON’T GO I’LL BE GENTLE JUST–

This strip, to the extent that one can or should take this idea seriously (one probably shouldn’t!), takes place during the series run of The Next Generation. Not after the last episode, not in some amorphous before-during-and-after miasma where all times are one: it takes place sometime in late season 3 of the show.

I want you to be calm if you are now flinching and being like “man, I didn’t sign up for this nerdlinger continuity crap, I’ve only seen three episodes of Star Trek, I’m just here for the double entendres and I sort of think Picard’s sexy, what the hell is all this now”, because this is not information that you need to care about. You are fine.

This is information I’m making explicit specifically for my fellow nerdlingers, the folks who are asking stuff like “but if Miles and Keiko do have a baby named Molly, did Keiko change her mind?” or e.g. “but how can Bev invent the Trill in strip #12 when she has met a Trill and fallen in love with the Trill and then the Trill was in Riker and she loved Riker but then the Trill was in some other lady and she couldn’t get over her heteronormativity and seal the deal the third time”?

The answer to all those questions is, hey, it’s still somewhere mid-late in season three. And that’s where it’s going to be indefinitely, because they’ve got a lot of downtime on the Enterprise and we’re seeing maybe two minutes of conversation at time here. So, Miles and Keiko aren’t married yet. Bev never met the Trill-who-didn’t-even-resemble-the-Trills-on-Deep-Space-Nine-anyway. Riker’s got a beard now. Wes is an acting ensign. Picard’s never been Borgified. None of the stuff that hasn’t happened yet has happened. Maybe none of that ever will.

IT’S A SCHISM, BABY. Embrace it. Love it. Leverage that information in combination with your knowledge of ST canon to ferret out subtle additional humorjokes. Or totally ignore it, because I can’t promise I won’t at some point if it makes a better joke or I just forget.

But so yes, I feel like while most of the crew are going to be terrible at this game, Miles & Keiko will mostly just be sort of terrible for the game. We’ll see what happens.

Flattered AND insulted! Flatsulted.

16 Comments on Flattered AND insulted! Flatsulted.

Just turned this up on the web while skulking around a bit, and it’s just the weirdest goddam thing: someone apparently liked Larp Trek #1 enough to want to share it on the internet, but not enough to do so without taking an image editor to it to geeeeeently nudge it a little bit closer to perfection. Observe!

#1 Bizarro fan edit found in the wild

So: they changed the punchline (using the wrong font), very slightly nudged the alignment of the panels, and rather poorly cropped the bounding whitespace. But they left the attribution in the title panel; whether out of a sense of obligation or just as an oversight I will likely never know. I can’t even find where this was originally posted; the guy who shared it on G+ a few weeks ago doesn’t remember where he found it.

Here’s the original strip, for comparison. Again, it’s all about that last panel.

I am super curious about the mindset that leads to this. I rewrite other people’s punchlines now and then, I’m sure everybody who likes comedy in an active crafty sort of way does, but I can’t think of a time that I actually sat down and booted up an editor and rewrote one. Probably a mystery for the ages, but wow, so odd.

I’m going to assume it was an enthusiastic 12-year-old with MS Paint, thinking “yeah, it’s a good comic, but it needs more cusses”.

#18 – My girlfriend lives in the Canada sector…

25 Comments on #18 – My girlfriend lives in the Canada sector…

So here’s a thing: when I sat down to try and refresh my memory of the backstory of Miles and Keiko’s relationship, I figured I’d need to check out two or three episodes of Next Generation prior to their wedding in the middle of season four (in Data’s Day).

There aren’t any. I’d gotten so used to the O’Briens as fixtures on Deep Space Nine that I’d sort of internalized their presence on the Enterprise in TNG and assumed that there were just a lot of little Keiko tidbits I’d forgotten about. Like, hey, they were on the Enterprise together, she was in a bunch of episodes, some of that had to be courtship stuff, right?

But, no! We only meet Keiko Ishikawa on the day she gets married. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but man that’s sort of weird to think about in retrospect. Her defining character introduction to the Star Trek viewership is as “that lady who got all hysterical and threatened to call off her wedding”.

When did Miles and Keiko meet? Who knows! How long have they known each other? Beats me! The one bit of canonical backstory I could find was a reference in Data’s Day to the idea that Data is the person who introduced the two of them, though how and when and where and why is left totally unclear.

There may be further hints in later episodes of TNG and DS9, though if so even the folks who collectively maintain the encyclopedia specifically dedicated to Star Trek TV trivia didn’t bother to mention it. And I have already spent more time trying to research the issue than I have any number of actual historical events, so I’m not going to try any harder at this point.

Aside from being sort of weird and disappointing in retrospect, though, this is also super duper convenient for me, because it means I’m beholden to just about nothin’ in writing any Keiko-and-Miles stuff at the point in Star Trek: The Next Generation history where this is all happening. So thanks, TV writers! Your abrupt mid-series introduction of a secondary character for a secondary character has paid off.

More about Miles and Keiko on Friday. Because there’s always more to say about Miles and Keiko.

#17 – Big Book of Idioms + Thesaurus = Data joke generator

17 Comments on #17 – Big Book of Idioms + Thesaurus = Data joke generator

Data’s an impossible character who really only works in the sort of blindly optimistic and hand-wavey universe of Star Trek. I mean impossible in the sense that he just doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny because the needs of television writing and plotting won’t allow it. Which, to be fair, is true of just about everything in storytelling and in particular episodic, on-going TV shows, because the practical requirements of status quo force everybody’s hands in all kinds of ways. What makes the most exciting or interesting or challenging or shocking story in the short term doesn’t line up well with what makes for a sane production process over the long haul.

But Data shines a light on that more directly than most characters in Next Generation because he’s such a pure concept. Riker may be characterized by his ambition, his sense of adventure, and (though not to the degenerate degree I’ve been giggling my way through in this strip so far) his sensual/sexual drive, but there’s a whole lot of wiggle room even in those major character notes because he is after all a human being and full of complicated and contradictory urges. We can always plausibly discover secret feelings, held below the surface until a Very Special Episode. People have hidden depths.

But Data is by design not that sort of being; his robotic mind, his analytical nature, his explicit disconnect from and curiosity about the human condition (if curiosity is not too charged and subjective a description for whatever Data’s questing process is) is what defines him as a character, as a being alone in the universe. Not getting the humanity thing is his whole deal. His struggle to emulate basic emotions, to deconstruct and embrace even the superficial trappings of empathy, is what Data’s all about. If he has hidden depths, they’re as hidden from him as they are from everyone else, and he’ll tell you about the process of searching for those depths at the drop of a hat. No secret motivations, no undercurrent of selfish contradiction or fear or broken-heartedness: Data is deeply aware of the steady emotional wasteland that is his subjective experience of the world compared to organic humanoids, and is completely honest about it.

But he’s played by a human, and written by humans, and played against human(oid) characters, and ultimately he just doesn’t work in a Roddenberrian context if he’s not a more familiar reflection of humanity than his character sketch might suggest. The possibilities for the actual cold alien terror that is a fundamentally inhuman being in human form is fodder for lots of fantastic science fiction and horror storytelling, but it’s not really Star Trek then; certainly not a Star Trek protagonist. A truly dead-eyed, unfeeling ubermensch golem on the Enterprise? Not likely. (Consider for that matter that every close-up Star Trek examination of the Vulcans’ famously walled-off emotions is at least in part, and usually fairly centrally, an examination of the cracks in that wall and the turmoil lurking inside.)

And so we get to see Data not constantly, deeply unsettling everyone he meets but rather getting along with folks in a very successful way and only occasionally fumbling for acts I and II of a given episode; we see him struggling with language idioms in a way that makes for funny moments but doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense coming from a walking Wikipedia with an otherwise tremendously powerful language engine (while of course casually sticking the landing on other idioms so entrenched in contemporary English usage that the writers didn’t think to make them seem odd in the 24th century). Data should probably be correcting everyone else’s language usage, if anything; a robo-pedant, the guy who learned your language more recently than you did but is better at it.

And we see him being affectless except for when (a) a scene is about him trying to explicitly model human affect and emotion as an experiment or (b) a scene where something just slips a little and we see Brent-Spiner-the-human-actor a little bit even though there’s not anything story-centric going on there with Data’s emotional state. And the latter thing is totally fine if subtle background character development is a part of your storytelling technique, but that’s not really the mode Next Generation operated in so it’s hard to read it that way.

But yes, so, Data is Data and not The Terminator. And he’s awesome and I love him even if Spiner gets caught in the occasional frame looking a little too much like he’s got, you know, feelings and stuff. But it’s a reminder that Star Trek is more morality play than character study most of the time, and comprises a delicate balancing act in audience suspension of disbelief if the viewer isn’t going to go a liiiiittle bit crazy about it all.

And it makes for a lot of easy subversions of that balance.

Anyway, Data as Odo felt more like it was a little funny being stretched to an on-the-nose comparison as a one-off joke than like it’d be particularly funny to play out in the strip long-term, so, hmm! Back to the visual representation oral vacuum it is.