Tag Archives: Dune

Star Trek vs. Star Wars – Throwback Thursday

After defining Science Fiction and the then Fantasy, it seemed appropriate to do something with those definitions. So why not dive into one of the biggest fights in all of fandom: Star Trek vs. Star Wars? They’re both billed as Science Fiction, but do they hold up as such when you’re working with these definitions? Let me know what you think!


This is an age-old geeky/nerdy question, as to which is better, or which is what, and I think now I am at a place where I can weigh in. Because both have a huge fandom around them, both have TV shows and movies and different eras and books and video games and… on what grounds do you compare these two worlds?

I have at least one way I would like to compare them. I recently did a post on the definition of Science Fiction – and one on the definition of Fantasy. I am going to be relying heavily on these definitions, as I think that weighing these will show a difference you can discuss between these two series.

Read up on the definitions if you haven’t already, and then let’s compare Star Trek and Star Wars!

STAR TREK – SCIENCE FICTION OR FANTASY?

Star Trek at its base is a story of exploration. This may be the very basis of science, as well, if we break it down, so in that way calling it Science Fiction makes sense. It also includes the hallmarks of science fiction stories, especially the large, space opera kinds: space travel, aliens. But does that all make it science fiction?

Looking at Frank Herbert’s definition of Science Fiction, Star Trek uses the aliens and situations to put the humans (and the rest of the crew of the Enterprise) to the test. There are varieties even within the alien races, with great examples being Spock and Worf. They stand out from the rest of their races, and we learn something through this interaction and comparison.

As Star Trek is an exploration story, it is not really a specific journey – even things like the five-year mission, or Voyager returning home, has strong episodic tendencies. This lends itself towards many problems, handled in a wide variety of ways. But the crew must always use their wits and technologies to handle these problems. Even if some of these technologies – like replicators and warp drives – are little more than wishful thinking.

Because of this episodic nature, Star Trek is not quite as escapist as it could be. It is still an escape – Tolkien may very well have liked it – but not so much so that it seems like a fantasy. The world is not so different from ours – it is, after all, our future – and is really more of a scientific utopian dream. It makes us think, and wonder, but maybe not escape from our world completely.

Star Trek is solidly Science Fiction.

STAR WARS – SCIENCE FICTION OR FANTASY?

Alright, you say, so far, nothing particularly surprising. Star Trek, a Science Fiction show, is Science Fiction. To which I say, let’s do that again, and see if the results are the same – with Star Wars.

Star Wars, at its base, is the hero’s journey of first Luke Skywalker, and then Anakin Skywalker (or really of Obi Wan Kenobi) before him. Even a story like Knights of the Old Republic, which I am playing right now, focuses on the journey, and rise to power with the Force, of your main character.

And here, then is the crux of the story: The Force. A mystical force of the universe which helps solve the characters’ problems. The good and evil of it are the basis of the conflicts in the story. It guides them, solves their problems, gives them powers to fight, to persuade… it is the mystical basis of what is done in the stories.

Following Frank Herbert’s definition of Science Fiction, characters in Science Fiction use their own wits and technology to solve their problems. But in Star Wars, there are pivotal moments where technology is turned away in place of the Force – like, say, in destroying the Death Star.

We also use aliens to tell us about our own humanity in Science Fiction – but in Star Wars, the aliens are far more part of the environment. They also, by race, tend to be similar to one another – a common trait in Fantasy, not necessarily Science Fiction. So are the Wookies, Hutts, and other aliens of Star Wars just the Dwarves and Elves of Star Wars?

I would say yes. Star Wars is escapist fun – if only there were the Force, we too could fight with swords and beat people with laser pistols (moving faster than light? Only possible if you can be in the right place before they fire, right?), move objects with your will, persuade others to your way of thinking… Yep, it all sounds really cool, and may be why Star Wars video games tend to be really excellent, and why Lucas Arts going away is such a devastating blow to the video game community.

Star Wars is a Fantasy story, where aliens and space are the fantastical landscape, where our heroes battle evil and go on personal journeys to become the saviors of the day.

STAR TREK VERSUS STAR WARS

So, if Star Trek is a Science Fiction world and series, and Star Wars is a Fantasy world and series, how do we compare them? Well, let’s think about a different comparison.

How about in books – can we compare Dune and Lord of the Rings? Sure, in terms of their roles as founding stories in their genres. One is a group, battling for good versus evil; another is a person fighting the various challenges of his day on his own (kind of continually true throughout the series). Comparing these to Star Trek and Star Wars, we switch which is a group and which individual, but these are not the fundamental differences between Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Dune and Lord of the Rings are both books – unlike the media differences between Star Wars with its base in movies, and Star Trek with its base in TV. So they’re more similar in this way. But in terms of what is and what happens in the stories, they are very solidly different. And I don’t feel like I have to say which I like better – they are different enough that I don’t have to choose, because I can’t compare them to each other well enough to say.

In the same way, how do we compare Star Trek and Star Wars? They’ve spawned worlds as large as each other, perhaps, so calling them two of the biggest fandoms and comparing them that way works. But in terms of the content? In terms of their stories? One is Science Fiction, and one is Fantasy.

So you can ask a different question, like, do you prefer Science Fiction or Fantasy? You can ask medium questions, like do you prefer movies or TV shows – Video Games or Books? But just asking the question, do you like Star Trek or Star Wars, is asking someone to compare apples and oranges.

And I’ve played enough Apples to Apples to know – it’s much more fun to compare apples to apples.

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How Are They Going to Pull Off… A Matrix Reboot

The news has been circulating lately, and I’ve been mulling over it. A Matrix reboot or remake. Huh.

It seems definitely like – while remake might be what we would expect with everything Hollywood has been doing these days – reboot is the more likely route they will go. So not restarting the franchise, but simply dipping back into it. Here’s several articles on the news:

I am unapologetic in the fact that I really like the Matrix trilogy. I think in part I felt a strong connection between the films and the Dune book series, and it felt like the Wachowskis trying to work their way through the themes of the books – much like I was doing myself at the time. I think it was with these films that I coined my often-used phrase, “Just Like Dune.”

But that means the films felt like, for lack of a better term, fandom to me. Fellow travelers in a Dune fandom. But somewhere along the line, I also picked up some Matrix aesthetic (I still love my long black coat), and in writing this post I now have “Mona Lisa Overdrive” stuck in my head – I absolutely loved the music.

The Matrix Reloaded is still one of my go-to pop-in-and-watch movies, though I typically start it roughly when they head back into the Matrix to find the Oracle, and often stop it before reaching the Architect. This skips some of the stronger like-Dune aspects but is just action and effects fun.

All of which is to say… returning to this world? Possibly without the Wachowskis? Disconnected from the plot and characters we know? How do you build a new movie in the Matrix universe? There are only a couple of really big reveals, and it seems like those are already covered. So let’s consider a few things.

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Book Review – Ringworld by Larry Niven

I recently listened to Ringworld by Larry Niven on audiobook, because that’s how I get any reading done these days… I have been trying to read some of the classic science fiction authors and works, a long term project in part because without it I would probably just re-read my favorites instead. I had read some Niven before (Lucifer’s Hammer), but Ringworld seemed like a good one to read and a pivotal sort of piece for some science fiction stories I have enjoyed.

To that last point, I feel like I was not wrong. I tweeted this early on in the book…

And from there, I was taking notes on how I saw some similarities to those two properties. I expected the Halo connection, obviously, because ringworld. I was surprised by how much of a Mass Effect vibe I got. There was also some Foundation which I’ll touch on briefly, but that came first so it’s more that Foundation influenced Ringworld which in turn influenced these later video games…

Other than these connections, the main thing I want to talk about is gender relations in the book. It feels easy to write it off as a product of its times, but there are some elements that go beyond embedded stereotypes – elements that are either lazy storytelling or else just not good. These moments made me cringe while I was otherwise going through like, “gee, that’s cool.”

I started writing this and I think its a lot for one review. So this will be a review of the book in general, and some of its place in terms of science fiction history. Then tomorrow there’ll be a review that’ll compare the book to Mass Effect, Halo, and talk about the book and gender. Fewer spoilers today, and more tomorrow!

Quick Breakdown on Ringworld

I suppose I should talk briefly about the book first! I’ll try to stay high level and avoid non-obvious spoilers. It’s centuries in the future, humanity is part of a larger galactic civilization with trade and aliens living on Earth and humans having been genetically engineered/scienced to such a point that there’s nothing like current race relations (awkward in describing it, but this particularly feels like a product of its time), and people live a really long time. Our main character is having his 200th birthday, and he’s a fairly Competent Man (though not good at everything – when he’s not good at something a big point is made of it), and getting a little bored. Both things make some sense at 200.

He’s especially a good explorer, so he’s tapped to do some exploring. Along with a member of two other alien races, they are looking for one more member… The alien race putting on the expedition (no answers yet on where they’re going, though the astute reader is probably thinking “ringworld”), the Puppeteers (certainly not foreshadowing…), wanted someone born through generations of the Earth’s genetic lottery. Basically, there was a limit on number of children one could have but also a lottery to have a certain amount more, and it had been going on long enough for there to be about 5 generations of this. The theory was that this was selectively breeding for “luck.” Thus they find a girl who actually happened to be found by our main character, and they all head off on their mission.

They get to know each other, meet up with the Puppeteers, finally find out they’re going to ringworld, go there, crash land, and explore looking for a way off. There’s revelations that the Puppeteers have been mucking with the other races, like you might expect. There’s a bunch of exploration of the whole luck idea, which while mildly interesting, isn’t what I want to talk about. Eventually, they make their way off. As I understand it, there’s a whole Ringworld series, so them making it off and letting people know what’s up on this ringworld doesn’t seem like a spoiler…

Compared to Some Other Science

Unlike science fiction that came before (Ringworld was published in 1970), we focus on one protagonist, and a normal progression of time and a fairly small timeframe. While this seems normal by today’s standards (indeed, a lot of current stuff can end up reading like a movie), my guess is that books like Dune (1965) really started to drive science fiction in terms of the importance of plot and characters, beyond just the ideas of world building and ideas. Not just science but also fiction. So while I saw connections to Foundation (early 1950s), the structure of the book is certainly not the connection! More on Foundation below…

Ringworld was still an early enough book that there were some fascinating passages… One that especially stuck with me was a scene as they were approaching to dock, and working on matching exact velocity so that they don’t crash into the thing and destroy it. It goes into great detail about this, about the problems of docking, about how the creators couldn’t afford for anything to hit the ringworld… Anyway, my point is that in modern science fiction, the ship just docks with the spinning space station. Maybe a moment of hesitation. One of the most recent examples I can think of is Star Trek Beyond, as they pulled the whole Enterprise into the space station.

There were other things like this, science and ideas and talking them through. The book does far more of telling than showing – something will happen, I felt like I missed something, I would go back and listen, figure out that I hadn’t missed something, and listening further I would find out that the explanation came in dialog sometime after. The characters were on an expedition, and scientifically minded, so they are analyzing everything. It kind of worked, but it was definitely noticeable!

Alright, so let’s get more specifically into Ringworld and Foundation. From here, spoilers on more of the details of the book!

Ringworld and Foundation and Civilization Collapse, Oh My!

I love Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, and it seems like the core foundation (ba-dum-pish!) in science fiction for how we think about civilization in the long term and what that would look like as it collapsed. Surely he based a lot of it on history (the collapse of the Roman Empire, for instance), but some of it is speculation and logic as well.

It’s basically the thought that civilization will get large, that you’ll have planets feeding the needs of the civilization core, that you get lots of specialization. Somewhere in there, people lose track of the how for the advanced technology that makes it all work work, and eventually things start to break down. When you view the technologies in your life as basically magic… and everyone else does as well… you better hope it doesn’t break! And eventually, as things break down, civilization collapses.

So to Ringworld… The ringworld itself was constructed, by an Ancient Alien Race. The science talk around it is it must have been a race with no faster-than-light travel, so instead of long-range colonization, the solution is to harvest everything locally – the whole of the planets and asteroids and all from the system. All of it went into building the ringworld – which as they point out has just an immense useable space, but they also estimate that there must have been a massive population that they needed to house.

As they explore the ringworld, though, they don’t find people that know anything about it’s construction. People don’t know how any of the technology works. It’s gone through a complete Foundation-style collapse. They had had floating castle technology, as well, which fell from the sky eventually and crushed the cities below. So really literal collapse.

Anyway, the exploration of the Ancient Alien Race, and the technology and the lack of people understanding it anymore, felt very Foundation to me.

Check Back Tomorrow!

Thanks for reading, and let me know what you thought of Ringworld if you read it! I’m curious about the sequels as well, especially since looking them up they were written over the course of decades. Tomorrow I’ll talk about some of those more modern connections and observations on the book, so I hope you’ll check that out as well. And if you’re reading this in the future, future me should have added a link!

My Favorite Fictional Presidents / Leaders

With the just generally depressing outlook that seems to be coming out of this election I thought I would take a small break and take a look at some of the fictional Presidents / Leaders that we have seen over the years. In particular I want to look at some of my favorite fictional leaders, most of which I have seen on the small and big screen. Now this list does not necessarily have to do with policy, but is more about how confident they made me feel that they were a successful President. This also is not exclusive to the United States, but includes anyone who is the Leader of a large diverse nation, state, or group that is on scale with the president.

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Throwback Thursday – The Science Fiction Film Trifecta (2014)

This week on Comparative Opinions we’ll be talking about “Hollywood Fatigue”… more on that on the podcast! But thinking through movies, and Hollywood, and originality, I was reminded of this post I ran on my now mostly defunct personal blog. And about how there were some great movies I was incredibly excited about and excited by just a couple of years ago, and that’s without including several other excellent movies that year! I still think 2014 was a remarkable year for movies, and it wasn’t that long ago so things aren’t long gone from that. But without further ado, my contenders for the Science Fiction Film Trifecta of 2014.

Noah PosterI have been putting thought into doing more in terms of Science Fiction lately. More than anything, I’ve been thinking about doing more with my idea of Science Fiction Today. The idea being, take today’s problems, consider them in a Science Fiction setting, and consider whether we can be working on a solution to a problem in that way. I explained it all in more detail on Comparative Geeks.

This whole line of thought is where I started blogging from. My initial question on my Tumblr was, what would it be like for our presidential candidates (and other politicians) to present their beliefs in a Science Fictional sort of way – to say what they think the future would really look like if we followed their beliefs and plans into the future. I was contemplating writing it myself, but everything I thought of seemed like a Dystopia…

So this brings me around to the title. And some of my thinking is, maybe Science Fiction is doing alright on its own. Maybe it doesn’t need me championing the way it considers and explains the world. Maybe the big ideas I think are important are being shared with the public on a broader scale. My thoughts for this are based on three movies this year, each very different from each other, and all from big-name directors presenting big ideas. So read on for some of my thoughts on NoahLucy, and Interstellar!

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