Tag Archives: Frank Herbert

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.

The Definition of Science Fiction – Throwback Thursday

Over the course of Comparative Geeks, I crafted a series exploring this question of the definition of science fiction, by comparing it to fantasy, and by exploring the question from other angles. Each post was originally separated by months, so I’m going to pull it all back together and run it as a weekly Throwback Thursday for the next few weeks! 

I hope you enjoy, and the conversation is certainly not closed on these – tell me what you think!


If it wasn’t obvious so far, one of my favorite things is Science Fiction. The worlds we create, that become science fiction, are often so much fun. They are excellent ways to explore the world that we know and live in, as well as to extrapolate the future or what we might do in a wholly new situation.

For instance, here on Comparative Geeks, we look at how science fiction can inform our current world and our near future, how it can make us look differently at current issues or political situations. You can see our posts like this under the heading Science Fiction Today: https://comparativegeeks.wordpress.com/category/science-fiction/science-fiction-today/

I have also started looking at how science fiction and religion interact. Often, religion is strangely absent from science fiction – or is looked at as the mythology of the past. In particular, I have been working from a perspective in a particular science fiction novel, A Case of Conscience by James Blish. His thought was that the existence of aliens would be particularly troublesome to meld with faith. See my posts on this and others like it in Science Fiction and Religion: https://comparativegeeks.wordpress.com/category/science-fiction/science-fiction-and-religion/

However, underlying all of this is a singular question: What is science fiction? What does it mean, and what are we doing when we produce it, or enjoy it? I have a favorite definition, so let’s look at that, and at a few examples.

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Counterpoint: What About Dune?

So in yesterday’s post I talk a lot about the inevitability of technology in the near future… say in the Geek Baby’s lifetime. Indeed, we seem to be getting closer and closer to that point of Singularity… and the potential for a Terminator or I, Robot sort of future. I’ve written a bit about this in terms of how it always seems to be an accident when this happens in fiction…

And really, we’ve talked a lot about the dystopian possibilities of the future, in our Science Fiction Today posts. Doom and gloom honestly seem very likely. Should we plan for the future – raise the Geek Baby – with that in mind?

All The Dune!And it all comes back to Dune. Rather than writing the story about the war with the machines, Frank Herbert wrote the story of the future long after that time. When humanity has learned to do without nearly so much technology – and have done so by enhancing humanity, through rigorous training, enhanced drugs, whatever means – just to not use computers and machines instead.

If we were to raise the Geek Baby without reliance on technology, this seems like the reason and the way to do so. Raise her as a mentat almost, a human computer. All full of logic and deduction and data. Maybe start with SherlockBattlestar Galactica and the fear of networked computers?

We most likely won’t, but it does beg the question… should we?…

The Greatest Movie Never Made – Jodorowsky’s Dune

When Holly and I were in Seattle, we got the chance to go see the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune. I didn’t know much about it, but it was about Dune, so I was there. I knew it was about an earlier attempt to make a Dune film, before the David Lynch version in the 80s. That was more than enough to go on.

So I did not know the director Jodorowsky, but he is an interesting dude. Not actually easy to describe. The movie describes him as, for instance, the man who created the midnight showing of the cult classic. And they go on to attribute a whole lot more to him, and to the film he tried to make in the early 1970s. Frank Herbert’s Dune.

The way I think it makes sense for me to move through this is to talk about Jodorowsky and the team he pulled together, about his Dune and the impact that it had on moviemaking, and then talk about the source material – Dune – of which I am such a fan. I suppose there will be spoilers for the documentary, but not many more than the trailer. I really recommend this documentary and if you get a chance to see it – and you love Dune and/or science fiction, do yourself a favor and check it out!

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The Music of Life

I have written a whole series of posts on the Definition of Science Fiction, as quoted from Frank Herbert. However, in doing so, I have skipped the opening clause, but not intentionally. Let’s talk about that now.

Frank Herbert's Definition of Science Fiction

 

Poetry as the apex of human language. I’ve read some of Herbert’s poetry; and there’s of course some scattered throughout the Dune novels. However, how prevalent is poetry today? Do we have our cleverest folks penning the apex of human language?

I would argue that, while there is of course still poetry being written today, the main poetry of today is in song lyrics. That’s where our poets are going to work; it’s where they can make money and a living. So today I wanted to share thoughts on a few of my favorite concept albums, where the whole album is trying to tell a story – yet this still happens abstractly, poetically, and leaves me still often wondering what is going on, unpacking and learning more every time I listen.

 

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