Teching the Tech

Charlie Stross does a little venting over a comment of former Star Trek: The Next Generation writer (and later Battlestar Galactica producer) Ron Moore, in which Moore reveals that the writers on ST:TNG didn’t bother to actually insert any science into their fiction:

He described how the writers would just insert “tech” into the scripts whenever they needed to resolve a story or plot line, then they’d have consultants fill in the appropriate words (aka technobabble) later.

“It became the solution to so many plot lines and so many stories,” Moore said. “It was so mechanical that we had science consultants who would just come up with the words for us and we’d just write ‘tech’ in the script. You know, Picard would say ‘Commander La Forge, tech the tech to the warp drive.’ I’m serious. If you look at those scripts, you’ll see that…

“It’s a rhythm and it’s a structure, and the words are meaningless. It’s not about anything except just sort of going through this dance of how they tech their way out of it.”

Charlie’s vent is worth the price of admission, so I won’t summarize it here and will instead encourage you to click through and read it on your own. My own thoughts on this are:

1. I think it was already pretty obvious that ST:TNG was “teching the tech” quite a bit, since the solution to almost any major problem was to discover a new type of particle that, if it were reversed through the deflector, just might get the Enterprise out of that time loop/gravitational funnel/the event horizon of the writer’s lack of technical imagination. In other words, it was clear the science was pretty inorganic relative to the rest of what went on in the show.

2. At this point in my life (and, really, for the last quarter century at least), I simply make the assumption that film and television science fiction is going to hump the bunk on the “plausible extrapolation” aspect of their science, and factor that in before I start watching. This allows me to both not want to murder the writers when the bad science shows up, and to be pleasantly surprised when it’s not bad. But, yes, when you admit that Star Trek has as much to do with plausibly extrapolated science as The A-Team has to do with a realistic look at the lives of military veterans, life gets easier. This is particularly the case with the new Star Trek film, which is a “teching the tech” exercise if there ever was one.

Meta to this is the discussion of why we have to accept that film/tv SF is riding the shortbus — there’s no actual reason it has to be that way — but let’s not get into that right at the moment.

3. All of that said, and to move into my own personal experience in televised science fiction, one of the things I can say about Stargate: Universe is that its writers aren’t “teching the tech” — when the scripts get to me as the consultant, the parts with the science are already written in and part of the plot. I tweak those parts to make them more plausible when necessary; what I don’t do is just spew some jargon into the script because the writer couldn’t be arsed to do it him or herself.

I’m not going to say every bit of science or tech in SG:U is brilliant I’ve mentioned before that the goal is to get the audience through the episode, not to rigorously test scientific hypotheses — or that we’re going to get it right in every case. What I am going to say is that when we do get it wrong, we fail honestly, and not because we just teched the tech. It’s not that difficult to make an effort in that direction.

86 thoughts on “Teching the Tech

  1. It’s a shame that ST:TNG caused that Charlie guy to paint all Sci-fi TV with the same broad brush. Straczynsky’s Babylon 5 went to some pains to make the tech as accurate and plausible as possible. He probably would have liked it.

  2. I’m not a science person AT ALL. I thought THAT was why I didn’t like and rarely watched ST:TNG, since the technobabble on that (as well as on the only episode of Deep Space Nine that I ever attempted to watch) made me feel I’d been tasered in the head.

    After reading this… I begin to suspect that my ignorance of science was camouflaging a fact that my well-developed sense of story-logic was instinctively grasping… which was that the scripts didn’t actually MAKE SENSE.

    LauraR

  3. I read Charlie’s post earlier, and while I agree with the take on Trek, he really is painting with too broad a brush, as one of the comments over there pointed out. Bablylon Five had no technobabble over its five year run, really did examine the human (and alien) condition under extreme circumstances, never pressed the magic reset button (and created a few episodes that were jaw-dropping as a result). Did it’s lack of budget show in the production design? Sure. But I’ll also give them props for having spaceships that moved like actual ships in a vacuum and not planes flying in an atmosphere.

    Sorry, felt the need to defend what is probably still the best SF show ever put on television.

    Dave

  4. You know, I suspected this about TNG all this time but it’s truly sad to read they didn’t really even try.

  5. This explains the old joke in my family about how you can accomplish anything by reconfiguring the sensor arrays.

    That said, I didn’t notice much of this stuff on Deep Space Nine, at least not in the later seasons. Am I wrong on that?

  6. Granted that the science and tech in ST:TNG is pretty sad, but you can still walk into any room crowded with geeks, shout “There are four lights!” and get a reaction. That’s got to be worth something.

  7. hmmm. well, i’ll be honest and say that i didn’t even really notice. even if they had tried to be as technically accurate as possible… when i watch a sci-fi film, i walk in assuming that there’s going to be techno-babble, and that i won’t understand any of it. the intracacies of accurate “science” in science fiction are completely lost on me… ST-TNG was one of my favorite shows.

  8. Sorry for the ignorance, but could someone translate the phrase “hump the bunk?” I haven’t seen that phrase before.

  9. I’m more disappointed in Star Trek’s failure to be interesting these many years than the plausibility of it’s science. To date, the franchise has produced only ONE movie that’s actually exciting.

  10. I thought this was common knowledge.

    Yet it’s not the technobabble that has rendered approximately 90% of TNG utterly unwatchable… it’s some other form of babble that makes me long to see Beverly Crusher beamed into a bulkhead.

  11. It’s not reasonable to expect science fiction writers to make truly plausible new science in their works. The best we can hope for is that it’s approached consistently and non-arbitrarily.

    There are bits in Mr. Scalzi’s work where alien technology is used as a limited deus ex, solving a problem that couldn’t be solved in any other way. But the solution is limited, the capabilities of the technology are clearly established, and it doesn’t solve everything.

    Hell, FTL travel is used this way in almost all SF. Even STL travel is usually handwaved – we have no idea how to build a working generation ship that can survive an interstellar voyage, how to make an artificial ecosystem that’s stable, or how store and revive people with cryonics. Generally, as long as the techy tech is set up as part of the setting and has known limits, it’s acceptable.

    ‘Dilithium crystals’ are fine, ‘red matter’ isn’t. (Oh god, red matter… why didn’t they just call it protomatter and have done with it? Shout-outs to ‘Alias’ are NOT acceptable.)

  12. I always liked it when they teched the tech through Geordie’s visor. We’ve been stranded on a planet with no tools of any kind, nothing but rocks and sticks — but if we tech the tech through Geordie’s visor, we can signal the ship!

    As far as I can recall, Geordie’s visor was never used for violent purposes.

  13. You know, I don’t watch flying around on wires kung-fu movies for plausible fighting technique, and I don’t watch Star Trek for consistent plausible tech. I really don’t care about those things when I’m watching those shows because I have no expectation that it’ll be there.

    As for the Abram’s Star Trek movie, it grossed over $250 Million in the US alone. Nemesis, on contrast, grossed $43 million. Guess which one do I hear more fanboy whining about? The Abrams one.

    My conclusion? No one with sense will make movies for fanboys. Making ones that piss you off is more profitable

  14. John, In the spirit of keeping the Star Trek geek stereotype alive, you should have a thread at some point to allow us nerds to ask you irritating questions about science and such in Star Gate.

  15. I always figured “space-time anomalies” were misnamed in the Trek universe. If you bump into the damn things every month or so, they’re not anomalous. Call them space-time conformities or something.

  16. One of the neat things about the first episode of SGU was that the solution was to travel to a planet to obtain calcium carbonate. An entirely reasonable and factual sort of solution which still managed to have SF drama.

  17. Hey John,

    Weird. I posted the same comment on ST:TNG (http://blogs.amctv.com/scifi-scanner/2009/08/bad-designs-in-star-trek.php), except I got it in 1991, from reading a summary of a session for wannabe writers for ST:TNG, back when they were actually taking scripts from newbies. Good to know that I should cite Ron Moore as the source for that.

    That was at a time when a bunch of us recent graduates with science degrees were office temps (it was a recession, and that was all that was available), and we would have all gladly taken $10/hour to be technical consultants to fill in those ‘tech” phrases so that the characters wouldn’t make us wince when they said something embarrassingly improbable. Not that they wanted to hire us.

    I happen to agree with Charlie’s sentiment. The contempt that Star Trek writers showed for their own universe really was annoying. It’s not necessarily about following all the rules of this universe, it was about using the limitations of the universe they were working in to force themselves to be more creative. Instead, they took the “techity tech” lazy way out, and focused on the interpersonal drama.

    Yes, the Star Trek series did (and does) have some redeeming values, and yes, it is entertainment. But it could have been better with very little effort, and for that I fault them.

    Anyone want more red matter?

  18. The second paragraph (of point #2) is so on point to any future mass media science fiction productions. However, for Stross, his need in a way to provide an antidote to bad sci-fi has distilled into some great writing, and fun for us all. It is the teamwork and the loyalty, and the relationships that kept my friends and I coming back to ST:TNG, back in the day. In other words it was a soap opera for men, and that is what makes it broadcast worthy.

  19. ST:TNG is now ‘old school,’ anyway – that’s not how the kids do it anymore. It’s all, like, ‘tech to the tech, yo’ and ‘keepin the tech reals’ and ‘that’s how the tech rolls, baybeee’.

  20. First, statement of bias; I’m a writer who has written some Star Trek.
    As much as I respect Charlie and his work, I’m a little disappointed to see he’s unable to find a moving target for his venting.
    Raging at Trek because its filled with rubber science is a straw man argument. When has any Star Trek show ever pretended to be scientifically accurate? Every Trek show has always been, at the core, an action-adventure drama about contemporary issues refelected off the funhouse mirror of an SF setting. It’s allegory, not extrapolation.
    Would I like to see a show that did embrace the wholeness of an SF ideal in the way Charlie suggests? Absolutely. But I don’t see how accusing Star Trek of failing to do something it never set out to do would help with that.

  21. As for the Abram’s Star Trek movie, it grossed over $250 Million in the US alone. Nemesis, on contrast, grossed $43 million. Guess which one do I hear more fanboy whining about? The Abrams one.

    Being fair, I know a number of Star Trek fanboys (and fangirls). And the reason they don’t whine about Nemesis is that that would mean acknowledging its existance. Even they would rather not think about Nemesis unless they have to – and do you blame them?

  22. It’s funny that he hasn’t seen the show made by the guy who made the quote that set off the rant. As much one might call the ending cliched (though I don’t think it is as bad as people say) the one thing BSG never did was “tech the tech to the tech”. The show was almost entirely “… an exploration of the human condition under circumstances that we can conceive of existing, but which don’t currently exist…”, just like Charlie is looking for.

  23. As one who has a Physics degree (no make that two Physcis degrees) I can say that while Star Trek Technobabble is anoying it’s at least reasonaby expected, and to be fair, it’s not as much as they are geting the science wrong as much as making the whole bloody thing up.

    It’s when movies get the science so bloody wrong that makes me want to scream and go through the silver screen to find the director and and pound his head in with a copy of the CRC…

    Nemesis does not exist, jut like Highlander II (there should have been only One)

  24. Abrams Trek was fun, but I still walked away from it with big problems. Red Matter? Might as well have been a magic wand perfectly capable of violating any known law of physics…which it was, by the way.

    Charlie Stross does paint all of the TV Sci-Fi with a rather large brush. B5 I still find very good and the tech is at least conceivable.

    However, I’m more disturbed by the number of BSG fans trying to get him to watch, ignoring that he pretty much hits the nail on the head with what his problem with the story arc and the way it ended. While I enjoyed a good number of BSG individual shows and some of the longer arcs, the show ending left a bad taste in my mouth with its heavier reliance on mysticism rather than a more satisfying resolution with the characters taking a larger role in their story.

  25. Now I want to see a gritty remake of the A-team that is a realistic look at the difficulties veterans have reintegrating into society.

  26. Now I want to see a gritty remake of the A-team that is a realistic look at the difficulties veterans have reintegrating into society.

    Ugh, I’ve had enough of gritty remakes. I’m waiting for the eventual backlash and the return to silly fun viewing. Knowing how this goes though, it will probably go too far and make things like Adam West’s Batman look like Othello.

  27. I’m pretty sure this “tech” thing has been public knowledge since this episode of Reading Rainbow from 1988.

    I remember its being presented as a cool feature of the show. “And then the scientists come in!”

  28. I was please to see the writers and producers of SG:U were listening more to their most delightful technical advisor. I wish they hadn’t stopped listening to their military adivsor.

  29. Oh the horror, know more Batman & Robin’s.

    Most science fiction movies cheat. You want to really be entertained go read Harlan Ellison’s rants on bad science. His essay on Outland is classic.

  30. One does not watch “The A-Team” for realistic portrayals of the military or veterans. However, realistic portrayals of the military and veterans can be had, “Jarhead” starring Jake Gyllenhaal being a recent example of a movie that gave a fairly realistic experience of the military.

    I liked the A-Team, but for its comedy and characters, not it’s realism. I liked Jarhead for its realism, and the characters it developed in that realism.

    While I don’t expect all science fiction to be realistic hard science fiction, I do expect them to be well written. Characters who are interesting and make some sort of sense. A plot that emerges out of those characters naturally, rather than forcing characters to do dumb things to make the plot happen. And a world that is believable, or at the very least, unbelieveable, but entertaining.

  31. Just for the record, Star Trek: TNG writers have been talking publically in interviews about using thew word “tech” in the scripts, and using “[tech] the [tech],” and having the blanks filled in later by the science consultant, for over twenty years. This is not news; it’s one of the most famous facts about Star Trek:TNG and post-TNG writing there is. It’s been written about and the subject of jokes and creebs by Trek fans for decades. See any of the Trek Usenet discussions of the early Nineties for tens of thousands of examples.

  32. the writers and producers of SG:U were listening more to their most delightful technical advisor. I wish they hadn’t stopped listening to their military adivsor.

    Military order is a mental construct; the laws of physics actually exist. One can cease functioning and permit a coherent story; the other cannot.

    The whole point of SG:U is that the people they have to work with are NOT part of functioning military order and will behave accordingly. Your complaint would be suitable for SG-1, which was supposed to represent a functional military organization.

  33. Scalzi: “That’s the sort of thinking that got us Batman and Robin.

    It’s also the same thinking that’s brought us Batman: Brave and the Bold.

    Frankly, I’m in pretty significant disagreement with Charlie Stross. I agree Star Trek is full of fake-tech…but it was never presented as Hard-SF…or even weak-tea SF. It was the most literate and psychologically complex SF show of it’s time (compared to contemporaries like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Time Tunnel, Lost in Space and Wild, Wild West, to name a few).

    And painting Babylon 5 with the same brush is patently unfair, given how that show tried relatively hard to get the science right whenever possible and how that show was exactly the kind of examination of human and alien culture that Charlie claims he would like to see. New BSG, for that matter, did a bang-up-job on that score, as well. Clearly, he hates the ending and I agree the writers did some bone-headed moves on the journey…but some of the best TV SF in years was on display there…and getting mainstream recognition for it’s intelligence, not it’s whiz-bang lasers.

    It just comes across as kind of snobbish, I guess. Several of my friends speak well of Charlie as an author and his ideas certainly sound interesting. But taking Star Trek to task over bad science (a show originally pitched as ‘wagon train in space’) seems weak tea, to me. Episodes like ‘Wolf in the Fold’, which was a WWII submarine-hunter drama re-purposed as a Star Trek script, made virtually NO SENSE from an SF stand-point…but the acting and drama was so good that it remains a favorite to this day (and is still considered one Trek’s best).

  34. WizarDru @43 – don’t you mean “Balance of Terror,” not “Wolf in the Fold” (Robert Bloch’s Jack-the-Ripper episode)?

    I don’t mind technobabble in TNG – whereas for me it’s one of the many things that makes Voyager unwatchable. I haven’t bothered to analyze why this is, and don’t expect to; I just like the TNG characters better by at least three orders of magnitude.

  35. @Josh Jasper in response to my comments on the next post . . .

    I think the juice has been squeezed. Enough people have pointed out the “tech” wasn’t the aim in Star Trek and that it’s mistaken to insist that all SF has to be about the tech to labeled “good.”

    Chacun a son gout.

  36. Since you mentioned the science in Stargate: Universe, did one of the characters say that calcium sulfate is 36% calcium carbonate? I’m trying to figure out what that line was supposed to be.

  37. melendwyr:

    It isn’t that I find the military characters (or any of the other characters) implausible. Not at all. Certainly, such losers exist, in and out of the military.

    I do object to them being portrayed in an heroic light, but that, too, is a minor nit.

    Not to mention the implausibility of such a bunch of inexperienced, low skill people on such an important probject, but again, that’s a minor nit.

    My main objection is that, so far, there isn’t a single character on the show that I really care whether they live or die. I’ve never watched Stargate (any flavor) for the insightful science fiction, or the brilliant plots. I watched SG1 and Atlantis for the characters, which were well drawn, admirable, and entertaining.

    So far, the strongest feelings I have about *any* of these characters is the sincere desire to see Sgt. Psychopath shot in the head by his own side.

  38. Wait, you mean a show that was originally pitched as “‘Wagon Train’ to the stars!” is just using the sci-fi aspect as a backdrop? The hell, you say!
    Oh, wait, this is a “Hard Sci-Fi = Good : Soft Sci-Fi = Bad” rant, isn’t it? I don’t get those. What makes Hard Sci-Fi inherently better? Hint: it’s not. It’s a fundamentally different genre. ST wasn’t violating its own rules by resolving its plots with technobabble – its rules clearly allowed that.

  39. Can I just say that we’re all getting off-topic here?

    I mean, clearly, the only thing any sci-fi person should be talking about, regardless of how the conversation thread started out, is how pissed you’ve been for the past 15 years over the continued non-presence of Book 5. One complicated adoption (and a John Cusack movie) warrants a 10-year reprieve, but there comes a time when the line must be drawn – this far, no farther.

    Acceptable tangent: WTF’s John Steakley been up to these past 25 years that’s kept him soo busy he hasn’t gotten around to finishing Armor 2: Electric Boogaloo.

    :-)

  40. Mark @ 30 Having been at the Highlander: The Gathering con in Anaheim at the end of Season 5 of the TV show, I can attest that film and TV series producer Bill Davis, when asked a question about Highlander II said, “Second movie? What second movie? There was no second movie.” So even the people behind the scenes are in agreement on that.

  41. One of the reasons the “modern” Trek scripts had “(tech) the (tech)” grew out of a trust the writers and producers put in people like me and Mike Okuda and eventually Andre Bormanis, beginning in 1987 with the first season of TNG. We understood the science and technology (24th century and otherwise) required for a particular episode. The writers would have a general idea of what they wanted to have happen, they left us to fill in the blanks. They consulted with us over the phone. We helped them work out tech questions. In one particular meeting with the writers and producer Michael Piller, Mike Okuda and I had provided some fairly elaborate answers to some thorny Borg questions, and Piller finally looked at us and said, “Well, you just wrote Acts 3, 4, and 5. Can you do Teaser, 1, and 2 for us?” And that’s how it worked for the fourteen years I was on the episodic stuff. It’s only technoBABBLE if it doesn’t make any sense. We tried our damnedest to have this stuff make sense; what ever doesn’t sound right, probably didn’t come from us. :)

    Rick Sternbach
    Senior Illustrator/Tech Consultant
    Star Trek, 1987-2001

  42. Rick, were you putting your head in your hands and moaning every time they used a “DNA profile” to reconstruct someone in the transporter (including their clothing and hairstyle)? I was.

  43. “It’s only technoBABBLE if it doesn’t make any sense.”

    Words to live (or die) by, when you’re doing SF.

    Maybe I’m just allergic to network TV as a format — those 44 minute episodes with advertising breaks every 11 minutes really mess with my head, and not in a good way. (I’m definitely allergic to advertising.) Be that as it may, though, the only SF on TV that I’ve ever seen come close to my standards of rigour since the early 1970s is “Futurama”.

  44. Rick Sternbach:

    “We tried our damnedest to have this stuff make sense; what ever doesn’t sound right, probably didn’t come from us. :)”

    Hey! That’s the excuse I use, too!

  45. #56 – Oh, there was plenty to moan about; we techies simply tried to keep it at a minimum. I absolutely hated terms like isogenic, polyphasic, etc. Lazy stuff, no doubt about it. I completely understood that you don’t put paragraphs of dialogue in an actor’s mouth to try to explain some tech concept. You can make it simple, yet still convey something intelligent about the equipment or field strength or chemical reaction or why that nebula makes sensors useless. Okay, that last one was terrible. #57 – yeah, Futurama is a welcome change from the rest of TV SF. Surprisingly, after Voyager ended, I became a real Stargate fan. They “did” Trek very well, and made the familiar fresh and interesting. If I could move to Canada to knock on a few doors, I would.

  46. #58 – (Hiya John!) I don’t know about you, but I’ve got about 1500 pages of memos I wrote to prove it. I even got Robert Wise to change a line in TMP, and that was no easy task for a noob like me in 1978.

  47. @Stealth #35

    That’s funny. I was about to post the same thing re: Reading Rainbow.

    One of those “this is new? I knew about them inserting ‘tech’ in the scripts like decades ago” type things.

    As far as the argument: eh, I like the ‘fiction’ part of Sci-fi. I don’t care if the science is viable.

  48. Way too many of y’all are trying to have your cake and eat it too. If the tech doesn’t matter and is just a way of getting the story done (which I agree with), then why in the name of god was there so much of it? Why the fetishistic attachment to it in episode after episode? Why did we have to stop the story and talk about how we can hook up the X wires into the Y tubes to fire the Z gun? It’s all just a Mad Lib. You don’t feel like they’re using a manual to substantiate things, you feel like they’re just shooting the manual itself as an episode.

    Compounding it is the fact that character development was so crappy that the dialogue (esp. on post-TNG shows) was thoroughly interchangeable: anyone could say it and it would be exactly the same, as it was all exposition anyhow.

    John, remind me to tell you about pitching to Trek, including to Roddenberry. You’ll snort beer out your nose.

  49. Way too many of y’all are trying to have your cake and eat it too.

    Oh god no, whatever shall we do?

    If the tech doesn’t matter and is just a way of getting the story done (which I agree with), then why in the name of god was there so much of it?

    Because it gets treated like magic in a fantasy novel. Plenty of (successful) fantasy authors write books with a mostly undefined magic system, and write the magic to fit the story.

    Mmm. Cake. Om nom non. Oh look. I have cake. It’s *magic* cake!

  50. It isn’t like magic, it is magic. Discussing how to change the warp drive is like arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. There is no friggin warp drive. There ain’t gonna be. Stop making it about the drive and use the drive to go places so you can tell me stories. Crude as the first series was, it understood this in its marrow.

    Last time I pitched to Trek, one of the stories I proposed had to do with a biosystem so interconnected that you could die, I could bury you, plant a tree in the grave, eat its fruit after it grows, and experience your memories. It was a shared-RNA thing.

    It was rejected out of hand as “too fantasy.” I said, look, flatworms do this routinely. Whereas your ship goes faster than light every damned week.

    (Then I said, you know what? I don’t even own a tv. Thanks for your time, you’ve been very nice, and I’ll be going now. And I stayed away from Magic Tee Vee Land forever, and I [and doubtless television) am much happier for it.)

  51. I can put up with technobabble. That’s when it may not actually make any sense, but it sounds like it ought to.

    That’s what they had on ST:TNG. That’s what I strived for in the episode (“Clues”) I wrote for the series. I even got a little bit of real science into the episode.*

    But in the later series, I felt the tech wasn’t technobabble, but more technogibberish. Never got as deeply into DSN or later series, in part for that reason.

    .
    .
    .

    *I ran the first draft past an astronomer friend, Pete Manly. To my surprise, I had described a type of star system in the script that actually existed!. So I had real science in that episode. But it was an accident; I didn’t mean to.

  52. I was part of a similar discussion on a Trek forum and mentioned shows like The West Wing, which had the political tech, and House, M.D., which has the medical tech. While I didn’t completely understand all those bits, I thoroughly enjoyed the shows because of the characters, plot, etc., and -assumed- that what they were offering was at least run past experts in the field and that the material made sense to somebody. Since we didn’t have warp physicists available, we had to make it up in an intelligent fashion, run some of it past respectable scientists, and try to keep everything internally consistent. I believe that at least with TNG, we succeeded most of the time. Voyager wasn’t as effective (though we managed a few fun bits), DS9 didn’t need as much and was probably the better for it, and I didn’t work on Enterprise. I’ve always felt that media SF needs to address scientific and technical issues, otherwise why bother making the shows at all? I’m more than a bit ticked off at writers and producers who say that their shows “aren’t science fiction” when clearly that’s what they are, as if the folks making them are trying to distance themselves from the field and are now promoting a new genre of “strange and weird but we’re not going to analyze it too deeply” fiction. Drama and sci/tech can coexist, and the folks who don’t want to play smartly with the latter are buk-buk chickens.

  53. Charlie@57: One thing I think you missed was that Ronald Moore wasn’t holding up “tech the tech” writing as a good thing. I am enough of a BSG fan boy to have listened to a lot of his BSG episode podcasts, and he ranted about the “tech the tech” thing more than once. The criticism of Star Trek is very fair, but don’t blame Moore for it.

    Love or hate BSG, but it did a very good job of concentrating on story, not technobabble. In many respects, BSG was a reaction against many of Star Trek’s failings. It had no technobabble, no bumpy-headed aliens, no end of episode resets and no black-and-white moral choices. The show really was almost entirely about “the human condition”.

    It wasn’t perfect, of course, and I think the writers wrote them into corners they couldn’t entirely extract themselves from, but its failures were almost entirely different from Star Trek’s

  54. I really enjoy Star Trek.

    Of course it probably does help that I know next to nil about real science or scientific theory.

    I find it facinating when I learn something true or potentially true about science and such, but I don’t let it bother me in fiction, primarily because I have no sense for it to bother. *shrug*

    I can understand how it would bother somebody more in touch with the real thing, though.

    I wish I could write Sci-Fi, but I’m pretty sure I would just garble the Science. That’s why I stick to fantasy.

    Perhaps after I’m older I’ll give it a solid go for a change of pace. We’ll see.

  55. Hey, John. I’ve been out of town for a week, so regarding SG:U, have you already covered the logic, um, slips? You know, like, why not use the floating ball to push the button and shut the door. Or why the air happens to be rushing out on a 1000+ year old ship the very day people show up? Or how come they are running out of air – after sealing the leak – in this HUGE ship after only a day or so?

    I’m not trying to be snarky. Really, I’m rooting for the show. I just figured this stuff’s been covered, and wondered what you had to say about it. Did the writers, you think, take a calculator and figure out how many months it would actually take to run out of air. I mean, you know … since it’s in the title and all.

    Well, crap. That does sound snarky, doesn’t it? In my defense, it’s really hard to bring this stuff up without seeming rude.

  56. Never did have a problem with tech on SF shows. Sure, techno speak on ST:TNG was a little off-putting, but only because I always figured that one could tell the ship’s computer “point the ship at” instead of “rotate the ship’s vector to align with…” and that kind of stuff.

    For me, ST:TNG failed (especially early on) because it had too much political correctness (it was all a misunderstanding), and tended to resolved everything without anyone getting hurt, so there was no tension. Babylon 5 went over some of the same themes but actually showed where they could lead if the writers weren’t chickens.

  57. I have to admit I am definitely being won over to John Scalzi’s way of creating SF. I mean for Pete’s sake, back in the days of horrible things like “Plan 9 from Outer Space”, one of the better ways of finding entertainment in such ludicrous SF was to look for the zipper in the aliens costume. If the best we can do for critique now is find problems in the way the technical consultants technobabble solutions into what might otherwise be poorly transitioned theatrical scenes, then we are really missing out on how much fun it really is.

    Back to the SGU criticism that there were two problems with the air in the life support systems, and they were not addressed as such. I would have to defend the script on that matter. Eli did say, “Bad air is better than no air”. It was addressed ostensibly there.

    But it is a lot deeper than any fans have mentioned. The rate of leaking atmosphere was happening at such a rate that the broken shuttle window must have been sabotaged at about the same time as the “wrong people” started gating on to the Destiny from the Icarus Base.

    Add that to the mysterious footsteps walking around the Destiny before any flashback/flash-forwarding was implemented as a plot device at all; the camera “walkthrough” that simultaneously caused the lights to come on in each compartment where the footsteps could be heard, typical of ancient technology; and we have clear evidence of a detection of a presumably friendly humanoid presence. Do we not?

    Then witness the small vessel that zooms away from the Destiny following ships movement away from the planet that provided the impossibly effective CO2 scrubbing chemicals. And voilà, there is some one, a saboteur, possibly alien, and even stranger than Rush messing with the folks on Destiny. Not a technobabble faux pas at all. But an actual plot element, a character no less. Or maybe just Darth Vader stopping by; but no-one but John or others under non-disclosure agreements could either confirm nor deny it at this point :)

    As far as the worst case scenario Star Trek technobabbly series we’ve had the pleasure of watching to date, I would give my vote to the Voyager series.

  58. The rate of leaking atmosphere was happening at such a rate that the broken shuttle window must have been sabotaged at about the same time as the “wrong people” started gating on to the Destiny from the Icarus Base.

    Not unless activation of the Gate turned on atmosphere generation, in which case the leak probably arose centuries ago and simply was never a problem as long as the ship was empty.

    The chemicals aren’t “impossibly effective”. Possibly the devices they’re a part of work more efficiently than available human tech, but that’s all.

    We have only a few mysterious things, and they’re the fairly obvious stuff. I think you may be falling into ‘Epileptic Tree Syndrome’, Green Trekkie.

  59. I want to know more stuff about Ancient Tech. I mean, do they really use base-8? Is it because it’s a useful extension of binary? How did they generate their alphabet, as it bears no real resemblance to any script people write by hand?

    Tell me these terribly important details.

  60. Flattery will get you everywhere melendwyr! I also do not know much about ancient technology, so maybe someone else can help out here. It does seem that human intuition does interact well with it e.g., Rush guessing about risking Eli’s arm. But, I do not know if it requires the ATA gene to make such educated guesses successfully.

    Actually, I’ve put entirely too much thought into this already. But, as long as I’m still thinking, I am wondering if the FTL drive used by the Destiny would necessarily have had shielding active whether it was occupied or not. And, if so, why would that not have allowed atmosphere to remain in the same state in which the ship was built so long as living organisms aboard did not alter it?

    With the failing systems and all, I have a hard time imagining that the atmosphere could have generated instantly once the gate was activated. But, then again, it is extraordinary technology even Stargate command hasn’t entirely figured out yet. So, your theory is a lot better than my epileptic trees :)

    Rush did say that there is also an energy shortage on the Destiny. Being that it was built with super ancient technology, as seems to be the general understanding, the failing energy source may be another red herring, that I would rather not point out. The ancients originally planned on gating to it before any of the systems began failing. So, the energy shortage will, I’m sure be dealt with, or not, logically.

    If the next episode also begins with the camera walk through of the Destiny with the lone footsteps in the soundtrack, and ends with the smaller ship zooming away from the Destiny (as did “Air” parts 1,2 &3), then any further thought of some other being(s) forcing the Destiny to repair the CO2 scrubbing device shall definitely fall into the category of epileptic trees. And, I can bear the shame of having started it (-hangs head in shame-).

    If not, I would prefer the observation to be referred to as a Chekhov’s Gun, and leave it at that.

    Melendwyr, what do you consider to be the fairly obvious mysteries?

  61. I think Star Trek (every incarnation) has always ‘teched the tech.’ It’s just that when they were telling compelling, character driven stories, we didn’t notice so much. It’s when they fell into the easy way out of ‘deus ex technica’ too often and too easily that we started to object.

  62. Melendwyr, what do you consider to be the fairly obvious mysteries?

    1) What was the pod that broke off from the ship? 2) What was the whirling sand thingie all about? 3) Why did the Lucien Alliance attack Icarus Base, when they clearly didn’t realize what would result?

    One thought regarding #2: it’s entirely possible that it’s a non-human (or Ancient) Ascended.

  63. @Brandonon, One of the neat things about the first episode of SGU was that the solution was to travel to a planet to obtain calcium carbonate. An entirely reasonable and factual sort of solution which still managed to have SF drama.

    Dissolving calcium carbonate in water would increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. They should have found some calcium oxide or calcium hydroxide to dissolve in the water. An aqueous solution of those compounds would work to remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere of the ship.

    Jim of WVa

  64. I think the CaCO2 was to be used as a catalyst in the device. It’d be scrubbed and returned to use. So, it wouldn’t matter much what phase of the cycle you introduced it.

  65. @Luke

    Most of the conventional CO2 scrubbers in the medical and submarine fields use soda lime, which consists of:

    * Calcium hydroxide, Ca(OH)2 (about 75%),
    * Water, H2O (about 20%),
    * Sodium hydroxide, NaOH (about 3%), and
    * Potassium hydroxide, KOH (about 1%).

    NaOH and KOH in the above mixture act as catalysts. The primary ingredients you absolutely have to have are Ca(OH)2 and H2O. Because Ca(OH)2 is made by adding H2O to CaO, their primary goal should have been to search for CaO or Ca(OH)2. CaCO3 would not do you any good.

    I know about Ca compounds because I work in the Acid Mine Drainage (Acid Rock Drainage) treatment field. I even named my company Limestone Engineering. See website for my Vita.

    Jim of WVa

  66. I am way out of my league discussing either science, technobabble OR plot development, but those aren’t the things I remember from the series, anyway. It’s the characters. Their weekly struggles may not have had much to do with the previous week, but they seemed to have a lot to do with the human condition in general. And yeah, I’m probably romanticizing it a bit in my brain because I was 13 when it first aired, but the moral dilemmas and personal struggles -though often saccharine in their resolutions- made me think. I know there are some precocious teens out there who might think about that stuff anyway, but to be honest I wasn’t one of them. That show opened up a universe for me that was very real, even if I couldn’t quantify it at the time.

    On a purely science fiction level, I recognize that ST:TNG was lacking and I sympathize with hardcore sci-fi fans discouraged that the most popular crossover series in the genre is lacking in the first half of the sci-fi equation. But I will always be a fan of the people who inhabited that universe, not because they were flawless but because they were so very flawed.

  67. Scanner array? I remember the ST:TNG season that every plot twist was solved via some perverted use of the transporter. Bring someone back to life? No problem — run a strand of their hair through the transporter.

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