Monday, November 11, 2019

BBC's His Dark Materials is here

BBC's TV adaption of Sir Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials is here, with Episode 1 already shown and number two en route. Sadly I have not seen it as I have little free time of late and must reserve what I have for more essential activities such as reading and breathing. That been said, Pullman is fond of it and that is endorsement enough for me. (Yes, I have been rather critical of him of late, but His Dark Materials remains one of my favorite books, and if an author is satisfied with the TV/movie version of their book then it is usually faithful enough top pass muster with lifelong fans.)

Thursday, November 7, 2019

My father and I just finished Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia A. McKillip

My father and I just finished Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia A. McKillip, the first of her three books of short stories.
Ah, what glorious adventures in uncharted realms we have seen! The ancient glittering wonder of the Ice Dragon that is the heart of Hoarsbreath Island, the music that is the legend and power of the Bards of Onon, the Lady of Skulls whose plants grow from the skulls of those who failed see the treasure in her tower, the trials of the Fellowship of the Dragon, and the layers of enchantments that break before the love of the Lion and Lark! McKillip has not lost her skill, as words and time bow before her as does the grass before the mighty wind of the storm.

Friday, November 1, 2019

The Force vs. the Federation

Ever do people make comparisons between the ships and technologies of Star Trek and Star Wars, yet I now make a different comparison – one which explains why I prefer the former over the latter. I can hear you saying: "What? But Star Trek is pure sci-fi, which you avoid almost as rule, while Star Wars is almost a Fantasy in space given the never ending battle between the Jedi and the dark side of the Force." 
A very good point, and I do like Star Wars very much as it is an exemplary tale, a true coming of age story and hero's journey complete with brilliantly complex characters both good and evil. Even mythologist Joseph Campbell acknowledged it as such; indeed, George Lucas credited Campbell's work as influencing his own. Who could forget the revelations and inner conflicts regarding and within Anakin and Luke Skywalker? The wisdom of their mutual mentors Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda (who are cultural icons on and above the level of most characters in literature, on par with Gandalf and Dumbledore)? Han Solo wrestling with self-identification, caught between his roguish past and his relationship with Luke and Princess Leia? As said, a stellar tale by all definitions and, better yet, the Force brings a spiritual element seldom seen in Sci-Fi and on a level rare even in many Fantasies. It is no secret that Masters Kenobi and Yoda (and the Jedi in general) are based off the ancient Samurai and their Zen spiritualism.
Which again begs the question, why do I prefer Trek to Wars. The answer is in their names, added by a famous quote from one Ben Kenobi: "For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times, before the Empire." In short, and as of the pitiful Sequel Trilogy, Star Wars amounts to a near-pessimistic tale as the Jedi are always on the verge of being wiped out by the dark side. All the wisdom and power of people like Yoda and Luke amounting to just barely enough to keep hope for better future alive while the Sith terrorize the Galaxy. Not exactly a cheerful, nor hopeful, story.

Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek, however, is a different kettle of fish. Purely Sci-Fi and set in our own future and Galaxy rather than a long time ago in one far far away, it is not about war but rather exploration. About searching out the wonders of the universe even while trying to prevent interstellar wars and other similar catastrophes. About showing what humanity might develop into if it would learn from the lessons of the past, most specifically by ending violence; an ideal epitomized in the United Federation of Planets that, in the words of Captain James T. Kirk, is "a dream that became a reality and spread throughout the stars." A reality that, unlike the Jedi Order, is not constantly on the verge of total collapse. 
This may sound simple, and it is, yet this is the key as to why I prefer Trek over Wars. Not only does Trek offer greater variety, as is natural being a TV series as opposed to movies, it explores themes Wars never touches. Lieutenant Commander Data is not beloved for his superhuman abilities that come with being an android so much as because he is Pinocchio: totally benign and desiring nothing so much as understand humanity, to be human. As Captain Picard once said of him, "In his quest to be more like us, he helped us to see what it means to be Human... his wonder, his curiosity about every facet of Human nature, allowed all of us to see the best parts of ourselves. He evolved, he embraced change because he always wanted to be better than he was." Frankly I could keep going, not just about Data but about basically everyone, and not just Next Generation but Deep Space Nine and Voyager too. So I will be brief and just add that wise sages are not lacking even if Jedi-style spiritualism is, as wisdom is often just a solid and true moral compass built of deep compassion and practical experience. As to mysticism, characters like Guinan fill that need quite nicely.

In final ending, while Star Wars may have more Tolkienesque elements, Star Trek truly follows the Spirit of Tolkien because it not only embraces, but empowers and delivers on hopes for betterment on an interpersonal as well as intergalactic scale. In Star Trek, the most powerful, most thought-provoking, most memorable moments often have nothing to do with war and, when it does, it is trying to prevent one from starting.