Sunday, February 11, 2018

Love that science fiction



Yesterday I finished for perhaps the third time the StarTrek series "Deep Space Nine."  Most of you probably know something about the show in which the "Federation" (a mostly peaceful Earth-centered alliance) commits itself to protecting a strategic space station owned by Bajor, a planet which just recently has thrown off the domination of the arrogant, militaristic Cardassians.  Under the leadership of Benjamin Sisko, the station commander, the Federation hopes to promote peace, no easy task.

Sisko has one characteristic that may help him succeed, though it also complicates his life.  The Bajorans have come to believe that he is "the Emissary of the Prophets," the Prophets being aliens who live in a timeless space within the wormhole that makes transport around the galaxy very much faster.  So Sisko has to move very  carefully between his status as ordinary mortal and his status as (perceived) divine protector of Bajor.  Thing is, he really is the Emissary.

Gene Rodenberry, inventor of Star Trek, saw his original series as the story of a Wagon Train in space, where the crew ran into a new civilization just about every week.  In Deep Space Nine, this conceit works better than it did in the original series.  DS9 is like a small city in which many species live and interact.  The writers of DS9 have the raw material for lots of different stories:  numerous characters with interesting problems which are intelligently treated (most of the time).

Some very interesting themes (and a few dumb ones) get visited and revisited during in the series.  One that very much impressed me was the arc in which former enemies of the Bajoran-Cardassian war sometimes have to cooperate with the war criminals on the other side.  Even some of the Bajoran good guys can easily be seen as terrorists and the series does not duck this problem.  There is a hard-hitting episode where one former Bajoran guerrila finds out that her mother was a comfort woman for the occupiers.  Was she a collaborator?

This is a TV series, so if you are expecting good science fiction, you will sometimes be severely disappointed.  But not as often as you might think. 

The death of Ursula LeGuin last year inspired me to read some of her works.  I knew how good "The Dispossessed" and some of the other, early books were, but there are more that I hadn't read at all.  I got a treat when I discovered "Changing Planes" which tells the reader that the timelessness you experience in airport waiting lounges enables you to slip sideways into parallel dimensions.  

Yep.

The book is written as a travelogue, where the unnamed narrator acts as an amateur anthropologist, giving a brief summary of the peculiar customs of each planet.  It's both serious and lighthearted, and best of all IT READS LIKE IT WAS WRITTEN BY JACK VANCE, my favorite sf writer.  I never dreamed that I'd read a new Jack Vance sf book, ever.

Image:  A Bajoran terrorist.

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