I STILL MISS THE ORIGINAL U.S.S. ENTERPRISE

After ten years of work, some Arizona researchers now claim that when popular TV series come to an end, or even when popular characters are killed off, fans mourn in the same way they grieve at the death of a close friend or relative. When I read this I thought it was ridiculous. Sure, when a favourite show ends after I’ve invested years into it, I feel disappointed, maybe even ripped off if I think the story was ended before it was complete. But mourning? Like over the death of a friend? Come on.

Then my wife busted me by reminding me how hard I took it when the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701 was destroyed in the movie Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

It’s true. I didn’t cry, but I felt real pain.

And the Enterprise isn’t even a human character—how could I relate to it so strongly as to feel that kind of reaction at its demise? I didn’t even feel as badly when they killed off Spock at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (probably because we’d all heard rumours that Leonard Nimoy wanted out of the role, but I was pretty sure he’d be back somehow). Yes, I know the Enterprise has been replaced, many times, but they’re not the same. There will only ever be one original ship.

I grew up with that ship. I watched every episode of the original series when it first aired and watched them again numerous times in reruns and from tapes or DVD’s. My brothers and I had models of the Enterprise and the Galileo 7 shuttlecraft. Together with friends, we poured over blueprints—it felt like I’d walked the corridors myself and taken countless rides in the turbolifts. Most of all she took us on extraordinary adventures.

Yet even all that isn’t why I felt such a strong attachment to her. The way I felt was because of the way the characters felt. The Enterprise was Kirk’s first and only true love—he would do anything to defend her (and it could be argued that he might never have permitted her destruction if she hadn’t already been marked for decommissioning). She was far more than just a home to the other members of the crew, too—she defined them, and they her. And even when the original series ended, at least I could imagine the Enterprise voyaging on between the stars, continuing on its five-year mission and beyond. But not after Star Trek III.

Though there have been other Enterprises, I think the TV and movie creators have missed a trick by not invoking the same empathy and love in the audience for the ship herself. William Shatner’s Kirk and his Enterprise were like one being, indivisible. But Chris Pine’s Kirk doesn’t seem to be devoted to the ship at all, even though she’s his first command. I think that’s a mistake. And I think it’s a lesson for filmmakers and SF writers alike.

While we’re creating our heroic, charming, rascally, or just plain lovable human and alien characters, lets not forget their spacecraft, their time machines, their submarines or starbases.

Fans can fall in love with them too.

A STITCH IN TIME--WILL TIME TRAVEL EVER BE POSSIBLE?

One of the most popular tropes in science fiction is the idea of time travel. Wouldn’t it be great if we could witness the heyday of the Roman Empire? Or even the dinosaurs? Or jump ahead to a future time to find out how our great-grandkids’ grandchildren turn out? One of the best-known early fictional treatments of the idea is H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, and one of the most popular recent efforts is Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife, but the concept has inspired countless novels, movies, and TV shows.

So will time travel ever be possible?

In a sense, jumping into the future just requires us to go somewhere at really high speed, because of the effects of relativity. In Orson Scott Card’s book Speaker For The Dead his main character, Ender Wiggin, exists in a world more than 3000 years after his birth, but has aged only 36 years because he’s spent so much of his life travelling between stars at near light speed. But is that really time travel? After all, you can never go back! What we really want is a way to go back and forth in time, isn’t it?

The idea doesn’t belong to fiction alone—lots of legitimate scientists have looked into it. The laws of physics don’t rule it out, and there are some phenomena that might do the trick.

One such is a wormhole in space—kind of like a black hole, but with an entrance and an exit. Star Trek fans will remember a wormhole as the setting for the series Deep Space Nine, but a wormhole might provide a shortcut through time as well as space.

Some scientists are even trying to make time machines. One of those is Dr. Ronald Mallett at the University of Connecticut. Mallett’s concept involves making a circular beam of high-energy light that would stir empty space like a spoon in a cup of coffee, making it theoretically possible for a particle in that space to travel faster than light and, hopefully, into the past. Mallett isn’t saying he’ll be able to send humans physically into the past, but perhaps information at least. There are advocates of time travel who believe that information is enough: that we might be able to experience other eras through a kind of virtual reality using information from those other times.

So far, the concepts that do appear theoretically possible have their drawbacks. A wormhole couldn’t take you back to a time before the wormhole existed. Similarly, Mallett’s time machine wouldn’t allow matter or information to travel to a time earlier than the moment the machine was switched on. Does that make his machine useless to the impatient types among us? Not really. The moment Dr. Mallett gets his machine working, he might be flooded with messages from people in the future (or even himself) trying to contact our time. That could be pretty useful.

One of the questions most deeply-ingrained into the human psyche is: what if I had done something differently? How would my life have turned out? From there it becomes: what if the world had done something differently? That question has generated a whole sub-genre of SF: the alternate history story.

That’s why even if time travel never becomes a reality, for science fiction it will always be necessary just the same.