When I started making notes on the Compact Universe, one of the concerns I had was retreading Star Trek. There are generations of aspiring science fiction writers who tried to start out writing the next Captain Kirk, the next Picard, not really getting that it’s already been done. Other writers have been accused of doing pastiches on Heinlein, but Trek seems to be embedded into the space opera DNA. It’s amazing we ever got The Forever War and Ender’s Game out of the 1970s.
Periodically, I posted lists of things I thought a science fiction writer, particularly space opera writers, should avoid so as not to end up writing Trek retreads. For starters…
- Transporters – NBC would not pony up for the plywood to build Captain Pike a space shuttle. It was cheaper to make the cast disappear by film exposure and sparkly effects. It became a go-to plot device. Harry Potter gets away with the concept because, hey, magic. But you’ll never see it in Star Wars and anyone else who does it is going to get called out.
- Starships named for the US Navy fleet. Hey, I think naming Starfleet vessels after Civil War ships or aircraft carriers or even British Navy warships is pretty cool. But Gene Roddenberry was a World War II vet. And the original Trek was birthed from the postwar zeitgeist still prevalent in the 1960s. This is 2015. The odd Nimitz or Victory will work, but really, ship names should reflect the concept that a lot of stuff has happened since the end of the Cold War.
- The government – Don’t just transplant the government of the United States or any number of parliamentary governments. When we settle other planets, the people there might copy what they know from Earth, but it’s going to change and morph to whatever they need. You likely will see democracy, but it won’t look like what we have now. Except when it does.
- Technology – Yes, it should look like magic. I agree with Arthur C. Clarke on that. What I don’t agree with is that the characters should think it’s magic. The characters live with this stuff. It’s going to go on the fritz. Something will act up, and they will immediately know that their portable whosiwhutsit needs a new discombubulator. You might not know that that is, but who cares? The characters know.
- Either your aliens all look humanoid like Star Trek or they don’t. The former will earn you the eternal gratitude of the makeup department assuming you ever sell the film rights and it actually leaves development hell. The latter is just scientifically more plausible. Both are acceptable. If you go with the former, try coming up with an explanation other than ancient aliens. Or rather, try not to make that the only explanation. It’s been done. Too often. It works fine if you have a planet of Neanderthals or a world of aliens who somehow have human DNA.
- Is Earth really the heart of it all? Yes, we must leave our cradle. Some of us may want to leave the cradle for a reason.
- Can we please dispense with saying that the Nimoydians are from planet Nimoydia? You almost never hear humans called “Earthlings” in scifi anymore, and they don’t come from Humania. Put a little thought into separating the names of the alien races and their home worlds. It’s gotten annoying.
There’s more. How much? Well, I have a comments section. What say we vent our pet peeves about scifi there?