Are you ready for another Peter Pan/Power Records Star Trek audio episode? Of course you are. Written by Alan Dean Foster, "To Starve a Fleaver" is the curious title of this one, in which the Enterprise plays host to a civilization seeking Federation membership. You know how sometimes you run into a person who's so pleasant to be around that their good mood is nearly contagious? Well, you don't know the half of it with this lot. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!
The year 1995 marked a new chapter of sorts in my Trek fandom. My father had just recently passed away, and we'd grown tired of the podunk town we were living in and were now browsing around a new part of the country (the Pacific Northwest) for a new place to live. It turned out to be prophetic, to a degree, that the new show would premiere the same week that we first set foot in the city that would, not long afterward, feel more like home than any other had before (even though we wouldn't end up actually residing in the city proper). Was it just a coincidence, or does the Trek connection have some deeper significance...?
1995 -- Yet another new Trek series debuts ... Star Trek: Voyager! I'm watching the pilot episode in a hotel room in a state I'd never been in before, but I like it. Echoing a sentiment heard from Rick Berman later on, I too felt like the show hit its stride right off the bat. Deep Space Nine, on the other hand, seems to be struggling, because they feel the need to bring in Worf to try and bolster the show's ratings. It looks like Paramount is about to stumble upon the answer to the question, "How much Trek is too much?" Fandom factor: accelerating to warp 9.
1996 -- Star Trek: First Contact ... sure, there was a TV episode with the same title, but this movie kicks ass! I love Robert Picardo's cameo, and I get a big hoot out of James Cromwell's all-too-human portrayal of the father of warp drive. It's pretty well-timed, too, 'cause the Borg were still pretty scary in this movie, but they'd soon fall victim to severe overuse on Voyager. Fandom factor: slight deceleration to warp 8.5.
1997 -- Presumably because Voyager is beginning to drop in the ratings, Kes is somewhat awkwardly written out of the show, and replaced by a blond Borg babe in a skin-tight catsuit with huge warheads (and no, I ain't talkin' photon torpedoes). With this shameless attempt by Paramount to lure in a less-enlightened 18- to 35-year-old male demographic, my suspicion of Trek's downhill slide is thus confirmed. Fandom factor: slowing to warp 8.
1998 -- An all-too-brief two years after the last movie comes the next, Star Trek: Insurrection. It'd be way cool, if it didn't seem so much like a glorified TV episode. Were the writers so much out-of-steam that they couldn't come up with a really slam-bang Q story for their next big-screen outing? In other news, Deep Space Nine comes perilously close to not being worth watching anymore when Terry Farrell decides to leave the show ... silly, when there's only one year of it left. Fandom factor: further deceleration to warp 6.5.
1999 -- Deep Space Nine goes out with a big, sweeping, serialized, pull-out-all-the-stops, ten-episode bang! If the build-up and payoff hadn't been this good, I wouldn't have been able to forgive Ms. Farrell for sticking us with the comparatively dull Nicole deBoer. As for Voyager ... thanks to the forementioned overuse, the Borg no longer scare the hell out of me, but Jeri Ryan's armor-plated hooters still do. Fandom factor: barely maintaining warp 6.
2001 -- Voyager ends with far less of a bang, in a rather dull and slightly clumsy episode, and not a moment too soon. But wait, still another Trek series is coming out ... Enterprise (sans the "Star Trek" in its title, at least at first). As much as I like Scott Bakula, the show fails to hold my interest through the end of its first season. I guess we should be thankful that they refrained from trotting out this series until after Voyager was finished. Fandom factor: momentarily accelerates from warp 4 to warp 5.
2002 -- We started thinking there wasn't going to be another movie, but after four years, here comes Star Trek: Nemesis. As a movie in general, it was decent, but as far as Trek movies go, it's no surprise it did in the franchise ... I had a headache after I left the theater, if that tells you anything. By this time, I'm just plain all Trekked out (as evidenced by the distinct lack of exclamation points in the last two paragraphs). Fandom factor: slowing from warp 3.5 to warp 2.5.
2005 -- Enterprise limps to an end, not that I care. It's the first Trek series since the original to be canceled due to low ratings. As it should have years before, Star Trek enters a period of dormancy. Fandom factor: antimatter supply depleted, but maintaining warp 2.5.
2007 -- Feeling nostalgic (wait a minute -- can you feel "nostalgic" about something you weren't around for the first time?), I buy all three seasons of The Original Series on DVD, and watch them all from beginning to end, many of the episodes for the very first time. Fandom factor: antimatter reserve allows slow acceleration to warp 3.
2008 -- After a couple years of whispered rumors, confirmed details begin to emerge about a new Star Trek movie, to feature the original crew played by -- gasp! -- new actors. Fandom factor: spontaneous recharge and acceleration from warp 3 to warp 5.
2009 -- At first only mildly interested in the impending big-screen reboot of Star Trek, I become more and more excited with every tidbit I hear and every image that I see, and when I finally see it, I've fallen in love with Star Trek all over again. Fandom factor: continuing buildup to warp 7.
So, as you can see from the chart, my history Trek of fandom has truly been a roller-coaster ride. I'm not much for real roller-coasters, but this one has been fun, and I wouldn't change any of it. Live long and prosper, indeed!
The movie I'm talking about here might not be quite in line with this blog's usual subject matter, but it's my blog and I can talk about whatever I want in it, so there. Besides, it does have a bit of a sci-fi element to it, so as far as I'm concerned it's close enough. I'd heard about Idiocracy several months ago, but didn't bother picking it up until I found it at a price equivalent to what I'd expect it to be worth -- in this case, about seven bucks. It turns out my "blind appraisal" was just about right: not great by any means, but not quite a waste of an hour and a half, either.
Idiocracy tells the story of a slightly-less-than-intelligent government lackey (played by Luke Wilson) who's easily duped, along with an equally lower-middle-intellect prostitute, into being the guinea pig in what's supposed to be a one-year-long cryogenics experiment run by the government. However, when the project's funding is yanked, they're both somehow forgotten (in a not-quite-plausible sequence of events, which is better left as glossed-over here as it was in the movie) and remain in deep-freeze for a staggering 500 years. Unfortunately, instead of awakening to a marvelously enlightened utopia, they find a woefully neglected and dumbed-down world of the future in which, to the audience's horror, they're by default the most intelligent humans on the planet.
You might be thinking that this is a bit thin of a premise to base a 90-minute movie on, and for the most part you'd be right. But writer-director Mike Judge and co-writer Etan Cohen make the most of it, peppering the movie with plenty of subtle and not-so-subtle visual and verbal jokes to keep it reasonably entertaining. A primary theme: the consumerism and product-placement that's already begun a steady increase in our present day has so saturated the future world as seen in Idiocracy that no one can really go -- or even simply look -- anywhere where they won't be bombarded by an advertisement of some sort -- even to the point that literally every piece of clothing that the characters wear is emblazoned with some corporate logo, and the people reflexively spout corporate slogans (routinely containing four-letter words, as in the example in this post's title) without thinking. The future state of health care and of Costco will also be sure to amuse, as will the most subtle sight gag in the movie -- I'll keep that one a secret and see if you pick up on it.
The more astute viewer will of course see the subtext of social commentary that's veiled in the movie's humor. Having worked around young adults for years now, I've been witnessing first-hand how the dereliction of the U.S. educational system and the technologically-induced shortening of the youth's attention spans have begun stripping today's kids of the ability to think for themselves, and chipping away at the IQ of the average American at an almost noticeable speed. (Indeed, I frankly don't know how many more years my patience for these youngsters is going to hold out.) It might sound like I'm exaggerating, but considering that the movie takes place 500 years in the future, I can actually envision a world as haplessly screwed-up as the one we see come to pass in Idiocracy ... especially taking into account the positively hilarious -- and frighteningly plausible -- theory for the nation's intellectual deterioration that's laid out in the movie's opening scenes.
While the students I'm exposed to here at my place of employment still seem to put more importance on socio-political affairs than entertainment (and can still tell the two apart), and the English language hasn't yet descended into an expletive-laden mess of barely-coherent mumble (though I can't stand these kids who say the word "like" 27 times in the average sentence), I do still fear the day when that balance will shift -- a day when "Ow! My Balls" will be TV's highest-rated show, a foul-mouthed pro-wrestler/porn-star (and not retired, either) will somehow be elected President, and Fuddrucker's has had its name unintentionally morphed into Buttf**ker's with the humor of it being totally lost on the uniformly dim-witted populace. For the moment, though, this movie is still more entertaining than it is frustrating. Its audience may be limited -- since I haven't traveled outside my home country in over twenty years and thus have no gauge of the level of commercialism elsewhere, I'm not sure how well the movie's social commentary will translate to overseas audiences -- and even in America, there are only so many people who would be able to appreciate it as anything more than a screwball comedy.
Better late than never ... here we are with the next exciting episode in the nearly-forgotten audio adventures of Star Trek, as presented by Peter Pan/Power Records. In "The Time Stealer" (written by Cary Bates and Neal Adams), the Enterprise crew is caught in a fracas between a barbarian, his wizard-like companion, and a time-warping creature in space -- but you won't hear them quoting the Prime Directive, since it's in their best interest to join the fight. It's reminiscent in places of a few different Trek episodes, but it's entertaining nonetheless. I hope you enjoy it!
The lad in this picture is not actually me, but it might as well have been. Back when I was about his age, I got my very first computer: the Osborne 1, the same model you see in the picture. It may not look like much now, but back then the Osborne 1 was a groundbreaking machine -- the first totally self-contained portable computer for the retail market. Maybe it wasn't within everyone's financial reach, but $1,795.00 was actually a competitive price for a home computer at the time, especially considering that it included a well-rounded suite of home-office software (word processor, spreadsheet, and database programs) -- indeed, Osborne essentially started the trend of pre-bundling software with computers.
The Osborne 1 may have had its functional limitations -- it weighed a cumbersome 24 pounds, had a puny 5-inch display, and yielded about as much computing power as your average programmable universal remote control does now (a processor speed of 4 MHz and a whopping 64KB of RAM). And this was back in the day when the most popular computer storage medium was 5.25-inch floppy disks: thin, flexible and lightweight, but they each only held about 100KB of data. The Osborne 1 sported two such disk drives, labeled Drive A (from which the program disks were run) and Drive B (where the data files would be read and/or written). In case you younger computer users out there have ever wondered why the letters assigned to drives on modern computers start with C, this is why ... as one disk medium superseded the next, eventually being rendered obsolete altogether with the advent of plug-and-play USB-based flash drives, Drives A and B vanished with them.
And speaking of Drive C ... sorry to burst your bubble, but a built-in hard drive was a feature that was still years away. So was the mouse, but that was because Windows (or any other kind of graphical user interface, for that matter) also had yet to exist. Osborne computers used an operating system called CP/M ... not the most user-friendly in the world, but it did its job. (I have to wonder if CP/M was the inspiration for the writers of "Tron" to call their evil, tyrranical mainframe the "MCP".) I don't remember if I had the daisywheel printer (for letter-quality text printing) or the dot-matrix printer first, but they both used tractor-feed paper. To save me from eyestrain, my folks fixed me up with a larger external monitor (probably had a 10-inch picture tube, near as I can recall), which was a good thing, 'cause the built-in display died before the system was a year and a half old.
Anyway, I can still remember the somewhat limited fun I had with this machine for the few years I had it, and I was pretty-much never without a computer from then on. After the Osborne 1 outlived its usefulness, I was hooked up with a more advanced machine ... it still didn't have any of the fancy advances that we take for granted nowadays ("not even a mouse"), but it was capable of what I thought were pretty nifty graphics at the time ... I remember playing early versions of "Wheel of Fortune" and a couple of other games on it. And I think I had one other computer -- with a hard drive (something like 4MB), a mouse, Windows, and even a color monitor!! -- before I boldly stepped into the digital age in 1995 with an Acer, my first computer with a modem of any kind, internal or external, not to mention the first one with a CD drive.
Call me crazy, but despite the fact that today's notebook computers pack a thousand times the power and versatility into a package one-tenth the size and weight, I still look back on that old dinosaur called the Osborne 1 with nothing but fondness. It may have been a simple machine, but it's also true that the simpler the machine is, the fewer things can go wrong with it. I'd hate to have to choose between the limited-but-reliable technology of yesterday and the powerful-but-precarious possibilities of today. And I have to wonder about the future; advances in PC speed and capacity seem to be leveling off from their far quicker pace of ten years ago, but how powerful are computers going to be 30 years from now? Hmmm ... isn't it funny how we can hardly remember what the world was like before the Internet, let alone computers of any kind? How time flies.
At the risk of revealing too much information (not of the grossly personal or stuff-only-a-doctor-should-hear variety, but just generally speaking) too early, I thought it would be fun to trot out my history of Star Trek fandom, sharing a list of bullet-points of interest along this particular 25-year stretch of the space-time continuum. The list ended up being longer than I thought, but it shouldn't bore you (too much) ... turns out something noteworthy about Trek happened almost every year. You're welcome to follow the handy-dandy chart included below. Enjoy!
circa 1984 -- Curious about Star Trek, more to contrast it with Star Wars than for any other reason, I acquire (can't remember how) a videocassette -- Betamax! -- of the Original Series episode "Shore Leave", and watch it a few times over the course of a year or so. I'm mildly fascinated by my first introduction to Star Trek, even though this was probably one of the worst episodes to be introduced to it with. Fandom factor: leaving spacedock on maneuvering thrusters.
1986 -- During a lull in the curriculum of a high-school science class, the teacher is playing Star Trek III: The Search For Spock on video. My fascination begins to grow at a steady pace; soon afterward I obtain the "Space Seed" episode on video so I can figure out who the hell this Khan guy is before watching Star Trek II. Fandom factor: half impulse.
1987 -- Not yet having enough interest in Star Trek to see the movies on the big screen, I wait to watch Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home until it hits video. Being a big fan of time-travel stories, it wins me over big-time, and I would soon regret not having seen it in the theater, or being ready for the arrival of the new Next Generation series. Fandom factor: warp 1.5.
1988 -- Somewhere between "11001001" and "The Neutral Zone", I become completely and totally enthralled with Star Trek: The Next Generation and begin waiting anxiously for each new episode, regrettably missing the repeat telecasts of the first several episodes. By now I have officially crossed over from the Star Wars camp and will never look back.* Fandom factor: warp 7.
1989 -- Due to my hyper-accelerated fandom, I develop a momentary warp-field imbalance (in contemporary parlance, a "geek-out") that causes me to phase into "get-a-life" territory, but it's counterbalanced by the eventual realization that Dr. Pulaski, although she had her moments, wasn't much more than a female Bones McCoy and never really gelled with the rest of the cast. Fandom factor: stabilizing at warp 9.
1990 -- "The Best of Both Worlds" arrives, and the Borg scare the hell out of us. Star Trek: TNG hits its stride, and it will stay there for years. I've been recording each and every episode on VHS tape -- finally catching those few unseen first-season episodes when the show goes into daily reruns -- to watch and re-watch and treasure "forever" (until the advent of the DVD season box set). But fortunately, I waited to see Star Trek V until it went to video. Fandom factor: warp 9.
1991 -- Star Trek hits its 25th Anniversary, and it's in the prime of its life. (Weren't we all when we were 25?) The occasion is bittersweet, with the loss of Gene Roddenberry and the original crew taking its final film voyage together, but I've never been prouder of being a Trek fan. I'm making audiotapes of selected episodes to listen to in the usually-quiet little bookstore where I worked at the time. Fandom factor: remaining constant at warp 9.
1992 -- Plans are announced for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. A whole new Trek series ... with one of my favorite characters, Chief O'Brien, as a regular! Wahoo! Can life get any better? Fandom factor: maintaining warp 9.
1994 -- Another bittersweet moment, with the TV voyages of The Next Generation coming to an end (prematurely, in my opinion). I watch the Enterprise-D crew's feature-film debut, Star Trek: Generations, four times in the theatre, but partly because I'm living in a small town and there's really nothing else to do within a 40-mile radius. When I realize that this movie was primarily the studio's way of making room for the next TV series, I begin having my first inklings that Star Trek has begun a slow orbital decay. Fandom factor: drops slightly to warp 8.5.
In the interest of avoiding a ridiculously long blog entry, I felt this was a natural dividing line between parts one and two; I'll explain why in the second half, coming up soon. Stay tuned...!
*figure of speech ... hey, once a Star Wars fan, always a Star Wars fan.