Never mind that miracle cure thing... it's a plot device

Isaac Asimov wrote long ago about the shortcuts science fiction writers must take for the sake of dramatic necessity.

Now that I have seen Star Trek Into Darkness, it occurs to me dramatic necessity is the main driver of both J.J. Abrams Trek films, and the main cause of most of their plot holes.

I won’t go on at length. And I’ll admit to finding the film an enjoyable ride. But, as with the first reboot film in 2009, one gets off the ride and immediately starts asking oneself annoying little questions.

Chief among those is the matter of Khan’s blood and its superhuman healing properties (a loan, perhaps, from the Cylon blood premise in the Battlestar Galactica remake?).

This is pure dramatic necessity. Khan’s blood is needed as a way to bribe a Starfleet officer into carrying out a terrorist attack, although in that case a myriad other blackmail techniques would have done the job.

In reality, the story needs Khan’s blood for the sole purpose of healing Kirk, thereby satisfying the dramatic necessity to recreate the Wrath of Khan death scene in reverse.

In truth, I enjoyed the echoes of Wrath of Khan, both the subtle ones and the overt. I enjoyed them despite the lack of a clear focus for this Khan’s rage and Spock’s somewhat contrived anger at the end.

But I also know the resulting questions will probably never be answered in this film series.

Question one: if Khan’s blood is essentially a miracle cure, a life-prolongation device and even a potential immortality serum, how does that change human civilization? Why hasn’t it changed civilization already, since presumably the effects of superman-blood on ordinary humans would have been discovered in the distant past when these eugenically-derived superbeings were first created?

Will Starfleet now work to synthesize this superblood to have enough around for everyone? A privileged few? Or will it simply create more of these superbeings to exploit?

Come to think of it, what about the morality of exploiting them for their blood in the first place?

Does all of this have anything to do with the decision to put Khan back in his cryotube, shut out the lights and lock the door, instead of trying him for a terrorist attack that would make 9/11 look like chump change?

Sure, this film is fun to watch, but science fiction should be in the business not only of making us ask these questions, but also of asking them itself – and attempting an answer.



Was Alice Eve there just for eye candy? I mean, her only purpose was to be there. Although touted as an "interesting" role, all she had to do to make the story line work was to show up - and she added very little more.

She was there to be one of the less-than-subtle echoes of Wrath of Khan, as well as to lend an extra layer of drama to the Marcus plot, which was, quite frankly, not fleshed out enough. There is the suggestion of sexual tension to come, since Carol Marcus Prime bore Kirk's son, and that adds a wink-wink element to her telling Marcus "I'm ashamed to be your daughter."
One might say she provides a strong female counterbalance to Kirk's casual sexism, but then Uhura already does that very well.

What does it mean that "they" "confiscated" Scotty's transwarp beaming formula? Was it section 31? In which case, I would presume they made every effort to erase any trace of the formula to hold on to a tactical advantage at the expense of immeasurable benefits from such an advancement in technology? If that is so, again, there's a missed opportunity for some fine science fiction to have been written.

A good friend of mine noted that, when he was laying the groundwork for Next Generation, Roddenberry thought long-distance beaming would be a nice technological innovation -- until it was pointed out to him that transwarp beaming would make starships obsolete. Why didn't they just beam Kirk and company over to Kronos for a quick take-down and then beam them all back?

Reposting and re-editing some comments sent to Ron by email:

To me, Star Trek is essentially about a bunch of likeable professionals exploring the universe, solving problems for people as they go, using a mix of scientific knowledge and quick wits. And in the process, they learn something about the human condition. This format provided the warmth and heart of the show, and it was totally absent from both of Abram's movies.

There are aspects of STID I actually liked — casting, dialogue, much of the visual design, pacing, all great. I totally bought Pine & Quinto as Kirk & Spock, and that's no mean feat. Best line: "You're fighting?!? Oh my god, what is that even like?"

The plot was Swiss cheese, however. Thinly sliced.

The issue of Khan's blood being a source of ongoing medical treatments, and the problems inherent in that, had not occurred to me, but you're quite right that it opens the door to a series of unintended consequences.

Similarly, the issue of transwarp beaming undermines the entire plot of the movie. Starfleet grabbed the equations for transwarp beaming and classified them top secret. Okay, this is a sensible move. However, Khan got ahold of the technology and used it to escape after his attack on Starfleet HQ. Okay, so far, so good. But why, then, can't Starfleet use that same technology to go after him? Why not drop a bomb on him by transporter? Why send the Enterprise? In fact, if Admiral Marcus really believes that the Klingons are a mortal threat, why not transport bombs into all the Klingon shipyards from the safety of Earth? Why build dreadnought-class starships at all?

Early in the production of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Roddenberry floated the idea of long-distance transporters as part of the gee-whiz technology of the new Enterprise. It was pointed out to him that such technology would undermine the entire reason for Starfleet, and make the Enterprise redundant. It would also open up any planet to instant invasion, requiring no supply lines, and little infrastructure beyond the weaponry that the troops would carry with them. The idea was nixed.

You know, the problems of introducing magic technologies into science fiction stories isn't new. If these writers know Star Trek as well as they claim, one would think that they'd be aware of this kind of thing.

There are other serious problems. Did Khan ever explain why he thought that hiding his people inside explosive devices would be a good way to protect them? After all, he removed the fuel, but not the warheads. I'm curious about this, and I don't exactly recall his rationale for it, or even if he had one. And did Admiral Marcus know that Khan's people were inside these weapons? Was that why he insisted that Kirk use them against Khan? If so, how were they going to be fired if they had no propulsion?

And how did Admiral Marcus hide a multi-billion dollar construction program for the dreadnought, and the thousands of workers required to build it, from his superiors? And why was the ship so large if its purpose was to simply to be a mobile weapons platform with a minimal crew? What was all that empty interior space for? Troop transport? What troops?

I agree that Carol Marcus served no story purpose. Perhaps she was simply there to give Kirk someone to talk to other than Spock?

And finally, I know that it was an important story point to demonstrate Kirk's untempered brash impulsiveness (and I heartily agree with the idea), but why make the "the only genius-level repeat offender in the midwest" make choices befitting an eight year-old? (Let's hide the ship underwater! Cool! Sharks with frikin' laser beams attached to their heads!)

If you're thinking of a "typical summer blockbuster," then the whole Nibiru sequence is very much like a James Bond opener, except they forgot to put it before the opening credits.
They put the ship underwater for the same reason they made the dreadnought big and Khan inexplicably vengeful, for the sake of dramatic necessity, and emotional impact, with little regard to story.
Once I get all this out of my system, I want to move this blog toward a discussion of SF literature, where story still matters.