Too little thinking means too much Darkness

I have two admissions to make.

First, I have not yet seen Star Trek Into Darkness, am not inclined to see it, yet probably will see it at some point and consider that act a betrayal of my loyalties to science fiction.

Second, I am a fan of Space:1999, as evidenced by the image at right, another contradiction to the loyalties expressed above, but there you have it.

I was forced to make these admissions after taking part in a pre-Darkness-release e-mail discussion recently about the first J.J. Abrams Star Trek film. The debate, essentially, was between my small circle of SF nerd friends and a Hollywood type who, while the lone defender of his opinion, struck me as sadly representative of a broader majority.

This fellow was of the opinion that Star Trek (2009) was a cinematic success, and that its obvious plot holes were not only excusable but irrelevant. What matters, the opinion goes, is the emotional impact, the hard-driving action, the punch, and not the reflection that should come with all science fiction. And so, when the choice is between logic and impact, one should go for impact and forget thinking.

I hope I do not wind up, some day, as the only person on Earth to find this kind of thinking repulsive. If so, I will truly have become a character in the most absurd SF satire yet.

I will not dwell extensively on the plot holes of the first film while the second is now out. The one that most sticks out from 2009 is the scene in which Spock Prime watches the destruction of Vulcan from its sister planet, a physical impossibility I referred to, at the time, as “Space:1999 logic.”

Which brings me to my second admission. I like Space:1999, despite the fact the physical laws that underpin the series would have to be the same impossible brand of physics that would allow the Spock Prime scene to happen.

A universe in which Spoke Prime could witness a singularity destroy a neighbouring planet without destroying the one he is standing on is probably the same kind of universe in which a nuclear explosion could blow the moon out of orbit and have it visit not only other star systems but other galaxies in short order.

So, why do I suspend disbelief for Space:1999, but not Trek (2009)? Well, suspension of disbelief is part of a bargain between the creator of the work and the consumer – even more so in genres like SF and fantasy. If I am to suspend my disbelief, I want something in return.

Some of the better episodes of Space:1999, Season One, do give me something in return: philosophical reflection on humanity’s insignificance on a cosmic scale, the undesirability of immortality, the possible nature of a higher intelligence and the role of faith once a limited humanity reaches the confines of what its reason can explain.

The show was unbelievably schlocky, to be sure, and in Season Two Fred Freiberger tossed out the philosophical reflection entirely in favour of hard-driving action and killed the series. But there was enough of these things there, at one point, to warrant the suspension of my disbelief to the extent required to accept a physically impossible universe.

In Star Trek (2009), there was no such tradeoff. And by the time I got gone thinking about the plot holes, I realized how much the film diminishes on second viewing.

And now I’m being told all that thinking is beside the point?

How can you even approach true science fiction without thinking? This is the genre founded on critical enquiry, shepherded in that noble field of reason by the likes of H.G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, Stanislaw Lem, and spread out across different vistas of thought by so many others, including my personal favourite, Ursula K. LeGuin (of the Ekumen series, in particular).

(I am ignoring too many writers in this enumeration, and for that I must apologize.)

If I am to suspend or set aside the cosmic perspective these and other writers have given me for the sake of entertainment, am I really participating in a work of science fiction?

If the film industry will no longer give us thinking science fiction of the 2001 variety, then maybe televised and literary SF are the only places left for the kind of philosophical reflection.

It’s a thread I hope to continue after seeing Star Trek Into Darkness, and probably getting disappointed.

ADDENDUM: It's been rightly pointed out to me that, were the mass of the singularity not much more than that of Vulcan, Spock would be safe on the sister planet. Fair enough, although, from the size of that explosion in the sky, the two worlds are still awfully close for this to be plausible without some form of damage. Then again, how plausible is it to have two habitable worlds in the same solar system? Do they both share the same "Goldilocks Zone" orbit, or did the Vulcans terraform an icy rock for the sake of plot?

When I first described this as Space:1999 logic, I was assuming the other world was circling a different star.