Mark Twain once said: “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope.”
I was reminded of this during last week’s fleet chat when fleet fixture Renos was talking about how he wanted to run a mission somehow based off Pokemon. (Fighting tribbles, perhaps? A holodeck game gone wrong?)
This got me thinking about some of my favourite stories, and ways of drawing on inspiration from them to create missions that go beyond fighting intergalactic terrorists or settling diplomatic disputes between Klingons and everybody else. As writers we are constantly riffing on ideas we draw from other sources. Through speculative fiction concepts we are able to explore unique settings and themes that put our characters in situations that live up to the term “science fiction.” I put together some examples of how we could draw on our favourite science fiction stories for SB118 missions:
1. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Summary: A dystopian future where books are outlawed and “firemen” raid houses and burn contraband literature. After an interaction with a strange young woman with a unique philosophy a lone fireman grapples with his beliefs about a hopeless, violent, anti-intellectual society.
Idea: The crew is called in to help a covert Starfleet anthropology team observing a post-atomic, pre-warp civilization. When an anti-intellectual government rises up and creates book burning brigades to control the populace, one of the anthropologists goes AWOL to help protect the culture’s rich literary history. The crew is ordered to extract her before she contaminates the culture, but by doing so would be helping the “firemen.”
2. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Summary: Six stories nestled one within another, each connected by some sort of retelling of the last. A perilous 19th-century maritime journey is read by a tortured composer, whose pre-WWII letters to his lover are read by a reporter investigating a nuclear plant in 1975, whose life is turned into a manuscript read by a 21st-century publisher, whose life is adapted into a movie viewed by a freed slave in the future, whose mystical teachings are considered by an old man telling his story of his life on a post-apocalyptic Hawaii.
Idea: A piece of music, a diary, a film… Contact with a transdimensional being scatters the consciousnesses of some members crew members through time and space with only glimpses of their real lives, connected by stories and artifacts of those that came before. For example: The Captain becomes a young naval officer stationed with her friends in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Her autobiography is read by the Chief Science Officer who becomes a painter trying to survive WWIII on Earth with his friends and family. His painting is admired by a young ensign who has become a child colonist in the Gamma Quadrant in the 26th century. For crew members uninterested in getting lost in time and space, they could try to figure out what has happened to their unconscious colleagues and investigate the transdimensional being and its intentions.
3. War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
Summary: Martians attack! “Tripods” controlled by a hostile alien species from Mars invade Earth in 1897, and humans can do little to stop them. An unnamed narrator struggles to survive against the heat rays and chemical weaponry of the Martians as they wreak havoc on the English countryside.
Idea: While studying a planet that displays characteristics of late 19th-century Earth, a fantastic example of Hodgkins’s law of Parallel Planet Development, a hostile species of previously unknown aliens invades, cutting away teams off from their vessel. The away teams are forced to survive and help the natives without revealing their origin for fear of violating the Prime Directive, while those who remain on the starship attempt to remake contact and perhaps stop the invasion from orbit.
4. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin
Summary: A Terran native visits an icy planet called Gethen to consider a species of intersex humanoid beings to join an intergalactic coalition of humanoid worlds. His mission is complicated by the disputes of a monarchical kingdom and a republic, each who seek to use him to gain power over the other. He is forced to rely on a politician who he believed to be distrustful, but proves they’ll go through great lengths to help him fulfill his mission.
Idea: The crew visits a planet to consider Federation status for an intersex species—perhaps close genetic relatives to the J’Naii. War between two politically opposing nations looms as delegations sent to each nation are caught up in intrigue and danger. When a Romulan warbird appears in orbit, a stand-off between the starships mirrors the planetside conflicts, and cuts the crew off from their vessel. Is peace possible between two diametrically opposed peoples?
5. The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson
Summary: One of my personal favourite speculative fiction novels. A new social dynamics technology owned by a corporation pairs people with specific social groups, their Affinities; like the Tau, an Affinity associated with pot-smoking intellectuals—with a higher than average population of gay and lesbian people, or the Hets, a militant Affinity known for rigid social hierarchies and following commands, who oppose the work of Tau. The protagonist navigates this perilous new world of in-groups as they begin to dominate public consciousness and the public sphere.
Idea: A new social dynamic technology run by a mysterious corporation is introduced on the crew’s starship or station. This technology promises to completely reinvent the workings of Starfleet by placing officers into specific social groups that share common traits and work extraordinarily well together. The crew are this new tech’s guinea pigs, and tensions arise as they seem to be pitted against one another. What has gone wrong with this utopian technology? What does the corporation want, exactly?