Talking Science Fiction with Neil deGrasse Tyson on StarTalk Radio

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Jason Ellis in Dr. Tyson’s Office at the AMNH Planetarium.

I had the distinct honor to join the conversation about science fiction and society on Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk Radio Show on May 30, 2019 (season 10, episode 22). The episode is about Creating Science Fiction, with Gale Anne Hurd, the producer of The Terminator and The Walking Dead. I shared some thoughts on Hugo Gernsback’s formula for “scientifiction,” H.G. Wells and Sir Ernest Swinton’s legal fight over the modern battle tank, the power of SF to engage social issues and debate, and my personal, lifelong relationship to SF. You can listen to the episode here or embedded below:

About the episode from the StarTalk website:

The Terminator, The Walking Dead, Aliens, and a lot more. Those are just some of the producing credits for this week’s main guest on StarTalk Radio. Neil deGrasse Tyson sits down with producer-extraordinaire Gale Anne Hurd to explore what it takes to bring great science fiction to life. Neil is joined by comic co-host Chuck Nice, science fiction expert Jason Ellis, PhD, and volcanologist Janine Krippner, PhD.

Because science fiction comes in many different forms and through many different avenues, there are many ways to get into it. You’ll learn how Gale’s childhood love of Marvel comic books and science fiction novels translated into a career “making what she likes to see.” She tells us how she served as a science fiction consultant to her local library to make sure their stock was up to date. Jason shares why not being able to see Star Wars in the theater sparked a rebellious love for science fiction.

You’ll hear about the history of science fiction and how it combines the STEM fields and the humanities. We debate if science fiction informs the future of every technological invention. You’ll find out about a lawsuit H.G Wells brought upon military figureheads because he claimed they stole his idea from one of his science fiction stories. Explore using science fiction as social commentary. Discover more about the famous kiss between Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura, and how William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols purposely flubbed takes to make sure it stayed in the episode.

We take a deep dive into Dante’s Peak as volcanologist Janine Krippner stops by to share her take on the film. She explains why she thinks it’s still the best volcano movie even with its flaws. Gale gives us a behind-the-scenes look on how she fought for even more scientific realism to be in the film but encountered pushback from the studio. Neil also confronts Gale on the famous scientific inaccuracies of Armageddon. Chuck shares his love for The Expanse, we discuss Interstellar, and Neil tells us about his involvement in The Europa Report.

Lastly, you’ll also find out the differences between creating science fiction for television and film. According to Hugo Gernsback, the father of science fiction, sci-fi should be 75% romance and 25% science – is that still the goal? All that, plus, Jason caps it off with a story on how he was criticizing the film Sunshine right in front of director Danny Boyle’s family.

“Creating Science Fiction, with Gale Anne Hurd.” StarTalk Radio, 30 May 2019, https://www.startalkradio.net/show/creating-science-fiction-with-gale-anne-hurd/.

Science Fiction, LMC3214: Concluding New Wave SF with Philip K. Dick and Star Trek’s “The City on the Edge of Forever”

In today’s class, I lectured on Philip K. Dick’s life (2-3-74) and work (characteristics: ontological, epistemological, entropy, empathy, religion, and the “little man”) to conclude my discussion of New Wave writers began in the last class. Then, I lectured on Star Trek and used Harlan Ellison’s “The City on the Edge of Forever” as a bridge between the New Wave and popular, mainstream SF.

Tomorrow, we will begin our unit on Feminist SF and we will discuss readings by Pamela Zoline, Joanna Russ, and James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice B. Sheldon).

Reflections on the Star Trek: The Next Generation Bluray Release, More TNG Should be Shown on the Big Screen

Last night, Y and I went to the one-night-only Star Trek: The Next Generation 25th Anniversary Celebration at the Hollywood 24 Theater in Atlanta.

The advance ticket event promoted today’s release of the first season of Star Trek TNG on Bluray [find it on Amazon here]. CBS is in the process now of scanning the original 35mm film negatives into a digital format. Due to the way the special effects were made originally, all of the effects shots are being redone with today’s digital film technology to produce images based on the originals and detailed far more spectacularly than anything audiences have seen before. Also, the audio tracks are being remixed for 7.1 surround sound, but they are also making the original stereo sound available on the Bluray discs for purists.

At the celebration, we were treated to two of the Bluray first season episodes: “Where No One Has Gone Before” and “Datalore.” Designers Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda introduced the episodes. “Where No One Has Gone Before” is the first encounter we have with the Traveler, who with his knowledge of how time, space, and thought work congruently, propels the Enterprise and her crew across galaxies to the very edge of the universe. In “Datalore,” the Enterprise crew visits Omicon Theta, the planet where Data was originally discovered, and discovers Data’s evil twin brother, Lore. Even without the updated effects, clearer images, and outstanding sound, it was a joy to see these significant episodes play out on the big screen. It makes me wish that we could see more key episodes in movie theaters.

Interspersed in the two episodes were test reels, interviews, and background information provided by the cast and crew. I believe that this material and more is included on the first season Bluray. This material was fantastic–Patrick Stewart’s (charming), Jonathan Frakes’ (intense), and Michael Dorn’s (“Don’t fuck with me!”) costume tests were hilarious and the current interviews were intimate yet obviously colored by the passage of time and the maturing of the actors and crew.

CBS continues in its Star Trek TNG Bluray conversion operation. There were some converted scenes from the second season shown at the end of the event. I am certainly looking forward to more Star Trek TNG on Bluray, but I would prefer to see more episodes–especially “The Best of Both Worlds” parts 1 and 2–on the big screen. Are you listening Paramount and CBS?

Tennessee Has Solved All Social and Financial Problems, Time to Legislate Bigotry

According to this AP report posted to The Huffington Post, Tennessee Senate Approves Ban On Teaching Of Homosexuality.

It is certainly refreshing that the great issues facing Tennessee and America today have all be resolved. Let’s see, Tennessee ranks 11th highest rate of poverty [here], 10th highest unemployment [here], 43rd highest median household income [here], and 4th highest infant mortality [here]. Now, the Tennessee State Senate can spend time enforcing bigotry through legislation.

You know what I have to say to that? Takei:

Pioneers of Television: Science Fiction, on PBS

Tonight, I saw the one hour episode of Pioneers of Television on Science Fiction. It was an interesting look at some of the early, popular science fiction television shows in the US: Lost in Space, Star Trek, and The Twilight Zone.

I liked how they portrayed the influences behind the way these shows. It wasn’t just the visions of Irwin Allen, Gene Roddenberry, and Rod Sterling that made these shows what they were. It was also the influence of TV executives, network and time slot competition, advertisers, and censors. Allen is presented as a shrewd creator and producer who according to Bill Mumy was great at making a pilot that would sell but then would allow his shows to go into an automatic pilot mode to keep costs down. Roddenberry is depicted as a visionary who bucked the executives and the system to get what Nichelle Nichols called his veiled morality plays on the air. Sterling is another visionary who saw science fiction as an un-mined resource for television. It also allowed him to get his material aired without intervention by the studios, at least initally, because the stories took place some place else than the here-and-now.

It has new interview material with Bill Mumy, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and Nichelle Nichols. There are also some older interviews that I had not seen before with Sterling at some point after The Twilight Zone but I would guess before Night Shadows. Of these, I thought Nichols’ recounting her story about getting so fed up with her character’s increasing marginalization that she wrote a letter of resignation. Before delivering it, she said that someone came to her stage door to say that a fan, a Trekkie, was waiting outside to see her. She then looked up and saw a man–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He told her that he was a Trekkie and Uhura’s biggest supporter. He went on to tell her that it was significant that she stay on the show, because her being there let so many people see what was possible for people of color. My telling doesn’t do her words justice–you should watch the episode yourself.

More information about the series and this episode can be found online here:

Science Fiction | Pioneering Programs | Pioneers of Television | PBS.

Dreams of Teaching on Another Planet

I probably shouldn’t be surprised about my dreams last night since I watched Star Trek (2009) while writing syllabi for a job application. Besides the space battles, I was impressed with it’s panaramic shots of space, the final frontier.

While asleep, I dreamt that I looked up into the sky at night and I studied the constellations of stars. However, I soon realized that they were not of an Earthly perspective. Within the dream I realized that I was no longer on Earth and that didn’t alarm me. The dream’s logic fell into place. I was a teacher away from Earth. I walked into my classroom of college aged students and I began going over their assignments. Unfortunately, one student at the head of the table challenged me on the amount of work I had given the class. I tried unsuccessfully to persuade this student that the work was not too great and that it was necessary for meeting the students’ goals. I had to walk away from the class because I became confused. It was a feeling of overwhelming challenge. The confines of the room were too much. I stepped outside and looked up again. The one thing that I was sure of was that the stars in this foreign place were beautiful. I gazed at them noting their dissimilarity to stars seen from Earth and I was reassured.

Did You Know About the New York Times Topics, Star Trek Section

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While I’m talking about Star Trek Online (in the last post), I thought I would share the following link with you. I just ran across the New York Times Topics area, and they have a nice section devoted to Star Trek. Not too shabby for the U.S. ‘newspaper of record.’ You may find it here.

In the picture above, my former MacBook Pro is helping me rock some over-the-top special effects with my Art Asylum USS Enterprise NCC-1701 refit model.