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,

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


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.

Star Trek 2009 is Troubling and Wonderful at the Same Time

Okay–I began writing this blog post on Thursday, May 7 after watching the new Star Trek film.  Since then, I’ve seen it a second time, and I’m probably going to see it a third when I have a chance.  Since I saw the film, I’ve been blitzed with SFRA scheduling, Pakistaniaat layout work for our first issue, grading, and I haven’t had a chance to begin evaluating The Postnational Fantasy book project submissions with Swaralipi and Professor Raja.  So, I wanted to go ahead and publish this post as it is, and I may return to these ideas in the future with something more coherent, methodical, and rigorous.  The following is as it is.

Yufang and I just got back home from seeing J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot, and I had to put down my initial thoughts about the film.  If you haven’t seen it yet, go forth, watch it, and come back and let me know what you thought.  For those of you who have seen it, read on and comment below.

Visually, Star Trek (2009) has much more visual energy than any other Star Trek film or television series (and I’ve seen them all in toto).  Part of this energy comes from its borrowing a thing or two cinematically from the recently finished re-imagined SF series, Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica.  The cinematography sweeps, lunges, plays loose, and zooms and tracks.  Furthermore, the editing and pacing of the film overcomes one of the major detractions from the other Star Trek movies.  The new Star Trek artfully bridges the immediacy of television with the longer play format of film.

However, a significant difference between the two filming styles is the visual brilliance of the new Enterprise compared to the grit and dirt of the BSG.  The BSG definitely connects to earlier SF space craft such as the Nostromo from Alien, while the new Enterprise looks like something Jonathan Ive would cook up.  Additionally, recent space craft design and cinematographic aesthetics bleed between these firmly entrenched franchises–the new USS Enterprise and Cylon Basestars, and Nero’s Romulan mining vessel and the BSG.  It would be interesting to explore the implications and meaning behind spacecraft design in contemporary SF film and television–I will begin developing this into something longer.

Considering the cast–Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Karl Urban as Bones, Zoe Saldana as Uhura, Simon Pegg as Scotty, John Cho as Sulu, and Anton Yelchin as Chekov–I believe that these actors have assumed these established roles with care and expertise.  I don’t get the sense that any of them are over playing or parodying what has come before.  Each brings something more to the table than merely mimicking the work of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, George Takei, and Walter Koenig.  The new Star Trek, working with a mythos and formula that goes back to the late 1960s, returns to the beginning instead of trying to reformulate that origin as we saw in the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica.  It is this point that, as much as my inner fan delights in it, is one problematic issue for bringing Star Trek into the 21st century.

Star Trek has long been lauded as the touchstone example of a progressive television show, or more exactly, a SF show that engages contemporary issues, including human equality and the Civil Rights movement, veiled in SF narrative.  Why then is the new Star Trek held up by its token antecendents?  It is impossible for Star Trek to be more progressive in the same way that the re-imagined BSG did where characters were remapped (though it is important to note that BSG transcended race, ethnicity, or gender in an overwhelmingly positive way). I acknowledge that the new Star Trek is meant to be a reboot and not a re-imagining, and as such, it facilitates this maneuver through the too-often-used technoscientific time travel narrative, which means that the characters remain essentially the same with slightly different histories and personal development. It is as if the past (TOS) is reaching forth from a syndicated grave to leave an indelible imprint on what could be a new and progressive vision of the future.  The hierarchy and friendships must remain the same between the members of the Enterprise crew.  

However, the relationship between Spock and Uhura caught me by surprise.  It is in a way more positive than Kirk finding his way into Uhura’s bunk, but despite Spock’s hybridity and green blood, he still resembles a white man.  Furthermore, he is Uhura’s instructor and superior.  The power structures are intact with Uhura on the bottom.  Even with her demand to Spock to put her on the Enterprise, how much of this is selfish acquiescence on the Vulcan’s part?  

Another problem that I encountered in the new Star Trek film has to do with the tragic hero, Nero (I assume that this was a pun by the screenplay writers).  As I have argued before regarding Joker being the true hero of The Dark Knight, I believe that Nero is the hero of the new Star Trek film.  He witnessed the annihilation of his family and the Romulan home world prior to the serendipitous time travel facilitating singularity created by the so-called “red matter.”  He reveals his pain and anger as something raw and single minded.  Nero does not accept the universe of Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations.”  Nero blames the Vulcans, the distant relatives from which the Romulans split, for the destruction of Romulus and the billions of lives lost.  Obviously, the history of politics and (possible) racism between the Romulans and the Federation (particularly the Vulcans) fed into Nero’s beliefs.  

There were attempts at unification and peace between the Romulus and Vulcan when we last left a future Enterprise crew on the NCC-1701-D and E iterations of the Federation’s flagship.  The Romulans had their “empire,” and the Federation of Planets was represented as a democratic body with representatives from the various member worlds.  However, were the Romulans really antagonistic to the Federation, or were they reacting to their being boxed in by the Federation behind the so-called Neutral Zone?  Why is the supposedly science and knowledge oriented Starfleet, the militaristic arm of the Federation, regimented, armed, and never willing to run from a good fight?  On one level, the new Star Trek film reveals that the real threat comes from an uncaring Universe, but the political sentiments, beliefs, and machinations are an equal threat to life.  

Nero takes the opportunity to save his planet by attempting to eliminate the peoples he feels are responsible for not preventing the dangerous supernova. Unlike Terminator 2, in which Sarah Connor attempts to prevent the Skynet orchestrated armageddon by killing Miles Dyson, Nero assumes a scorched Earth approach to protecting his and his people’s future.  Could he have traveled to Romulus with his technology and given it to the past?  Yes.  Could he have communicated with the Federation rather than fire the first volley at the USS Kelvin?  Yes.  But, I don’t think that any of us can really imagine what it would be like to witness that kind of loss and devastation.  The Vulcans apparently take it all in stride in the film when Vulcan is destroyed, but I do not believe that even a strictly logical Vulcans could overcome the hatred born of (real or believed) racial animosity and genocide.  Let me be clear that the Vulcans did not actually, as far as the story tells us, destroy Romulus, but how would an off-world Romulan miner see the destruction of Romulus with their history of a divided ancestral past?  And, in what way does “diaspora” (I’m thinking of the Jewish and African diasporas respectively) play in the imaginative annihilation of Romulus and Vulcan?  Are the Romulan and Vulcan representatives from another Star Trek mythos/timeline/alternate history sent forth into the void not in place, but in time?  Have we run out of place in the Trek universe, and all that is left is time?  When presented with the vastness of the physical universe, what does it mean for us, as an audience of Trek stories, to be bored with place and now only concerned with time?  

I can’t say that I adequately addressed all of the many ideas that the new Star Trek illuminated in my mind since I first saw it, but this post serves as a beginning for further work that I might endeavor on this new film.  As the most successful box office Star Trek film, I am confident that this film is connecting with people who would not otherwise watch a Star Trek film.  There is something new going on here that I am interested in discovering.  For my work, as in the film, time is the great arbiter.

Star Trek the Tour Beams Down

I saw as part of the four installment big news blog post on Ensign Wesley Crusher’s (aka Wil Wheaton’s) blog that Star Trek the Tour will be making the rounds in the United States beginning in California next week.  The list of cities, and details of the experience are available on the official Star Trek website here.

From the looks of it online, it will be a lot like the Star Trek Exposition in London, except a thousand times cooler.  Now, don’t think I’m playa hatin’ on Star Wars.  My first love in SF is the fantastic space opera, Star Wars.  However, Star Trek the Tour appears to be much more thought out and executed than the Star Wars Exposition.

See you there (in my Darth Vader costume)!