My Star Trek Voyager Rewatch

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I’m not always a good Trekkie or Trekker. Whichever.

Until about 2 years ago, I hadn’t rewatched Star Trek: Deep Space 9 or Voyager since their first airings twenty-odd years ago. I’d done partial rewatches of TNG and Enterprise that petered out toward the end of the series.

Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Series (DVD ...

Of course, rewatching wasn’t always as easy as it is now. The Next Generation attempt was actually quite an investment. I’d had some old VHS tapes that we recorded during the first run of the series but those were getting old and they weren’t exactly taped in order. But then in March of 2002, CBS started releasing TNG on DVD. The seasons cost just over $100 each, and I thought, “Here we go! I’m going to enjoy these, in order from beginning to end as the Great Bird of the Galaxy intended!” Although he probably didn’t. Long story short, this was about the time I got serious about finishing my doctorate and finding a tenure-track position somewhere. Season 7 is still wrapped in cellophane.

Starbase-Wandavision

Fast forward to 2019; I finally started enjoying Deep Space 9 again. I’d made it into the fourth season and it was, shall we say, better than I remembered. But the 25th Anniversary of Voyager was approaching and my old friend Rick announced that he would be talking about Voyager season by season on his podcast Starbase 66. That itself sounded like fun! I’ll listen to those! Okay then, Voyager it is, I’ll get back to DS9 later.

And the rewatch has been interesting. I distinctly remember initially finding Voyager electrifying. I watched the first few episodes twice within a week of their airing and hunted for clues on the internet about what might be coming. That quickly turned into a kind of low-key malaise about the show. The characters seemed formulaic and a lot of the episodes felt like they might have sat on the shelf since TNG because they hadn’t quite been good enough to film. I mean, seriously, you’re trying to get home and that’s 70,000 light-years away! How do you keep running into the Kazon? You should have been out of their space after episode 3 or something. Think about the premise for crying out loud! This is Star Trek: Gilligan’s Island. The Mosquitos didn’t come back to the Island after they decided that the Honey Bees were a better band who would threaten their success. You encounter them ONCE because you’re STUCK ON THE ISLAND!

So the Voyager rewatch has been happening for a bit over a year. It’s been a lot of fun even with the show’s flaws. Once again, better than I remembered.

Mid-season 4, I decided to tweet about the episodes. I liked how those came out. I restricted myself to a maximum of 6 tweets and that kept the comments pithy; no weird tangents or references to Gilligan’s Island. I can’t believe that was kicking around in my brain somewhere.

Turns out that’s a pretty efficient way to “review” a teevee episode and that’s a good thing. Two years ago I started a post about Mad Magazine and it’s still gestating there in my drafts folder waiting to see the light of day. So that’s what you’ll find in this “Voyager Rewatch” column. Short efficient quasi-reviews as I work my way through the series. Basically the same as they appeared on Twitter before they’re so far back in the past that they’re hard to find. I hope you’ll join me and enjoy.

Stars End Episodes 3 and 4

There have been two new episodes since I shared Stars End episode 2 here. Is a podcast the last refuge of the Incompetent like the title to Episode 4 claims! Find out! Time to get caught up! Please like, review and share!

Episode 3: As foretold! Mayors! Bridles! Saddles! Oddly, no actual horses! And the ultimate answer to the ultimate cliffhanger! Also show news, we react to the trailer for the Apple TV+ series and and more Asimov trivia!

Episode 4: We talk about “The Traders,” part four of Foundation. This story first appeared, with surprisingly little fanfare in the October 1944 issue of Astounding under the title “The Wedge.”

In addition we have our second Apple Plus Minute and another edition of Asimov Trivia with a new contestant and a new quiz master!

You can find all the episodes here:

More Star Trek Apple Watch Faces

I’m a big Star Trek Fan and so, I enjoy having stuff that looks like it might be used in the show if the show were real life.

Over the holidays I was inspired to create a couple of Apple watch faces that make my watch look as if it runs on the “Library Computer Access/Retrieval System” (or LCARS). That’s the operating system used in all the Star Trek shows set in the 24th century from Next Generation to Lower Decks. I created two, which you can see here.

But here’s the thing: These are made using the Apple Watch’s Photo Face. These are static images that look like they have buttons, but the “buttons” aren’t functional. The only things that are active are the complications that are active from the Apple watch itself.

This isn’t ideal. So what’s the next best thing? How about a watch face that seems interactive? We can get closer. If we load a number of images to the Photo Face the Apple Watch will display a different one every time you raise your wrist and, if you want to pretend it’s actually interactive, you can tap the watch face and it will switch to another image. You can’t control which image you get next, but you can make-believe. Here’s a collection of images you can use.

This collection includes:

A home page with the UFP Logo, three astrometrics faces, two each of planetary conditions, tactical, and medical faces, one face that appears to scan for life signs and a face that looks as though a communications system is active.

So, if you want a watch face that looks like it might be used on a federation vessel, feel free to use the collections above!

To install, save all of the images above to your iPhone.

Then:

  • Select all the images you want to use from your gallery.
  • Scroll down and select “Create Watch Face.”
  • Select the “Photos” face.
  • Set the position of the time, “Bottom” for all of these, and choose the complications you want above and below the time.
  • And select “ADD.”

You should be all set. Comments and suggestions are welcome; and if you’d like a Voyager face let me know in the comments. If you use the watch face please leave a picture in the comments!

If you liked this, you might also like: Star Trek Watch Faces.

Episode 2

The second episode of Stars End: A Foundation Podcast, which I do with Dan and Jon is now available. Please check it out!

Stars End: A Foundation Podcast

Our second episode, entitled “Podcast must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Episode” is posted, available wherever fine podcasts blossom or will be when Anchor gets around to up loading it for us. Of course, we are now begging the question… what will the fourth episode be called?

We start discussing the first novel, Foundation, in earnest and get all the way through the first two stories, “The Psychohistorians,” and “The Encyclopedists.” We also try our hand at doing a new segment, “Asimov Trivia.” You can join us on the link below.

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Adventures in Podcasting

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I’m experiencing reverse deja vu. I just finished reading “The Mayors,” the third ‘chapter’ of Asimov’s Foundation and the only part of the trilogy that I’ve revisited since 8th grade or so. It was terrific, perhaps especially because I remembered so little of it; it was almost, except for a few flashes of vague recollection, like reading it fresh. But that’s not the reverse deja vu part.

The last time I read this particular story, coincidently enough, was 7 years ago on 1 May 2014. How do I know? Well, back then I was preparing to discuss the story in class and iBooks saved and dated my highlighting and my notes. As I’m reading, I’m having a lot of what I think are original thoughts, like “Oh, this reminds me of this other story…” or “I bet this is John W. Campbell’s influence right here.” Most of them though, were sitting there waiting for me. Seven-Years-Ago-Joseph had thought of it first; that guy seems pretty smart. And that’s the reverse deja vu part, having thoughts that I believed were new only to find I’d had them before.

But I’ve buried the lede here. Why am I rereading Foundation? Well, Apple TV is working on an original teevee series based on the original Foundation Trilogy and one presumes the sequels and the prequels. I’m looking forward to it and the rereading is part of gearing up for the teevee series.

And so is starting Stars End – A Foundation Podcast, which I’ve done with Dan <@MrEarlG> and Jon <@jblumenfeld100>. We’ll be talking about the books and about Asimov and the Apple TV series. It’s been a lot of fun so far and our first episode (A Podcast must not harm a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm) was released on Monday.

Please give it a listen; it’s on Anchor, and Spotify, and PocketCasts, and RadioPublic. It seems to be a long process, but soon, you’ll be able to find it wherever fine podcasts are sold. Or given away. Or however that works, I haven’t exactly figured it out yet.

You can also follow the podcast on Twitter at <@StarsEndPodcast> or you can find all our episodes and learn more about the podcast and us at the podcast’s webpage <https://starsendpodcast.wordpress.com/>.

Image Credits:

The featured image is a picture of the Galactic Center in the Public Domain and found on Wikimedia Commons. Author: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/CXC/STScI

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Clarke or Asimov?

It’s 2 January 2021, Isaac Asimov’s 101st birthday and in the U . S. today has become, unofficially at least, “National Science Fiction Day.” To mark the day, I present an answer I wrote for Quora in 2019. Enjoy!


Who is the better writer, Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov?

Clarke and Asimov are two of my favorite authors and I have to admit I’m a bit conflicted. Upfront I should tell you that Clarke is my all-time favorite writer but when I put something I’ve written for my students into “I Write Like” the answer I hope to get back is “Isaac Asimov.”

So I think it breaks down like this.

In my opinion, Clarke is the better Science Fiction author.

Art from the paperback edition of Rendezvous with Rama

When you’re looking for a sense of awe, Clarke delivers. You get big ideas well executed. Childhood’s End and 2001: A Space Odyssey make you believe that Humankind’s potential is truly limitless. Rendezvous with Rama (not so much the sequels) presents you with the awesome undertaking it must be to cross interstellar distances in a universe that doesn’t allow faster than light travel. It then metaphorically smacks you with our place in the cosmos; it turns out that the vessel wasn’t even aimed at Earth, it was merely using our sun to refuel. That Rama encountered humans was an accident; a cosmic coincidence and nothing more. Fountains of Paradise is one of the quintessential hard science fiction novels, carefully laying out the technological advances we’d need to make to build a space elevator and then turning that fantastic notion into a believable engineering project. In the Star Clarke convincingly puts you inside the mind of a Jesuit priest who is questioning his faith. There are lighter-weight works that are less impressive, but the best of Clarke is unassailable.

Cover art for the novelization of “Nightfall.”

Asimov, too, has written some great Science Fiction but it’s simply not as great. Asimov’s most famous work, the Foundation Trilogy is based around the idea of “psychohistory” which is like statistical inference without the limitations, feed enough data into the model and the theory can predict upcoming events with amazing accuracy. It’s a fascinating idea, but the execution is a little stiff. I, Robot, as great as it is, boils down to a series of logic puzzles using the three laws of robotics. The Robot Novels are good detective stories. The Galactic Empire novels are good space opera. The thing I was most impressed with in Asimov’s SF output was the Gods Themselves because it gave us believable aliens who were truly alien and not just the recognizable humans from imaginary planets with the literary equivalent of an interesting forehead prosthetic. The last time I read the Gods Themselves the aliens seemed a little less alien and a little less believable. Although lots of Asimov’s fiction is great, very little of it is transcendent, thus advantage Clarke.

It’s worth noting that if your metric for evaluating great science fiction is whether you’re compelled to read it under the covers with a flashlight so your mom won’t catch you staying up all night, the answer is Robert Heinlein.

Returning to the topic at hand: I think Asimov is the better writer of non-fiction.

With non-fiction, clarity is king, and both Asimov and Clarke excel at writing about highly technical subjects in straightforward understandable prose. But Clarke’s non-fiction hews closely to his science fiction. Speculations about the realities of space flight is a common topic. Clarke also wrote several books about undersea exploration after he developed an interest in scuba diving. Much of what remains is about the future of technology and the limits of speculation. All excellent but also all themes that are explored in-depth in his science fiction.

Possibly as a result of being so astonishingly prolific, Asimov’s work covers an astonishing variety of topics. Within the sciences, he wrote books on Astronomy, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Mathematics, Ecology, and probably more that don’t spring to mind. There’s also Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare, Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, Asimov’s Chronology of the World and Isaac Asimov’s Treasury of Humor to barely scratch the surface.

But the thing that gives the edge to Asimov for me is the column on “science fact” that he wrote for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. These are both delightful and informative; the column ran for 399 issues and more than 33 years.

Collections of Asimov’s essays from the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Asimov had a way of starting an essay with an anecdote that would draw the readers in and get them interested in the topics and then lead them into the main part of the essay. Well written, substantive, and most importantly engaging, these were perfectly targeted at the audience while not compromising the subject matter with oversimplification. Advantage: Asimov.

And then there’s the Clarke-Asimov Treaty, which is spelled out in the dedication to Report on Planet Three. It reads, “In accordance with the terms of the Clarke/Asimov treaty, the second-best science writer dedicates this book to the second-best science-fiction writer.” That sums it up pretty well.


And there you have it. Happy National Science Fiction Day!

Image Credits:

Star Trek Apple Watch Faces

Happy New Year! Almost. As a fun project, over the last week or so, I created a couple of watch faces for my Apple watch. These make the watch look as if it runs on the “Library Computer Access/Retrieval System” (or LCARS) from the Star Trek shows set in the 24th century. It makes sense to share these on the day the landmark 800th episode of the franchise is released.

I was inspired by seeing a smart watch on Twitter Christmas Day with an LCARS face and of course, Apple doesn’t offer one. This is the next best thing, making use of the watch face that displays photos. The “buttons” aren’t functional. The only things that are active are the complications that are active from the Apple watch itself.

So, it you’re like me and you’ve been wanting a watch face that looks like it might be used on a federation vessel, feel free to use one of these and enjoy!

To install, save one of the following two files to your iPhone.

Then:

  • Select the image from your gallery.
  • Scroll down and select “Create Watch Face.”
  • Select the “Photos” face.
  • Set the position of the time, “Top” or “Bottom” and choose the complications you want above and below the time.
  • And select “ADD.”

You should be all set. Happy New Year! Comments and suggestions are welcome; if you use the watch face please leave a picture in the comments!


If you like this, you’ll also like More Apple Watch Faces!


Happy Star Trek Day!

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On 8 September 1966, after two years in development, Star Trek finally debuted on the teevee. Fans have celebrated this date as “Star Trek Day” unofficially for a while now, but the producers of the show have now gotten on board and today, 2020.09.08 is the first Official Star Trek Day with events like marathons, cast reunions and more. “Encounter at Farpoint” is airing on StarTrek.com as I write this.

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In our little corner of the Alpha Quadrant, we’re marking the occasion by flying the flag of the United Federation of Planets. We’ve flown the UFP flag before and you can read my original post about the flag here.

The UFP Flag and Beginning Vexillology

That post contains my thoughts on the flag. For today I thought we’d look at two precursors of the UFP flag and a proposed redesign. The UFP apparently had no flag in the Original Series. The Star Fleet Technical Manual (Joseph, 1975) had a Banner, which can be seen in “And The Children Shall Lead” and it had a seal shown here, possibly designed for the book cover. This seal would make a passable flag itself.

The first place we see an image similar to the “current” UFP flag is on a view screen in Star Trek the Motion Picture when Kirk addresses the crew. This same image is seen as a flag, draped across the Torpedo Tube at Spock’s funeral in The Wrath of Khan.

This clearly looks like a hybrid of the Tech Manual’s seal and the current flag design. There are two advantages over the current design for me. There’s no text and the wreath looks less like something of terrestrial origin.

The last image we’ll look at today is a proposed redesign of the UFP flag that I found on Reddit, created by Doliam13.

This fixes a lot of the issues with the current UFP flag. The text is gone and the star field is more symbolic, looking less like a literal map of our local piece of the Milky Way. This also fixes some of the symbolism in the current design. There are four stars to represent the four founding civilizations of the Federation where the current flag highlights only three. The notion that the three stars represent three of the founding worlds as seen by an observer standing on the fourth is an inane retcon contrivance. Better to just fix the flag and not try to explain it.

A few last things to mark the day. Science Officer Leonard (named for McCoy, Leonard H. Son of David) is properly attired and ready to face the day while I have two different pairs of let’s call them “Spocky socks” that I’ll wear throughout the occasion. The blue, black, and gold pair were made by my lovely wife, Joanne while the pair with the Vulcan salute was a gift from my sisters-in-law.

Also: Tea. Peppermint. Hot.

Star Trek: Lower Decks – “Second Contact”

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I’ve been looking forward to Star Trek: Lower Decks for a while now. Maybe more than a while. They’ve been talking about a Star Trek series featuring the support crew for a long time. I think that initially morphed into the Next Generation episode that was also called “Lower Decks.” That was a fine, but not a spectacular episode of TNG. The notion surfaced again, sort of, with Star Trek Discovery, the only Trek series where the captain was not the central character. Lots of people seem to like Discovery, but I don’t really care for it. 

It was the show-runner who got my attention. Mike McMahan had a twitter feed, and that twitter feed spawned a book. It’s called Warped, and it’s about a mythical eighth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This season, kept secret, was purposely so bad that it would force Paramount to cancel the series. Warped is pretty good, but not so good that I actually finished it. There are still some good bits like Westley splicing tribble DNA into Data’s cat, Spot, and the final fate of the Vulcan Punk band “Logic Lice!”

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McMahan was also a writer on Rick and Morty which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but it is consistently well written and interesting. It’s also deeper than most people probably think it is. If you want to see a classic trek concept (“The Enemy Within”) spun in an interesting way check out “Rest and Ricklaxation.” McMahan didn’t share a writing credit on that but he was head writer for a while and he did write “Total Rickall“, “The Rickshank Rickdemption,” and “Edge of Tomorty: Rick Die Rickpeat,” all of which are both excellent and hilarious.

That’s a lot of preamble if I’m here to talk about Lower Decks. How was the first episode? I really enjoyed it. More importantly, I laughed. A lot. It’s recognizably Trek. It turns out that what that idea to make a show about, as McMahon puts it, “the people who put the yellow cartridge in the food replicator so a banana can come out the other end,” work is animation, comedy and some good writing. The pilot, “Second Contact” is a lot of fun. Mariner and Boimler immediately fall into some familiar patterns and Tendi reminds me of Bashir when he first arrived at Deep Space Nine; full of awe and enthusiasm.

Animation Magazine | The News, Business, Technology, and ...

I liked how a much bigger story involving the senior staff developed behind the more mundane adventures of the ensigns and how these all dovetailed into a satisfying denouement. There are enough references to classic trek to give an old fan like me a warm feeling about the show. That includes the theme music by the way. It’s evocative of Alexander Courage’s original theme but just when you think you know where it’s headed it veers off in a different direction. Paradoxically the theme seems simultaneously very much the same and very different from the original series’ theme.

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“Second Contact” isn’t perfect. Like most pilots, it’s an origin story and like most origin stories the plot takes a bit of a back seat to character introductions. At this stage, most of the characters feel like archetypes, but the broad outlines are solid and I’m looking forward to watching the show fill in those outlines. It’s refreshing to see a lighter take on Star Trek again. Modern trek has taken itself very seriously up til now, but comedy is also part of the franchise’s DNA. I’m looking forward to seeing the spiritual descendants of “Q Who” or “A Piece of the Action” and Lower Decks may be the show to give us those.

I give “Second Contact” four stars.