Tor.com content by

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

Reinterpreting “Encounter at Farpoint” — A 30th Anniversary Tribute to Star Trek: TNG

Star Trek: The Next Generation beamed onto our screens for the first time on September 28th, 1987. I hope that amidst the enjoyment of the recently-premiered Star Trek: Discovery, our first new Trek TV show in over a decade, there will be plenty of celebration of TNG’s 30th anniversary. I’ve written a bit about TNG before and I couldn’t resist joining in the fun of this special occasion.

While “Encounter at Farpoint” doesn’t necessarily stand the test of time as well as many subsequent TNG episodes (to be fair, pilots rarely do), it nevertheless launched the series in grand style and ushered in a new Golden Age of Trek. As a syndicated show, it “beat its prime-time network competition in Los Angeles, Dallas, Seattle, Miami, and Denver,” no small feat, and TV Guide called it a “worthy successor” to the original series. [*]

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Science Fiction Dialogues: Seven Stellar Interview Books

Science fiction is often characterized as being at least partially in dialogue with itself, as some authors explicitly respond to others’ ideas in fictional form, creating an ongoing “story conversation” in which notions are fictionally investigated and re-investigated from contrasting angles and differing sensibilities. Of course, there’s also another, more literal tradition of thought-provoking conversation within the field: probing interviews and books of transcribed conversations.

Today I’d like to highlight seven such volumes—in addition to illuminating the fascinating personalities and lives of their subjects, these books offer invaluable perspectives on the genre’s history and on the creative processes of some of its finest practitioners.

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Asimov Reads Again

Isaac Asimov would have been 97 today. In fact, this statement is somewhat speculative, since he moved to the U.S. at a young age without a birth certificate, and wasn’t able to locate such a record later in life. But based on what he learned about the timing and circumstances of his birth, he settled on January 2nd and celebrated that day as his birthday, and we’ll follow suit. (The obsessive among you may note that the first edition of his memoir I. Asimov [1992] states his birth date as “January 1, 1920” on the opening page, but this was corrected for the paperback edition, and the agreed-upon January 2nd date can be corroborated in many other places.)

Back in July, 2014 Michael Cummings wrote an interesting post titled “Isaac Asimov’s Reading List,” and I thought that to celebrate the Good Doctor’s posthumous birthday today it might be fun to expand on Michael’s solid primer and reference some additional books and authors that Asimov enjoyed, with source quotes. Besides using Asimov’s autobiographical writing, I’ll also quote some blurbs he provided for other people’s books.

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The Game Architecture: We’re All Living in a Cyber World

Death to cyberpunk! Long live the new flesh!

When I read Neuromancer at sixteen I was completely unprepared for it. Its dense prose, mystifying imagery and hard-boiled aesthetic bypassed my analytical circuits—where much of the science fiction I’d previously read had settled nicely, in a somewhat detached realm of ideas and thought experiments—and rushed directly to my limbic system. The text seemed to download itself directly into my amygdala, and it wasn’t an enjoyable process. In fact, I almost gave up on it several times.

The novel was too stylized, too ambiguous, too saturated in every way—and too discontinuous from the science fiction I’d experienced before.

But I couldn’t get it out of my system.

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It Was The Best of Times, It Was The Worst of Times: James Gleick’s Time Travel: A History

If it’s true, as Alain de Botton has written, that “Most of what makes a book ‘good’ is that we are reading it at the right moment for us,” then maybe this wasn’t the ideal moment for me to have read James Gleick’s latest book, Time Travel: A History. On the whole, though, I did have a good time.

There’s much to commend. Gleick guides us on a fascinating survey of cultural attitudes towards time and how those have changed over time. He also recaps key scientific ideas about the physics of time and its most intriguing philosophical conundrums—such as the question of whether it actually exists. And, as promised by the book’s title, Gleick covers examples of time travel as depicted in literature and film, with particular emphasis on genre classics and enduring time travel tropes.

But this isn’t really a history of time travel, in the sense of charting the idea from its inception to recent instances. Nor is it a cultural history that uses time travel to probe social anxieties and trends, though there is some of that. Instead, Gleick’s book is a potpourri. Ideas are presented in a sequence that some may call adventurous and others will deem haphazard; some of Gleick’s book and film discussions outstay their welcome; and perhaps most surprisingly for a largely expository work, the prose is deliberately stylized, with healthy doses of attitude and editorializing throughout.

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In Praise of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Infamous “Reset Button”

A friend of mine who had never watched Star Trek in any form recently decided—my endless nagging may have contributed—to check out The Next Generation. Halfway through season two he asked me, “Why do the characters start each episode acting like none of the previous episodes ever happened?”

For our purposes that’s a good definition of the “reset button.” (Some might say it’s a “soft” version of the reset button. The “hard” version would be instances of timeline modification that actually erase the events we’ve seen, or something equivalent. Star Trek: Voyager was often accused of both types of resets—more on that below.) Accustomed to modern serialized shows like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Orphan Black and Breaking Bad, the fact that, for example, Picard could uncover a conspiracy at the highest levels of Starfleet (“Conspiracy”), or Counselor Troi could become pregnant with an alien (“The Child”), or Data could be “possessed” by an egomaniacal scientist (“The Schizoid Man”) and then never again address these experiences, was both perplexing and frustrating for my friend.

And yet TNG remains a beloved series, one that’s been painstakingly re-mastered and released in Blu-ray (2012-2015), and will surely be much celebrated next year, during its thirtieth anniversary.

Could the reset button be a contributing factor to the show’s success?

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7 Reasons Why Robert Silverberg Remains a Must-Read

Robert Silverberg, one of science fiction’s Grand Masters, is a fascinating guy to chat with. I recommend it, if you get the chance at the next WorldCon—and he’s attended sixty-two in a row, so, barring the unforeseen, the odds are good that he’ll be at Helsinki in 2017. He also does other events once in a while.

But let’s suppose that talking to him isn’t feasible, or not your style. The next best way to see his brilliant mind in action is by reading his work—here are seven reasons why it remains essential today.

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