Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Marketing Fiction In A Changing World Part 16 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg - Star Trek, Star Wars & Quora

Marketing Fiction In A Changing World
Part 16
Star Trek, Star Wars & Quora
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts of this series Marketing Fiction In A Changing World are found here:

I was asked by a connection on Quora the following question:

----------quote from email via Quora----------

Robb Ramshaw asked you to answer.
Which is more SciFi, Star Trek or Star Wars?
----------end quote------------------

There is ever so much more to say on this topic, but it is an orbital-view perspective on the evolving of science fiction into the broader mass market -- as a consequence of social change, not a cause of it. Of course, there's always the question of whether there is any difference between "cause" and "effect."  Feedback loops may govern chaotic systems for short times.

Without thinking much, I wrote the following answer.

Neither Star Trek nor Star Wars is "real" SF -- just the best imitation the broader audience will accept.

Here is an example: an old song by John Denver, Sing Australia, which fakes a digireedoo sound. If you know the native instrument's sound, you can recognize the edges of the hint of the instrument -- it isn't the real thing, but it evokes the real thing.


Now, that is the musical equivalent of what Star Trek and Star Wars did when taking science fiction to the broader audience.  It's fake, but it's also real -- it evokes the real thing without being the real thing itself.

In the Bantam paperback STAR TREK LIVES! I said many times that ST:ToS was the first real science fiction on TV, and that was true for decades until Babylon 5.  But every science fiction reader knows that ST (and SW) were 1930's SF.  Aimed at teen-boys, they excluded women.

With fan fiction, women fixed that.

Jean Johnson came to mass market Romance and then Science Fiction Romance via Harry Potter fanfic.


Now science fiction and fantasy (except maybe in TV and movies) are for adult men and adult women and adults in general.  There's much appeal to teens, but it isn't exclusive.  And I don't mean sex scenes -- I mean issues that mature adults must confront to be happy in life.  (like "What the heck is The Donald doing running for President?")  Real, adult, issues that are meaningless to teens.

On alien romances I discuss this at length.

ST and SW were not at all the sort of thing the readers were reading at that time.  The breakthrough, though, had to start "at the beginning" to bring the audience into the subject matter gently.

That's why Gene Roddenberry sold ST as, "Wagon Train To The Stars."  A Western TV show that was popular even among all the Westerns on TV and in the Movies, Wagon Train was about people trying to survive and travel through a hostile environment, cooperating in spite of animosities among them.

As Margaret Carter points out in a comment -- Kirk was also drawn from Hornblower.  A third ingredient is Roddenberry's own personality, and his real-life experiences.

 That comic penetrates the core of Roddenberry's experience of life. 

So ST's "people story" is very mundane, except for Spock, and ST's exploration-plot is very mundane (except for Physics and Warp Drive).  The Aliens are Indians, the Crew are just doing their job.

Science Fiction is about the impact of technology derived from basic science on the anthropology, sociology, and psychology of humans.

These are expensive productions and must draw a huge audience.

Each has real (even great) science fiction embedded in the worldbuilding, but it's not up front and demanding.  In 'real' science fiction you must bring a solid grasp of the science to the story in order to understand how the story is postulating that what you've been taught, what you use every day in your job as a scientist, what you know to be true, -- actually is false!  And "here" is how things really are.  You, as reader, must accept 6 impossible things before breakfast, reason within that altered frame of reality, and solve the Problem the plot is throwing at the Characters using this "false" science.

This mental exercise is FUN -- for scientists.

At some point soon, all humanity at every level of intelligence, must become "scientists" of some kind.  And we have to learn to discard established and settled science to reason adroitly in a world that just works differently than we "know" reality works.  That brain exercise is our most crucial survival trait.  

ST and SW have begun a trend, and we're in Stage 3 of that trend now.  Stage 2 began with the advent of fanfic, and its subsequent explosion online (remember the Internet was generated by ST fans wanting to play a game, and the Web came from overseas as a method of handling connections and seeing what's on the pages.)  You're looking at a bootstrap process, and we're almost up to loading the Startup Applications list.

You will recognize Stage 4 of the transition when big budget productions eliminate "action" and "war" and destruction-derby and spectacle for the sake of spectacle and start telling 'real' stories about very unreal people dealing with totally unthinkable problems they must solve by THINKING -- not hitting.

We've had some of those on TV tip-toeing around the core of the matter.  For example: the colonizing of strange worlds, the lost colony, the going back in time and colonizing primitive Earth (also done on ST:ToS but on another planet into an Ice Age epoch).

But each of those focused on physical prowess to survive life-or-death easily defined challenges.  In "real" science fiction, the challenge is not easily defined -- and in fact, as in a murder-mystery what you initially see is not what is really there.

You will see Stage 4 of this transition make fortunes on stories about solving problems with science, with thinking not hitting.  Consider the popularity of Sherlock Holmes re-imaginings and you will see the beginnings of Stage 4.

Consider the popularity of the TV Series MacGyver.  There have been a plethora of small hits like that.  We have medical shows, we have the TV Series House, and Bones.  Little by little popular fiction is inching toward real science fiction.

Getting into Stage 4 is not about making Hollywood produce real science fiction.  It is about the new audience now growing up learning to demand such TV or Streaming (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Indie originals) fiction.

The first real breakthroughs to Stage 4 may come in the Fantasy genre.

So far, though, mass audiences don't have the patience to sit through a story they can not understand unless they learn something they don't already "know" -- and they will not tolerate stories that postulate that what they know is not true.

That patience will appear in the mass audiences when grade schools start teaching kids how to think not what to think, and turning them loose to teach themselves.  Teaching yourself is fun.  Being force-fed is not fun.  We foster an emotional aversion to learning new things, to questioning all "facts" presented, to discarding "what you know" by our current test-oriented teaching methods. So we produce mass audiences who don't think learning (and un-learning what they know) is fun.

Entertainment has to be fun.  If you are psychologically blocked against learning and un-learning for fun, then the only alternative left to assuage the itch for fun is hitting, conquering, vanquishing, attaining ascendancy over others instead of learning who they are.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Of course, STAR TREK was much more "Horatio Hornblower in Space" than "Wagon Train." (I think Rodenberry himself makes this connection -- but the network execs would probably not have resonated with it.) The only way to make Capt. Kirk's behavior believable is to think of him as the interstellar equivalent of the 18th-early 19th century ship's commander who's far from home base for months at a time with no quick way to get instructions, therefore trusted to make major decisions on his own as a sort of ambassador for his nation.

    1. Margaret -- Well, yes, they used Hornblower as a Kirk-favorite, but Kirk was based on GR's childhood aspirations (from Radio Adventure) and his early life REALITY. Here is a bit that's been going around the internet that explains where Kirk comes from:

  2. I'm going to add that link to the text of this post.