Sunday, June 10, 2012

Star Trek Repaired

Had a conversation with a friend about how the new Trek film was almost a good movie. They had a competent cast with chemistry, very watchable. I didn't care for the special effects, had a bit of a design school splooge fest with wonky camera angles and lens flares everywhere. It's like when bands deliberately include feedback in their recordings: no, it doesn't make you sound raw, real and authentic, it makes it sound like you don't know what you're doing.

As a writing exercise I'd like to explore the possibility of doing the Star Trek movie in a way that doesn't suck.

Most story problems begin with the script. You have a bad script and can't recognize the fact (George Lucas), you have a bad script and are too proud to seek help in fixing it (George Lucas), or you have a bad script imposed on you from outside (The poor bastards saddled with making Battleship). Of course, there's also sociopathic script apathy that explains any Hollywood production that isn't a vanity project.

What's Wrong with the Star Trek Franchise? 

There are a number problems associated with it, the first part being that it's a franchise.

Don't break the franchise. McDonald's has product that sells dependably. It's not haute cuisine, it's not even home cooking comfort food. It's all cheap, mass-manufactured food-like substances indifferently prepared by unskilled, low-pay workers who only have jobs because they're cheaper than automation. People know what a Big Mac is. It's not impressive, it's not something to look forward to, but you can be dependably disappointed in a consistent way each and every time. You don't mess with success and Star Trek is a franchise. But it's also worth noting that there are gourmet burger restaurants popping up to compete with McDonald's and they're profitable. Franchise is a trap and a hard one to dig out of. No executive is going to want to be the one who killed the goose that crapped the golden turd and thus we are locked into a cycle of mediocrity.

But even if the quality in a franchise is quite high, success will breed stagnation. The executives won't understand how they caught lightning in a bottle and so will prevent evolution and renewal in the production. "Is this fresh and new? Good! Change nothing but keep it fresh and new." Taking risks is how you can ruin a franchise. But at the same time, keeping it static is how people lose interest.

Writing by Committee. Lacking any strong editorial direction, each Star Trek series is usually a mess of meandering themes, aborted arcs, and filler episodes that exist solely to round out the network's order for the season. Committee writing combined with franchise preservation means the results are going to be terrible.

Is there even any story left worth telling? The Batman question. They've been publishing Batman comics for how many decades now? He was based on the Shadow who was based on Zorro who was based on folk heroes and it's turtles all the way down.

Negative space wedgie stories. They're ruining everything. Time travel, time loops, mirror universes, space anomalies, problem that arise from techno-babble and are resolved through techno-babble which is pretty goddamn boring.

What's Wrong With the 2009 Movie?

Trying to do too much in too little time. We have an origin story with Kirk's dad in a fight he can't win, young Kirk being a punk, older Kirk getting into bar fights, then Starfleet Academy, then getting onto the Enterprise, the parachuting business on the drilling rig, exile on the ice moon, fistfighting with Romulans, etc. There simply isn't enough time.

A stupid plot to begin with. Time travel stories are difficult because you always end up asking "Well, why didn't they do this?" So Nero runs a mining ship and is trying to get help before his star goes nova. He's sent to the past instead, somehow. His wife isn't dead at this point, she simply hasn't been born. But if he and Spock can fix the star in an unobtrusive way as possible, the timeline might remain unaffected. He could fly his ship up near lightspeed to effectively halt time for himself and come back right about the time he should be leaving on his fateful journey. He's reunited with his wife, still a hero, all is good. But no, he's going to blow up stars instead because he's a terrible villain terribly written.

By the numbers story beats. Must have action set pieces regardless of whether they make sense in context. Must have fistfights on starships because hey, that's what Kirk does. Must have character conflicts that are artificially induced by hamfisted writers.

Poor characterization and motivations. Kirk is played like a guy who can get away with a lot of crap because he's charming, except he isn't. Spock has a Vulcan stick lodged up his butt and his demeanor is constipated rather than logical. And all the other characters remain affable yet ill-defined.

How to Fix It? New Background

It's the start of a retelling of the Trek. Blowing up Vulcan was a way of saying "This is a different take on Trek." Sunrise handles the Gundam metaseries in similar fashion. Some shows belong in the main timeline while others follow clearly alternative timelines. They all have giant robots of iconic design, the combatants are usually Zeon and Earth Federation, and lots of stuff blows up. But new fans aren't hamstrung by years of continuity. A new show can be viewed without having to have seen all the prior ones. Common themes will be explored, deconstructed, reconstructed, and turned sideways.

What are the primary themes of Star Trek? That humans can be better than we've been. We can bring about an end of war, poverty, and starvation, make a civilization worthy of being called such. We can break the cycle of history. It is about optimism. Now, just because we've got peace on Earth, that doesn't mean we'll find it elsewhere. These ideals will have to be defended with diplomacy and good intentions but backed up by force. Where does conflict come from, essential for good storytelling? At the borders, where the Federation comes into contact with other cultures, and internally, when Federation citizens reflect on the validity of their own beliefs and practices. When things go wrong, we will set them right. Optimism is the main ingredient.

Pre-Contact Earth. Earth has 21st century troubles, goes through a global crisis, big population drop. The close, personal encounter with oblivion slaps some sense into the survivors. The era of rebuilding is one of peace. Strong AI is never developed but expert systems can run vast swaths of the economy. Third Industrial Revolution automation means that few people are required to keep the lights on, food in the supermarkets and goods on the shelves. This means that people are free to devote their time to doing things they feel have meaning, labors of love. Volunteer work can be a full-time occupation. Heavy staffing in education, medicine, the arts and sciences, sports and entertainment; not many office jobs and endless TPS reports. Now certainly economists and technologists will debate how this could happen but it's part of the assumptions that go with the Trek setting. One of these big labors of love is space exploration and this is how we discover warp theory, invent the first warp drive and the Vulcans drop by to say hi.

Contact. Turns out that not only are we not alone, we've got family. Sufficiently-Advanced Aliens visited Earth in the past and seeded worlds around us with Earth-like life. (More on this later.) The Vulcans fill us in on local history.

Galactic History. The galaxy is in a period of peace following a big war. The Vulcans were the first race to develop warp drives. They did so after suppressing their emotions that had led them to repeated civil wars on their own world. They explored the galaxy and made contact with the emerging humanoid species. They mistakenly shared their technology without considering the consequences. A race of  dullard imperialists decided to build an interstellar empire. The Vulcans, not being warriors, found themselves at a loss for what to do.

Some of the Vulcans tapped into suppressed emotion to become effective warriors. This created a philosophical schism that resulted in the Romulans breaking off. While not enemies, Vulcans and Romulans do not see eye to eye. A series of sporadic wars would be fought as the Dullard Imperialists  would try to conquer a new planet and the Romulans wound mount a defense. Sometimes they would win, sometimes they would lose.

The  Dullard Imperialists made a fateful error when they enlisted a newly discovered race as mercenary warriors, the Klingons. Klingons were at a steam age tech level and warred constantly. They were intelligent and quick-learning and adapted to starships and disruptors easily enough. They eventually became too powerful and slipped beyond the control of the Dullard Imperialists. The dullard empire was reduced to remnants and the Klingons took the best parts for themselves. Imperial retreat means many subject worlds with intelligent species are free for the moment.

The Klingons have grown in number and are looking to expand their territory. It appears the peace might come to an end.

Aliens. Every bumpy-headed alien that gets played by a human actor will be a result of this. Humans, Vulcans, Romulans, Klingons, all descending from common ancestors, thought the genes were tinkered with by Sufficiently-Advanced Aliens. There will be aliens that are from modified Earth stock that can't be handled with makeup and would be handled with practical and CG effects. They can still be humanoid but clearly inhuman. There will also be alien-aliens, but they will be handled by CGI and puppetry and very, very alien. Worlds for them may have been seeded as well. The humanoid aliens, being human in so many ways, will come into conflict for understandable reasons.

Something vaguely similar to this idea was broached in the Star Trek: the Next Generation episode "the Chase" but the writers never mentioned it again. Who are the Sufficiently-Advanced Aliens? We don't know. They've left no artifacts behind and we can only infer they exist because there's no other plausible explanation.

The Federation. The humans propose uniting civilized planets into a federation to promote peace and the common interest. This is a Big Idea that the Vulcans never thought of. Earth and Vulcan are the first member planets. The Romulans remain French to the notion and refuse to join. Naturally, the independent worlds are sick of war, sick of empires and don't want any trouble.

Starfleet. Explorers, humanitarians, police, military, evangelists for the Federation. They have a broad mandate.

Conflicting Viewpoints. Earth is effectively a paradise. What sort of thing drives young men and women to leave heaven to journey out into a scary galaxy on a mission of mercy? Are they saints or lunatics? And not everyone they evangelize to takes to the message. Why are people compelled to leave the Earth to setup colonies on new worlds, embrace hardship and uncertainty, risk their very lives when there's no threat of persecution back home? Some people simply aren't capable of handling paradise. Without something constructive to do, they go stir-crazy.

How to Fix It? New Story

We need a ship, a crew, and a mission.

The best stories about wooden ships and iron men centered around the frigates. They would operate alone, far from friendly ports, patrolling for pirates, escorting merchantmen, and scouting for enemy fleets in times of war. The name for this kind of independent operation was cruiser. 

However, the Federation also needs ships to show the flag, to symbolize the organization's ideals and be a prestige piece. Dedicated warships exist within the fleet but, being optimized for combat, are not good for much else. The majority of the war fleet is kept in port and is only activated for annual training exercises and emergencies.

The Enterprise. A symbol of the Federation, civilization, and security. She is fast, sufficiently armed to kill what she can catch and run from bigger threats. She has long legs and can operate independently for months. She is armed with heavy phaser banks and photon torpedo batteries give her a powerful punch. She carries a squadron of heavy shuttles that are more powerful and capable than the ones typically portrayed in the shows.

Kirk. He was on a fast-track for command before the disaster. Due to politics, he's given command of the Enterprise at 35, the youngest human captain in Starfleet history. He's the only hero in the [Insert Name] Debacle. He's promoted and given command. Some people think it's too political. He has a reputation for winning but it's not clear whether he's good or lucky. Some detractors feel he's cocky and takes too many risks.

Spock. The first human-Vulcan hybrid. Joins Starfleet because he would rather see the universe himself than learn about it back home.

McCoy. Toured the frontier as a young man, wrote a very successful travelogue. Settled down to civilian life practicing medicine and became utterly bored. Wants to see space again.

Rest of Crew. Scotty, Sulu, Chekov, Uhura, all assigned per usual crew selection and rotation. It doesn't take Fate going through gymnastic contortions to get everyone together.

Story Starts 

How Kirk gets command. We know Kirk is the the only hero of a debacle. (I'm undecided about the particulars, this is only an example.) He's the XO of a Federation ship visiting a recently-contacted and highly-developed world considering joining the Federation. Diplomatic blunders by the captain make it appear he's taking a side in an internal dispute and the other side makes a sneak attack against the ship. It is severely damaged. The ship is in a decaying orbit and will make an uncontrolled reentry. He evacuates the crew and shapes the reentry trajectory so it will impact in an unpopulated ocean basin. With the transporters shot, he has to make it out in a shuttlepod.

This is all backstory and would not be in the film itself. However, turning it into a 20 minute short feature would be excellent promotion material. Release it to Youtube a few months before the main feature to whet the appetite.

First Act

The Crisis. The Enterprise is conducting a shakedown cruise when a crisis erupts on Beaumonde, a colony world claimed by both the Federation and the Klingon Empire. There's a local population of Klingons left over from the disruption of the war against the Dullard Imperialists generations ago. They'd reverted back to a steam age economy when the Federation encountered the world. Since they'd apparently been forgotten by the Empire, they were more than happy to share the planet with the new colonists in exchange for access to higher technology. Things were going fine until a faction within the Empire decided that allowing Klingons to play nice with the Federation was a bad idea.

Through the briefing we discover that the Klingons are not a monolithic and united government but a coalition of clans who are normally at cross-purposes whose alliances and goals will shift with the political tide. This means that one leader cannot speak for all and even things agreed to by most Klingons are not binding for those who do not. This means that the bulk of the Klingon fleet can mobilize for a suitable cause and likewise melt away due to a change in the wind back home.

This particular colony has been claimed by the leader of a smaller clan who is trying to burnish his credibility. He is a charismatic upstart, hungry and dangerous. He presents the argument that Klingons are being brainwashed and subverted by the Federation and it is his duty as a great leader and defender of his people to save them from the filthy humans and their soft ways.

Up to this point there has been no bloodshed. Klingon ships have been harrassing commerce around  Beaumonde and it seems like invasion is only a matter of time.

The First Encounter. A war of nerves bluff between the Enterprise and a Klingon warbird. Our first sense of what the crew is capable of and Kirk's mettle.

The Diplomatic Meeting. Planetside, face-to-face meeting between all parties. Kirk, the charismatic Klingon leader, delegates of the local government. We get the local flavor of what's been going on.

There is a member of the Klingon High Council present as an observer. She finds Kirk intriguing.

Second Act 

Conflicts on planet, things are going to crap.

Spock had demonstrated the Vulcan neck pinch on the ship earlier. Chekov tries using it in a fight. Doesn't work on a Klingon so he knees him in the nards instead. "Vulcan crotch pinch."

Kirk Bangs Alien Babe. Kirk believes he's seduced the Klingon councilor over a dinner and cocktails. She clarifies a few misunderstandings about the empire.

Funny fact about Klingons: the majority of the scientists and engineers and workers are women -- they are the people who keep society working. What we discover is that the Klingons fell into civil war after defeating the Dullard Imperialists, turning their advanced weapons against each other. The whole idea of conquering a Klingon Empire was suggested by the women as a suitably glorious endeavor for proud Klingon warriors. It actually served as a way of getting the most violent and stupid of the males out of their hair so they could put things back together. Proper Klingon worlds are actually very peaceful and civilized since the warriors are usually off conquering things, fighting amongst themselves or endlessly training.

The High Council finds the charismatic leader to be troublesome. He's pushing for a war that the rest of the empire does not yet feel prepared for but cannot say so openly. Politics, you know. Kirk asks if this means war will be coming at a later date. She says that such concerns are for later as well -- better to stop the war you can stop today.

The solution is for the charismatic leader to make a misstep that is dishonorable. This will neuter his political support. She advises Kirk that if the charismatic leader goes to war, he should invoke an honor duel. While normally this is only reserved for ritual combat rules between Klingons, he may feel compelled to extend it to an outsider since the whole alleged point of this conquest is showing that proper empire honor is better than the soft stuff promoted by the Federation. It thus becomes a demonstration to the Klingon locals and the warriors back home.

The subject of where he spent the night and with whom should be the source of a good comedic exchange: McCoy showing incredulity at Kirk's sexual prowess, Spock offering a raised eyebrow in agreement.

Betrayal?! After this, we see the same councilor meeting with the charismatic leader and spinning an entirely different story! She says that the High Council is too timid and needs to be shown the way of the warrior by a Klingon with fire in his belly. He is unsure he can defeat the Enterprise and she gives him a data crystal that will be the key to victory.

Third Act

Big fight between the leader and the Enterprise. Federation has reinforced the Enterprise with three more starships and are staring down against the charismatic leader's fleet.

Pew! Pew! 'Splosions! Rocket's red glare, attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, the smell of napalm in the morning, it's an all-out, gratuitous space battle.

The Enterprise gets the advantage and the charismatic leader has to use his trump card. Turns out the data crystal has Kirk's prefix code to turn off the Enterprise's shields, or so the councilor claimed. Surprise! There's no such thing because only an idiot would leave a backdoor open on a starship that could allow a remote exploit of control systems. But by trying such a trick when he's fighting under honor rules, the leader just crapped all over his reputation. It might have gone unnoticed in the heat of battle but the councilor was monitoring the entire exchange and uncloaks in her own warship immediately after he sends it.

I'm undecided as to whether she blows his ship out of the sky or sends him home in disgrace. I like the idea of leaving him alive so that we can see how his approach changes with this defeat. If he's really a smart guy he might gain some wisdom from this and become a more dangerous foe.


Scotty has a laugh about the idea of a prefix code on a starship and lets slip a few curses about backdoors and remote exploits.

Kirk has a conversation with the councilor via comscreen where we clear up who seduced whom. The councilor makes it clear whose bedpost gets the notch carved in it. You can tell these two are going to have a history together.

Final Thoughts

I've kept the character elements above a little thin. What do the secondary characters do to make us love them? What are the comedy bits, the little failures and victories? That's all important but it's flesh added to the bones of the plot. Without a skeleton to hang from, even the loveliest flesh is just a puddle of skin suffocating under its own weight.

Feel free to discuss!


  1. Urban fantasy, Steam/Dieselpunk, Rifts and now Star Trek. I suggest you start getting some of this stuff published.

    A great literary future awaits.

    Your take on ST isn't bad; it retains enough of the flavour of the ST universe without going totally off the deep end (Kirk in Warhammer 40K? I have seen stranger things...). The really crappy part is because ST is a huge franchise with history and money behind it, even if your story were to be picked up tomorrow, it would be hashed through endless meetings with people attempting to demonstrate their power by suggesting "improvements" and doing rewrites all over it until the only things that were recognizable of your treatment were the words Star Trek and some characters named Kirk, Spock and McCoy. The bedroom scene might remain because it is a real twist on the "hopping into bed with every hot green alien babe" trope, and a space battle is gong to happen if you want it or not, but otherwise you won't be seeing your vision.

  2. Well, it's more of an intellectual exercise than anything else. Trek burned bridges with me long ago and even the good memories were tainted by what came later. Once I found Babylon 5 I never looked back unless I was feeling particularly ghoulish. When the 2009 project was announced I did the usual fanboy scoffing at the very premise. But reading up on deconstruction and reconstruction made me give it a good pondering. There's good stuff there that drew me to it in the first place. Trek wasn't one of those things everyone was doing, I went along due to peer pressure, and looking back I have no idea what the hell I was thinking. No, there was good stuff, before it turned to caca.

    So I took this as an intellectual challenge. I say there's nothing worth doing in the Trek universe? Take the other side, prove me wrong. And it turns out I was wrong. Not that anyone will do a good Trek story; the executive meddling will always result in a middling product. Can't jeopardize the franchise by making anything good.

    Something like this is just a pump-priming exercise. I've got a pile of concepts that I'm half-realized on, partway there but not complete. I'm waiting for breakthroughs. I've posted about the Feasters Below. I have the premise, I have the characters, I have the ending, but the middle is flabby an uninteresting and I know it's not the fault of the idea or the characters, I just have to give them the right pop.

    I have another idea I've been noodling with, Six-Gun Gospel. It's a doomful western with supernatural overtones, apocalyptic undertones, sacralicious religious midtones, good characters, a strong start and a great ending. Again, the middle is where the mush is. Character arcs. I know where the gymnast is running to jump, I know how she's going to pose when she lands, it's just the flippy bits in the air I'm kind of hazy on. That's kind of really important.

  3. There's another concept I've got notes on, the Godslayer. The premise is that the gods live among us, incarnate in physical forms. That they are gods is beyond question for they perform miracles and prodigies and display such powers that mortals tremble in awe and terror. They only ask our unquestioned fealty and obedience which is meet for are they not responsible for the creation of the universe and every essential of life?

    And yet there are those who would defy the gods. Conceived in dark magick, born without souls, carrying black blades that cut through flesh and spirit, these creatures are invisible to divination. They may approach a god without detection. Their blades, once drawn, nullify a god's powers, leaving him and the godslayer on equal footing. The god's only hope of escape is to slay the slayer and sheath the cursed blade.

    If the gods are who they say they are, how can any stand in opposition to them? Who is their hidden enemy who creates these slayers? And now there is a slayer who has slipped beyond the control of this hidden enemy, a puppet with severed strings. He is free to choose his own path. How does he shape his own course in the war between the gods and those who would overthrow them?

    I had a few good ideas recently towards how this would go. There's not just a gap, not just a chasm but a yawning abyss between what the gods claim to be the truth and the real truth. I know who the hidden enemy of the gods is, how the godslayer's strings were cut, and how the story should end. Again, the difficulty is in the middle. But the whole thing has socio-political allegory coming out the yin-yang. And it doesn't feel cheap or forced, it feels natural.

    So what I do is keep a log of the ideas I come up with as they happen and go on from there. Hopefully I'll eventually collect enough to make for a finished story. I keep thinking about the Edison quote concerning inspiration and perspiration. The same holds true for an idea. Anyone can have an idea; getting a proper story out of it is a bitch and a half.

    Deep sigh. Priming the pump, priming the pump.

  4. Good stuff, Jolly.

    Random observations.....

    Klingons + Mongels?

    SA Aliens + Q? (Because fuck you, it's funny.)

    Keep Charismatic Klingon alive, but beaten humbled and shamed. Maybe even Kirk saves him from manipulative Klingon bitch. Recurs as future adversary/ally/Deus ex Machina (We're even now Kirk! Next time we meet, it we be as Enemies! And to the Death! ((Honor fulfilled, etc etc.)) )

  5. Good stuff, Jolly.

    Random observations.....

    Klingons + Mongels?

    SA Aliens + Q? (Because fuck you, it's funny.)

    Keep Charismatic Klingon alive, but beaten humbled and shamed. Maybe even Kirk saves him from manipulative Klingon bitch. Recurs as future adversary/ally/Deus ex Machina (We're even now Kirk! Next time we meet, it we be as Enemies! And to the Death! ((Honor fulfilled, etc etc.)) )

  6. Well Jolly, I can say that I'm not as much into the supernatural (as you should probably have guessed from my posts in Rocketpunk), but best of luck anyway. As Jerry Pournelle points out, in any economic climate there is always a place for the man who can sing for his supper, so being able to get a few coins from your story telling ability is a skill well worth cultivating.

    If your "Six Gun Gospel" is anything along the lines of Steven King's "Dark Tower" (at least the early ones) I'll certainly look forward to seeing that.

  7. The Klingon woman isn't a femme fatale or a mustache-twirler. She's competent, ruthless, intelligent, worldly (or worldsly?) and should always be taken seriously. She might use you if it suits her purposes but she won't do anything out of needless malice: if she puts a knife in your back, there's going to be a reason.

    As for the charismatic leader, I really hate obvious villains. He's not going to do a stupid blood vendetta or save Kirk to even the score and make a dramatic threat. What brutality he engages in is theater. He does what is expected for his role and what is unexpected to keep his enemies on their toes.

    His weakness is ambition and the bold move with trying to take the Federation world created enemies within the empire he did not fully appreciate. This is a big learning experience. Klingons like conquest. Why did they oppose him? Pure jealousy? Protecting their clans at the expense of his? Or was he creating a threat to the empire and honor prevented them from telling him so directly? Or did enemies want to nail him out of spite but gained moderate support because they thought he was creating a threat, bringing a war too early?

    All he knows for sure is that he made a big mistake, has no idea even the full scope of everything he got wrong, and knows he's only survived because someone decided to let him live. He absolutely must get a proper sense of the lay of the political landscape before his ignorance gets him killed. This is a life-changing lesson. Who are his friends and who are his enemies? Surely he must have several in the wrong column. Who? And are there players in the game he's not even aware of? More than likely.

  8. @Thucydides

    I know that the supernatural isn't always slmeone's cuppa, same as with scifi or fantasy. I've got ideas across a lot of genres. The problem ain't with the ideas, it's with the flow through.

    The idea behind six-gun is what if God's abandoned the world and there's no one left for the devil to rebel against? How could he now define himself? Could he decide to take up the slack instead? If we run with the Islamic interpretation, Iblis rebelled against Allah because he refused to worship Adam as a regent of the divine. Allah punished him for this.

    The story itself plays coy with the identity of the protagonist, the Preacher who of course is never given a name. He may have a collar but he's also carrying a pair of six-guns and knows how to use them. When asked where he came from he gives the adversary's answer from Job, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it." when confronted about who he is he asks "who do you say that I am?"

    I have a partial outline. I know the character arcs broadly. I just need to get them in particular.

  9. I'd have some details different, but otherwise I mostly have the same opinion about Star Trek. (I'm sure to remember an original episode where Kirk encounters the consciousnesses of two of the 'ancestor race', but again, never re-used.)

    Your scenario seems interesting, and is definitely better than the film they did make. But now you developed the Klingon guy, I'd want the story to focus on him instead...

    So, the Devil don't know against who to rebel?
    Rebellion against the Father, jealousy to the perceived preferred younger brothers despite his obvious efforts to shine (the Light Bearer, after all), keeping it as an excuse to justify everything going wrong for him, trying to prove how said little brothers are inferior and as flawed as him... And no that the Father figure, who he was both hating and trying to prove himself to, is gone, yeah, he may very well break down.
    He should really go and see a psychoanalyst.
    (Yes, that's a story I intend to write someday).

    Oh, and the Romulians would be the British more than the French. France was one of UE's founders, and UK is always reluctant to join them.
    And the UE is (kind of trying to be) the closest thing to the Federation out there, with the "Hey, let's work together instead fighting each-other" and so.
    (What, "NATO"?)

    Anyway, good luck with your Godslayer and Six-guns Gospel. The middle 'fleshing out' part is also the hardest part for me (after the very beginning), so I can sympathise.
    And be sure to let us know if you publish them.

    (How would a Godslayer story would work on the pow of a god? Something else that should be tried out...)

  10. I'll reply in more detail when I have a full keyboard. But yeah, there would be room to do a story about the charismatic leader, his rise to power, the consequences of his failure and where he goes from there.

  11. One elaboration on this. I do like the idea of shared mythology and continuity. I thought it was a good idea to do the movies with individual characters getting their own pictures before making the Avengers. I understand Avengers is excellent. Iron Man was great, the sequel terrible. Thor was middling, Captain America fell short of the actors and background material. But the tie in concept is great.

    The prestige format of high-budget cable shows could also fit the concept quite well. It's not a full season and not a miniseries. The production budgets can feel as extravagant as a movie but have the luxury of time to tell a complex story with many layers, something you can't manage in 90 minutes.

    The Klingon Saga from TNG was pretty good though obviously made up one episode at a time. It would be nice to try something like that again. A Klingon civil war seems like a constant threat but perhaps something else could serve as a catalyst for him seeing common cause with the Federation and Kirk. And of course this would end up also seeing his interests aligning with the high council representative.

    And I'm of course imagining a great set of out takes that could be done when all the characters end up going back to the 21st century for no other reason than it's cheap to film. Just have the actors in costume and in character walking around San Francisco, random and unscripted. ;)

    If the combination of writing and acting created an interesting enough character, side stories can be easily justified and also be worthwhile artistically.

  12. The internal clan rivalries of the Klingon Empire are quite interesting, but should also be handled with care. After all, Somalia is a failed state because of the lethal combination of tribalism and cheap 20th century infantry weapons, and Feudal Japan was regularly engulfed in war for similar reasons (plus a warrior culture that serves as the inspiration for Worf in TNG) until it was centralized for good by the Meiji restoration (which was only possible because they had a centralized military with access to the most modern weapons and tactics).

    A Klingon Empire in a state of constant war with nuclear weapons, spacecraft capable of interplanetary speeds and all the various superscience of the Star Trek universe would eventually be either a collection of slagged planets or a true Empire with the power and will to put down any rebellion for good. Perhaps the Imperial Will is to allow "freebooting" along the edges of Empire in order to provide a means of testing people for their ability to make shrewd decisions as well as providing a saftey valve for the overly aggressive (not to mention a bit of plunder and maybe a new planetary system from time to time)

    1. That's exactly what I was thinking. Everybody gets caught up in world-building and say "Well gorsh, that political setup doesn't seem all that stable. It'll fall apart in a generation or two. It's only meta-stable." Right! That's not the problem, that's the feature!

      Quoth me:

      The whole idea of conquering a Klingon Empire was suggested by the women as a suitably glorious endeavor for proud Klingon warriors. It actually served as a way of getting the most violent and stupid of the males out of their hair so they could put things back together. Proper Klingon worlds are actually very peaceful and civilized since the warriors are usually off conquering things, fighting amongst themselves or endlessly training.

      The Klingons expressly did not develop this tech, they acquired it from outside. Their society prior to this was in a state of constant war and couldn't manage much better than Steam Age tech before another big war smashed things up again.

      At this point in the timeline, the Klingons had defeated the Dullard Empire, consolidated a few worlds, and are gearing up for the next big imperial push. They were consolidating territory up until now.

      Klingons play by two sets of rules which is all-out war vs. everyone else and ritual combat between themselves. Two champions can beat each other to death in a ring of honor and not have the losing side dispute the results with nukes and planet slagging.

      But the forces at play here are beyond the control of political manipulation and the High Council, while greatly concerned, still lack an appreciation for just how bad it can get.

      Klingon Civil War? Absolutely. Makes sense. And the Federation ends up drawn into this supporting the loyalist side because the radicals are going all Vlad Dracul on the galaxy. It's madness.

      So the Klingons would be the unstable empire that's so dangerous because there's no political unity or predictability, squabbling children with a-bombs.

      The Romulans would represent pragmatic empire-builders, not evil per se but with goals not aligned with the Fed. They are disgusted by the waste and stupidity of the galactic wars up to this point and want order. They're playing a long game with military force to take out immediate threats to peace but using cultural manipulation to create the reality they want in the long term.

      The Klingons appear to be the moral opposite to the Federation but what you're really looking at is the Klingons and Romulans being opposites -- Klingons would be almost anarchic at the inter-clan level and the Romulans would be about complete political unity and collective purpose, imposing order.

      1984 and Brave New World represent two different looks at the future, hard dystopia and soft dystopia. The difference is that things are just as bad in BNW but the majority of the people don't even realize they're imprisoned in their own society. You don't need a boot smashing a human face forever if you've got the right pharmaceuticals, the proper info-tainment.

      My thinking is that the Fed exists as a united political entity and the Romulans remain outside of the system -- ostensibly to establish neutrality -- but cooperate on efforts if and when it serves them. I'm imagining them offering education missions on developing worlds where they're engaging in the long game of steering political thinking, shaping the future. It's all for our own good, don't you know. And it's not something that seems entirely evil on the face of it. You have to look at the results and judge by that.

      Am I making sense? :)

    2. Somehow, I can't see the Romulans as evil. But they clearly represent the Law's tendency versus the Klingon Chaos, to use this old dichotomy, and I've always found the Law side more sympathetic.
      Which may well be a trap ; the world the Romulans want may well be a cold glass prison immune to change.

      The idea is interesting, an empire who is pragmatic (and emotionless) on the short term and idealist on the very long term, subtly imposing their system to the galaxy.

      I can imagine heated discussions between Federation citizens about whether the Romulans are evil or not, but even for those who declare them evil, they can't stop them. The Romulans will be careful to avoid open conflict with the Federation, or do anything who could bring an emotional response by doing clearly evil/wrong things. Similarly, the Federation can't openly attack them to try to stop them. That would be an act of aggression. And while they can try to out-mission them in shaping the Galaxy, I'd expect cold and disinterested people like the Romulans to have a serious advantage.
      So they are this cold, subtle force slowly but surely changing the galaxy. Peacefully, say their defenders, insidiously, say their detractors.
      Whatever, unless major catastrophe, I don't see how they couldn't accomplish their long-term goals.

      The Klingon are the exact opposite : an immediately dangerous, unpredictable force driven by conflicts and emotion. They are the immediate threat, but not a long-term danger. If there is to be war against them, it will be soon, because whatever they are in the far future (if they still are), it won't be what they are now.

      That's interesting, because you have two very different threats here : the one driving the plot, clear and direct ; the other in the background, almost immobile to the course of the story. Less immediate, but far more unsettling, and making you asking questions to yourself.

      Or did I miss something?

    3. That's pretty much the idea. And I like complex opponents who can make you question your own ideals. What makes you right and them wrong? Explain, provide evidence.

      It's like the Muslim connundrum. We say we are doing to free these oppressed people and give them democracy. USA! USA! But the they go and vote in theocrats. And they like it! They're not using their democracy the way they're supposed to! So do we accept their right to self-determination or do we force them to come around to the right way of thinking?

    4. Screen froze. Continuing. For me, this is where I find my crisis of idealism. The bleeding heart in me wants to fix problems but the pragmatist says yeah, it won't work and now you own it. Is standing aside cowardice or the best of all terrible options?

      As for the Romulans and Vulcans, there's little superficial difference to tell them apart in terms of demeanor. You can't tell when a Romulan is being emotional, not unless they've snapped. Early Vuclans were more violent than Klingons by a large margin, psychotic. Emotionless Vulcans keep it in check. Romulans keep the Vulcan controls up most of the time and tap into those emotions sparringly. But as the good doctor said, you wouldn't like him when he's angry.

  13. Further to my last, this sort of Imperial setup then defines the conflict between our brash Klingon newcomer and the Klingon femme fatale; they are members of rival clans working to make a name for themselves and their family lines. High performance ratings would reflect well on the clan, and provide potential to be accepted into the Imperial Navy in a command position. In any subsequent encounter with Kirk, each one will be attempting to manipulate the situation to their advantage both WRT Kirk but also WRT the other Klingon. Our Femme Fatal may have one advantage over her rival (unless there is a side to Kirk we don't know about....), but if making Kirk look good advances their position vs their rival, then Kirk can take advantage of that to boost his career in Starfleet. Once Kirk figures this out, there may be a sort of grudging three way relationship developing, as they all realize they need each other to advance their careers.

    As far as the Empire is concerned, this provides a means of selecting high performance officers for the fleet and at the same time removing them from the clan so they do not pose a threat to the Empire. Combined with the resources of the Imperial fleet, no single clan would have the resources or leadership to pose more than a temporary threat, and the risks of betrayal mean not enough clans would be able to combine forces to overmatch the Imperial fleet (far too often you would discover your supposed allies smiling at you from the opposite side of the battle line...)

    If the EUzone is really supposed to be the inspiration for the Federation, then we also have some interesting areas for plots and sub plots. How would the Federation deal with a planet being run like Greece? They expect all the benefits of the Federation without following some or all of the rules, leaving chaos in their wake. Since Kirk isn't always going to be in the neutral zone with his friends, this provides another setting (or the backdrop of chaotic conditions in the Federation providing an opportunity for predatory powers like the Klingons and Romulans to start moving in).

    1. So you're thinking the Imperial Fleet would be like the Night's Watch in Game of Thrones, maybe not renouncing family ties but family interests in favor of the good of the Empire. Clans have their own private forces but the Imperial Fleet would embody the will of the High Council.

      The original idea I was running with would be that a Klingon war effort would be a squabbling mess of rival and fragmented command structures. In the Arab-Israeli wars the Arab may have had numbers on their side but couldn't get on the same page and invited defeat by a smaller, more cohesive force.

      I can see the inherent contradiction within the Empire as pan-Klingon nationalism versus clan power grabs. Fragmented Klingons were easily recruited by the dullard imperialists. Klingon Great Leader shows them that they could be calling the shots if they acted as one people. Dullards are defeated but the old clan leaders don't like giving up any power, even if it makes sense to do so. But they can't speak openly against the Great Leader because that's like pissing on Mohammad's grave.

      So perhaps what ends up happening is the Great Leader's vision is neutered. The High Council to speak for the united will of the clans and the Imperial Fleet to serve as a united command structure for clan fleets to join up with for wars is the theory but in practice the clans are sniping and undercutting and sabotaging every way they can. The High Council will have believers in Klingon unity and others who are as self-serving as the clan leaders. And there will be some clan leaders who believe in the unity.

      I think the femme fatale would be a true believer. Might be interesting if she came from a major clan and has openly made decisions that hurt her family but served the empire. She's shown she believes in what she says.

      I'm thinking in terms of clan politics the council and imperial fleet would be players but not dominant. To their advantage they are the keepers of the Great Leader's legacy, the average Klingon on the street feels pride in his heart when he thinks of the empire, and there's a great moral authority in what the Council says.

      As for the structure of the council, it's going to have at least two chambers, one speaking for the clan leaders, one speaking for people. The Great Leader probably co-opted pre-existing social structures to spread his message. If a warrior's religion is the center of society, then maybe his teachings are promoted in church-dojos. So the people's chamber could be drawn from there.

      This could be another sticking point for the clan leaders because the old ways say the clan leader is boss, period, never to be questioned. The Great Leader's change means that now absolute loyalty to the clan leader is subverted by the idea of loyalty to the empire. Klingons can get their honor fix even when disobeying their clan because it's for the empire.

      I like this dysfunctional mess because it means the Klingons are dangerous, but not so dangerous they should steamroll over the Federation. And while the clan leaders are all counting coup, they're not really paying much attention to the engineers and scientists who have brought their worlds into the modern era. They would represent the real power behind the council, people who recognize the clan warfare is dangerous and stupid.

      The eventual civil war would then lead to the undoing of all that effort.

  14. Nice take. This is pretty much the situation in our own history with great clan driven "empires" like the Mongol Empire. The occasional leader could rise above the petty squabbling and unite the clans for a time, but then factional infighting overtakes the Empire on the death of the great leader.

    The Japanese Imperial system eventually decayed for similar reasons, and the Shogunate also gradually declined. The Meiji Emperors reversed the trend, but the Imperial system became corrupted by militarism; by the mid 1930's there were a series of coups and countercoups between the Army and Imperial Navy over who was going to run the nation and the direction of the coming war effort. (Side note; the Imperial Navy won, opting to conquer the pre existing Empires of South East Asia. The Army wanted to invade the Soviet Union and annex Siberia's resources...)

    We can see a similar modern version in Yugoslavia, where you can substitute ethnic rivalries for clans, and lots of other sorry examples exist around the world. As you can see from the historical examples, this is not a stable situation, and the devolution of the system can become very messy and violent either internally or externally (imagine an all powerful Imperial Navy faction becoming ascendant in the Klingon Empire...)

  15. In story terms you could also make the inter Klingon rivalry more deadly if the Femme Fatale is an Imperial Fleet officer while her rival is a Clan fleet commander from the same clan...