Captain’s Blog: Episode 306, 21.02.2017

Greetings, captains! This week brings us a few more scraps of Star Trek: Discovery casting news, the announcement of the Roddenberry Prize winners, and a piece of Star Trek technology making a real-life appearance. Engines to full: here we go!

Community Questions: This Week

Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek specifically to depict a future where humanity had managed to put aside its ideological differences and work together for a common good. But he hoped that future wouldn’t exist solely in his imagination. In 2010, Mr. Roddenberry’s son, Rod, established the Roddenberry Foundation as a way to reach out to people and organizations who can help that future become real. This year was the inaugural year of the Roddenberry Prize, a competition to “crowd-source innovation solutions to issues that demand an immediate, bold, and global response.” One winner receives the $400,000 grand prize, with four additional entrants receiving $150,000 Innovation Awards. This year’s winner is Opus 12, a company that focuses on developing technology to capture carbon emissions and convert them into chemicals and carbon-neutral fuels. The four Innovation award winners are the Cancer Cell Map Initiative, SmartStones, FarmDrive, and FastOx, and tackle issues from mapping all the components of a cancer cell to assisting rural farmers in Kenya with financing.

Along similar futuristic lines, this week we heard about something called the eSight 3. People with certain types of visual impairments may be able to use this headset to see much more of the world than they can unassisted. The eSight uses a system of prisms, cameras, and high definition displays to present visual information to the user in a way that’s easier for them to process. Since it relies solely on optics, it requires no surgery; users can simply try it on and see if it works for them. There are some drawbacks, however. The battery life is only about six hours long, and each unit costs about $10,000 US, with most insurance policies not being willing to foot the bill. However, that’s likely to change as word gets out and more units get sold.

Geordi La Forge, played by Le Var Burton, wearing the VISOR

It’s like a VISOR, but less headband-y

Speaking for myself, though, if I could have any piece of Star Trek technology today, I would opt for a functioning impulse drive. The sooner we can move towards clean energy, the better! Of course, the first time it broke down, I would be over a barrel.

More Star Trek: Discovery casting news was released this week: an additional three cast members have been announced. Terry Serpico will play Admiral Anderson, “a high-ranking official of Starfleet.” Mr. Serpico’s previous work includes Army Wives, The Inspectors, and the movie The Purge: Election Year. Maulik Pancholy will play Dr. Nambue, the Chief Medical Officer of the USS Shenzhou; his previous credits include 30 Rock, Weeds, and the movie 27 Dresses. Finally, Sam Vartholomeos will take on the role of Ensign Connor, “a Junior Officer in Starfleet Academy” who is also assigned to the Shenzhou. According to the IMDB, this is his first major role.

Terry Serpico, Maulik Pancholy, and Sam Vartholomeos, courtesy CBS

From the left: Terry Serpico, Maulik Pancholy, and Sam Vartholomeos. Picture courtesy of CBS.

The buzz about this casting announcement isn’t only from the expanding crew roster. (More on that in a minute.) In a step in line with Star Trek‘s committment to depicting a more diverse and inclusive future, the casting of Mr. Pancholy makes him the second out actor to join the cast. There’s no word on Dr. Nambue’s sexual orientation, but Anthony Rapp, himself an out actor, will play Lt. Stamets, who will be written as a gay character. This will hopefully go over more smoothly with fans than the retconning of Lt. Sulu as gay in last year’s Star Trek: Beyond. Intended as an homage to George Takei, who originated the role, the change was met with mixed reactions from fans and from Mr. Takei himself. In any case, the crew of Shenzhou boasts the first female lead character of color, as well as a second female captain. It’s always nice to see that diversity get more infinite! (Now if they’d only give me a Horta crewmember.)

Lt. Naraht, a Horta crewmember

Lt. Naraht lives! Picture courtesy Memory Beta

The second interesting thing about this casting announcement is that, as Kenna mentioned, we’re still not getting a lot of crew announcements for the USS Discovery. Most of the announcements have been either for Klingons or for Shenzhou crew members. So far we’ve all made the assumption that the show would take place on the ship for which it’s named. After all, that’s been the pattern with nearly every Trek show. I’m with Tony on this: I think the Discovery is a MacGuffin. A what?

A MacGuffin, despite what it might sound like, is not some kind of funky new breakfast food from McDonald’s. It’s a term coined by the great film director Alfred Hitchcock to describe “something that serves to trigger the plot.” It doesn’t really matter what a MacGuffin is; it just has to get the warp drive going. Famous examples include–and please bear with me as I attempt to come up with examples from within the past twenty years–the One Ring from Lord of the Rings, the Death Star plans from Star Wars: Rogue One and Episode IV: A New Hope, and the Infinity Stones of the Marvel cinematic universe. (I may have cheated slightly with Rogue One.) So I think our crew members will pursue Discovery in more ways than one. This theory may be supported by an interview with Nicholas Meyer, who wrote Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and has been brought on board Discovery as a writer. Speaking with TrekMovie, he said:

I hope it perpetuates the Star Trek condition of helping people see themselves, making us able to contemplate dilemmas that otherwise we might be too close to judge without prejudice. I thought that was the series’ strength – by taking hot button issues, renaming them and setting them someplace else, that we could think about ourselves and how we want to be.

The One Ring from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings

One MacGuffin to start the plot

To me, this all sounds very promising, but I’m reserving judgement until we actually start to see some footage. I’m still a little uneasy about the pushing back of the premiere date and the extremely slow release of casting information, but I choose optimism. It may be illogical, but it’s the human thing to do.

With regard to the question of commanding the Enterprise in VR, I have to say it doesn’t really influence me one way or the other. I’m not interested in getting a VR rig for multiple reasons. First, I can’t afford it. Second, I don’t really like intense emotional experiences, and most of the VR experiences seem designed towards that end. Third, I’m already behind on several years’ worth of games, and I’d much prefer to catch up with those. Fourth, and this is probably because I’m a million internet years old, but I’m quite happy with the level of engagement I experience with two-dimensional entertainment. If the story is good, I’ll find it absorbing regardless of the mode of presentation. Right now, VR seems like 3D in movies to me: an unnecessary complication that doesn’t do much to enhance anything other than prices.

The Samsung Gear VR headset

Plus, I hate wearing glasses over my glasses.

That’s all I’ve got for this week, captains. Until next time!

Whitby, out.

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