Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Random Failing Canons

The thing that's making my Tomb Raider/SG1 fanfic so much fun is that I've given myself implicit permission to be wrong. There's a lot of fun stuff to research, and my followers seem to enjoy all the random weird trivia, but it really takes the pressure off to straight up admit I'm not going to get all of it right.

And, yes, I just started writing from one end. Started her in Malta because introducing her on the sundeck of her yacht over sparkling turquoise water seemed like a good entrance. Malta of course makes it obvious to go blathering on about the Knights of Malta, the Tribute of the Falcon, the Battle of Lepanto and so on.

Searching around for random interesting antiquities in that corner of the Mediterranean led me to Tripoli, and inherent in that was a clash with Gaddafi's Amazonian Guard. And the Tribute of the Falcon gave me an excuse to visit San Francisco as well. And so it went; pretty much following random connections around like an archaeological James Burke, until I needed to actively push her in the direction of the Stargate.

I've finally reached the chapter where Lara sneaks into the SGC. Filling 5,000 or more words with that would make it like playing Black Mesa in reverse; lots of crawling down tunnels filled with steam pipes and fiddling with doors, and that didn't interest me. Fortunately, the absurdities of having the Stargate buried under the old NORAD command center, in (according to the show) an abandoned silo, gives me implicit permission to be just as silly.

So I'm postulating a top-top secret continuation of the old Project Pluto (a remarkably insane Cold War creation that never quite flew, thank the gods -- it was, in essentials, a nuclear-powered cruise missile the size of a locomotive. A nuclear ramjet, in fact, spewing hot radioactive gas from an open-core reactor as it hurtled along low to the ground at Mach 3, destroying buildings from the sheer shock wave alone.)

And to find out about Project Nergal I've got her talking to a permanent resident of the gallant, foolish, and probably hugely claustrophobic and depressing Sealand, a would-be micro-nation and de-facto data haven off the coast of England. And while she is in Colorado, I've got her exploring some of the remnant dreams of Gilded Age philanthropist Spencer Penrose. All of which I discovered simply by reading as much as I could about what it looked like on the trails and summit of the mountain.

I may still manage some air vents, but I'm hopeful there's enough random material there to fill out my chapter. Then I can finally get to the place that first interested me; having Lara Croft and Daniel Jackson compare, contrast, and be confronted with the realities of their Indiana Jones school of archaeology approach to the ancient world.

I've been watching old episode of Stargate: Atlantis of late. Which depresses me a bit. The show makes a strong start but then becomes increasingly depressing. Like the much older Space, 1999 it seems to go out of its way to make the heroes ineffectual; no matter what they try, things usually turn out badly. This is not helped by the fact that this is a self-satisfied, moralizing bunch of bigots. There are numerous places where the "designated hero" rule is turned up to eleven; the Atlantis crowd giving the cold shoulder to someone doing or suggesting exactly the same thing they just did or suggested. Only they are the "heroes," so it's right when they do it.

Among the strange attitudes is their seeming certainty of what makes a "human." People who don't meet their narrow guidelines are not treated well. Wraith hybrid? Replicator? Well, it is just fine and dandy to lie to one, betray one, murder one without a qualm. It isn't as if they are people, after all.

As unsettling as this is, the mistake that most stands out for me is putting Atlantis back in contact with Earth before the first season is even over. Voyager did the same thing. Given the chance to set a series in a completely new world, the writers seemingly panic and immediately make every effort to bring back all the elements of the last show. Voyager couldn't travel a parsec without running into something from the Alpha Quadrant, whether it was yet more Borg, or Amelia Earhart.

Enterprise took this one step further. The very precept of the show was "Star Trek before the Federation, before transporters and phasers, when the Vulcans weren't friends, our ships were primitive, and we hadn't even heard of Klingons." And yet, by the second or third episode everything that had been in the franchise before was back. They just had to have the Borg again, even though it violated continuity so bad they ended up ending the series with a giant reset button.

It is tempting to blame lazy writers, but most of these shows don't have writers per se. They have giant teams of script doctors. And they also have marketing departments, and layers and layers of producer oversight. And, yes, the fans want more of the damned Borg. Or at least they say they do.

The error is giving the fans what they say they want, instead of giving them something they need. The first moment someone sat down to create a Voyager script they should have been saying, "Here we are about to cross our entire galaxy. This is a different scale of exploration than we've ever dealt with before. How does galactic structure change things? Are we going to end up in rifts between the spiral arms? How close can we get to the core, and how many episodes can we get out of flirting with the galactic-scale black hole there?"

But, no. Their first question was, "So I want the Borg to attack like they did on every other episode of the last show I was writing for. So what do I have to change to make that happen?"

Star Trek, the original Star Trek, confronted expectations. It told a story that hadn't been told before, and trusted the audience would be intrigued enough to pick up the language and absorb the mythos. It is a very difficult chore to toss any of that mythos, especially when you know you have a ready-made audience. But when the very basic premise of the show is, "This is going to be a little different," you murder your show by quickly erasing and retconning every aspect of that difference away.

Atlantis should have stayed out of contact, fighting their lonely battle with the Wraith and dependent on the contacts and alliances they could make in the Pegasus Galaxy. They should have been always constrained, and forced to new improvisations and new acts of heroism, based on not having access to infinite equipment, re-supply, power, and new personnel from Earth.

They should have confronted the reality of being stranded, and grown in attachment to Atlantis, and adopted the Pegasus Galaxy as the home they would fight for. And all the choices made in the show, from being force to abandon the city to deciding whether they could afford to keep someone like Cavenaugh on, should have been shaped by those realities.

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