Space Ramblings

Orson Scott Card’s Star Trek Bashing

Back in 2005, the age of wizards, Orson Scott Card penned an LA Times screed arguing that Star Trek was better off dead. It wasn’t much of an argument, since Orson Scott Card insisted on comparing the Star Trek of the 60’s to modern Science Fiction shows, without actually comparing them to say Star Trek Deep Space Nine or Voyager or Enterprise. That kind of dishonesty characterizes Card’s entire piece, which begins with taking the predictable shots at those “goofy fans” who write in Klingon or wear Vulcan ears, and write some of that gay fanfic that Card’s church loves so much, and ends by praising the storytelling of Smallville, yes that Smallville.

That follows throughout an article seemingly written by someone who seems to have reached his conclusion by watching 15 minutes of Star Trek in the 60’s

“The original “Star Trek,” created by Gene Roddenberry, was, with a few exceptions, bad in every way that a science fiction television show could be bad. Nimoy was the only charismatic actor in the cast and, ironically, he played the only character not allowed to register emotion.”

Now there’s lots of fair or unfair criticisms of the Original Series that could be made, but to claim that Shatner had no charisma and showed no emotion on the series, would make anyone go, “huh?” Shatner was nothing if not an overacting ham. It’s what he’s best known for.

“This was in the days before series characters were allowed to grow and change, before episodic television was allowed to have a through line. So it didn’t matter which episode you might be watching, from which year — the characters were exactly the same.”

Really was Spock and Kirk’s relationship in Where No Man Has Gone Before, the same as it was in City on the Edge of Forever and the same as it was in Amok Time? Really, no growth there. That would come as a shock to anyone who had actually watched the show. Which clearly doesn’t include Orson Scott Card himself.

“Which was a shame, because science fiction writing was incredibly fertile at the time, with writers like Harlan Ellison and Ursula LeGuin, Robert Silverberg and Larry Niven, Brian W. Aldiss and Michael Moorcock, Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, and Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke creating so many different kinds of excellent science fiction that no one reader could keep track of it all.”

Oddly enough, Star Trek’s writers included Theodore Sturgeon, David Gerrold, Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, Norman Spinrad, Harlan Ellison and yes Larry Niven, who wound up writing up a lot of the animated series episodes. Not to mention James Blish who novelized the series itself. And mainstream SF writers at the time praised the series and helped campaign for its renewal.

And how many Science Fiction writers does Smallville have working on it?

“As science fiction, the series was trapped in the 1930s — a throwback to spaceship adventure stories with little regard for science or deeper ideas. It was sci-fi as seen by Hollywood: all spectacle, no substance.”

There are a whole lot of engineers and scientists who credited Star Trek with inspiring them. It certainly was one of the few Science Fiction shows on television that actually treated science as a real tool, in contrast to say Lost in Space.

So what Science Fiction shows does Orson Scott Card think are what Science Fiction should really be? ” Jeffrey Lieber, J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof have created “Lost,” the finest television science fiction series of all time … so far. Through-line series like Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and Alfred Gough’s and Miles Millar’s “Smallville” have raised our expectations of what episodic sci-fi and fantasy ought to be. Whedon’s “Firefly” showed us that even 1930s sci-fi can be well acted and tell a compelling long-term story.”

That’s right. Lost. Buffy. Firefly… and heaven help us, Smallville is what Orson Scott Card thinks Great Science Fiction Television looks like. Sure two of those shows, Buffy and Lost, are actually fantasy, not Science Fiction. Firefly had no science on it whatsoever. And Smallville is Superboy and most of its episodes are blatantly ripped off from mainstream movies such as Saw and The Game.

“Here’s what I think: Most people weren’t reading all that brilliant science fiction. Most people weren’t reading at all. So when they saw “Star Trek,” primitive as it was, it was their first glimpse of science fiction. It was grade school for those who had let the whole science fiction revolution pass them by.”

Wow. Elitism from Orson Scott Card. It’s a lot easier to get away with elitism when your own audience doesn’t consist of people who haven’t realized that they shouldn’t be buying 40 sequels to Ender’s Game. If it wasn’t for people who read grade school Science Fiction, Card wouldn’t be selling any books at all.

“Screen sci-fi has finally caught up with written science fiction. We’re in college now. High school is over. There’s just no need for “Star Trek” anymore.”

Tell you what, I’ll put up the best of Star Trek against the best of Orson Scott Card, which is pretty much Ender’s Game. And Card will lose. Meanwhile it’s painfully obvious that his real grievance against Star Trek is not about quality or sophistication. Not from someone who praises the storytelling of Smallville. It’s most likely about secularism and tolerance, and whatever other bugaboos Star Trek represent for him.

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  • Paul February 17, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Many Sci Fi writers wrote prequels and sequels to their books. Sice they make another seriesof Star rek don’t talk about sequels and prequels. I really think that Star Trek isn’t really that straight with those tight suits. I guarantee that Ender’s Game is straighter. Ever read it? Also Star Trek is for children who can’t even read. Dude, criticize the author but don’t criticize the work when what you are defending isn’t superior!

  • O_Deus February 19, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    Your argument would carry weight if Card didn’t keep defending things much worse than Star Trek. Like Star Trek the movie and Smallville.

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