This machine mildly irritates fascists

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.


  1. Jack Graham
    October 5, 2014 @ 11:09 pm


    Maybe the reason the Holodeck keeps malfunctioning is because it is being asked to perform a constant and exhausting task above and beyond its technical (diegetic) function: shoring up the unstable structure of a portal connecting Star Trek to other mythic narratives. A bit like why the TARDIS breaks down and hurls the passengers onto a different time track when it comes to Xeros, a world where weaponised entropy-dampening fundamentally conflicts with how it works.

    Also, its a shame that Japanese animation didn't have the pervasiveness in Western culture that it has now. TNG could have openly referenced it. If you think about it, the Holodeck could presumably create an animated world for you to interact with, just as Bob Hoskins interacts with the cartoons in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? It could even translate you into a cartoon for the duration of your stay. Which… strangely… is what happened to the TOS crew when they were translated into animation (apparently without any diegetic knowledge of the fact on their part) during the Animated Series… which is, as you say, where we find the first Holodeck malfunction story!


  2. Josh Marsfelder
    October 6, 2014 @ 10:26 am

    Indeed, the Holodeck portions of "The Big Goodbye" were originally meant to be filmed in black and white (including having Picard, Crusher, Data and Whalen turn monochrome), but the producers couldn't figure out how to come up with a diegetic technobabble explanation for why that happened. Though apparently they relaxed their stance by the "Captain Proton" episodes of Star Trek Voyager.

    Funny you should mention animated/illustrated Star Trek. There is a Star Trek: The Next Generation manga published by Tokyopop I've been trying to hunt down…


  3. Spoilers Below
    October 7, 2014 @ 3:47 am

    To follow up a bit on Jack's comment, that really is a lovely lens for looking at the different approaches that Star Trek and Doctor Who take: the TARDIS sends itself into different narratives, intruding into stories, playing them starring the wrong characters, to (sometimes) affect social change in those stories' worlds and help make them better. The Enterprise already contains within itself all the stories, and its crew enter into those stories to change or amuse themselves, to better create their utopia.

    I didn't know there was a TNG manga. I've got the Original Series one, and remember it being pretty good, but then I haven't read it since high school and hence without too critical of an eye…


  4. BadCatMan
    October 25, 2014 @ 9:43 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  5. BadCatMan
    October 25, 2014 @ 9:45 pm

    (Going back a bit, now I've got the time to respond to some things here.)

    I've got this!

    TBH, I found it kind of forgettable first time, in that I forgot everything that happened in it. I haven't read any manga but this and the first TOS one, so I couldn't say anything about it in that sense. With all Western writers and no Japanese artists (AFAICT), it didn't feel particularly Japanese or any different from normal, more like regular Trek comics in a smaller format.

    I reread the first, David Gerrold's "Changeling". It's a rather light and fluffy, but you might like the themes. It sees the team investigating the Labyrinth of Wisdom. Wesley acts like Wesley, but is metamorphosed into a younger version of each of the others: a young Klingon warrior after Worf, a young engineer after Geordi, and a young (female!) Betazoid after Deanna, learning a little from each of them, with some discussion on growth and change and learning from and relying on others, very suited to TNG's core themes. The comedy forced sex-change might be a bit of a sour note, but hey, it's gives back Leslie Crusher. 🙂

    And given the above discussion, you might like the twist. 😉


  6. Josh Marsfelder
    October 26, 2014 @ 4:58 pm

    "TBH, I found it kind of forgettable first time, in that I forgot everything that happened in it. I haven't read any manga but this and the first TOS one, so I couldn't say anything about it in that sense. With all Western writers and no Japanese artists (AFAICT), it didn't feel particularly Japanese or any different from normal, more like regular Trek comics in a smaller format."

    I was afraid of this. Whenever Western writers and artists try to do something in an anime or manga "style" it's usually pretty unbearable. They don't really understand what anime and manga are about, are completely ignorant to or dismissive of the original Japanese cultural context (which tends to not translate very well) or just build their story out of vaguely racist assumptions and stereotypes about Japanese fiction. The "Marvel Manga Universe" is probably the most appalling example of this, though Adam Warren has his moments.

    Far be it for them to, you know, get some actual Japanese creators to write a Star Trek: The Next Generation manga or anime. Though there are problems with that approach too: Most anime these days is written with the preconceptions a certain kind of Western anime fan has for what anime should be in mind, and not necessarily for a Japanese audience or one that genuinely appreciates and understands Japanese cultural nuances.


  7. Daru
    November 19, 2014 @ 10:09 pm

    Love, love love this story!

    Wonderful essay and yes this is the point I remember where the show moved into realms other than was expected and started also to have a deeper and more profound effect on me when I first watched it.

    "“The Big Goodbye”, a story about recursive performativity (not only are the characters playing roles in their Holodeck simulation, but the aforementioned bleedthrough over the boundary between the actors and their parts is the first time a critical and defining aspect of Star Trek: The Next Generation begins to crystallize), and through the Holodeck, which uses light, colour and sound to create a fantasy world of performative artifice. Captain Picard assumes the mantle of a fictional hero of his"

    Absolutely regarding the above. I can't recall which essay it was, but this for me all relates to the world of Nordic LARP (live action role play) – where the stories explored move beyond the trappings of D&D scenarios, and participants in the LARP have a space called the 'Black Box' where scenes in any reality can be explored outside of the main story.

    The bleedthrough of a character into you and you into the character played is also important – but also within this story as well as there being a "recursive performativity" there I feel is a "recursive bleedthrough", as not only is there a bleed between the parts and the actors (and vice versa) but also importantly between for example the part of Picard and the part of Dixon, but also between the stage performer of Stewart and the Holodeck performer of Dixon.



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