Myriad Universes: The Star Lost Part 4: The Barrier
This section of The Star Lost really does feel like it’s from another story. In fact, when I first rediscovered this miniseries, it thought it was another story: Stumbling upon the cover for this issue while browsing through the archives of DC’s Star Trek: The Next Generation immediately caught my interest and I picked it up out of curiosity, only to find it was actually Part 4 of The Star Lost.
In any other context, “Deanna Troi uncovers the mystery of a culture of mer-people and its thinly veiled institutionalized power structures of oppression and discrimination” would be grounds enough for a science fiction story unto itself-Indeed, even the Animated Series did an episode that was broad-strokes similar. But while that episode took its central sci-fi conceit (ocean planet inhabited by civilization of mer-people) and went no further than that, here it’s a subset of the far larger and grander tale we’ve been seeing unfold for the past few months. What this does is touch on a central divide in attitudes about how science fiction ought to be approached and once again shows how Star Trek: The Next Generation, particularly this Star Trek: The Next Generation, is transmuting the genre into something more holistic and universal.
The mere fact that one of this very series’ own predecessors took a similar conceit and expected it to carry an entire story is a revealing demonstration of just how much science fiction has changed in only the past 10-15 years or so. “The Ambergris Element” figured all it had to do was present a neat sci-fi concept (“Hey look! Ocean planet with mer-people!”) and its job was basically done. Now, the fact “The Ambergris Element” was also a spectacularly incoherent piece of shit penned by the single worst writer ever to job for Star Trek is actually beside the point here: What I want to focus in on here is the assumption that the most important thing was the central speculative idea and that everything else was just window dressing and irrelevant details. This is a very traditional (read Hard SF) way of going about doing science fiction, and that simply isn’t going to fly anymore for a lot of very good reasons. You can’t get away with this these days, and quite frankly, you shouldn’t be able to.
That’s not to say we have to abandon the speculative and the fantastic; this is still science fiction after all and there’s no point in doing science fiction if you’re not going to engage with that on some level. But what we’re learning now is that the speculative has to be treated as a manifestation of the themes, energies and emotions of the larger work, not the be-all and end-all unto itself. We’re getting right back to what was so terrific about “The Lesson” (or indeed Dirty Pair, or any other hallmark of Long 1980s storytelling), where abstract images and concepts are used to highlight new dimensions of stories instead of obfuscating them.…