Data Vs. The Eames Brothers

Over at AMC, John Scalzi points out some of the design flaws inherent in the Star Trek Universe. Allow me to add a few more:

Starfleet ship design
Yes, flying saucers are cool. Flying saucers with rockets attached? Bad Ass! If your seven and it’s 1953. Having a military ship with its propulsion system dangling off the rear is dumb in so many ways. But not as dumb as putting the bridge in the dead center of the top of the saucer section, on a raised platform, with a blinking light on top. Might as well paint it red, because it’s a flying target.

Phasers
Again, laser guns are the very definition of sci-fi cool. But they are super impracticable. Ensign Jones, in his short six month stint on the Enterprise, has gone up against the Borg, Klingons and some freaky octopus who sucks salt out of your body. He’s got a raging case of PTSD. So naturally we’ll equip him with a death ray that looks like a remote control. “I just wanted to watch Sports Center! Now my ship mate is a molten smudge on the bulkhead!”

Replicators
Voice activated computers that will make you anything you want to eat, so long as you are really, really specific. It’s “tea, earl gray, hot” for breakfast and “tea, earl gray, hot” for lunch and “tea, earl gray, hot” for dinner and “tea, earl gray, hot” every other hour. Have they forgotten how to do shortcut keys in the future? Macros? You have a voice activated computer that knows your name, you’ve pretty much licked AI, but you still have to place your order like you’re talking to a semi retarded, half-deaf waiter who only speaks Croatian. “No, I did not order cold Darjeeling, I ordered TEA! EARL GRAY! HOT!”

Holodecks
Scalzi covered them pretty well but it bares repeating for emphasis: you have the technology to make anything from porn to monsters from the Id come to life and your bright idea is to stick this on a space ship? Why exactly? And did no one do any quality control testing before they decided to make this a standard piece of shipboard equipment? “Hay lets include a big holographic generator that malfunctions one out of ten times you use it, that’ll be good for a laugh, right?” Yeah, until the blind guy and the robot accidentally bring a super villain to life. Oops. They were just lucky that Data was a fan of 19th century mysteries and not 20th century manga. “Sorry Captain, I seem to have unleashed the Overfiend. All crew members on the lower decks are currently being tentacle-raped to death. Luckily the sex ninjas and giant atomic powered robots should have it subdued before we reach Starbase twelve.”

We could get into the obvious stuff, like a complete lack of seatbelts or the sudden, inexplicable disappearance of fuse technology sometime in the 22nd century, but that’s low hanging fruit. The big bad design flaw of Star Trek has always been their unimaginative writers. A bit of rubber on your forehead does not make you an alien. Long words with technical sounding prefixes cannot spackle over the plot holes. The Transporter cannot fix the fact that your week Aesop is just a reactionary bludgeon to a world that has gone boring through poor application of imagination and a creator whose own restrictions and obsessions have gotten in the way of good writing. Luckily, in the years since Star Trek, we’ve had a lot of improvement. Farscape, BSG, Star Gate — evn Doctor Who– have adapted. They took these flawed tropes, plus all the stuff that worked from Star Trek and built on it, making it bigger and better and more science-tastic, while at the same time, delivering fine drama and brilliant stories, well told. So yeah, some of the odds and ends creak a little now and again but it’s still good fun.