In being responsible for the return of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Michael Chabon has taken on what’ll be one of the most scrutinized jobs in the history of science fiction. Picard is right up there with Kirk and Spock in representing the very best of the Star Trek, not to mention being beloved by hardcore and casual fans alike, so it’s a relief that the acclaimed author of novels like Wonder Boys and The Yiddish Policeman’s Union seems to have an intelligent approach to the franchise and its ideals.
Speaking with CNET, Chabon was asked how he felt about the show’s place in the Trek canon and how difficult it is to work within it, and here’s what he shared:
“Any Star Trek writer, any writing room on any Star Trek show after, let’s say, The Original Series had a responsibility to consider canon, to know your canon. Just speaking for me, that’s an incredible pleasure — to have a legitimate excuse, and get paid, to nerd out completely!
At the same time, and this is true when you’re dealing with any kind of canon, there’s always gaps. There are cracks. There are contradictions. There are mysteries that we never got to hear the explanation of, when people allude to things in canon and don’t give any further explanation. Maybe the greatest example in all canon ever is the giant rat of Sumatra from Sherlock Holmes.
Fans and writers ever since have tried to come up with possible explanations for that. So I think it’s important not just to view canon as a barrier, as a perimeter beyond which you can’t go, a kind of a grid that you’re trapped on. You try to find the loopholes. You find the empty areas. You find the things the canon doesn’t seem to have anything to say, and you say it.
And if you’re really lucky and you get to be working on a Star Trek show then what you say becomes canon itself!”
If you’re not up on Sherlock Holmes trivia, the Giant Rat of Sumatra was a mysterious case mentioned in passing by the detective in The Adventures of the Sussex Vampire, with its very strange name causing generations of Holmes fans to try and work out what this could have been in canon. Now, there’s a whole bunch of stuff in Trek that doesn’t strictly fit into canon, but throughout its run, writers have successfully found what Chabon describes as loopholes. And within them, there’s usually some pretty damn interesting stories.
The scribe also went on to talk about his admiration for the ideals of the show, saying:
“Now that I’m working on the show and now that I’m part of Star Trek, I feel like it’s my responsibility to make sure that the current model is true to the ideals of the original show, the ideas of tolerance and egalitarianism. Obviously, you look at the way women are represented on The Original Series, and that show fell far short of its stated ideals of egalitarianism, although at least they did have women in some positions of responsibility.
But I think we have this responsibility to continue to articulate a hopeful, positive vision of the future. I think if anything that’s more important now than it was when The Original Series came out. It was really important then, and it had a profound impact, socially, with Lieutenant Uhura on the bridge of the Enterprise, and this message that we can think our way out of our most primitive violent instincts.
To me, dystopia has lost its bite. A, we’re living in it, and B, it’s such a complete crushing series of cliches at this point. The tropes have all been worked and reworked so many times. There was a period where a positive, optimistic, techno-future where mankind learns to live in harmony and goes out into the stars just to discover and not to conquer, that was an overworked trope. But that is no longer the case. A positive vision of the future articulated through principles of tolerance and egalitarianism and optimism and the quest for scientific knowledge, to me that’s feels fresh nowadays.”
Makes sense to me. We’re elbow deep in grim post-apocalyptic dystopias in science fiction, Black Mirror-ish possible futures that paint what’s to come as depressing, alienating and unspeakably awful. While that might be an accurate depiction of the future as we can see it, we shouldn’t have to wallow in it in every science fiction show. Though Season 1 of Discovery was set in a war, it was still nice to get a glimpse of a shiny utopia where problems are generally solved by talking and diplomacy, with the proton torpedoes a last resort.
With Chabon recently mentioning that Picard’s the hero we need right now, I think he’s got his finger on the pulse of what a modern Star Trek needs to be and personally, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.