Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Because I may have been picking on Star Wars too much

Well, it's not my fault that there's so much more interesting Star Wars apocrypha in comparison  to Star Trek, is it?  I mean, don't get me wrong, I have read some Trek books, even recently but-- they weren't very good.  And, I mean, it's not like I read one or two, closer to about seven or eight, Klingon books and Titan books.  They read like particularly poor episodes, they had technology problems, but by and large they were just kind of boring, nothing like Kevin J. Anderson level of outrageous.  Not to me, not of what I've read anyway.

Star Wars just has so much more out there that is so much more compelling.  It has the advantage of not having been explored by the source material really deeply.  At the time of most of the books I read and enjoyed out of Star Wars, there were only three films and lots of time left over to explore what's going on.

So, to be fair to Star Wars, I'm going to beat up the other kid for a while like the internet bully that I apparently am.  Alright, Star Trek, here's a short list of things that everyone everywhere has already hit on.

1. The Deflector Dish

This bleeding thing is the running joke of all of Trek.  Have a problem that you aren't apparently prepared to deal with?  Ship doesn't have the equipment it needs to deal with an unexpected problem?  Well have I got a solution for you!

We'll start off by increasing your level of technobabble by four hundred percent!  In order to do this, we'll need some inane bullcrap that may mean something in the real world, but doesn't actually mean anything here.  For instance,

Now, all we need to do is reroute power through the main/primary deflector dish!

What can't this thing do?  I mean, I know, the subject has been beaten into the ground, but I have two points I want to make here.  This is the first, it's a navigational deflector, and apparently the primary one.  So, presumably, and keep in mind that nobody ever says this I'm just extrapolating from its name, it exists to deflect items and debris out of the ship's way while it's traveling.  Okay, I'm good with that.  So, there's more than one of them?  Why do we need several?  And why is it capable of being used for everything else that it seems to get shoehorned in to?

Second point, after we use this thing for a purpose that seems like it would be wildly useful to have again, we never do.  I kind of understand that we don't want to break the universe, but it's the writing staff's fault.  They wrote up a situation and didn't know how to deal with it so they added the primary deflector plot device.  But that leaves this question lingering for the rest of time.

Again, here's an example.  In everybody's favorite two-part, best of both worlds, the crew develops a plan to destroy a Borg Cube with a beam that channels all of the energy out of the warp system through the deflector and ought to destroy the ship.  Yes, it should also destroy the Enterprise, but at the end of the day, it's a prototype, it can be refined later.  Why would we not start building craft that have that as standard weapon?  I mean, slap two warp cores in a ship, give it a couple deflector arrays designed for this distinct purpose and get after it!  How quick would that have solved the Dominion War?

2. Data

Just Data, period.  I used to like Data, he was like a benign version of Spock, he just wanted to fit in!  Sure, he has his quirks and we get the joy of seeing him develop of the course of the series and it's great!  But my issue isn't with Data in the series, although God knows we have to have one episode a season where we deal with this whether we want to or not.  No, my issue is with Data in the movies.

Okay, there are four TNG films.  I don't particularly like any of them except First Contact.  Of the others, in ascending order of how much I dislike them, Insurrection, because it's boring (not awful and I don't hate it, heck I'll even still watch it from time to time), Generations, because it's pointless, and Nemesis, because it burns me like I just took a swig out of a bottle of bleach.  Three of these movies, strangely including the one that I liked, have a major plot element that includes Data and him trying to become more human.  Which I wouldn't have a problem with if it weren't for the fact that they did it three times and rather pointedly ignored so many of the other characters that hadn't been explored in the series!

Troi, Crusher, Worf, Riker, none of these characters get much more than acknowledgement of the fact that they are part of the crew and that they are still performing their functions.  I mean, come on, Worf isn't even part of the crew for half of these!  He just gets inserted in for poorly explained reasons!  Fine, give us a Data movie, but give us one Data movie!  Make it Nemesis, at least there he makes a valiant sacrifice!  In Generations he's just annoying!  In First Contact his role doesn't make a whole lot of sense and there's no real tension to his conflict!

Just because I like you, you get a list of three

3.  Super-luminal Velocity Reconciliation

Alright, let's talk about FTL.  Faster than light travel is a necessity in interstellar Sci-Fi, otherwise you're reading the Forever War or Rendezvous with Rama.  You need it.  If I were to pick out the three most popular American Sci-Fi series, I'd say Star Wars, Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica.  Now, yes, there are others, but I'm not talking about those.

All three of these series have some kind of FTL ability, and they are at least a bit explained to the audience.  BSG's drive is separate from propulsion and is essentially instantaneous travel from one place to another with a limited range and a long cooldown time.  Star Wars has entering a different plane of reality in which it easily capable of traveling much faster than is easily possible otherwise.  Star Trek gives us the warp drive, which creates a subspace bubble around the ship in question that distorts space time within it in order to artificially change the speed of light within it.  With that ability, you can move at much higher speeds without having to have a nearly infinite amount of energy.

Now, I'm going to throw some physics around here, but keep in mind it's the kind of thing you pick from watching Discovery Channel documentaries about space travel, so it's not too hard to follow.  Just don't ask me to explain too much.  The reason that all of these drives are necessary is because light is the speed limit of the universe.  You can only travel at speeds equal to that of light or slower.  Einstein's theory of relativity says that Energy is equal to mass multiplied by the speed of light (universal constant) squared.  What that means is that the energy required to travel at a certain speed increases exponentially and eventually infinitely until you reach the speed of light, at which point any appreciable mass would have to be fueled by the energy and mass of the entire universe.  So, we develop fictional ways around that like the warp drive.  It raises the speed of light in the bubble so that you can go faster than light travels outside the bubble.

Here's where the issue starts.  Alright, let's build a weapon.  Let's build a highly effective weapon with a very long range and very high damage potential.  Let's do it in Star Trek with established weaponry.  Have you ever been shot with a Nerf dart?  Maybe it stung a little?  Have you ever been shot with a bullet?  I doubt it.  At the end of the day, the bullet weighs about as much as the nerf dart, depending on your bullet.  It has the same relative mass moving at much higher speeds so it deals much more damage.

What if we built a torpedo with a small warp drive, a navigational system for targeting and that was it.  You use it as a purely kinetic device.  It's the same concept that we see today with the use of rail guns, an object moving at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light deals enormous damage.  A bb suddenly hits like a SCUD missile.  A torpedo the size of your average photon suddenly deals way more.

But there's a problem.  Sure, we could probably use that kind of technology against the Borg and ruin their whole afternoon.  How do warp-speed objects interact with normal objects?  Refer back to my explanation for the need for FTL in sci-fi, speed of light means infinite or all of the energy of the universe.  These objects are traveling faster than that.  You might be willing to say that they don't interact, but remember that they exist in the same dimension as other objects and that they can't occupy the same space at the same time.

How does a warp-speed object, a ship or a torpedo, impart a portion of its energy into a sub-light object?  If it works the way it seems like it ought to, you literally destroy the entire universe.  If it were two objects moving at warp velocities, sure, warp bubbles merge and the issue becomes irrelevant.  But an object colliding with another object always transfers kinetic energy through impact.  That's why small things explode when you shoot them, the energy of the impact has destroyed them.

How do the physics of Star Trek reconcile an object moving faster than light colliding with a stationary object?  Suddenly the state of the warp field doesn't matter because the object that it is colliding with isn't in one, the energy is imparted into it of an object moving several times, perhaps several thousand times the speed of light.  Shouldn't this release the energy of the collision and the FTL object into the universe?  Doesn't that mean that the object in question is imparting more energy than exists?

I'm not a physicist.  Heck, at the end of the day I'm not good at basic high school algebra.  If you can explain it, do it.  Otherwise, I end Star Trek forever with my evil warp torpedoes!

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