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Star Trek 2009 and temporal paradoxes: The First Contact Paradox

By tunequest June 4, 2009
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Part of the Star Trek Time Travel Series

  1. Star Trek 2009 and temporal paradoxes: The Permanency of the New Timeline
  2. Star Trek 2009 and temporal paradoxes: The First Contact Paradox
  3. Star Trek 2009 and temporal paradoxes: The Beastie Boys Paradox

The newest Star Trek movie is premised on the idea that a new, alternate timeline is created when Nero’s ship appears and destroys the USS Kelvin at the beginning of the film, killing Jim Kirk’s father and depriving the captain-to-be of the stable childhood he had in the original timeline. Everything before that point remains the same as the established canon; everything after then will develop differently. It’s a solid enough foundation with which to play with the original series’ characters without interfering with all the established stories of the past 40 years. But some extended thinking brings up several questions about and potential paradoxes within the events of this new alternate universe.

Please join me as I devote far too much mental energy to some of these issues.

The First Contact Paradox

If we take the view that each container universe can have only a single timeline at once, which I argued that we must, then we must accept that the Star Trek universe–all the characters, stories and situations we all know, from “The Cage” to “Nemesis”–is gone, overwritten by the new timeline until a reset event occurs. The future has changed and nothing that we knew before is certain, including the very formation of the Federation. The entire chain of events that led to First Contact are now in doubt.

Divergences in the timeline are only likely to increase as time progresses in the alt-verse, especially considering the ripple effects caused by the destruction of Vulcan. Thus as history unfolds, it is increasingly unlikely that the Enterprise-D will be built and crewed by Picard and company. Which means:

  • no Encounter at Farpoint
  • no Q
  • no premature introduction of the Borg to the Federation
  • no attempts to assimilate Earth
  • no attempt by the Borg to time travel to destroy Zephram Cochrane’s warp ship
  • and no need for the non-existent Enterprise-E crew to protect and assist in the first warp flight.

Which of course creates a paradox. Because history does record a Borg attack on Cochrane and the Enterprise’s presence there at the time. But how can that be possible when the conditions that caused it do not occur?

And if the known events of First Contact did not occur, does the Federation necessarily come into being?

Sure, without Borg interference, Cochrane might have launched his flight himself and attracted the attention of the passing Vulcan scout ship. But it was his interactions with the Enterprise’s crew and the knowledge of humanity’s future greatness among the stars that steered him toward an enlightened path. Before meeting the crew, however, he was an alcoholic cynic looking to score an easy life of money from warp technology. If the Enterprise had not been there, then the motivation and will to create an interstellar fraternity with the Vulcans may never have materialized.

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Join the Discussion

  1. Clint Kimball Says:

    You forget another point.

    Yes, first contact is now in serious doubt, but without the Enterprise-E it still may have happened on its own, as remotely unlikely as it sounds.

    But one thing that certainly could never have happened was the Bell Riots (as seen in DS-9). In those episodes of DS-9 it is very explicit that the Bell Riots led to a re-think of world politics which led to the federation and all things great about Earth. And in a later episode Quark sees a picture of Mr. Bell and it is Sisko, not the bum who died who was the actual man named Bell. Sisko was the Bell Riot, directly, and nobody else could have done that.

    However, I suppose since Sisko was born of the prophets, and the prophets exist independent of time, they might have spun him out anyway. But bringing the prophets into this discussion opens up a whole new web of paradoxical thinking that the writers of the new movie certainly didn’t think about.

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  2. Andrew McNaughton Says:

    First Contact also spun-off its own Borg-contact temporal paradox… the crashed sphere Borg assimilants were the ones that sent a message, to the Collective, 200 years prior to Picard’s era… which was sending the Borg to the Federation anyway. It neatly ties in to the Q storyline because Q was doing Picard and friends a favour… he wasn’t simply messing with them. We could assume Q knew the Borg were already en route. If First Contact never happened, then the message would never have been sent. The Enterprise Regeneration storyline could also be used to explain how the Hansen family were aware of the Borg before Picard and seemingly the majority of Starfleet. I thought that was an ingenius ‘tie it all up nicely’ storyline and perfect excuse to bring the Borg back in Enterprise.

    A lot of past Trek hangs in the balance after this new movie.

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  3. Jeff Lewis Says:

    Alas, there’s a part of the story that happens in the five part official comic that acts as *prequel* to the movie and it adds an important element to this.

    Star Trek does have one (mostly) consistent aspect to time travel: changes to the time line affect everyone except those directly involved in it and everyone *immediately*. This was done to prevent the grandfather paradox.

    The first major such event was City on the Edge of Forever in TOS, but the overall behaviour has been consistent since: as soon as McCoy went through the gate, all of history changed, except for the people around the gate who were shielded from its effects. Similarly, when a ship (like the Rio Grande in VOY), goes back in time and changes history, they aren’t affected by that change.

    Which brings us to the comic. At the end, the Ent-E shows up some time after Spock goes through the wormhole and they continue to exist for some time after the event. Given that they weren’t shielded from the event, nor participants in it (they didn’t go through the wormhole), they should have been erased and replaced with their counterparts in the newly restructured universe (think: Yesterday’s Enterprise from TNG for an example of what should have happened).

    Thus, the most logical answer is that the movie universe isn’t a restructured timeline, it’s a parallel universe. We don’t know what their future would have looked like without the interference of the Romulans, but it wouldn’t have been exactly the same as ‘our’ universe anyway.

    Meanwhile, our universe remains intact – the timeline unaffected by anything in the movie. Theoretically, we could have a meeting between the two universe in the future (albeit highly unlikely), much like we’ve had several ‘Mirror’ universe stories (which, by the way, also establish the premise of alternate universes with distinct histories).

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