Star Trek 2009 and temporal paradoxes: The Beastie Boys Paradox

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 Beastie Boys Paradox

In an early scene of the new movie, a young Kirk steals a car and cranks up some Beastie Boys (Sabotage) for a little joy ride.

Now the Beastie Boys have a couple of songs where they make explicit references to Star Trek. Intergalactic features a line about a “pinch on the neck from Mr. Spock” and Brouhaha mentions “Bones McCoy” and “Sulu” by name. The song Ch-Check It Out shouts out Klingons and the video features the Boys dressed as Kirk, Spock and McCoy.

Since we now know that the Beastie Boys exist in the Trekverse, how might the observant future-aficionados and scholars of classic music react to the realization that the rap group are themselves potential time travellers, spinning tunes with oblique nods to events and people in the future?

Star Trek 2009 and temporal paradoxes: The First Contact Paradox

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.

Star Trek 2009 and temporal paradoxes: The Permanency of the New Timeline

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 Permanency of the New Timeline

There’s nothing new to manipulations of time within Star Trek. Indeed, the first instance of time travel occurs in the sixth episode of the original series and the concept makes regular appearances in every iteration of the franchise. Heck, there are a couple episodes of Deep Space Nine that made time travel seem pretty much routine, so much so that Starfleet maintains a Temporal Investigations agency to police matters surrounding the Temporal Prime Directive. There’s one thing we’ve seen time and again in Trekdom: whenever alternate timelines are created, they are eventually erased and “the order of things” is returned to the way “they’ve always been.”

At the same time, there seems to be a distinct separation between the idea of a “universe” and a “timeline” within the franchise. Witness the “mirror universe” where Spock wears a goatee, Ben Sisko is a privateer and Jon Archer is presumably murdered by Hoshi. Events from the past in this universe have no effect on the future of the “normal” universe. Both story lines have independent origins and appear to run in parallel without intersecting with one another. This apparent separating between the container universe and its timeline would seem to suggest that within each distinct universe, the “branching” theory of time flow is not in effect. Infinite universes are not created with each passing second and with every decision made; instead there is but one definitive sequence of events.

Given this premise, the events of the 2009 Star Trek film definitely take place in the “normal” universe but within a new timeline that erases everything we know about the future, much like when Edith Keeler doesn’t die in the early 20th century or when the Enterprise-C isn’t destroyed defending Narendra III.

And speaking of “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” where’s Guinan in this new timeline? We know that she is a long-lived character, having traveled to Earth as early as the 1890s. If she was around then, she’s around in the new timeline. And from that episode we know that she can sense disruptions in the timeline. Does she think this alt-verse feels “wrong” the same way she felt the timeline was wrong in that episode? Guinan’s actions would seem to suggest that there is only one valid timeline for the “normal” Star Trek universe and that alternate timelines invariably work their way toward collapse, reset or at least “merging” with the Prime timeline so that altered events become incorporated into the normal timeline (see DS9’s “Trials and Tibblations”, TNG’s “Time’s Arrow” or VOY’s “Year of Hell”).

And therein lies the potential weakness of this new rebooted franchises universe. As with any other time travel story, there’s always a way to undo events and reset the timeline to its proper course. Indeed, what’s to stop additional time travel from preventing the Narada from destroying the Kelvin?

One could make the argument that in the Prime timeline, that’s exactly what happened. In the regular timeline we’ve always known, the Kelvin picked up some unusual sensor scans only to discover nothing of consequence, much like in “Yesterday’s Enterprise” where the Enterprise picks up some readings only to have those readings disappear. Thus, without having met Nero, the Kelvin carries on without incident, the Prime timeline continues normally and the alt-verse collapses without ever being formed.

Just how might that happen? Well, having met prime-Spock and the mindmeld, young alt-Kirk knows about the Prime timeline. Maybe he decides he’d rather have grown up knowing his father and devises a plan to prevent Nero from going back in time, thus restoring the original timeline. That’s just one speculation, but however events unfold, it is my belief that the new alt-verse is destined for erasure. So lets have some fun in it while we can.

::

Having said all that, one could also make the argument that the film does not actually take place in an alternate timeline, but has instead jumped to another mirror universe. We know it’s possible to jump between universes and simultaneously travel through time (as the Tholians did with the USS Defiant in Enterprise’s “In a Mirror Darkly”), so a similar thing could have happened here. The events of TNG’s “Parallels” lend support to this theory as well and Star Trek (2009) co-writer Roberto Orci cites that episode and the Many World’s aspect of quantum theory as rationale for the time travel story of the movie.

Still, if every timeline/universe is valid, how can any of them be “wrong” and need to be set “right”, as is the case in so many Star Trek stories?

Star Trek (2009): Good Movie, so-so Trek

***SPOILERS BELOW***

***this post assumes you’ve seen the movie***

Star Trek Boldly Going

Star Trek has officially been “rebooted” in the form of a new feature motion picture. It’s like a new operating system and everything. I saw it last week and must say that I am duly impressed. I walked out of the theater having enjoyed two hours of solid film making. To be sure, it’s no Wrath of Khan. But the dialogue is well written with plenty of good lines scattered throughout. The acting is believable and the character portrayals aren’t so bad. The production value is sky high, with lots of little touches (especially sound) that bring a nice immersive feel to the universe presented. And the film’s opening sequence is among the most emotionally forceful of anything with the “Star Trek” name on it.

But it has its shortcomings as well. Oh, it’s good, and by any other title it may have been great. But as Star Trek goes, it leaves much to be desired. For one, there’s very little intellectual meat to be digested. After some really enjoyable character development (young Jim Kirk listens to the Beastie Boys* [Sabotage]) in the first act, the movie essentially becomes big-dumb-action flick, with one-dimensional villains that lack the nuance and human tragedy that embodies the adversaries in the Star Trek universe. There is no take-home parable or allegory or examination of the human condition, things that are at the very heart of the Star Trek experience. On top of that, parts of the premise really do strain even the considerable suspension of disbelief that Star Trek is afforded.

In true Trek fashion, here are some of my criticisms. I’ll try to avoid nitpicking and stick to the major ones:

  • While the opening scenes are great cinema, why the hell was Lt. Kirk’s 9-month pregnant wife aboard the Kelvin? There are rules about being on planes when pregnant as I assume there would be for space-faring *military* vessels.
  • I’m not sure how old anyone is supposed to be. Kirk is in his early twenties. Spock is already an officer and so is Scotty, so they’re both older. McCoy is also older, having had another life before Starfleet. Checkov is 17 (does that mean he was accepted into the academy at a younger age?).
  • The Narada, Nero’s ship, is a mining vessel. How it was able to outmatch the Federation fleet while orbiting Vulcan is a mystery to me. I would not expect a mining ship, whose primary purpose is to extract and transport ore to be well armed at all. Yes, it’s from 180ish years in the future, but it was also wandering the galaxy for 23 years without a homebase. To me this seems to equivalent of a modern supertanker and it’s crew of roustabouts with deck guns taking out Admiral Nelson’s Royal Navy.
  • As a side thought to that, why didn’t Nero just present his ship and its tech-from-the-future to the Romulan Empire, which could use the advances to conquer the galaxy? The Federation having to overcome that advantage actually seems like a decent platform to base this new alt-Trek around.
  • The whole last scene, ie the cadet-to-captain thing. Throughout the movie, Kirk isn’t even a commissioned officer. Yet upon graduation he’s given the flagship of the Federation? I don’t care how many planets he saved, there would certainly be dozens or hundreds of older, experienced superior officers more qualified for such a distinguished post, many of whom would probably resign in protest. Assign him to the Enterprise with a bump to full lieutenant until he gets some field experience, sure. But captain? Hardly.
  • Finally: Too much lens flare.

Overall, an enjoyable flick, if you’re not hoping to have your mind challenged and you don’t think too hard about what you just saw. This movie was a foundation however and I’m looking forward to seeing what the sequels will bring. Maybe our characters might actually “boldly go” somewhere. Also, everyone has been going on about how good the new cast seems to work, but for my money, the most compelling character in the film is Captain Pike. I wouldn’t mind seeing more adventures with him at the helm.

And oh yeah, I could probably write an entire paper on Abrams’ apparent disdain for Vulcans and their suppressed emotions and logical approaches to life: destroying the planet and “unvulcanizing” Spock by the end of the film while rewarding Kirk’s recklessness. But that’s a subject for another post.

*The Beastie Boys are huge Star Trek fans, so I’m sure they’re thrilled that young Kirk listens to their music.

Diversion: SRSLY, 1000 SONGS

I enjoy reading Captain Future’s Soul of Star Trek blog for its insightful reflections on the franchise and the role Star Trek has played in changing and shaping attitudes, cultures around the world. I couldn’t help but be inspired by a line in a recent post, and I was off to the LOLbuilder:

SRSLY, 1000 songs in your pocket

We’ll return to your regularly scheduled programming shortly.

iTunes Store is schizophrenic about Star Trek

star trek on itunes

One can only wonder what’s up between CBS/Viacom/Paramount and Apple these days.

The first season of the original Star Trek appeared for sale at the iTunes store, only to be removed a short time later. Then, about a month after that, the first season of Enterprise showed up, only to suffer the same fate. Both those shows eventually returned to the domain of the $2 digital download and remain available.

The old adage though is that events happen in sets of three.

And thus, the third Star Trek series to find a home at the iTunes Store, Voyager, also seems to have beamed in, only to beam right back out. Voyager became available a couple weeks ago, receiving top billing on the main iTunes Store front, as well as promotion at Apple’s Livepage. However, at the moment, if you do a casual search for it, you’ll find not a single episode or mention of the series.

Whatever is going on between the two companies needs to be ironed out; this kind of teasing just isn’t healthy.

::

UPDATE 6/5: A quick glance at the store shows that Voyager’s first season is once again available via $2 digital download. Curious though, if you search for it, the store says it’s a “partial season” even though all fifteen episodes are there. Anyway, check it out.

Yeah, What They Said 4/17

Yeah, What They Said, links to interesting stories that I don’t have time to write about. Some people call it “link sharing.”

In television and movies, “sourced” music is music that is heard by the characters in the scene. That’s opposed to the underscore, which is heard only by the audience. StarTrek.com has a series of articles on the source music used in:

Need to identify a song? Play it for Tuniac.

For something cool, spy these intricate and detailed models made entirely out of paper.

Also, here’s a chimpanzee playing Pac-Man. Seriously.

Finally, since both Ratatat and Nine Inch Nails have made appearances recently, here’s a video mixup. It features Ratatat’s Wildcat played to the video of NIN’s The Hand That Feeds. Enjoy:

Yeah, What They Said 4/07

Yeah, What They Said, links to interesting stories that I don’t have time to write about. Some people call it “link sharing.”

Why “Vote For The Worst” Just Might Work. Medialoper has a Theory of Popularity in a niche-dominated, long tail world and relates it to American Idol: “In a culture defined by niches, the more popular something is purported to be, the less popular it actually is.”

Director Nicholas Meyer talks about making Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn
“People said: “Oh, you can’t kill Spock.” And I said: “You can do anything…but you gotta kill him well! It has to feel organic and not like we’re working out the clause in somebody’s contract.””

Looking for a way to run OS 9 on your Intel-based Mac? UNEASYsilence has a solution. You’re going to have to track down a ROM, though.

Universcale. The fine folks at Nikon have put together an awe-inspiring treatise on “size,” showcasing our universe as defined by mankind’s units of measurement. Starting at 1 femtometer (a proton), the scale increases by orders of magnitude, giving examples of what can be found along the way. It eventually ends at the limits of the universe, a staggering 13.7 billion light years across. Nikon, of course, makes equipment to capture images of objects of any size. h/t Centripetal Notion

Tunequest favorite The Polish Ambassador has announced plans for a summer tour and is looking for booking agents. If you’re interested, help him out.

Finally, enjoy this “promo animation” for a catchy dance-rock number that’s been in high rotation on my iPod lately. It’s Fujiya & Miyagi’s Collarbone, from last year’s Transparent Things. If you’ve seen TV, you may have heard a cut-up version of it in a Jaguar commercial.

Thoughts on the Apple TV: Hard Drive Perils

Part of the Thoughts on the Apple TV Series

  1. Thoughts on the Apple TV: Hard Drive Perils
  2. Thoughts on the Apple TV: Format Woes
  3. Thoughts on the Apple TV: A Possible Alternative

AppleTV

So the much-anticipated Apple TV has shipped and, of course, the extreme early adopters are having a field day tearing the thing apart to find out what it can do. Some clever folks have already been able to install larger hard drives, more video codecs, and even the full version of Mac OS X, rendering what Cult of Mac calls a “Mac Nano.”

To be sure, it looks like an impressive device. But I probably won’t be buying one for two principal reasons, neither of which is the fact that I don’t have an HDTV set.

Reason 1: The perils of hard disk storage

Having been a participant in the digital media revolution for 10 years, I see some parallels between the state of video today and the state of audio in the late 90s. A decade ago, you were lucky if you had more than 10 GB of internal storage in your computer. With the overhead of operating systems and applications, there was a limited amount of storage on that drive for the MP3 scene’s early adopters. Even at just 3 MB per song, that drive would fill up fast. An external drive would cost you $300-400 for 6 GB of space, but that too would fill up before too long. At the time, one solution was the small, but growing market for writable CDs, which cost about $2 for a single 650 MB disk (in addition to the several hundred dollars for the 2X burner itself).

Similarly, while storage conditions have kept pace with growing file sizes, today’s digital video market faces some of the same logistical hard disk challenges for the end user. Apple’s own estimates say that a 45-minute TV show will run you 200 MB and a full-length movie is 1.0-1.5 GB. A modest collection of 100 movies will cost you 100-150 GB of hard disk space. Add to it complete TV seasons and expect that to grow substantially. Using Apple’s numbers, the entirety of the Star Trek franchise would use ~155 GB of disk storage.

To be sure, today’s hard drives are indeed up to the task of holding a large video library. 500GB disks can be had for less than $200, ensuring plenty of room for an expanding selection of movies. But whether you encode videos yourself or buy from the iTunes Store, that library will represent a hefty investment of time and money. And the most dreaded event in computerdom can wipe it all out in an instant: a hard drive crash.

Any reasonable, non-risk-taking person is going to want to implement (and practice) a regular backup plan for their media. The most convenient choices are to purchase a second (and possibly third) drive to house copies of all the video files, or make regular trips to the DVD-R burner for offline backups. The hard drive option would offer nearly instantaneous recovery to an iTunes+AppleTV-based media system, but it would double (or triple) your upfront costs. Additionally, if and when one of those drives fails, it will have to be replaced at the current market price for hard drives.

True, the arguments I made in defense of digital music can apply to digital video as well. But, for the present, there’s a matter of scale which makes the effort more cumbersome for video. Plus, a music library containing a large number of songs with short playing times benefits more from the instant accessibility and portability of the iTunes+iPod model than a video library with relatively few entries and long playing times.

Thus, for me, the more appealing scenario for personal digital video is that of the burned DVD because, with the right DVD player, your “backups” can double as working copies. Thankfully, it’s also much, much cheaper per megabyte than CDs were 10 years ago.

Which brings me to:

Reason 2: Incompatible video formats.