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The debate over the Star Wars Expanded Universe is a tale of us versus them that’s been raging for some time, but only recently has it exploded within fandom. The Expanded Universe (EU) matters greatly to me for reasons I’ve previously discussed, but in particular because the novels were my major gateway into Star Wars fandom. Unfortunately, that segment of my fandom has fallen under attack from people I trusted.

The ForceCast has become the podcast where there is no fan left behind unless they disagree with your particular version of fandom, in which case they will publicly mock and shame you on their program.

That’s why I have no choice but to stop listening.

 

 

Continue reading by clicking here. )
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Last week, podcaster and Chicago radio producer Jimmy Mac covered the topic of being called a nerd on The ForceCast. His position was that the term nerd is derogatory and shouldn’t be used to describe fans of Star Wars. I couldn’t disagree more. 

The crowd at Wikipedia have defined “nerd” as “a term that refers to a social perception of a person who avidly pursues intellectual activities, technical or scientific endeavors, esoteric knowledge, or other obscure interests, rather than engaging in more social or conventional activities.” That got me thinking. Based on that, why shouldn’t we embrace the term nerd?

My heroes have, for the most part, been largely from the scientific, engineering, and creative communities. Many of them come from the large group of scientists, engineers, and technicians who came together and put a man on the moon in the 1960s. Those same scientists and engineers saved three astronauts when Apollo 13 catastrophically failed en route to the second planned lunar landing.

Even today, the qualifications to be an astronaut include a bachelor's degree in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics, as well as at least three years of related professional experience (graduate work or studies) and an advanced degree.

Wikipedia continues to explore the etymology of nerdom by describing the term’s origins with Dr. Seuss, Philip K. Dick, and students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Dr. Seuss is legendary in his own right, Philip K. Dick developed the concept of Blade Runner and other science-fiction classics, and MIT is a hotbed of scientific and technological research that has produced at least 76 Nobel Laureates, 50 National Medal of Science recipients, and 35 MacArthur Fellows.

Albert Einstein singlehandedly expanded the understanding of our universe with his theories on relativity, progressing on centuries of scientific exploration from intellectual and esoteric thinkers before him. Science fiction as developed by Isaac Asimov (a scientist and writer), Gene Roddenberry (creator of Star Trek), and George Lucas (noted for his technical innovation) is derived from these advances and evolves with the technology explored by today’s science and engineering communities.  Without nerds, I doubt science fiction or Star Wars would exist in its current form.

In a world where some kids idolize movie stars and sports figures, I find great solace in celebrating great thinkers. Nerds – the intellectuals, the scientists, the engineers, those with obscure interests – aren’t considered cool because they don’t get the hot chicks, don’t slug baseballs over the wall 400 feet away, don’t score the winning touchdown, and don’t snort cocaine off a hooker’s butt like Charlie Sheen seems so fond to do. Despite those supposed shortcomings, nerds have very stable lives and help to save others every day. Nerds develop body armor to send to our soldiers, engineer seat belts and restraint systems to keep people safe in moving vehicles, and created pacemakers and artificial hearts to extend and improve quality of life.  Nerds may not be cool, but they're much more useful to society, and the current resurgence in exploring nerd and geek culture is a tribute to that.

Any scientific advance, including those that allow us to explore this very topic, are due greatly to nerds. Nerds may not earn millions of dollars –Bill Gates and Steve Jobs notwithstanding – but the world owes them a debt that can never be repaid.

Money can’t buy happiness, unlike my constantly expanding knowledge of the universe around me. Nerds understand what makes the world go ‘round, and I am proud to be among their ranks.


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Tiffany Vogt at Airlock Alpha recently asked, “Is Religion Killing Good Sci-Fi Shows?”  In her article, she uses three recent series – Lost, Caprica, and the Battlestar Galactica reboot – to prove her point. Now, before I go too much further, I have to admit that I haven’t watched Lost beyond the first season, although I do have the complete series set waiting on me to dive in. I also haven’t had the chance to watch Caprica beyond the pilot, although I do hear mixed reviews from friends.

But, from my experiences with Battlestar Galactica, from the 1979 and recent versions, along with entertainment like Quantum Leap, the Stargate franchise, Star Wars, and Star Trek, I have to argue no. The first thing we have to do is eliminate the “us vs. them” concept of religion and science-fiction. The important part isn’t the gadgets or technology, it’s the story. That’s what religion is based on, isn’t it? Read any holy text and you’ll find it chock full of parables with a lesson attached, much like Aesop’s Fables. Even the trope of preachers delivering the typical fire and brimstone sermon focuses on telling a tale and learning a lesson from it.

So what is science-fiction? It’s the same thing: A story with an embedded lesson or speculation on a topic with a setting different than ours. Star Wars has a mythic story arc based around the Hero’s Journey with a focus on the mystical Force, which may or may not be religious in nature. Did the element of the Force ruin Star Wars? No, it didn’t, and most detractors argue that the series wasn’t harmed until 1999 when George Lucas tried to put a scientific spin on it.

Here comes the counter-argument: Star Wars didn’t tell a story without the Force and then tack it on at the end as a convenient way out of the plot. Fine. What about Quantum Leap?

Quantum Leap tackled this overall concept by changing the setting every episode for five years, while skirting the core issue of whether it was God, Fate, Time, or a botched science experiment that was responsible for bouncing Sam back and forth within his lifetime. The only real matter was that Sam was putting right what once went wrong, and the concept of potential religious ties came second. It only really came to a head in the finale when Sam came face-to-face with what may or may not have been God, who told him the truth about his Leaping. What that a cop-out? I don’t think so at all. First, it was supposed to be a turning point for the series, leading to a sixth season with harder trials for Sam without a guide. Second, as a finale, it works because Sam finally confronts what’s been happening over the last five years and grows from the experience. He gained the confidence to take on the extra challenge that lay ahead of him, whether we saw it on screen or not.

Battlestar Galactica in its original form made no claims to be anything but a show based on religion. Every episode made reference to gods and faith; entire episodes were based around the Colonials battling an incarnation of the Devil and interacting with Beings of Light with god-like powers. The quest for Earth was based on divine prophecies and guided by the Lords of Kobol. The reboot may have been rooted deeper in scientific storytelling, but it did not refute the genesis of the story. Characters on both sides of the conflict prayed to deities and talked about faith. Roslin had drug-induced hallucinations that showed the Colonials and Cylons the path to Earth, and even if the quest was undertaken as a hollow pursuit, it became a voyage of exploration for the psyches of each character. Some characters gave up along the way, some tried to use failures and setbacks as tools for personal gain, and some, like Admiral Adama, discovered potentials that they did not know existed. Even the concept of “what has happened before will happen again” is based in mythological roots of destiny and fate that reach back beyond the religions of Ancient Greece.

Star Trek, which has always shunned religion, even took a stab at religion in a seven-year arc with Deep Space Nine, which I argue is the best of the franchise. I can’t forget the religious threads of Babylon 5, either, but having only seen the series once, I can’t comfortably explore that territory.

I think that most modern views on science fiction are built around the staples of Trek and Stargate, which have inflicted considerable and irrefutable damage with numerous stories of persons with godlike powers who are evil or corrupted, and I believe that to be one of the longest tentpoles in the “us vs them” philosophy.

Religion is, at its base, a mythology. Faith is man-made creation, built around believing in that mythology and adapting it to everyday life. Science-fiction, part of the larger genre of speculative fiction, is a mythology, whether it tells of trips through a portal that takes you to a different planet or a quest based on faith. I can’t speak for Lost, but Galactica has always been an exploration of the human condition through the strength of faith, and I don’t believe that following that exploration to Ronald Moore’s conclusion ruined the journey.

We’re not talking about proving the existence of God here, but rather the basis of sci-fi which was exploring new fantastic frontiers with the power of human ingenuity. I, for one, want to see more science-fiction that goes back to the human condition, which includes faith and religion. Removing faith and religion only serves to strip an aspect from humanity that feeds into everyday decisions, and an exploration of that result ignores crucial motivations. Faith and religion need to be a core element in explorations of human nature because they are a core element in each man, woman, and child, even if they don’t believe in a higher power.

We can’t ignore the science in science-fiction, that’s true, but not every human being is motivated purely by science, and I refuse to believe that the answers to the speculation will all immediately come from science. The religious belief that Earth was the center of the universe motivated scientists to prove it otherwise. The same stands true in part for scientists seeking life on other planets or exploring the mysteries of evolution. Religion and faith are powerful motivators and cannot be ignored or cast aside. 

Books like Contact, a well-regarded science-fiction story written by a scientist, have made me realize that neither brute force method of science or religion have all the answers to the questions about humanity. I believe that an exploration based in logical reasoning with an open mind and a faith that not all the mysteries have readily observable answers will reveal more than either approach would by itself. After all, theological exploration by the main character in Carl Sagan’s only fictional work didn’t destroy the story. It made the story complete.


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I swear that author Keith R. A. DeCandido ([livejournal.com profile] kradical) and his fellow Star Trek authors are conspiring against me.  A long time ago, I used to collect a great deal of genre goods, including action figures, video games, music, and books.  It's to the point now that I'm paring down my collections.  Part of that is finally reading those books and casting out the ones I don't enjoy or will likely never read again.  Don't worry, Keith, I haven't jettisoned one of yours yet.

So, what does he do?  Over Labor Day, whilst I'm away, he publishes a post on his LiveJournal account by fellow writer David Ward explaining how Star Trek: Vanguard is one of the best Trek series in a long while, including mention that it's more gritty and realistic than the rest of the franchise's novels.

I already had the post-Nemesis books in the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager series to look for.  Now I have another series to read as well.  Insert overly-hyperbolic but no less dramatic sigh here.

No, in all seriousness, thank you for continuing to add some much needed depth to the Trek tie-in novels.  There are some true jewels in the ranks, but a lot of your predecessors didn't quite speak to me in the same language as the on-screen characters.  If we're getting some great work -- as I'm sure we are -- then I may have no choice but to tune back in for the continuing adventures.
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Previously posted on February 24, 2009

On February 4, 2009, famed movie critic Roger Ebert launched his rather scathing review of the movie Fanboys. For those who don’t know, Fanboys is a film about Star Wars fans by a Star Wars fan. If you’re thinking Trekkies, then do yourself a quick favor and watch the trailer.

Trekkies was a focus on Star Trek fandom, highlighting the really wacky things they do. When I saw that film, I didn’t feel happy that someone was examining Trek fans. In fact, I wanted to melt into my chair and disappear. Trekkies implied that every fan of Gene Roddenberry’s franchise was a Starfleet uniform wearing social introvert who still lived in their parents’ basements with about fifty cats. Need I remind you of Barbara Adams, the alternate juror for the 1996 Whitewater controversy who wore her Starfleet uniform to the trial?

Apparently, this prejudicial mindset carries over to all science-fiction fandoms.

To quote Ebert’s review:


A lot of fans are basically fans of fandom itself. It's all about them. They have mastered the "Star Wars" or "Star Trek" universes or whatever, but their objects of veneration are useful mainly as a backdrop to their own devotion. Anyone who would camp out in a tent on the sidewalk for weeks in order to be first in line for a movie is more into camping on the sidewalk than movies.

Extreme fandom may serve as a security blanket for the socially inept, who use its extreme structure as a substitute for social skills. If you are Luke Skywalker and she is Princess Leia, you already know what to say to each other, which is so much safer than having to ad-lib it. Your fannish obsession is your beard. If you know absolutely all the trivia about your cubbyhole of pop culture, it saves you from having to know anything about anything else. That's why it's excruciatingly boring to talk to such people: They're always asking you questions they know the answer to.

While I defend Ebert’s right to his opinion, I have to take issue with the content. My interpretation of his words is that being involved in fandom means that you are enabled to be a social introvert. Furthermore, it enables you to have shallow relationships built on nothing more than your love of a facet of popular culture. Forget trying to build anything meaningful in a relationship because you’re incapable of doing it.

Roger Ebert, you’re doing it wrong.

In fact, Ebert went on to state:

[Fanboys] is a celebration of an idiotic lifestyle, and I don't think it knows it.

While it is true that some science-fiction fans have trouble distinguishing between fantasy and reality, I argue that the majority of Star Wars fans do not share that problem.

First, let’s take a look at the 501st Legion, an international fan-based organization dedicated to constructing and building screen-accurate villain costumes from the Star Wars universe. At first glance, with over 4200 active members in 40 countries, one might think that this is just a worldwide Trek-esque Starfleet uniform party. That’s why they need a second glance.

From their charter:

"...The Legion is a volunteer club formed for the express purpose of bringing together costume enthusiasts and giving them a collective identity within which to operate. The Legion's aims are to celebrate the Star Wars movies through the wearing of costumes, to promote the quality and improvement of costumes and props, and most importantly to contribute to the local community through charity and volunteer work..."

The 501st proudly contributes to charity organizations, and maintains a list on their website of groups they’ve worked with. In fact, they are famous for working with the Make-A-Wish foundation and terminally ill children.

I wonder what part of putting a smile on a young cancer patient’s face as they get to “meet” Darth Vader is idiotic. Anyone want to answer that for me?

The 501st works other events, such as conventions, for free. All they ask is that any money offered for their work is donated to a charity in their name.

Next, I focus on an astromech droid. In 2005, Jerry Greene worked with the R2 Builder’s Group to fulfill a little girl’s wish. Her name was Katie Johnson, and she had brain cancer. Her wish was to have an R2-D2 with one caveat: she wanted it pink. Soon enough, R2-KT was born.

R2-KT exists to entertain children and raise awareness for pediatric cancer. Money raised in events with R2-KT goes to Make-A-Wish and the Children’s Cancer Fund. Building on the penchant for Star Wars fans to collect, R2-KT has been made into a Hasbro action figure and a coin, the proceeds again going to charity. As of the release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, R2-KT also entered the official canon, which is Lucasfilm acknowledging the efforts of their fans by making an icon part of history.

Again, Roger Ebert:


"Fanboys" is an amiable but disjointed movie that identifies too closely with its heroes. Poking a little more fun at them would have been a great idea. They are tragically hurtling into a cultural dead end, mastering knowledge which has no purpose other than being mastered, and too smart to be wasting their time.
When a movie's opening day finally comes, and fanboys leave their sidewalk tents for a mad dash into the theater, I wonder who retrieves their tents, sleeping bags, portable heaters and iPod speakers. Warning: Mom isn't always going to be there to clean up after you.

I have news for you, Roger. It may be fun for you to poke fun at Star Wars fans as we tragically hurtle toward a cultural dead end, but rest assured that we are above that. Being a Star Wars fan is not about knowing how many midichlorians Anakin Skywalker has or how many parsecs -- an astronomical unit of length -- it takes to make the Kessel Run. Being a Star Wars fan is about embracing the spirit of George Lucas’s vision and running with it.

I am a naval submarine officer, a faithful husband, a physicist, an engineer, a struggling author, a writer for a podcast, an Eagle Scout, and a college graduate nearly twice over. I’m also a Star Wars fan and a proud science-fiction geek. Believe me when I tell you Star Wars isn’t a lifestyle, but merely a facet of one. It’s a common ground and a solid foundation to start building relationships that mean something beyond the fantasy of pop culture.

If you spent any time at all with Star Wars fans, you would understand that we’re not about running around in costume for the hell of it or endlessly spouting lines from the films. We have social relationships that run deeper than movie scripts, most of which are developed and maintained for life. We believe in friendships that are maintained not only for the purpose of having them, and we don’t knife each other in the back when it’s convenient, unlike other fandoms.

I only wish that people could understand it instead of cowering behind their fear of diversity.

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