I'm tired of dystopia fiction

Nov 11, 2021

Yes, I'm tired of dystopia fiction. A sentiment I probably didn't need to repeat because it's in the title, but I really am. Nothing points this out more to me than Star Trek.

In a Star Trek vs. Star Wars internet argument I am firmly in the Star Trek camp and this is with eight years of working at The Death Star Lucasfilm (I kid, working at Lucasfilm was magical but I'm still a Star Trek person).

Star Trek used be be about hope. Even in the dark days of the 1960's cold war you could see hope for our future in Star Trek. They mange to comment on our then messed up world while being optimistic about the future. It's a lesson current Star Trek could learn from.

Next Generation followed in that tradition. There was conflict but also hope in what the future could be.

Voyager was still about hope and the ideals of the federation.

Deep Space Nine started out that way and then it became a serial about war.

Enterprise also started out in a hopeful future, then it became a show about war and dystopia.

Years later Picard showed up. How I wanted to like this show, but it's a bleak show in a bleak future.

And Discovery. WTF! Yes, they saved the future federation but it's a bleak dystopia world I don't want to relax in after a day of hard work.

And I won't get into the bad writing where every problem on Discovery is solved by deus ex machina or some mind-bending quantum physic problem being solved by some crew member in 30 minutes.

There is a lot of long overdue cast diversity in Discovery. They get some kudos for that. Just not for their writing.

I am holding out hope for The Captain Pike Show where they claim to get back to the roots of Star Trek. We'll see.

Lower Decks is great! It's funny and takes place in the Next Generation world.

Now comes the worst offender of them all: Star Trek Prodigy.

Prodigy is a show on Nickelodeon for kids but it takes place in a dark dystopia world. Did I mention this is for kids? Seriously? The first 45 minutes is fighting and killing and people trapped in a forced labor camp. Did I mention this is for kids?

Maybe it gets better after the first episode (which I didn't even make it through).

Prodigy should have been set on a Next Generation Enterprise-like ship. Next Generation had families on board and would have been a perfect setting for Prodigy. Smart and precocious kids getting into trouble and saving the day.

But in the optimistic future that we owe our kids.

P.S. No matter how bad these Star Trek shows get, I will still watch them all.

P.S.S. The Orville isn't "Star Trek" but it's a darn good "Star Trek" show. I hope it returns, but I don't have my hopes up. Stupid Pandemic.

DieSkaarj Nov 10, 2021
Picard feels like a continuation of the TNG movies or more importantly First Contact. I feel it's what would of happened if Gene hadn't got his way on series 1 of TNG and the writers had expanded on their plans for the federation conspiracy storyline.

Discovery is a mixed bag for me. I loved the first season with Jason Isaac. I thought it was very TOS. It was campy and dumb at times. But, two seasons later it's more of a Dr. Who rip-off.

During the 90's there was a third faction that could contend with major players Star Trek and Star Wars: Babylon 5. And I'm excited, and a little scared, at what it's reboot is going to bring. Bring it on though!

Ron Gilbert Nov 10, 2021
I've never seen Babylon 5.  Should I wait for the reboot watch it now?

DieSkaarj Nov 10, 2021
Grab some snacks and a drink because there's no time like the present!

Sebastian Nov 11, 2021
Agree 100%, Ron. I also happen to think that an optimistic show (if done well) would bring a lot of eyeballs back to Star Trek. Ideally some of the characters would also be thoughtful grownups rather than comic book characters.

Zak Phoenix McKracken Nov 11, 2021
Loved Star Trek TOS and only a few episodes of TNG.
Starting from TGN I felt there was a crucial thing missing: that powerful friendship among Kirk, McCoy and Spock.

Watched lower deck, I found it as funny ad futurama.

...I prefer anime series though, maybe because cartoons are more relaxing than real images.

Deckard Nov 11, 2021
How is one tried of something? And twice at that?

wdidtsoundcf Nov 11, 2021
Star Wars turned into shit a long time ago. From Star Trek only TOS was really pleasing, plus the first two motion pictures. JJ's Star Trek movies were at least full of action. Looking at the upcoming films the dystopian trend continues. The history of SF movies and series also offers utopian content which was about curiosity, new possibilities, exploration and excitement about the future but the majority of the productions somehow is about angst, suppression, survival and combat. And yes, it got worse, a lot and I expect wokeness to be added. Maybe it's only due to stupidity, maybe it's done by intention in order to condition mankind for a dystopian world. If you want to enjoy friendlier more optimistic stories, you could have a look at the history of SF films and series, listen to SF radioplays, read appropriate books (short stories) or invent your own little stories, which a.o. you can tell your kids when they go to bed. That's what we do. The hard part is not to fall asleep before they do. :)

Conny Torneus Nov 11, 2021
Wow, Ron's post is like a mirror of my thoughts on Star Trek, all the way down to the non Star Trek show "Orville" 🙂 Stop reading my mind.

Yes, make some time to watch Babylon 5. Don't compare it with Star Trek because its a) not trying to be and b) It has good enough story to stand on its own legs sort of speak

Dipper_Berlin Nov 11, 2021
Yup,  Star Trek Discovery to me doesn't work because I strongly feel it wants to be Star Wars.

I would also argue that "Discovery" is in large parts a misnomer - there is virtually zero exploration in that show.

And that to me was always one of the greatest aspects in, at least, TNG / Voyager...(am not an expert on TOS). Exporation and science. And what I loved was that civilisations were not necessarily evil or hostile, but could be gentle, intelligent and open (yup, am also a big fan of E.T.). That was a bit overdone when even aliens in the Delta Quadrant were shown to shake hands to say hi, lol. In Discovery the default is not only aliens are always enemies but also Starfleet can't be trusted - bleak a.f.

At least I have learned through Discovery that to me good storytelling does not depend on the next super suspenseful action scene in which it only depends - and virtually only and always on - Burnham to save the day and all the show can bring up to keep me is action and more action. Its kinda the opposite, how to AVOID all that and still tell an interesting and intelligent story - to meet the parallax colony of free spirits on Shiralea VI, solve a case with Data on the Holodeck or just fall in love with a Hologram.

Sorry, but Discovery just doesn't meet the brief...OR, what I consider possible as well: that I am losing touch with todays viewing habits and shows nowadays NEED to be like that. Not sure. But anyway, fully in agreement with you, will watch the next season anyway...not ENJOYING it tho anyway and always with a dismissive expression on, LOL.

Maico De Blasio Nov 11, 2021
Gosh.. this is a topic I think about literally every day. Religion has absolutely nothing on the level of ferocity encountered in debates surrounding the most recent iterations of Star Wars/Trek.
I'm pretty sure everyone here (including Ron) has a rusted-on opinion about whether Discovery & Picard either add value to or subtract from the ST franchise... and likewise, what sort of legacy or damage was left behind by the Disney Star Wars trilogy.
But is it just possible that both Star Wars and Trek have simply been pushed beyond their natural lifetime? Star Wars really only made sense when home computers looked like the Commodore PET (a Star Wars prop if ever I saw one!)
TNG successfully revamped Star Trek in the 80s, and even its lesser siblings Voyager and DS9 had their charm. Importantly, they didn't stray far from the Star Trek bible (if it exists), where the universal aesthetic, and look & feel of the ST universe is provided as a guide. Hell, long-time viewers don't need a bible... we can grok exactly what belongs and what doesn't belong in the Star Trek universe.
So when a new Trek comes along with Game Of Thrones-level violence and gore, plus F-bombs? I'm sorry, but how would you feel if Ron were to include these apparently essential modern story-telling elements in a future Monkey Island(TM) game?
For Star Wars, how could the Lucas prequels and the Disney sequels make six films in total without a single line of screwball dialogue, which was a signature of the original trilogy? Because in the 90s to today, things have to be so damn serious and morally ambiguous. All the time. Escapism? That's for kids.
And that's why I absolutely (insert verb here) modern Star Trek and Star Wars:)

Winfried Maus Nov 11, 2021
I agree. Despite all problems and conflict, Star Trek TOS and even TNG were an optimistic view of the future, even though I found Captain Picard too "domesticated" compared to Kirk.
I never really liked DS9 and I lost interest in Voyager rather quickly -- the characters were a bit too "sterile" and two-dimensional for my taste.
"Enterprise", except for the last episode, was great, and "Lower Decks" was fun to watch, too.
I still have not watched Season 3 of "Discovery", but despite all its flaws, I liked what I have seen so far - even though it's not really Star Trek anymore.
"Picard", however, was embarrassing and should never have been made. They should have left Captain Picard in his retirement. The only thing that was actually nice about the series... Was his dog, "Number One", in the first episode. And the poster with the dog was great - and heart warming.
"The Orville", even though it is not Star Trek, is at its core a much better Star Trek Series than everything that came... after the original series, actually. The stories ask the philosophical questions a good Star Trek episode should ask and the characters have actual lives, personal issues and are not the usual stereotypical, tea drinking bores we had to get used to since The Next Generation. These guys show up for duty with hangovers!
What might also be worth watching: Gene Roddenberry's "Andromeda". I've only seen a few episodes, but it looks like a "dirtier" version of his own Star Trek.
"Babylon 5" was quite good, back in the day. A more "adult" - and also "dirtier" - version of DS9, one might argue.
If you want to see something truly optimistic, the only Sci-Fi production that actually deserves the label "optimistic" was... THE MARTIAN. In my opinion, this is the most optimistic movie ever made, and Matt Damon gives one of the best performances in his career in this movie. This is also one of the few examples where the movie is actually better and much more enjoyable than the novel it is based upon. Ridley Scott out-did himself here. (I also loved his movie A GOOD YEAR - and I concur with Ridley that the critics are idiots and know nothing.)
Another suggestion: THE EXPANSE. While this certainly is not an utopic/optmistic view of our future, it's also not necessarily a dystopian view -- on many levels, this vision of our future feels... possible. In any case, THE EXPANSE is worth watching and very entertaining.

Henry Nov 11, 2021
in reports to your question, Babylon 5 is great and, importantly, it comes to an intended end (not because of was cancelled).

A hidden gem.

Henry Nov 11, 2021
Note on Babylon 5: the show really kicks with season two. Season one is good and has many highlights, but there is a change which shapes the following seasons for the better (to my mind).

Red Nov 11, 2021
Babylon 5 might be something you'd like. Currently all the Babylon 5 seasons and movies are free to watch (with ads) on Amazon Prime Video. You don't need a Prime subscription. I'm currently working my way through them.

Jeff Nov 11, 2021
The Orville season 3 is finally coming in March. Production completed in August of this year: https://tvline.com/2021/09/23/the-orville-season-3-premiere-date-hulu/

DanVzare Nov 11, 2021
I'm pretty sure Orville has been confirmed to be airing next year, as they finally finished filming this year, so it'll definitely be coming back. Speaking of which, it might not be Star Trek, but it's certainly Seth MacFarlane practically saying "Screw you guys! I'm going to make my own Star Trek, with blackjack and hookers. You know what, forget the blackjack AND the hookers."

Conny Torneus Nov 11, 2021
See? Never give up hope 🙂 Also, I find it highly illogical that a show like Star Trek is following this dystopia trend. It used to set the standard right? Wonder what happened?

Tyler Nov 11, 2021
DieSkaarj mentioned the TNG movies and here's an interesting tidbit about them:

Patrick Stewart was very much not happy with "Diplomat Picard" as depicted on TNG and wanted the character to become more action focused - the whole ATV sequence in Nemesis was created with his input.

And reportedly he made similar demands for the new show - he didn't want to wear a uniform and wanted as little "classic" Star Trek stuff in it as possible.

It's mind boggling given how great his portrayal of Picard was on the show and maybe to Stewart's credit as an actor that he always preferred Picard to be "ACTION MAN" (I felt TNG's writers gave him more of those moments in later seasons with the weird undercover missions he took on all of a sudden).

The new shows on the whole seem to have an infatuation with tarnishing the optimistic ideas of the old shows, putting into doubt the Federation's abilities to learn and evolve as a much too blatant echo of our current times (it's as if the writers asked themselves "what if the Federation sucked as much as our governments right now?").

Which also contributes to the shows feeling eerily contemporary and at times closer to our current times than they should (see the "TAXI" shuttle in Picard - which looked almost like shuttles on Discovery).


Re. Babylon 5 - it has its fair share of scenery chewing and overacting in the sense that it feels a bit like amateur theatre at times and series 1 is very rough, the CGI (created on Amiga computers back in the day using Lightwave) aged badly but allowed for space shots not possible with models given their budget.

While it's not dystopic per-se, the 4-series arc is very much focused on conflict and finding allies in surprising places, but there uplifting (albeit a bit cheesy) moments ("dominant belief system on Earth" anyone?).

Ron Gilbert Nov 11, 2021
I refuse to watch anything with ads.  I do have a prime subscript.

Farbfernsehgerät Nov 11, 2021

Star Trek adventure game? Nov 11, 2021
@ron > Did you play the Star Trek 25th Anniversary adventure game that was released in the mid-90's?

Christof Nov 11, 2021
Ron, I see it exactly as you do, without exception. Discovery is not Star Trek. Apparently there is no longer any interest in addressing socio-political issues and using media to paint a better future. It's all about action and wacky twists. Everything else is apparently uncool. Seth MacFarlane basically created the only real Star Trek series with Orville, even if meant satirically. I think you can see that he loves Star Trek TNG. For me, TNG is the best feel-good series and I will watch it over and over until I die.

Red Nov 11, 2021
I guess with prime subscript there is no ads on the babylon 5.

Jesse Nov 12, 2021
There is a lot of agreement here and rightly so. What I feel when I think about modern Star Trek is nothing short of grief. I go back and watch TOS and TNG and Voyager and DS9 (and even Enterprise) and I feel like a widow watching my wedding video, remember what once was and mourning what I've lost. Melodramatic for sure, but life feels so dystopian right now, why would I want to bathe in that? It feels like death. This is why Ted Lasso is so popular. IMHO.

Max Battcher Nov 13, 2021
Star Trek Prodigy does get better: the discovery towards the end of the 45 minute two-parter pilot brings a lot of Star Trek brand Hope with it, and the immediate next episode delivers some classic Trek monologues and I thought felt pretty good.

Maybe give the next episode a try (Ep 3: Starstruck), and especially give it a bit of screen time for the "Emergency Command Hologram".

I'm feeling very burnt out on Dystopian fiction in general myself too, and I'm not sure If I would have made it through Prodigy's opening two parter without the spoiler knowledge of the series regular that doesn't really show up until Episode 3.

Brian Goldberg Nov 13, 2021
Escapism without realism?

I wonder if we can afford to live in the fantasy of future that will never happen while the world burns?

On one hand, if we are fucked no matter what, it's okay to ignore it in order to manage the psychic pain. On the other hand, maybe if more people are aware of the dire situation we are in, then mankind will have a livable planet for a little longer, and we might even have a whole next generation of people who can live their lives and maybe solve some of the problems or even get us into space?

Elukka Nov 14, 2021
"I wonder if we can afford to live in the fantasy of future that will never happen while the world burns?"

Remember that the original Star Trek was made when the question of nuclear annihilation was not so much an "if" as it was a "when". It was hard for many to believe that it wouldn't come, and indeed they wrote it into Star Trek's background. WW3 did happen. Things got better after. Even much later, in DS9, we're shown the social inequality of the 21st century ("By the early 2020s, there was a place like this in every major city in the United States," walking through a homeless tent town.), and how things can get better.

You can account for and portray the problems of the day without turning them into an eternal truth and a prophecy of misery for all time to come. We have a climate crisis now, and we'll be suffering from it to some degree for a long time. If you're portraying the future, you don't need to ignore that, but it doesn't mean any setting during or after it should be primarily dystopic and the problems portrayed as completely unsolveable. I don't think wallowing in the issue is going to do much to inspire people.

I don't think the current dystopic streak in scifi has anything to do with realism, either. I think what's going on is a persistent belief that dystopia and misery are deep and interesting, and anything positive is necessarily shallow.

PeevishDave Nov 14, 2021
You know, I was reflecting on your words, and you're 100% right.
Star Trek's message was supposed to make you feel better, not worse.
Every difficulty was an opportunity to help someone, to understand more about the universe, to connect with others and build a better future.

Which is probably what is missing in social networks (eheh).

I think I was "infected" too by this quest for pessimism in the past,
but I actually miss that kind of positive aesthetic. I feel it's somewhat
similar to the aesthetic I felt by looking at Henry Jones' exclamation
of joy "Alexandretta! Of course! On the pilgrim trail from the Eastern Empire."
or in Jurassic Park: "They're totally wrong. This is a warm-blooded creature.".
I love those movies because these emotional peaks are portraited by
people that - despite all adversities - love their job. They love what they are doing.
Emmett Brown in Back to the future shared his discoveries with Marty because he wanted to share his love for science with a friend, not to have an audience,
not to say "look I'm so good".

I miss that. To be honest, I also miss the time where "science" was
an important word in "science-fiction".
But probably it's just because I shared such interests with the people I loved more in my life (and that cared of me more than any others), that are engineers and teachers that love their job, and I really miss the time I spent with them.

A Nov 15, 2021
I think the reason why dystopian fiction is the norm nowadays is because of the global crises  happening nowadays :(

Ger Nov 18, 2021
As a christian I am a dystopian by nature, that does not mean we must not make this world each day better but we believe the utopia gets broken if we concentrate too much in this world and not aim for the other world. We know this world is flawed.

Morphindel Nov 24, 2021
Yeah, it's safe to say both Star Trek and Star Wars are deader than aunt beru and uncle owen... or Tasha Yar? Anyway, ever since the TNG movies (which, tbf i enjoy all of) the Trek writers/producers seem to lose more and more faith in Trek being smart, science fiction in a hope filled future. Trek used to present our flaws as a society while standing as an example for how to overcome them. Now it's just a bleak, violent, depressing mess with lots of explosions. We need a new sci fi standard

Tape Nov 25, 2021
Maybe young people today are not buying into that "some scientific miracle will solve all our problems and then we'll just do things for fun" idea anymore, as it fails to reflect their reality. I could see why a Star Trek show for children could be a lot more like Gortimer Gibbons (strongly recommended for people with children or nephews at the right age), but there is just a cut off point where people look at their role in the future world and the diplomatic captain, who is able to evaluate all his mistakes and does the right thing in the end without anybody getting hurt just does exist in that environment.

Which of course does not excuse the bad writing of pretty much every show today. But I guess going the extra mile to come up with a good solution to get out of the corner one has written oneself into still isn't demanded by the audiences. And to be honest - looking at Lost or The X-Files - never has been in demand unless it was the showrunners own ambition.

Winfried Maus Nov 27, 2021
@Tape: "Maybe young people today are not buying into that "some scientific miracle will solve all our problems and then we'll just do things for fun" idea anymore, as it fails to reflect their reality."

Well, that's the point of Star Trek being a UTOPIA: It NEVER reflected the reality. The 60s, when the series was created, were dominated by the belief that at anytime WW3 would begin, and nobody believed in diplomacy to solve any problems - rather the opposite.

But Star Trek tried to show a Utopia where despite everybody's flaws and mistakes being made, there is always hope.

And maybe it was also the spirit of the sixties, that even under the immediate threat of a nuclear holocaust, there still is hope.

In our time, however, it very much seems that people no longer believe in utopic visions, have lost hope and let go. On the other hand: Our time has allowed fundamental, radical beliefs to flourish and grow. We truly have entered the dark ages again, where people can easily get burned at the stake for not fitting in or for not believing in the idiotic ideas that everybody else seems to welcome with open arms. People no longer believe in science and a better future, they believe in conspiracy theories, charlatans and demagogues instead. The Science Ficton movies of the 1970s perfectly reflect today's world - but they were made as a warning, they were supposed to wake people up and the hope of 1970's SciFi was to prevent our reality.

Tape Nov 28, 2021
@Winfried Maus
True - but the 60s were also the time when mankind moved to space and there was the idea that something would be out there worth going. Right now, rich people go to space. Even in a perfect scenario, everything explored would be owned by somebody else. That direction to go is gone. And space trips have become to a certain degree anti-science as well with billionaires tweeting mainly about themselves instead about the things they achieve. So I am afraid a lot of the anti-scientific sentiment can be traced back to that.

In science fiction there always has been an up and down between utopia and dystopia, depending on the progress and where it lead mankind towards. Star Trek just managed to fall into certain optimistic waves: The 60s with their space exploration and the huge civil improvements in a time when everything started to get more liberal but also the acceptence of the USSR and the beginning of diplomatic relationship. McCarthyism was over. All this one can see reflected in the old show, with the careful contact to the Klingons, who even then were not just space baddies.

The current Klingons seem a lot more fanatical. Maybe no even necessarily depicting an outside force anymore but indeed the similar streak one can notice currently.
And TNG with the melting of the eastern block, very well represented by having a Klingon on the bridge. So that utopia always rooted in something to be optimistic about.

Nor Treblig Dec 23, 2021
"Right now, rich people go to space."
But hey, back then who would have thought Captain Kirk will be actually going into space?


Regarding 'The Orville':
When I accidentally saw my first snippet of on episode I immediately thought this looks like the most non-'Star Trek' 'Star Trek'-show since the TNG/VOY/DS9 era.
Apparently I'm not the only one here feeling this way and also I'm glad season 3 is on its way.

Greenboots Dec 25, 2021
TNG and DS9 are the only Star Trek shows that really landed with me. Discovery and Picard are just absolute misery to sit through, with every character punished and world-weary for no reason at all. How you can take Captain Picard and turn him into such a battered down husk of a man and call it Star Trek is genuinely beyond me.

K00X Jan 08, 2022
I 100% agree with this article. Discovery and Picard could easily be their own sci-fi stories outside of the star trek universe.

Benny Mar 18, 2022
On the one hand, you're right. I also miss this aspect of hope. With "Picard", that's completely lost. But if you are honest, TOS was always about violence, dead redshirts and love affairs with women with ultra short dresses.

What are your top three episodes of all Star Trek series?

Florian Mar 27, 2022
If you dont like Dystopia then i can recommend the "Wayfarer" Series from Becky Chambers for you.

All Books from Becky Chambers are really good.  They are kind of positive, heartwarming Sci Fi Books.

Also the TV Show "Firefly" is very good.

V for Vendetta Apr 06, 2022
What I like about Star Trek is the fact that it is one of the few big science fiction series in which humanity has actually made some progress. They finally overcame de"mock"racy, capitalism and most of the petty desires. Instead, advancing humanity and unraveling the mysteries of the universe are now much more important. That's a future I want to live in!

Florian Apr 06, 2022
I feel exactly the same way as you do about Star Trek. It reached its peak with TNG and Nemesis showed its decay. It's weird that in hindsight Nemesis doesn't feel so bad anymore because of all the second rate Star Wars clones that were branded Star Trek. I used to be bitter about it and I only check current Star Trek on occasion to see if anything has changed.  But I'm not bitter anymore because no one can take away the good Star Trek we have. Things change over time and if I don't like them, that's ok.

Maybe I shouldn't give up hope that there will ever be a decent version of Star Trek again or a different show with similar values, though. If we can have another Monkey Island from you then anything is possible. And I mean that because I didn't think I would get to experience that either. Let's be positive about the future and perhaps the future will be more positive.

AT Apr 10, 2022
I couldn't agree more about the dystopian nature of the universe, but it feels to me like you're frustrated by the symptom rather than the cause.  Their dark world is a result of the same philosophical underpinning as a few elements I'm surprised you didn't call out.  It's their shallow approach to social issues.  You praise their diversity in casting (though the casting has always been diverse), but the same mindset is responsible for the high-school-civics-by-way-of-Twitter storytelling. The bleakness is a conscious part of that.

AT Apr 11, 2022
I have seen no more eloquent analysis of modern Trek than the videos on a YouTube channel called Major Grin.  He says nothing, just pairs clips from previous series with clips on the same topics from current ones.  The contrast speaks for itself.

Erdal Yoluak Apr 11, 2022
I totally agree. Actually, S2E1 of Picard started well, but the continuation is partially disappointing again. It's frustrating that The Orville has also been postponed to June and that season 3 will be its final season.