14 Comments

Salvaging Science Fiction

Hi. My name is Lloyd and I’ve got a secret. I write science fiction. Hardly surprising in a place named Otherwhere Gazette, no? But according to the whims of culture, I shouldn’t. Hell, according to the whims of culture, I should at worst have peaked in high school and still be living that dream. That I don’t smacks people somehow wrong.

Having said that, a few weeks ago one of my comrades here stirred the pot with a post on Star Trek and engineering. Now, don’t get me wrong, Star Trek and its spin offs have excited and generated quite a few engineers and new technologies through the years. I just think Star Trek is the wrong approach, is all. One of the first things you can take from Star Trek is that it was conceived and written by an officer who had no real experience with ships. Years before the internet and confirming that Roddenberry had been an Army Air Corps Pilot, I knew something was not quite right in his ship’s crewing. Damn near everyone is an officer, and officers are doing all the fun jobs. Think back to Star Trek the Original Series. Communications? Lt. Uhura. Helm? Lt. Sulu. Navigator? Lt. Chekov. Hell, the transporter was usually run by the ship’s chief engineer, Lt. Com. Scott. It wasn’t until Next Generation that we even got a regular crew member who was enlisted – Chief O’Brian. Why so officer heavy a ship, I wondered? Then I realized (after finding out where Roddenberry had served) on a bomber, these would be officers, with enlisted men doing the scut work of firing the guns in the rear of the plane. Which, in Star Trek, oddly enough was done by, you guessed it, officers. On a ship? Those are all blue collar jobs. Enlisted crew. You know, the guys who work for a living. So, to me, growing up, in a lot of ways, Star Trek was not quite right. Sure, it would take me years to realize that Star Trek was about an elite group. Written by members of the elite, to show how the elite would lead us to peace and prosperity in the great beyond. Enjoyable, sure, but not exactly inspiring to a middle class kid growing up in Waco, Texas.

Then things started to change. 1977 we saw Star Wars – a story about a hick kid from nowhere saving the rebellion. That they then made him the son of an elite didn’t really change that initial blue collar background. 1978 saw a show that was what Roddenberry was trying to write twelve years earlier hit the small screen – Battlestar Galactica, or as my uncle and I referred to it, Cattlecar Galictica/Wagon Train in Space. They even had good ol’ Lorne Green leading the wagon train. But the stories weren’t about elite characters doing special things – they were about a bunch who were barely getting by sometimes and doing what it took to get where they needed to go. In my opinion, the elitist character in the show was Balthazar – and he was generally a villain. Even with the light tone and the disco era glitter, the show had a grittier tone than that of Star Trek. The long overarching story was not “things are perfect and we can all get along” it was “life requires we all do our part, and sometimes it sucks.”

But it wasn’t until 1979 that we got the show that really peaked my interest in science fiction and made me a lifelong fan. ABC, home of Battlestar Galactica at the time, took a risk on a show about a junkman. A junkman who built a rocket and went to the moon to salvage the stuff the US had left behind. Salvage 1 was about as blue collar a science fiction show as you could get. An average American decides to do something, and he does it. Finds the right people, buys and builds the parts, and goes to the Moon. Unlike Star Trek, with its lofty five year mission, the mission on Salvage 1 was simple – the main character, Harry, put it this way “I want to build a spaceship, go to the moon, salvage all the junk that’s up there, bring it back and sell it.” Nothing noble about meeting new races, boldly going where no one had gone before or any of that. Just a guy wanting to make a buck. Which is, in the end what will get humanity off this orb for good – not any amount of going places in peace for all mankind, but someone going somewhere to make a buck. Here was a goal anyone could understand – progress for cash. Which seems to insult some people in science fiction. Making money is dirty. We should be going there for purely scientific reasons. Think back to your history for a minute – when has humanity ever been inspired to do anything for the good of man or for SCIENCE!? Not very often. But show them that they can make a profit, and they’ll be lining up at the door, even if all you’re selling is snake oil.

Salvage 1 changed my life. It some ways, it has led to me becoming a writer of science fiction. How important was it to me, you ask? Well, two of my friends and I got together to try to figure out how to do the same thing. At 13. One of the other guys spent a good deal of his adult post-college career working for Rockwell, programming for the space shuttle and training astronauts. So yeah, blue collar stories can be as inspiring to those who connect with them as the purity of the elites. Sometimes, the story people can connect with is more important than the story that looks slick and preaches at them.

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14 comments on “Salvaging Science Fiction

  1. I write mostly in a subgenre I call Blue Collar Space. You’ve described it here perfectly. It’s about people doing dirty work to survive and prosper — they just happen to be doing it in space. My first published story was a tall tale about an accident in a Lunar waste treatment facility. So this post really resonated with me. Thanks!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. You know, I picked Star Trek because it was an easy, famous reference that I wouldn’t have to explain or introduce anyone to before making my point. That and because the fans made the suits at the studio bow to fan demand for the first time ever. If I had realized how controversial picking on this particular sacred cow… Aw, who am I kidding, if I had known how badly I was going to rile up silly little twits who get their feelers hurt at the very concept that someone might not want to live the way they want everyone to live, I would have done it years ago. If I could figure out what religion they follow (other than the sacred cult of the hatred of western civilization and the holy altar of “life would be so much better if all the white men died”) I would take a run at that, just to watch them burst into “pounding keyboard rage” at the very concept that someone might disagree with their world view. It’s funny, the war monger, bigoted, hatey haters of hateville (Uh that’s us) save our rage for things that really matter, someone disagreeing with us is a mater for debate, not hate… the folks that are worshipers of “other, and inclusiveness and love and universal bla bla” on the other hand…

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  3. I have never looked at Star Trek the same way after serving in the navy, as an enlisted man. I think that true spacefaring will have more military based on the ship pattern, and less on the plane pattern, which is where we are now. I actually am noodling out a story like that right now, but my exposure to good mil sci fi is a bit limited. Anyone have some good (even iconic) examples to see what’s been done before?

    Liked by 2 people

    • For shipboard operation, probably the best milsf out there right now is the Honor Harrington series. Based more on the Age of Sail models, but not completely. This navy man didn’t cringe while reading them.

      Of course, I was a groundside corpsman, so what do I know? 😉

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    • I’d recommend David Drake’s RCN series. It’s a sci-fi take on the O’Brian Age of Sail novels, but a good look at issues with shipboard life in space in my opinion.

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  4. Salvage 1 was wonderful. Unfortunately I liked it, which means that most of the audience did not. Which meant that it disappeared quickly.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I remember it, and I agree it was good. I also remember Great American Hero. Great premise: ordinary Joe gets a super suit from aliens, but loses the instruction book. But the execution lacked, and then it went into schedule shifting hell. That doesn’t really happen anymore, does it? I mean the schedule shifts. Poor execution shall always be with us.

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  5. Gnardopolo. try the Honor Harington series by David Webber, and the Leary series by David Drake.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve heard more engineers talk about how Salvage One got them into engineering than almost any other show. Thanks for the reminder about why.

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  7. Was taking with a buddy about this over the weekend. We both realized that in Star Trek, he’d be dead, and I’d be with either the Maquis or running around like one Harcourt Fenton Mudd. Next Gen, we’d both be dead or with the Maquis. Salvage was our kind of sci-fi – while we might never have made the “hero” status, we’ could comfortably see ourselves working support roles or in the background of that universe.

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