Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations: David Mack And Speculative Fiction As A Harbinger of Diversity

Star Trek would have you believe that, one day, Earth will become a virtual utopia. War, famine, and poverty will be eliminated. Advanced civilizations will come and help humanity solve its problems, and even explore the very stars themselves. Humanity, through a United Federation of Planets will encounter new species, societies, and ways of living. And while there will initially be conflict and fear, it will ultimately give way to tolerance, peace, and love.

Personally, I don’t find this realistic. Strip away the technology and science, even accepting the caveat that somehow unlimited resources and energy can be had, and you still have human beings that still feel greed, possess hubris, and fear what they don’t understand. And that is how we treat our own fellow human beings. I think that, if anything, our interactions with each other and other species would be a lot more like the scenario set in the universe of Babylon 5: where there are differences of opinion, internecine and squabbling politics, sanctions, and warfare but a degree of acceptance and understanding among individuals. But that is assuming that human nature will remain the same. Certainly, the anonymous reader that wrote a letter deriding the lesbian relationship between a Vulcan and Klingon in David Mack’s Star Trek novel Harbinger reflects some current human traits all too well.

It can be disheartening to consider that such bigotry exists — and has done so for some time — in speculative fiction and geek fandom. Even David Mack, in his epic open letter rebuttal of this reader’s email, admits that diversity is not nearly as represented in the Star Trek television series as it could have been. And even if the writer of the email to Mack wasn’t a hardcore Trekkie, this is not an original sentiment in whatever might constitute itself as geek culture or the various fandoms that make up some kind of community. I don’t think it is too much of a revelation to state that Star Trek — or speculative fiction itself — and fandoms can be problematic with regards to gender and cultural diversity.

But there is more to this. There always is. I think what really stands out at me is the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine series. Part of the reason I bring this up is because of the image that Katharine Trendacosta uses in her i09 article Star Trek Writer’s Defense of Diversity in Sci-Fi Is Damn Near Perfect. It depicts the episode “Rejoined” where Jadzia Dax encounters Lenara Kahn. In fact, both women are Trill hosts for their respective symbionts: whom had been married. I was either in the latter stages of elementary or in the middle of high school when I first saw this episode, and I didn’t understand it.

Dax and Kahn

It wasn’t that I didn’t understand why Dax had feelings for Kahn. I assumed, then, that she was just experiencing echoes of emotion from her symbiont’s last host. Naively, I was more confused as to how she could even pursue a relationship with her even though the symbiont no longer had a male host and if disrupting the rules of their society was worth the trouble. I will even admit that, at the time, it made me uncomfortable. In retrospect, many adults seemed to feel the same way, or so Star Trek producers believed. Years later, of course, I realize that the Trill philosophy of wanting to prevent symbionts from “limiting their experiences by relationships from their previous lives” was another way of stating that people were uncomfortable with two pansexual beings — who both happened to be women this time around — from continuing and having new experiences with their relationship. You can say that it was the nineties and that we weren’t “quite there yet” (and we still aren’t in a lot of ways), but when I look back at that episode and even my own naivete and ignorance, I feel a kind of righteous anger that they couldn’t pursue that relationship further.

There are many other instances of how Star Trek poorly handled their depictions of gender and ethnic diversity, but there is one other story line that particularly got to me: though not, again, until recent years. There was a story arc between Miles O’Brien, his wife Keiko, and the Bajoran Major Kira Nerys embodied best by the episode “Looking for par’Mach in All the Wrong Places.” Due to a potentially lethal accident, the O’Briens’ unborn son had to be transferred into Kira’s womb. During this episode, Kira moves in with the O’Briens so that they can take care of her in the meantime. Miles and Kira end up spending a lot of time together, which Keiko actively supports. Their family dynamic changes during this time and Miles and Kira actually end up developing feelings for each other. Nothing comes of this, however, and after she carries the child to term Kira leaves the O’Briens.

I definitely remember being distinctly uncomfortable with this arrangement at the time: seeing the two characters bordering on cheating. Certainly, while life happens in chaotic ways, their situation was no time to develop a relationship. But now I can’t help but feel that there were a few possibilities in how that relationship could have turned out. While the resonance feels more like something Robert A. Heinlein would create as opposed to Gene Roddenberry or other like-minded writers, it would have been fascinating to see a polyamorous or non-monogamous relationship dynamic form from that particular episode: another kind of diversity and representation in a futuristic series priding itself on philosophical and human progress.

Kira Miles and Keiko

Even so David Mack, in his own open letter, states that “those of us who write the licensed Trek fiction continue to do our best to depict a more progressive, enlightened, open, and harmonious future, not just for humanity but for all sentient beings.” And maybe it was these words, along with seeing Dax and Kahn again, that reminded me that although the writers of Star Trek couldn’t be too radical, they pushed the envelope of diversity as far as they thought they could: particularly in Deep Space Nine.

It’s funny. When I think about it, Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 both aired more or less during the same time period. Perhaps that’s why I mentioned both programs in the context of this article. Maybe it reminds me of how different I am from the child and adolescent I used to be. But I also learned something new. David Mack, in his rebuttal to his anonymous reader over the accusation of “remoulding the Vulcan persona to suit himself,” quotes the Vulcan philosophy of IDIC: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. It even has its own symbol worn by many Vulcans: including Spock himself. Whether or not Gene Roddenberry created the symbol to sell merchandise is kind of irrelevant but it reminds me of something else. I realized that even if that utopian ideal is unrealistic and will never happen, it is something to strive for. That sense of hope and wonder in the form of sheer possibility and diversity is what Star Trek is, and what it should ultimately be about.

This is what speculative fiction and geekdom should be about: what it should be the vanguard for.

David Mack, in not only being unashamed of the lesbian relationship between his two characters but even supporting and rejoicing in it, states that he will continue to support diversity in his writing. When you look at current fandom and some of its displeasure over other changes or recent iterations in franchises such as a Black Captain America, Thor now being a woman, and a female lead in a Spider-Man film you begin to realize something else. Not only is diversity important in representing various people in the franchises that they love, but it is utterly integral in keeping those worlds fresh and alive: keeping them changing.  Closed mindsets will be maintained and never challenged. No one will care about stories that never change or make them feel a part of them.

Without diversity, without change, genres and mediums will die.

It is my hope that writers such as David Mack continue to travel these places and bring us along on the ride: to make a place where a story is judged by the quality of its writing and interactions and not solely by an idea that hasn’t been fully fleshed out, or reactionary responses.

To boldly go where no one has gone before, or to go to where other people go and you don’t.  Frankly, if this is a journey that doesn’t suit you, then you shouldn’t come for the ride. As for me, I want to see where these explorations will take me.

Fleet-Foot Tales and Hero-Glyphs Part II: The Celestial Voyages Fragment

In our last piece on artist-archaeologist Josh Ln’s hero-glyphs discovery–or “Fleet-Foot Tales”–we discussed the possible interpretations and meanings behind the artifact entitled Conflict Amongst a League of Marvels. However, our work is not finished. In fact, just as we promised, we at G33kPron’s Art Historian branch are going to transliterate and analyze the next in a series of Ln’s discoveries: specifically Exhibit B or The Celestial Voyages Fragment. This was no mean accomplishment. In addition to utilizing the Mind Gem in order to understand the mental processes behind its creation as well as bolstering our own understandings of this matter, our Chief Information Officer G33kBot had to authorize the retrieval and usage of the Space Gem and the Time Gem as well. It should be also noted as with Exhibit A, we had to actually undertake the laborious tasks of repairing and restoring these Gems to fulfill their original functions.

In addition, unlike the Mind Gem and its greater … affinity with Exhibit A, Exhibit B’s unusual temporal and spatial structure–though hypothetically found in an unknown period of Earth’s history–necessitated the use of these three tools (and the Space Gem in particular) to … travel to various places and times in order to place matters in their proper context. So now that you know of some of our struggles with these “hero-glyphs,” dear readers, let us examine what we have learned about Exhibit B.

Star Trek Hero-Glyphics

As you can see, there are three central figures in this sequential narrative. On the left is what appears to be a member of a mythological Elder Race: the Sidhe or the Elves. Certainly, the very bright colours that Fae beings are told to favour seems very much a characteristic of this being: whose actual name we have not been able to pronounce as it utilizes syllables and intonations unfamiliar to human vocal cords, mouth structures, or–even with Mind Gem augmentation– our current mental capacity. However, note his very direct–almost linear–bearing and the hand-gesture that he is creating with his left hand: the left hand in some cultures signifying a receptive element. At first, we thought that perhaps he is attempting to cast some kind of incantation or spell on the right-hand figure. However, the gesture itself–while seemingly questioning–can also be interpreted as either a greeting or a farewell. It can actually be seen as both of these elements simultaneously.

Yet there is that questioning aspect to consider as well. The Elf-Lord, if his pointed ears, gaudily-coloured uniform, the half-obscured celestial arch on the right side of his chest and his straight-forward gesture–with what seems to be indicative of a culture or mentality of highly structured oaths and promises that is incapable of lies (at least upon pain of death or the unravelling of the structure that keeps them from devolving into the chaos of star-stuff from whence they came), much in the way of the ancient Fae of Celtic and Nordic folklore and fantastic literature, there is the artifact on his hip to consider. It resembles a recording device–or a weapon of some kind–or perhaps something that has different phases of usage. He seems to be both questioning and asking something of the figure on the right-hand side.

And what a strange figure the latter truly is. After some translation of the hero-glyph, we have determined that he is a human figure called something along the lines of Tiberius. It is particularly odd given that Tiberius is an ancient Latin name and though the latter have obviously had contact with Celtic culture and even Germanics, there are other details to consider here. Tiberius is a hero and has the rank of something equivalent to a Praetor: a commander or a captain acting on behalf of another force. What is even more puzzling is that he is dressing in the same Fae-like uniform–of a golden hue–and he seems to be sitting on a throne: as perhaps a representative of an empire. Perhaps he is symbolic of a changeling that the Elf-Lord has trained, or raised to influence humankind from the inside and the deference that the latter shows Tiberius is merely a formality: one that belies his true power. Yet this is ignoring the fact that despite the throne, both figures are at the same height: indicative of some kind of–dare we say–equality. And then there are the other images in this narrative to consider.

Even though Tiberius sits on his throne, behind the Elf-Lord is a strange glyph of concentric circles and cylinders that appears to be some kind of vessel. Thus both sides have a power behind them: though the Elf-Lord does appear to be reporting to Tiberius. This vessel–which appears to be hovering in mid-air as something akin to a spiritual genius or something that happened, is happening, or will happen seems to be seeking something that is beyond the edge of the narrative. It is literally floating in space. However, both the Elf-Lord and Tiberius seem more focused–at this moment–on a bronze-gold predatory bird between them. Whether this is some kind of cursed artifact, or a symbol indicative of war is unknown. Certainly, the distance between them and every other symbol in the space seems to indicative a great peace or stillness, but a distant threat of war.

On the upper-hand corner of Exhibit B are three emblems arranged horizontally next to one another. The red symbol with its curved edges seems indicative of some kind of war-like passionate Meritocracy, the blue mirrors the emblems on the two figures as something more peaceful and distant–perhaps an open-ended Union encompassing whatever it comes across–whereas the last may well be indicative of a rising Star Empire. Whether these are other governments that the Elf-Lord and Tiberius are negotiating with, or the possible parallel pasts, futures and aspects of humankind is unknown at this time.

Yet what is really striking is the third central symbol on the upper right hand side of the narrative: the depiction of what appears to be a humanoid saurian ascendant over Tiberius. There are a few elements to consider with regards to the Saurian. He is facing the exact opposite way from Tiberius and carries the weight of a rock or another entire world in one bulky arm. It could be that the Saurian with its seeming brutishness represents the countless horrors and barbarism that Tiberius and the Elf-Lord’s Union faces in the stars. On the other hand, it could also be a threat that was already faced by Tiberius himself and conquered: but never forgotten. The fact that it is a Saurian being may also represent the reptilian Id of the human psyche that Tiberius–as representative of humans that are still evolving–are attempting to control, but unlike the Elf-Lord with the lack of such an apparent symbol above him, still utilizes as some kind of grounding or tie to the Earth and where they came from. Tiberius seems to remember his terrestrial roots amid his celestial voyages. Then again, the Saurian may just symbolize its traditional fertility roots in Earth mythology: or at least with regards to Tiberius.

The linear structure of this narrative is deceptive with all of these possibilities and the story continuing over the edges of the overall image. At the same time, while many of these symbols are in doubt and it’s unknown whether the Elf-Lord or the hero Tiberius are rivals, superior and subordinate, or heroic comrades, it is clear that they symbolize a kind of hope or redemptive narrative: as possibilities that have not happened yet. Certainly it is no coincidence that the three possible images of empires–perhaps reminiscent of Heraclitus’ archetypal symbols of humanity’s hydra of eros (desire), the more orderly shape of logos (reason), or the rising lion form of thumos (courage or duty)–is right above the Elf-Lord’s head. He is always cognizant of what Tiberius is capable of: and, perhaps, what he and his own kind are capable of doing as well even as they continue to voyage further past vistas of sentient understanding.

And though this story, like Exhibit A, seems to have no end in sight thus ends this segment of Fleet-Foot Tales and Hero-Glyphs. Stay tuned next time for our next segment: in which we will discuss the third narrative found by Josh Ln known as The Beatific Agony and the Secret College of Marvels and Daimons.

Josh Ln’s original excavated work and restorations of the rest of the “Fleet-Foot Tales” can be found, without translation, in Hero-Glyphics, Proof All Those Time Travel Story Events Were Real for the curious at your perusal and at your leisure. And, as we end this segment, we would like to leave you with these words we transliterated as best we could from the hand-gesture of our Elf-Lord friend, “Live long, and prosper.”