I Can’t Fight What I Am: Star Trek X: Nemesis

Energy use is not the primary focus of Nemesis. Its plot consists mostly of a megalomaniac obsessed with destroying the United Federation of Planets. However, the primary motivation for said megalomaniac is his history of abuse at the hands of the Romulans as he worked in the Reman dilithium mines. The treatment of the Reman minors is meant to parallel real life labor abuses by major energy corporations.

The film opens with the assassination of the Romulan senate after hearing a report from the Romulan military urging them to accept an alliance with one of their colonies, Remus. After the Praetor (the Romulan prime minster) refuses to accept the proposal of the military, a radioactive devise is detonated, killing everyone in the room. Just before the devise activates, the Praetor announces that Remus is not meeting their mining quotas. The film later explains that one of the primary exports of Remus is mined dilithium, which Remus is forced to deliver only to the Romulan Empire.

Starfleet informs Captain Picard that the new Romulan government has asked to parley with Starfleet. Picard expresses surprise that the new Praetor is a Reman named Shinzon, because according to Cdr. Data, Remans are considered an undesirable caste in the Romulan Empire. It is this convenient racism that causes the mistreatment of the Reman miners. Picard meets with Shinzon and discovers that he is a clone of Picard. Shinzon explains that he was meant to replace Picard and infiltrate Starfleet but the plan was abandoned when a new Romulan government took power. Shinzon was then sent to the dilithium mines on Remus because it was thought that no human could survive working in the dilithium mines let alone a child:

In those terrible depths lived only the damned. Together with the Reman slaves I was condemned to an existence of unceasing labor and starvation under the brutal heel of the Romulan gaurds. Only the very strongest had any hope of survival. –Shinzon.

Shinzon said that a male Reman took care of him and thus he became brothers with the Remans. Shinzon claims that the motivation behind everything that he has done was to liberate the Remans.

Of course, Shinzon is not as he seems and secretly wants to destroy the Federation, and the real reason he wanted to parley with the Enterprise is because his survival depends on an injection of Picard’s DNA, as the result of a defect in his cloning process. However, the reasons for Shinzon’s madness can be directly linked to his abuse at the hands of Romulans.

 

Clearly, in Nemesis the Romulans’ racism against the Remans was the cause of the abuse that created Shinzon. However, the linking racism to resource extraction is not the invention of science fiction. Racism is a theme in energy narratives from Star Trek to Munif’s Cities of Salt to The Hunger Games novels.  Therefore, I’d like to pose the question: “Are crimes against race inherit in today’s energy resource extraction? Does the desirability of the resource create a convenient racism or is racism an underlying condition that resource extractors take advantage of?” Are the Romulans racist against the Remans because the Remans have dilithium or are the Romulans using a racism that already exists to justify forcing the Remans to work to extract their dilithium?

Advertisements

Force of Nature— do we still have time to make it better?

This episode is a different kind of energy narrative than I have discussed thus far, usually I focus on the energy resource rather than the effect of the technology that the resource on the environment, but I couldn’t resist writing about this episode. As I’ve mentioned before in my discussion of the original Star Trek, warp cores use dilithium crystals as fuel. I’ve also written about the political struggles that dilithium has caused between the various warp capable species. However, in Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) there appears less of these political struggles and so I found interesting that the TNG writers decided to through a wrench into the perfect “warp drive”. Now it appears that warp drive may be as damaging to the galaxy as gasoline was to earth. It appears that the utopian solution of the future is not a solution after all.

TNG 7×09 ‘Force of Nature’ Trailer by TrekCore

 

The Enterprise travels to a region of space where warp travel is difficult, in pursuit of a missing Federation ship called the Fleming. The Enterprise discovers that the Fleming has been destroyed and finds an unusual object amongst the debris. The object begins generating a verteron field, which is dangerous to the Enterprise. Before the Enterprise can take evasive maneuvers, the field disables their warp engines and takes down their shields. A ship approaches the Enterprise and beams two of their crew aboard Main Engineering. When Lt. Cdr. Geordi La Forge asks the intruders why they have boarded the Enterprise they say, “we are trying to make you listen. You are killing us.”

The intruders are Herkaran scientists, who have been disabling ships in their region for some time. According to their research, warp fields cause a “dangerous reaction” in their region of space and if “something isn’t done” their planet will become “uninhabitable”. La Forge comments that the Herkaran’s research has been reviewed by the Federation Science Council and that they saw no link between warp fields and the degradation of their planet. The Herkarans respond that their research was only preliminary at the time of the Science Council’s evaluation and that if they requested the Science Council’s review again that it would take too long for them to conduct another evaluation and in the meantime their planet would be destroyed, so the Herkarans started disabling ships to get the Federation’s attention. The Herkarans agree to help the Enterprise repair its engines in return for their agreement to review their research, and Picard accepts their offer.

One of the Herkarans, Serova, assists La Forge in fixing the Enterprise engines. La Forge complains to her that she has caused him weeks of extra work. Serova responds by saying: “I’m sorry you’ve been inconvenienced. But that’s all it is—an inconvenience. Our concerns are much more important than the condition of your engines.” Serova later exclaims that there is no point in trying to talk to La Forge, who is one of Starfleet’s warp experts, because he has “already decided not to listen,” and then she storms off.

La Forge talks to Serova’s brother Rabal after Serova leaves. He claims that Warp Drive has been around for three centuries and that it is a proven technology. Rabal says he held the same position four years ago before he began to study his sister’s research. Rabal tries to explain just how dangerous he and Serova believe warp drive is to their system by explaining that they will need to convince the rest of Herkaras to forgo using warp drive, which will leave Herkaras isolated from the rest of the Federation.

Cdr. Data reviews Serova and Rabal’s theories and concludes that they are theoretically possible but that there is no evidence to suggest that the phenomena is occurring now. Data also claims that in order to develop the rift that the Herkarans are afraid of that there needs to be a warp field that is much more powerful than any that could be developed by a starship. The Herkarans argue that the warp field effect is cumulative and that the many starships over the area will create this effect. Data again agrees that this is possible and suggests that the Science Council send a research team to further analyze the Herkarans data. Serova complains that this will only cause more delays.

In act of desperation, Serova transports back to her ship and engineers a warp core breach, this causes Serova’s ship to explode and the rift that she theorized to develop in space. The Enterprise realizes that they now must travel through the rift to rescue the Fleming. As Data and La Forge are working to get the Enterprise safely through the rift, they discuss Serova’s proven theory. La Forge regrets not listening to her more closely, but Data reminds him that if she had been willing to wait and do further research on the effect of warp fields the rift would not have formed and she would not have lost her life. La Forge asks himself why he was so resistant. Data responds that perhaps Serova’s “aggressive methods” that created an adversarial situation. La Forge remarks that he taking Serova’s assertions personally: “Maybe…I was a little threatened, the thought that warp engines might be doing some kind of damage.”

La Forge meets with Rabal in Ten Forward while he is waiting for the preparations to the Enterprise to be done.

Rabal: “I don’t think we can look at space travel the same way anymore. We’re going to have to change.”

La Forge: “I’ve been in Starfleet a long time. We depend on warp drive. I just don’t know how easy it’s going to be to change.”

Rabal: “I won’t be easy at all.”

As usual after some difficulty, the Enterprise is able to rescue the crew of the Fleming and navigate through the rift. In the dénouement of the episode, La Forge claims that the warp field effect will not only effect this area of space but other areas as well given enough warp traffic. The Federation Science Council issues new orders that until they can figure out how to counteract the effect that they should slow the damage as much as possible, therefore areas of space that are likely to be effected by warp fields will be restricted to essential travel only and all federation ships will be limited to a speed of warp 5 except in cases of extreme emergency. The Federation will share this information to other warp capable planets that are not in The Federation.

The episode ends with the following conversation between La Forge and Picard:

Picard: “You know, Geordi, I’ve spent the better part of my life exploring space. I’ve charted new worlds, I’ve met dozens of new species and I believe that these were all valuable ends in themselves and now it seems that…all this while I was helping to damage the thing that I hold most dear.”

La Forge: “It won’t turn out that way Captain. We still have time to make it better.”

This episode is analogous the fossil fuels/global warming debate. A group of scientists realize that warp technology leads to the degradation of the environment. However, the Federation, which has become dependent on warp technology, is slow to accept this idea until there is a major environmental event. Fortunately, the Federation calls for change in the warp-use of all of its ships except in emergency situations. This immediate and expansive action is not something that has happened yet in regards to global warming. Whether or not there are more pressing matters is technically up for debate, but ultimately I think that before it’s too late we need make sure that La Forge’s words are still true: “do we still have time to make it better?”

Star Trek The Next Generation: Encounter at Farpoint Station. New Series; Same Energy Narratives.

Encounter at Farpoint Station provides a different perspective than a traditional energy narrative. Most of the energy narratives I have presented thus far show a stronger force subjugating a weaker force in order to take their energy resources from them. In this case, the stronger force has all of the energy resources and is subjugating a weaker force that requires them. This TNG episode is also another example of convenient racism. The stronger force feels more comfortable exhorting the weaker force because it is of a different race.

 

Cdr. Riker needs the Enterprise to come pick him up from Farpoint Station, a Federation outpost. While he is waiting he talks with Groppler Zorn, who is the leader of Farpoint Station. Riker says to Zorn that he is impressed with the station’s energy surplus. Zorn appears flattered and says that geothermal energy is one of the benefits of the planet. Zorn offers Riker some fruit and Riker asks if there is an apple. Zorn regrettably says there is not, but as he passes the fruit bowl to Riker there appears to be a bowl of apples behind it. Riker exclaims that the bowl of apples could not have been there a second ago but shrugs it off when he leaves Zorn’s apartment. After Riker leaves Zorn begins shouting at thin air that it has been told not to do things like that and that if it does it again that he will have to punish it.

After Riker boards the Enterprise he tries to convince Cpt. Picard that Farpoint Station is trading its surplus energy for the materials it takes to build the station, since the planet has no such materials.

Picard and Riker decide to play Zorn a visit. They bring Counselor Troi with them. Troi has empathic abilities and while she is on Farpoint she senses an overpowering feeling of loneliness and despair but notes that these feelings are not coming from Zorn or any of his people. Zorn refuses to discuss Troi’s reaction so Picard, Riker and Troi leave.

While the Enterprise is investigating Farpoint Station an unknown ship approaches the planet. The ship is considerably larger than the Enterprise, therefore they are unable to stop the ship from firing on the planet. Riker and Data continue to investigate the planet while the ship is firing at the surface. They go to talk to Zorn but just as he is about to help them, Zorn is transported away. Riker, Lt. Cdr. Data and Troi beam aboard the unknown starship. Troi notes that she senses strong feelings of anger and hate. As they continue to search the ship, the away team finds Zorn trapped behind a force field, screaming in pain. The away team frees Zorn from his prison and they are transported back to the Enterprise. Troi informs Picard that the vessel is alive. Zorn admits that his people found another such creature and that they “saved it”; “helped it”. Riker notes that it must be this creature that is converting the planet’s geothermal energy into matter. The vessel turns into a creature similar to a massive jellyfish. The Enterprise connects an energy beam to the station and the station itself transforms into another creature.

Zorn claims that he never meant to harm the creature and that he fed it the planet’s surplus of energy. Picard retorts that Zorn only fed it enough to keep it alive and thus forced it into whatever shaped he needed. The two creatures float off into space side-by-side. It is clear that Zorn did not feel guilty about exploiting the jellyfish creature because it was not humanoid. In science fiction, what defines race is different, but ultimately the principles of racism remain the same: as long as the person you are exploiting doesn’t look like you, it’s okay.

As I mentioned before, in this episode the stronger force has all of the energy resources and is subjugating a weaker force that requires them. The stronger force in Encounter at Farpoint is just as ruthless as the stronger forces I have mentioned in other posts. Zorn and his people force the creature, (which is playing the role of the weaker force,) to give them something they desire. This perspective is important to consider since it is evidence for the claim that it is not a lack of energy resource that causes cold-heartedness in a people but rather that cold-heartedness causes a people to act ruthlessly when an energy resource is involved.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Okay, so the primary theme of The Undiscovered Country is not energy use, it’s race relations, BUT energy use does play a principle role in the narrative. The film opens with the destruction of the moon Praxis, which is the primary dilithium source for the Klingon Empire. According to Spock, the destruction of Praxis was caused by over-mining and insufficient safety precautions. The debris from Praxis is polluting the ozone of Kronos, the Klingon home planet, which will cause the oxygen to be depleted on Kronos in 50 years. This is an example of a stronger force (the Klingons) subjugating a weaker force (the environment,) and as is common with energy narratives, the environment seeks its revenge. Now with Praxis gone, the Klingons have neither the dilithium to fuel their ships nor the safety of their people.

The Klingons have been at war with the Federation for 70 years, though they are currently at an armistice. Spock says that the Klingons cannot both maintain their hostilities against the Federation and save their planet.  Thus, the Klingons have agreed to peace negotiations with the Federation.

The narrative also makes mention of a labor issue involving dilithium production. Kirk and McCoy are sentenced to a penal colony on Rura Penthe to mine dilithium for the Klingon Empire. Being sentenced to this penal colony is well known as being the same as an execution sentence. The prisoners are forced to work under extreme conditions and those who do not work are left to freeze outside the camp:

“Work well and you will be treated well. Work badly and you will die.”

Hard labor prison camps are just another form of convenient bigotry, like racism, to help find laborers that can be mistreated in order to ensure profit. In addition, The Undiscovered Country contains the same life and energy equivalency theme found in the episodes of Star Trek that I have written about thus far. The Klingons know that the conditions on Rura Penthe are so extreme that they will eventually kill the workers. Life pays for energy.

Elaan of Troyius (Star Trek TOS): Saved by a Keen Fashion Sense

The Enterprise crew has been ordered to deliver Elaan, a princess from the planet, Elas to the planet Troyius where she will marry a member of the planet’s royal family. The marriage is hoped to bring peace to Elas and Troyius, which have been at war for many years. The planets border both the edge of The Federation and the edge of The Klingon Empire, which The Federation has been at war with for many years. The Federation hopes that by helping to facilitate this marriage that Elas and Troyius will be more likely to join or trade with the Federation, though why The Federation is particularly interested in these two planets is unclear until the end of the episode.

Elaan is vehemently against marrying a Troyian as she considers the Troyians weak and arrogant in comparison to the barbaric Elasians. However, Kirk is able to convince her throughout the episode that marrying a man that she has never met before and does not love is the “right” thing for her to do.

During the delivery mission, the Enterprise crew notices that they are being followed by a Klingon ship. Later, one Elaan’s bodyguards sabotages the Enterprise’s warp drive, making it impossible for the Enterprise to outrun the Klingons or attack them. The Enterprise must receive new dilithium crystals in order to repair the warp drive.

Spock notices an energy reading coming from Elaan’s necklace. The necklace was given to her from the Troyians as a wedding gift. Elaan claims that the jewels are common stones on Elas and Troyias and that they are of little monetary value. Kirk and Spock realize that the necklace is made of dilithium crystals and that they can use them to power the warp drive

Elaan: “It is of little value. They are common stones.

Spock: “THESE are common stones? See captain? Here and here.”

Kirk: “Common stones? Now I see why the Klingons are interested in this system.”

Kirk to Elaan: “May I have this?”

Elaan: “If I can be of any help, of course.”

Kirk: “You may have just saved our lives.”

The prevalence of dilithium on these planets also explains the interest of both the Federation and the Klingon Empire in the two planets.

Following the Enterprise’s escape from the Klingons, Elaan is safely delivered to Troyias. As a result, The Federation has gained the trust of the two planets and can negotiate trade agreements with them for their dilithium.

Once again, Star Trek like many other negative energy narratives equates life with energy. The Klingons are willing to murder the Enterprise crew to prevent them from trading with the Elasians and the Troyians. The Federation is also willing to assist in selling a woman into slavery, or as they put it, marriage, for the sake of obtaining dilithium.

Journey to Babel (Star Trek TOS): the Almost Civil War

In Journey to Babel we again see the equivalency of life and energy.

In this episode the Enterprise is tasked with the mission to deliver ambassadors from several different planets to a conference on the planet, Babel to debate the admission of the Coridan system of planets into The Federation. The system happens to be rich in dilithium and has few defenses and an entrance into The Federation will provide Coridan with protection from those whom would seek to take advantage of the planets. The thought of the future protection of Coridan gives some of the delegates pause about voting to admit the system to The Federation since it would make it harder for them to manipulate the planets into giving them the dilithium they desire.

For example, the Tellarite ambassador, Gav, demands to know position of the Vulcan ambassador Sarek because Sarek’s opinion holds a lot of weight with many of the delegates:

Sarek: Under Federation law Coridan can be protected and its wealth administered for the benefit of its people.

Gav: That’s well for you. Vulcan has no mining interest.

Sarek: Coridan has nearly unlimited wealth of dithlithium crystals, but it is underpopulated and unprotected. This invites illegal mining operations.

Gav: Illegal? You accuse us?

Sarek: Some of your ships have been carrying Coridan dilithium crystals.

Gav shouts: “you call us thieves?” and attacks Sarek. Captain Kirk quickly rushes in and breaks up their fight.

The Enterprise crew eventually discovers a plot to start a civil war within The Federation by murdering both Gav and Kirk and severely damaging the Enterprise and therefore many of the delegates on board. Kirk realizes that his attacker and the ship attacking the Enterprise must be from Orion. Orion smugglers have been raiding Coridan for dilithium and would “clean up” by selling the dilithium to both sides in a Federation civil war. The Orion smugglers are willing to murder countless people by starting a civil war all for the profit that can be made by selling energy resources, thus equating life and energy.

Mirror, Mirror (Star Trek TOS): Paying for Energy with Life

This episode begins with Captain Kirk trying to convince the leader of the planet Halkan to provide The United Federation of Planets with the rights to mine dilithium on the planet. The Halkan leader informs Kirk that the Halkan government has refused to allow The Federation to have mining rights. The Halkans are pacifists and they believe that while The Federation is not currently engaged in any military conflicts The Federation cannot provide a guarantee that they will always remain at peace. During their conversation with Kirk, the Halkans mention that they are willing to die for their beliefs, although Kirk assures them they will not have to:

Our dilithium crystals represent awesome power. Wrongful use of that power even to the extent of the taking of one life would violate our history of total peace. To prevent that, we would die, Captain, as a race if necessary—Halkan Leader

As Kirk and the away team are beaming back onboard the Enterprise they are transported to a parallel universe controlled by The Empire, which is for all intents and purposes the evil twin of The Federation. Empire Spock greets the away team and asks if the Halkans have agreed to the mining rights. Kirk tells him they have not and Spock then mentions that the Halkans “have chosen suicide,” indicating that The Empire will take the dilithium by force. The Halkans are still pacifists in this alternate universe and again refuse to provide the mining rights, and although Kirk is able to return to his own universe, the audience can safely assume that The Empire destroyed the Halkans in the alternate universe.

Like Mudd’s Women, Mirror, Mirror exposes the common thought that life is an acceptable currency for an energy resource. The Halkans realize the great power that energy resources can provide and that sometimes that power is abused and results in the taking of life. Therefore, they offer up their own lives in exchange for the lives that may be taken as a result of that abuse of power, with the hope that The Federation and The Empire will also see the link between energy resources and death and will be unwilling to pay that price. The Federation refuses the exchange but The Empire does not as they value the power and comfort that the energy resource provides them more than the lives of the Halkans. This equivalency of life and energy by the stronger force is a defining characteristic of a negative energy narrative.