P.28: Characters You Can Relate to, or Not

My friend and I were having a discussion about Transparent, Amazon’s widely-praised series playing on their Prime streaming service.

I think it deserves all the praise it gets, but I don’t like it quite as much as I’d like, because the characters are all a little too flawed.

Don’t get me wrong — I like flawed characters, protagonists included. But for me, it’s important that there’s at least one or two characters in any story who have some nuggets about them that make them likable, relatable or people who you could root for in some way — even with their flaws.

My friend disagreed, and had a good reason — there’s so little fiction out there that doesn’t ascribe to the conditions I set above. For her, that’s what made Transparent all the more refreshing. It was hard to argue with that, so I conceded the point.

What it all boils down to is different strokes for different folks. I still prefer my stories to have at least a few characters to like, relate to or root for, especially if they’re morally grey or worse, and so that’s what I write — but the more different kinds of fiction, filling more and more niches, the better.

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P.27: Axanar Axed, and Hopeful Sci Fi

Lots of people have been commenting on how the unofficial fan-made Star Trek series, Axanar, was axed by CBS. Its producers were sued for violating CBS’s copyright. It was a fan series that drew a lot of excitement and hinted at a ton of potential, but the chances of Axanar ever coming to life now appear to be at or near zero.

To be clear, CBS almost certainly has the right to block Axanar. While CBS had a long history of letting fans create non-profit fan-made series, it is under no obligation to continue. Ultimately Star Trek is CBS’s property and CBS could, at any time, kill any fan-made series, for any reason (even penny-sound, pound-foolish ones).

That said, the shocking thing to me is the lack of empathy so many seem to have for what’s happened to Axanar (and the fans who funded it). I’ve been very surprised to read the number of commenters across the net who’ve almost been gleeful about this decision. Many have criticized the fans behind it (and others), attacking the very concept of fan fiction as people wishing to ‘steal’ from their favorite fandoms for some kind of fame or fortune. Create your own IP, they say, do your own thing.

While they have a serious misunderstanding of fan fiction and why people make it… it made me wonder: do they have a tiny, glimmer of a point?

There’s something truly special (and rare) about Star Trek, its stories, and the Roddenberry vision of the future — where there are problems, but technology and togetherness are able to solve them.

Aside from Star Trek, there’s been a dearth of that in science fiction — especially in TV or movies. I couldn’t think of any other major movies or series where large crews work together in space, with a positive vision and a mostly-bright future. Maybe Babylon 5, although even that’s pretty bleak and came about a fairly long time ago at this point.

Part of me wonders if Star Trek’s decades of quality, forward thinking and its long-lasting legacy has sucked up all the oxygen, making it difficult for other, similar stories to take shape and click with audiences. Most successful sci fi space opera since Star Trek has succeeded for being different than Star Trek, darker, often downright dystopian.

Think BSG, Aliens and Blade Runner — none of them are great places for people, or offer much hope of a better future.

As difficult as it would be to replicate that Roddenberry secret sauce, hopeful, forward-thinking space opera is worth the effort. That’s especially true now, with CBS and Paramount moving away from the Roddenberry vision. The new movies have been some good popcorn fun, but not the kind of films that would inspire the next generation of scientists and NASA applicants, encourage people to think of our world as a place where we could find peace, or even satiate the people who grew up with TOS and TNG.

It seems doubtful that the new Star Trek streaming series that CBS is planning will change that direction, or that the latest film’s director (of Fast and Furious fame) will deliver a film that greatly differs from the two JJ Abrams made.

To be clear, I think there is space and should be space for fan fiction, including on film. I hope CBS doesn’t do unto the rest of the fan series community what it’s done to Axanar, and that it at least strongly hints at what sort of circumstances would prompt it to take action (or not) in the future.

Yet, let’s take this Axanar news and the changing direction of Trek, as fans and creators, as a challenge to make or support new, hopeful science fiction — new space adventures where society works together to overcome villains and environmental threats. Let’s see fans put together Axanar-like projects that may be inspired by Star Trek, but stand on their own.

The Roddenberry vision without Star Trek will be difficult, but the world needs more of it and Roddenberry was the one who told us to go boldly.

[Update: this post has some food for thought that suggests the legal issues may be more complicated than I imagined, among other interesting points. It’s worth reading.]