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Star Trek and the Missing Mythos

I love Star Trek. I mean, I LOVE Star Trek--all of it, from the pilot of the original series through the most recent film. Even Deep Space Nine. Even the animated series. I consider it the standard for the sci-fi alien future, so although I do enjoy other shows like Babylon 5, Farscape, etc., they seem posers and mere players when it comes to the faux alien future, in the same way I feel Twilight and Trueblood are within the Vampire mythos—as a fan of Anne Rice's vampire world, that stage has already been set.

It's opinion of course: random, and fandom. But, there's something to be said for the cemented nature and these whole otherworlds that have been created fictionally. There are hardcore fans of Harry Potter, Twilight, Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who, Lovecraft, etc., that feel the same about those particular magical world realms. They are "real" enough to effectively negate other approaches.

Even with my Star Trek bias, I think it's a particularly sturdy—it's spanned the decades, and the intricate saga holds its own against any fiction in history.

Looking at the great fictions and mythologies that one might throw up against to dispute, including the Greek and Roman myths, Shakespeare, and anything else, it could be argued that although they are ongoing as influential, they are in themselves finite.

Also, looking at other, durable contemporary fictions, there are the aforementioned Doctor Who, Star Wars, Sherlock Holmes and its ongoing pastiche, long-running daytime soap operas, and many others. Do any of them really hold a candle to the mythos of Star Trek?

Whatever the case, it would be a difficult argument to make that this particular canon, for better or worse, is not of great fictional importance. The setting, outer space, and subject matter (interaction and exploration of aliens and their worlds) clearly have a lot to do with it.

How curious it is then, that Star Trek's themes, aesthetics, and plots are rarely aligned with accounts of 'true' stories of the same subject matter. In short, the mythos created in Star Trek is very different than the mythos that has been created about real aliens and related esoterica.

For example, the standard idealized real alien, the grey, is referenced and shown only three times that I can recall. Even the references are indirect and inferred. In a Voyager episode, Amelia Earhart and several other 1930s-Americana types are found in stasis on a planet, having been abducted centuries earlier. Their abductees are never shown, but the idea of standardized alien abduction, grey style, is huge.

Another abduction-oriented episode on The Next Generation includes many common grey-type features, including foggy memories of a sparse clinical setting, an operating table with bright lights, a group of similarly afflicted people sharing their memories, and painful medical procedures with needles and implements. The alien culprits though, turn out to be interdimensional and ungreylike, although somewhat insectoid.

The one time a typical grey is shown (that I recall) is an episode in which Riker is trapped on a planet, finding himself in a series of dire straights, which turn out to be staged by a young lonely alien, who is himself trapped on the planet, and able to manipulate the environment and himself holographically. At the very end, for just a moment, his true form is shown, and it is as close to a grey as I believe Star Trek has ever gone.

Usually, when popular 'real' notions of greys and real UFO mythos have been shown, it was done in parody, and with varying degrees of camp. The Deep Space Nine episode, Little Green Men, is a good example. Ferengis are thrown back in time on Earth, and it plays out as the Roswell incident, Alien Autopsy and all. Har, har, har.

It seems that even within Star Trek, which feature some of the most compelling and thoughtful alien species ever created, the giggle factor about aliens still finds its way in. Why is this? The truth is, the underlying theme in Star Trek isn't really about aliens at all—it's about human identity and the exploration of Self, using the alien as a device.

Whatever the case, I find that the references to 'real' alien notions in Star Trek are either a bit trite and inserted in the most uninteresting episodes, or conversely profound, and among some of the best. The greys aside, there are some other, more esoteric-alien ideas that have made their way in to Star Trek—below are two, which are worth revisiting.

Building on the long-standing Star Trek notion of the ancient race called "The Preservers," the idea of purposeful panspermia and DNA-as-code-and-text, which is present in to varying degrees in the writings of Terence McKenna, Francis Crick, and Jeremy Narby, Graham Hancock, among many others, was approached in TNG, in an episode entitled, The Chase. It can be found in Season 6, episode 20.

At the end of this episode, a DNA puzzle has been solved, and a holographic ancient alien image appears. As I first watched this, I sat enrapt at this fabulous, ancient mother-of us-all—yes, I may as well have had my index finger and thumb poised in the "L" position at my forehead—as she describes her lonely, long-extinct race seeding the galaxy with their hope—presumably all the incredibly diverse, countless alien races of Star Trek.

Also, In a particularly compelling episode of Voyager, called Distant Origins, it is discovered that an alien race in the delta quadrant has originated on Earth—humanoids evolved from dinosaurs. It is a dynamic that alludes to a possible cryptoterrestrial idea, generally popularized by Mac Tonnies, and with this Voyager subject matter of dinosaur evolution, specifically advocated by other writers and theorists of the 'reptilian' aliens, and even fitting in a bit with the idea of Dale Russell's hypothesized, uber-creepy, grey-like evolved troodon. Star Trek: Voyager's Distant Origins can be found in season 3, episode 23.

Contact Richelle Hawks

Visit Richelle's blog: Beamships Equal Love