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Reviewed by:
  • Drones, Clones and Alpha Babes: Retrofitting Star Trek's Humanism, Post-9/11
  • Duncan Barrett
Diana M.A. Relke . Drones, Clones and Alpha Babes: Retrofitting Star Trek's Humanism, Post-9/11. University of Calgary Press. xxii, 168. $29.95

In this sharp and engaging book, Relke gives an account of turn-of-the century Star Trek in terms of contemporary debates around [End Page 439] feminism, neo-conservative 'family values,' and techno-determinism. Reading this material retrospectively in a post-9/11 political context, Relke finds much to celebrate in output that was treated with hostility and criticism at the time it was first released. Now, with the latest, decidedly post-9/11 series Enterprise (2001–05) prematurely cancelled, she looks back on the perhaps naive utopianism of The Next Generation (1987–94) and Voyager (1995–2001) as exemplars of the 'good old days' before the current techno-fetishistic 'patriarchal revival.'

Relke writes as a Canadian critical of US foreign policy and politics. Far from seeing Star Trek as a celebration of American imperialism, she reads it on its own stated terms – 'tak[ing] more seriously [creator Gene] Roddenberry's original modelling of the Federation on the United Nations.' The first of two extended essays looks at the gender politics of Voyager in relation to debates about the family (including the family versus village values dispute of the 1996 election and the controversial Elian Gonzales case). The second essay questions Star Trek's apparent blind faith in technology, pointing out that the techno-utopian fantasies of real-world groups like the Extropian trans-humanists are actually closest to the nightmare scenarios of Star Trek, in which there is 'enough techno-scepticism to qualify as a legitimate critique.'

As Relke observes, late pre-9/11 Star Trek questioned the utopian humanism that underpinned earlier output. First Contact (1996) under-mined both the project of steady technological progress (rewriting events in Star Trek's imagined past to emphasize chance) and the memetic evolution or 'evolved sensibility' that safeguards the use of advanced technology. But she stresses Star Trek's refusal to give up on humanism altogether, rather striking a series of 'deal[s]' expanding its parameters. The skepticism never fully replaced the ideals that it questioned – and the most recent films Insurrection (1998) and Nemesis (2002) may have failed precisely because of the traditional Star Trek message at the heart of them, which was beginning to look dated and naive. Nemesis, at best, stages the failure of Star Trek's idealism, as Captain Picard, a celebrated diplomat, fails to sue for peace and must fight a bloody conflict.

Unusually, Relke's approach is character-based – so, for example, Picard himself (rather than Star Trek) is seen to 'break free of . . . the ideological constraints of humanism.' This may be a little generous to Star Trek's writers (as Relke observes, a often-conflicted group) and at times it borders on perverse – not least in the total avoidance of the Deep Space Nine series (1993–99), which bridged the gap between The Next Generation and Voyager. Relke's claim that Voyager's Captain Janeway is given less 'moral integrity' than Picard because she is a woman ignores a steady shift between their respective series. Deep Space Nine set personal interest against moral responsibility, a conflict that recurred in Voyager and First Contact – Picard's crew scoff when he is ordered [End Page 440] away from battle because of a personal history with the enemy, but such anxiety ultimately proves well founded (even if he saves the world).

Relke takes a detailed and intelligent approach to Star Trek, though her subtitle is misleading – it should really be 'watching The Next Generation and Voyager post-9/11,' as she deals principally with (re-)reading, not production. It would be nice to see some discussion of genuinely 'post-9/11' science fiction drama – Enterprise, most obviously, or Star Trek producer Ronald Moore's relaunched Battlestar Galactica. And in the context of Star Trek's slipping ideals, such drama need not pander to the hawk mentality – while Enterprise offered a gung-ho response to an act of spectacular terrorism, Heroes (written by, amongst others, Voyager...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 439-441
Launched on MUSE
2008-06-04
Open Access
No
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