Friday, January 14, 2011

A Plausible Story

I am a reader of fantasy and science fiction and I enjoy this genre on screen, as well. I tend to lean toward fantasy (Lord of the Rings) but I do like Star Trek and Babylon 5 and other shows of that genre.

Presently I am watching Season 2 of Star Trek: Voyager. When Voyager first came on the air, I saw the first two seasons of it and then the programming switched to an unavailable time. This was before Tivo and while I think I may have videotaped a few episodes, generally if I have to go to that much trouble to watch something it vanishes from my radar. I simply don't watch that much TV.

At any event, while I trudge along on the treadmill in the mornings I need something visual and interesting in front of me, and right now it's Voyager. Yesterday I watched an episode called Threshold.

In this episode, Tom Paris, the hot and cocky pilot, flies a shuttle to Warp 10, something that has never been accomplished. Warp theory indicates that Warp 10 is infinity and theoretically at this speed you are everywhere at once. Tom makes a successful flight and reports this is indeed the case: he could see all over the universe.

Unfortunately, this has side effects and Paris begins an evolutionary process that has him fast-forwarding into lizard, which apparently is what a human will turn into in a few million years. Paris kidnaps Captain Janeway and takes her aboard the shuttle, where he goes to Warp 10. The crew find the shuttle on an uninhabited M class planet and discover Paris and Janeway are now large salamanders and they've mated and had three offspring. Chakotay decides to leave the babies. Paris and Janeway are transformed back into people and all is well.

The story has some good points. Paris as hero offers up a tragic lead. He feels inferior and unaccomplished and believes this flight will make him a real man. Instead it turns him into something other than man.

However, this particular episode brings up a lot of questions about story plausibility. Having to leave your world behind is one of the great things about fantasy and science fiction. To read or watch these genres, you must be willing to suspend what you know about the world and entertain the idea that you don't know everything and that the unimaginable is possible. In these worlds, magic, space flight, vampires, werewolves, and talking plants and animals come true.

However, the things that take place within this imagined world must have a little plausibility within that world. I had trouble with the Threshold tale because of the implausibility of transforming Paris and Janeway back into people. The evolution (or maybe it was de-evolution?) of them into salamanders was a little over the top but semi-plausible. But even though Starfleet medicine is fantastic, I had a lot of trouble with the reversion process.

To my mind, this would have been a better story if two red shirts (throw away characters) had turned into salamanders and Janeway would have had to decide whether to leave them and their offspring on the planet. An examination of the moral issues of this would have been interesting. Instead, in a voice-over Chakotay acknowledges he left the offspring but there is no acknowledgement of any moral dilemma within Starfleet protocal and the prime directive, which is to not interfere or meddle or make significant changes to any world visited. How can leaving a new species not make a significant change?

Of course, there is also the morality of playing God at Warp 10. To be infinite is to be godlike. What are the ramifications of this knowledge? Now that this ability has been achieved, how long before someone finds a way to limit the unfortunate salamander side effect? What then? Should this achievement even be noted in the annals of Starfleet?

Story plausibility has many implications. Even writers of contemporary fiction must be aware of actions that take place within the world of their story that may not seem plausible to the reader. If someone falls from a five story building and survives, then the explanation for that has to be very plausible. If someone has her heart broken and it leaves no scars, then that person's personality had better reflect an ability to endure that trauma.

Make things happen. Make the reader believe they can happen. Be creative, and be plausible.


  1. Oh... I LOVE WARP 10! LOL Space shows are fun, aren't they?

    I'd have to have something to watch while exercising too, otherwise it just gets plain boring.


  2. Your comment about Paris wanting to feel more like a man reminds me of MacBeth declaring (when his wife tries to goad him into killing Duncan): "I may do all that does become a man. Who dares do more is none." As we all know, he nevertheless did kill Duncan. People often don't take good advice, even from themselves!

    As for Threshold, I think it committed a basic sin in drama: it made its central character look embarrassingly silly. Janeway is abducted and transformed from a more or less competent star ship captain into a brood mare, er, salamander. And, as you say, the moral implications of abandoning the young are never examined.

    Which reminds me of another Voyager stumble: what happened to the Borg baby in "Collective"?

  3. A thought provoking post. I'm a very logical person, so I have a hard time with programs and movies that have little or no plausibility. Instead of being entertained, I'm annoyed by their outlandish concepts.
    Wish I had more imagination.

  4. I love Star Trek Voyager. I own the whole set. I remember the episode you watched and I thought the same thing, a little too much on the fantasy side for my taste. I much prefer the episodes based in real science.

    My favorites are always the time travel episodes and the one with Captain Ransom (I can't recall the name). There is a lot of moral lessons in that one.


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