Time Traveling with Hotdogs, Alternate History, and Star Trek

I just sold my story “The Scorpion and the Syrinx” to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which will mark my eighth appearance in the publication. This sale is the start of a brand new alternate history series that I’ve been writing, something to counterbalance my sci-fi War Hero stories, and I look forward to sharing it with readers. 

And speaking of history, this month my brother David Davino was featured on The History Channel’s popular series The Food That Built America. He plays Nathan Handwerker, who in 1916 founded that Coney Island mainstay, Nathan’s Famous. This is in Season 2, Episode 9 (“Godfathers of Fast Food”). David was dynamic and charismatic in the role, and he rocked that spiffy vest.

I’m rather fond of the 1910s and 1920s aesthetic (every year my friends and I dress in period costume and hit a New Haven, Connecticut bar to celebrate the repeal of Prohibition). I’m an enduring fan of Fitzgerald, the Lost Generation (as a Gen-Xer I can’t help but feel a kinship) and would certainly have enjoyed attending flapper parties. I have adored the fashion, too, ever since seeing that curious and largely forgotten gem Somewhere in Time.

Would I visit those decades if I had access to a time machine? Would I go anywhere in time if I had the means?

The answers to that brace of questions are–in order–“No” and “Yes”.

Even if we temporarily shelve the whole “changing history” thing (and to be clear, I think the depth of that concern has rarely been explored to the extent it deserves, as simply arriving in the past might introduce deadly pathogens, and simply delaying someone by a few seconds might change which children are conceived) there’s the issue of language. 

I’d love to see Hellenistic Greece, Ptolemaic Egypt, the Roman Republic, Han Dynasty China, and Edo Period Japan. The problem is that I don’t speak any of those languages (at least, not in the versions that would exist in those countries at those times). It would be a useless trip. The scrolls of Alexandria would be gibberish to me.

The future seems a better option, but not by much. I’d like to gaze upon the world 100 years from now. But imagine the fisherman from 1845 who wants to see what his charming little fishing village of Nagasaki looks like in a century.

How about a time-hop of only ten years into the future? Can’t be too bad, right? Well, tell that to the Jewish time traveler who departs from 1926 Berlin to check in on her relatives. 

What about jumping forward a year? How bad could that be… for the Pompeii native who decides to leave from 78 CE?

I’m therefore forced to say “No”, I would never travel backwards in time, and “Yes” I would travel forward in time… to next week only… for the winning lottery numbers. It’s simply the safest bet.


Speaking of fucking with history, I apparently felt that watching The Musical Version of The Island of Doctor Moreau Cats wasn’t masochistic enough, so I decided to re-watch 2009’s Star Trek reboot.

I regretted it instantly.

If you choose to depict James T. Kirk’s childhood, you couldn’t ask for an edgier, more fascinating backstory that’s been canon since 1966: Kirk grew up on a distant colony where the governor (Kodos the Executioner) went Thanos on everyone. Kirk personally witnessed the murder of thousands of his fellow colonists. It’s a traumatic event. It fuels him throughout his life. It’s deep, dark stuff that is worth exploring, and I can easily picture a film opening on a young Kirk standing in line, tensely awaiting his fate, as half the colony is executed around him.

Yet instead of this, J.J. Abrams decided to “reboot” things so that the young Kirk is a punk who steals a muscle car (why are there muscle cars in the 23rd century?) listening to The Beastie Boys (again, this is the 23rd century) and driving it off a cliff. That’s the equivalent of choosing to depict a troubled youth of today by having him steal a horse-and-buggy while having a fiddler play a 19th century shanty in the back. It doesn’t make a shred of sense. It isn’t just disrespectful; it reeks of outright scorn and contempt for the Star Trek universe. (And all this is to say nothing of how instead of telling an interesting story that fits with established canon, Abrams tore up the entire universe to start fresh.

It’s inexcusable. It’s a cheap, lazy, and insulting stunt.

To put things in perspective, I’ve never seen an episode of Downton Abbey. If a studio hired me to make a movie in that universe, however, I’d do my goddam research. I’d scour the episodes for ways to explore and expand characters and events. What I wouldn’t do is have aliens and cybernetic marmosets destroy the mansion, forcing the characters to wage a guerrilla war for survival. There surely would be some people who would say, “Hey! I never liked Downton Abbey before, but this new direction makes me a fan!” There would also be an entire existing fan base who would rightly feel cheated and insulted. Aliens and cybernetic marmosets don’t belong in that show.

That’s why I detest the new Star Trek movies. They aren’t Star Trek. They are the cinematic equivalent of a pinball machine that you only know is “based on Star Trek” because of the exterior decals. 

It is possible to make compelling prequels. Deus Ex Human Revolution pulled it off with style, as did Halo Reach. The Godfather II and X-Men First Class managed it. So did Babylon 5’s In the Beginning. In each of these cases, the creators worked respectfully within the parameters of a given property to find unique stories to tell. A Star Trek prequel had ample directions to go; hell, TOS was set during a “five-year mission” and they didn’t even finish three of those years.

This entry was posted in Blog and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.