Other Stuff Exists

Don't get too comfortable with the familiar–other stuff exists, so go explore!

Posts Tagged ‘nonfiction’

Aristotle’s Poetics: Translation and Analysis by Kenneth A. Telford

Posted by Tracy Poff on May 11, 2017

Returning to my long project of reading the classics, I read Aristotle’s Poetics: Translation and Analysis by Kenneth A. Telford. This particular version appealed to me because it is meant to be a very literal translation:

In this translation of the Poetics the primary concern has been to make as literal a reproduction of Aristotle’s words as is consistent with readability. I have not tried to give the treatise any grace or facility of expression which the Greek text lacks. Nor have I tried to make the translation an interpretive reconstruction of what might be presumed to be Aristotle’s intention.

This book must be considered in three parts: the translation, the work itself, and the analysis.

As for the quality of the translation, I find no fault (speaking as someone with no knowledge of Ancient Greek), and the footnotes were generally very helpful in identifying the works Aristotle refers to or providing references to other sections in the text which relate to the current argument.

The work itself is very interesting. Aristotle has much to say about the proper construction of a tragedy that is applicable to writing generally, and it is astonishing to me how much of what he says is still reflected in writing advice today. Following are a few excerpts I noted.

A plot should have unity:

A plot is not a unity, as some suppose, by being about one agent, for many and indefinite things happen to one agent, some of which do not make a unity.

Therefore:

[Plot] ought to be imitation of action that is one and whole, and the parts of the incidents ought to be constructed in such a way that when the parts are replaced or removed the whole is dislocated and moved. For that whose presence or absence makes nothing evident is no part of the whole.

Regarding characters:

There will be character […] if the speech or action makes it apparent that the agent has made a choice, and the character is effective if this choice is effective.

I’ll leave the excerpts at that, but there are many other interesting sections throughout. There are, though, several sections much more specifically concerned with the tragedy as such–details about its structure, the use of spectacle or melody, etc.–which are of perhaps less interest as they apply less to literature in general.

Finally, the analysis.

I feel like I had a better understanding of the Poetics before I read the analysis. It seems to have a good, coherent framework and supports its arguments well enough, but it seems to me that it is much more concerned with showing that the argument of the Poetics fits that framework than with elucidating the subject of the book. There is, no doubt, some understanding to be gained by doggedly viewing every statement in the book as relating to one of the four causes of whatever is presently under discussion, but how much? I would much rather see some deeper consideration of the argument, rather than merely its form. Is Aristotle right about what best serves the catharsis of pity and fear? What can we take away from his discussion about word choice? Is he correct in his assertion that the tragedy is superior to the epic in that it is shorter? The analysis is concerned with none of these.

On the whole, I think this book was well worth reading. I have no basis for comparison of the quality of the translation, but it seemed lucid enough to me. I’d recommend anyone with an interest in literature take a look at it. I wouldn’t bother struggling through the analysis, though. For what it’s worth, I grant any future readers dispensation to skip that.

Posted in Book, Review | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The World of Star Trek by David Gerrold

Posted by Tracy Poff on June 24, 2016

Though I’m generally reading these books in publication order, for the next book in our Trek journey, we need to step back in time about a year. Today’s book is the second non-fiction Trek book we’re looking at, David Gerrold’s The World of Star Trek, published April 12, 1973.

The World of Star Trek - cover

The prologue describes the approximate outline of the book:

Actually, there are three worlds of STAR TREK. First, there’s the STAR TREK that Gene Roddenberry conceived–the original dream of a television series about an interstellar starship. Then there’s the STAR TREK behind the scenes, how the cast and crew made Gene Roddenberry’s ideas come true, how they were realized and sometimes altered in the realization. And finally, there’s the STAR TREK Phenomenon, the world that the fans of the show created, the reality that they built in response.

All three of these worlds are fascinating, and all three of them are dealt with in this book. Each of the worlds of STAR TREK created the next; and like interlocking rings, each had its effects on the others. The show created the stars, the stars engendered a fandom, and the fans kept the show on the air.

This book would seem to be in the vein of Whitfield’s 1968 book, The Making of Star Trek, though its focus is somewhat different. As Gerrold himself notes, Whitfield’s book more than adequately covers the details of the production of the series, so Gerrold does not spend too many words repeating these details. The book’s opening (“Part One: The First World of Star Trek–Gene Roddenberry’s Dream”) repeats the familiar details from The Star Trek Guide and the original series format, much like Whitfield’s. But where The Making of Star Trek examines how the series’s premise works to make a show that could be produced within the constraints of a television budget, The World of Star Trek considers how it enables interesting stories:

[Kirk] would be explorer, ambassador, soldier, and peacekeeper. He would be the sole arbiter of Federation law wherever he traveled–he would be a law unto himself.

The implication here is that there are no other channels of intersteller communication. At least, none as fast as the Enterprise.

If Kirk could check back with Starfleet Command every time he was in trouble, he would never have any conflicts at all. He would simply be a crewman following orders. He wouldn’t be an explorer or an ambassador–just the Captain of the local gunboat on the scene.

Gerrold has some definite ideas about the way stories ought to be told. For example:

The single dramatic element which provokes excitement in a play is this: your identity is in danger. All others are merely variations: your life is in danger, your country is in danger, your girl friend might leave you, your wife might find out, your brother might die, the police might catch you. Something threatens to prevent you from being the person you already are or want to be.

But if you endanger the hero’s identity week after week, not only do you run the risk of melodrama–you also run the risk of falling into a formula kind of storytelling. This week Kirk is menaced by the jello monster, he kills it by freezing it to death; next week Kirk is menaced by the slime monster and kills it by drying it out; the week after that he is threatened by the mud monster and defeats it by watering it down; the following week Kirk meets the mucous monster . . . Again, the ho hum reaction. Or even the ha ha reaction.

The second part of the book (“The Star Trek Family–The People Who Made The Enterprise Fly) generally avoids focusing on the production aspects of the show, considering them adequately covered by Whitfield’s book. Instead, the bulk of the text is made up of extended excerpts from interviews with some of the principal figures in Trek: Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, George Takei, and Nichelle Nichols; also included is an interview with William Campbell, who played Trelane in “The Squire of Gothos”.

The interviews are very interesting, giving a look at how the actors felt about the show and the characters they played. Since these interviews were conducted at a distance of a few years from the show, they make a nice complement to the interviews in The Making of Star Trek, which was published while the show was still in production.

Following the interviews is a complete listing of each Star Trek episode, its writers, and its guest stars. A handy reference, in the days before the internet!

The third part of the book (“The Star Trek Phenomenon”) discusses the well-known letter-writing campaign to save Star Trek, organized by Bjo Trimble, then discusses the fandom more generally, touching on fanzines, conventions, and other details. A very interesting look at how scifi fandom–and especially Trek fandom–was organized at the time, and how it was viewed.

In fourth part of the book (“Star Trek Analyzed–The Unfulfilled Potential”), Gerrold examines some of the specific elements that make up Trek episodes, both good and bad. For example, he criticizes Kirk and Spock always going out on dangerous away missions:

…this is the most deadly of all criticisms that have ever been leveled against STAR TREK:

A Captain, whether he be the Captain of a starship or an aircraft carrier, simply does not place himself in danger. Ever.

This is one major problem in the STAR TREK format, the one difficulty that forces the show into a set of formula situations week after week–the focusing of attention on two characters who should not logically be placing themselves in physical danger, but must do so regularly.

Gerrold suggests a specially trained “Contact Team” should be sent on away missions instead. Actually, his idea is a good one, and was vindicated in The Next Generation, years later: Riker was not at all interested in allowing Picard to go out on dangerous away missions, and when Riker was himself in command of the ship he too was reminded by the crew that he was too important to be risked in that way. Better late than never, eh?

The final section of the book (“The return of Star Trek…?”) looks at the possibility of the show’s return, and gives details on some of Gene Roddenberry’s then-upcoming projects: “Spectre”, “Questor”, “The Tribunes”, and “Genesis II”. And finally:

Oh, yes. One more thing. What if STAR TREK doesn’t come back . . . ?

“Well,” says Gene. “I have a lot of notes on a new concept, a planet-travel show. Not for this season, but for the next one. I’m going to start putting it together . . . ”

You see, the fans are right. STAR TREK lives!

I think that the foregoing excerpts give evidence enough that, even if you don’t entirely agree with Gerrold’s ideas about drama, he has plenty of insightful things to say about Star Trek. And besides being informative, the book is entertaining. The excellent little parody of bad Star Trek plots, “Green Priestesses of the Cosmic Computer”, is not to be missed. I know that I gave a pretty strong recommendation of Whitfield’s book before, but if you are more interested in the stories of Trek than the production of TV episodes, you might prefer to give that one a miss and read The World of Star Trek instead.

David Gerrold is the author of the TOS episode “The Trouble with Tribbles” and its sequel, the TAS episode “More Tribbles, More Troubles”, among other Trek-related work, plus a number of original novels. Published simultaneously with this book was another by Gerrold, The Trouble With Tribbles: The Birth, Sale and Final Production of One Episode.

Posted in Book, Review | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Making of Star Trek by Stephen E. Whitfield

Posted by Tracy Poff on July 3, 2015

In August, 1966, Stephen E. Whitfield, then in the employ of an advertising agency, was tasked with working to generate publicity for Star Trek toys. In consequence of his close contact with the Trek cast and crew, he became intimately familiar with the workings of the production, and pitched to Gene Roddenberry a book detailing the making of the show. With Roddenberry’s approval, Whitfield began work on what was to be a thorough history of Star Trek, from its conception through the production of its first season: The Making of Star Trek.

cover

Whitfield’s book was the first of its kind: a real behind-the-scenes look at the creation of a television show, including not only Whitfield’s observations, but also interviews with Roddenberry and the actors, and original artifacts from the show’s production, such as the ‘series format’ Roddenberry wrote to sell the show to the studio, and a variety of memos.

The aforementioned series format is perhaps the single feature of greatest historical interest, as it describes Roddenberry’s initial vision for the show. In part:

THE FORMAT is “Wagon Train to the Stars”–built around characters who travel to other worlds and meet the jeopardy and adventure which become our stories.

THE TIME could be 1995 or even 2995–close enough to our times for our continuing cast to be people like us, but far enough into the future for galaxy travel to be fully established.

THE FAMILIAR LOCALE is their vessel–the U.S.S. Enterprise, a naval cruiser-size spaceship. (In the initial draft of the format, the ship was the U.S.S. Yorktown.) The vessel (a permanent set) includes bridge, control rooms, crew quarters and facilities, science labs and technical departments, plus passenger and cargo accommodations. These compartments contain the wide range of personalities, some becoming Guest Star roles for stories aboard ship or on the worlds we visit.

THE LEAD ROLE is Captain Robert T. April, mid-thirties, an unusually strong and colorful personality, the commander of the cruiser.

OTHER CAST REGULARS are a variety of excitingly different types: “Number One”, a glacierlike, efficient female who serves as ship’s Executive Officer; José “Joe” Tyler, the brilliant but sometimes immature Navigator; Mr. Spock, with a red-hued satanic look and surprisingly gentle manners; Philip “Bones” Boyce, M. D., ship’s doctor and worldly cynic; and uncomfortably lovely J. M. Colt, the Captain’s Yeoman.

The book features a great many more original documents from the show’s production that will be similarly interesting to the devoted fan. It’s well worth reading for those.

Of rather less interest (to me, at the least) are the minutiae of the show’s production. In 1968, I suppose the work of making a television show was relatively unfamiliar to the average person. Today, I think this information has permeated the collective public consciousness, and at any rate the internet will offer (up-to-date!) details to anyone interested. Happily, these duller bits are in the minority.

The Making of Star Trek is an absolute treasure for the fan interested in Trek‘s history. I understand that many of these details have been republished, since, but Whitfield’s book is the only source written even as the show was produced, and published contemporarily. It’s well worth the time invested to read it.

For those keeping track (just me, I’m sure), this book’s proper place is between Blish’s Star Trek 2 and Star Trek 3.

Note on this review: I had believed that I’d reviewed this book months ago, when I finished reading it, but I cannot turn up that review, and I have since lost my notes on the book, so this is less thorough a review than I would wish. My apologies.

Posted in Book, Review | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

E-Mail by Larry Dane Brimner

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 27, 2014

EMail-cover

Cast your mind back, all the way to the year 1997. There were some 50 million people with access to the internet, and nearly 10 million of them used America Online. We were so naive as to unironically call the web the ‘information superhighway.’ Google was brand new, and we mostly used Yahoo, Lycos, or Altavista to search the web. Facebook wasn’t even a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg’s 13-year-old eye. We didn’t have Twitter or Tumblr, or even Myspace or Livejournal.

What we did have was email. Back then, we hyphenated it, as a sign of respect for and discomfort with the impressive technology. “E-mail is delivered much faster than regular mail (which some people call ‘snail-mail’),” writes Brimner. “A keypal in another state or even another country usually will receive your e-mail in minutes. That’s great news!”

All of this internet stuff was new enough to most people that books were written to introduce people to the subject. The older set had books like World Wide Web for SeniorZ or Mr. Modem’s Internet Guide for Seniors, the slightly younger crowd had A Parent’s Guide to the Internet, and kids had books like this one, Larry Dane Brimner’s E-Mail.

E-Mail is full of the kind of advice that most of us take for granted, these days. For example, you’ll need a network card or modem, which will “take the signals from your computer and get messages ready to travel over the Information Superhighway.” Brimner helpfully provides a picture of an IBM 7852 model 10 modem, which around that time had dropped in price to only $486.

It’s also got the kind of information we probably should know, but might need to keep in mind: “If you are not careful, you might write and send angry words to somebody else and later wish you hadn’t.” Truth.

E-Mail explains what a flame war is, how to find and subscribe to mailing lists, what emoticons are, and much more. Sprinkled throughout are e-mail addresses that kids might want to try, like Sea World (sea.world@bev.net), the USGS (Ask-A-Geologist@usgs.gov), or the President of the United States (president@whitehouse.gov). The author even includes his own email address (Lbrimner@aol.com).

This book is certainly a product of its time. Besides the screenshots of Eudora circa 1996, it’s got a dated approach to dealing with people you meet on the internet. “Most of the people you’ll meet on the Internet are nice. But be smart. Bad people sometimes hide out on the Internet, and you may not be able to tell who they are . . . If your keypal wants to meet you in person, meet in a public place like a mall. And take an adult with you.”

If that advice had been written today, I imagine it’d go more like “If your keypal wants to meet you in person, run. Don’t stop until you’re surrounded by police. Make sure the police have never used the internet. It’s the only way to be sure.”

Books like E-Mail are fascinating as a view back into how we thought about technology in the past. It’s been about 17 years since this book was published. In some ways, it’s still perfectly correct and even useful. In others, it’s hopelessly dated. How will things look in 2031? I don’t dare to guess.

Posted in Book, Review | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Strange and Amazing Facts about Star Trek by Daniel Cohen

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 25, 2014

Strange and Amazing Facts about Star Trek - Cover

Cohen’s book contains facts about Star Trek, but there’s nothing strange or amazing therein. The facts are mostly in the form of very brief summaries of a few episodes or (similarly very brief) biographies of a few principal actors. Almost everything in the book will be known to anyone who bothered to watch the show (“When the series begins Kirk is in his mid-thirties, and holds the rank of captain with a starship command.”), and the little that might not be is generally of little interest (“Another of Bill Shatner’s current enthusiasms is the horses that he rides and breeds on his southern California ranch.”).

The most interesting part of this book is the chapter on the fans, which talks about the letter-writing campaign to save Star Trek from cancellation, fanzines, conventions, and the broader impact of Star Trek in the years since its cancellation.

The book concludes with a 22-question trivia quiz.

Stephen E. Whitfield’s The Making of Star Trek is by far this book’s superior, and even Wikipedia is more informative.

Posted in Book, Review | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »