This page updated on 2 February, 2008
Image of the enemy within theme banner
Logo and link for the mySF Project home page
small link to the themes directory within the mySF Project
mySF project
Themes home
The enemy within
Fate and predestination
Brave new world
Ghost in the shell
Shape of things to come

What can aliens mean in SF texts? 

 

Learning episode 8:  

 

Purpose and use of this learning episode: comparing ST 'Arena' and ENT 'Vox Sola' + Podcast, part II

 

The notes, below, were given to secondary students as their seventh learning episode in the 'enemy within' theme area. Two episodes from two different series from the Star Trek franchiase were accessed in electronic form as allowed through local Copyright laws.

 

The learning episode starts with the film given out on CD-ROM to those studying as flexible learning (compliant with Copyright guidelines) and shown in the classroom using a computer and overhead projector for others. The discussion occurred in the myclasses Forum area and some images and links from the original have been changed for the changed copyright guidelines for this space, outside the government school intranet, as noted in the page 'about the mySF Project'.

 

Image of alien for learning episode eight of the 'enemy within' themeIndex

Forum topics for discussion

Notes for 'Arena'

Notes for 'Vox Sola'
Podcast II - The Enemy Within theme

Resource List

Readings and Links

Ongoing readings and links

 

The points at the start of these notes are to be discussed in the Forum area. You are asked to jump to the Forum area, using the link here and making a comment in the appropriate Forum thread. Please remember, your participation in discussions is expected in this study, as part of your overall participation.

top

 

Forum topics for discussion:

 

 

Apart from the terrible reptile suit, does 'Arena' offer anything of worth to the modern SF viewer?

 

Why does Kirk spare the life of the Gort and then blame the non-corporeal aliens for the fighting in the Arena?

 

What do we learn about the best way to deal with an unknowable alien in 'Vox Sola'?

 

What are the major differences between approaches to aliens seen in the two Star Trek episodes?

top

Notes for 'Arena':

 

The story that gave inspiration to the Star Trek episode called 'Arena' was written by Fredric Brown in 1944.

 

Brown was known as a writer of very short SF, "often with ingenious plotting devices and surprise endings" (Wikipedia, 2006). Brown's stories often used humour and a very modern outlook that poked fun at the SF genre whilst using the genre's devices with talent and wit. Brown's famous short story 'Arena' was used as the basis of the Star Trek episode in the original series, directed by Pevney (1967), and also used in an hour long episode in the famous SF television serial 'The Outer Limits' screening as 'Fun and Games' in 1964.

 

The 'Arena' story as seen in the Star Trek episode of the same name draws on the conflict and antagonism, as well as the Darwinian struggle for supremacy, as seen in HG Wells', The War of the Worlds. As noted by Nicholls and Clute (1995), the Star Trek 'Arena' "bleakly assumes that the meeting of Man and alien might still be a test of their ability to destroy one another" (Nicholls & Clute, 1995).

 

In the original story the alien creature against which the human is pitted in the arena was a round, red blob but this was changed to the familiar reptilian and humanoid creature seen in the Star Trek episode, known famously by Trek fans as the Gort. In the original story the human triumphs over the alien creature and immediately the superior alien beings that pit these two, primitive creatures in the arena award victory to the Earthlings and all aliens are wiped immediately from the Galaxy.

 

In the Star Trek episode we watch, the ending is changed to have Kirk show mercy to the Gort reptilian captain and as a result the humans are treated with more respect by the alien overlords who staged the battle. The superior aliens say they will ready themselves for man when he, too, is a transcendent entity of pure energy, rather than a simple bag of meat, as described by Bender in Futurama.

 

'Arena' stands at the opposite pole from Enemy Mine, manifesting all the "xenophobic tendencies" (Nicholls & Clute, 1995) seen in early SF confrontations between aliens and humans, either on Earth, or in the vast plains of colonial space. Star Trek creator Roddenberry was exposed to SFD at an early age and he used many of the writers from the Golden Age of SF to write adaptations of stories to the Star Trek format.

 

As Westfahl points out, this means that in the original 1960s seasons "over one-fourth of the original series’s episodes emerged from writers steeped in the traditions of science fiction literature" (Westfahl, 2002). Other writers are less complimentary with Star Trek's original series, calling it "cheap, risk-averse, sentimental, politically complacent, campy … and those lousy f/x!" (Csicsery-Ronay, 2005).

 

Nevertheless, 'Arena' is still of interest to SF critics as it is a rare example of a failure of perfect understanding brought about by Star Trek's Universal Translator, a computer-based device that can translate all speech into English and back out again in real time. The 'Arena' of 1967 has a conflict caused by a failure of translation, solved only by violence, although in the end Capitain Kirk is merciful and spares the life of the Gort after he has outsmarted him with his crude bazooka. Of interest to some was the allusion to this drama in the Galaxy Quest film, with a comical plea to their heroic captain, "construct a primitive lathe!" - another example of comic intertextuality.

 

Also added into the 'Arena' was the notion (as seen in Enemy Mine) that there was some justification for the reptilian alien's battle against humans. From their point of view, it is pointed out, the humans have come and invaded their territory, so they retaliate with an aggressive stroke. Both Spok and Kirk note that this may mitigate against seeing the reptilian aliens as utterly evil and Spok, a Vulcan, counsels the crew of Enterprise from the alien's point of view, arguing for understanding and tolerance even while the reptile Captain is about to kill Kirk down in the Arena.

 

Manifest Destiny for Humankind

 

One important theme discussed in Star Trek's 'Arena' was the idea that humanity was seen by the non-corporeal aliens as advancing along an evolutionary chain. Gort and the reptilian aliens were clearly warlike and there is no suggestion that they are moving rapidly towards a more enlightened state. Rather, they seem to be static and warlike and aggressive, quite like the Klingon's in later Star Trek series.

 

There is a clear notion in several episodes of Star Trek that humans are improving with time, becoming better, wiser and more intelligent about their place in the universe and the universe itself.

 

Alsford points out that this view of human improvement derives from the period of history in Western civilisation we call the Enlightenment, when many advances in philosophy and science occurred, the arts thrived, and humanity seemed to be improving itself.

"One of the key elements on the Enlightenment's optimistic understanding of humanity and its potential is summed up in the idea of progress. Despite the present attitude that the doctrine of progress is a self-evident one and that it is (a) a good thing, and (b) inevitable, it is in fact a comparatively new idea." (Alsford, 2005:100).

 

 Alsford also notes that while SF often sees improvement as the inevitable effect of time on humanity, there are other views seen in SF texts as well,

"In very general terms, SF is polarised with respect to its presentation of human destiny, opting wither for a glorious utopian image of an almost godlike humanity or for its obverse, a dystopian view of a devastated and bestial humanity often occupying the crumbling remains of its world. In the main human destiny is seen to be in the hands of humanity itself, in such a way that we are portrayed as essentially good, rational beings progressing along the road to enlightenment or alternatively as a collection of petty self-serving individuals who ultimately destroy themselves, or at least their civilisation, out of a combination of greed and stupidity" (Alsford, 2005:102).

 

In Star Trek's 'Arena' the non-corporeal aliens are depicted as more advanced; more knowledgeable, more peaceful, wiser, more powerful and almost God-like. While these glowing children in their togas seem rather silly as advanced, God-like humans, nevertheless this SF text seems to point out that Kirk has chosen mercy and compassion, therefore he is more evolved towards this Godly status than the Other reptiles with their brute strength and aggression.

 

top

 

Notes for 'Vox Sola':

 

Comparing Star Trek 'Arena' with the Star Trek:Enterprise episode called 'Vox Sola' (Dawson, 2002) is useful in understanding how the perceptions of aliens interaction with humans have changed. It is for this reason that this 40 minute episode is chosen for this Enemy Within theme area.

 

Star Trek: Enterprise is the most recent of the Star Trek series spin-offs from the original series of the 1960s. Enterprise (ENT), as it is called is set about one hundred years before Captain Kirk's crew on their Enterprise explore space. While Enterprise is set one hundred years before Kirk's Star Trek, and many more years before Star Trek: Next Generation (STNG) and Star Trek: Voyager (STVOY). Chronologically, Enterprise is set in a time closest to our own, but it is created most recently and the attitudes and ideas of the writers reflect the very definite changes in perspective given to alien first contact.

 

In 'Vox Sola' Captain Archer's Enterprise crew are enjoying a poor First Contact meeting with the Kreetassen species. As with 'Arena' the difference in ideas and the break down between humans and Kreetassen's occurs due to a breakdown in the Universal Translator. This sort of breakdown can lead to very interesting stories, as are discussed in other theme areas of the mySF Project with the STNG 'Darmok' episode.

 

The Kreetassens are leaving the Enterprise in disgust due to a translation difficulty but this First Contact is not over. Unknown to the Kreetassen's an unnamed alien creature has attached itself to their ship and now takes up residence on the Enterprise.

 

The unnamed alien is not "anthropomorphic, it's not interested in humanoids, it attacks apparently without provocation, yet it has no hostile intentions nor any real interest in anything on Enterprise. It's like a gloppy, stringy version of E.T., communicating via telepathy and wanting only to go home. And it sounds like the thing that wanted to talk to the whales in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Despite the giant tentacles, the creature seems like a less threatening version of the Dominion, "a giant unified mind, capable of separating into segments, misunderstood by individuals that can't understand its true nature" (Green, 2002).

 

This is a much more interesting alien than most on Enterprise and it resides in a dark and gloomy cargo bay (like many aliens in SF) and it uses long, ropey tentacles to snare the first Enterprise crewman who comes to see what it is. The unnamed alien is composed of a sort of web system but its threads can strangle and what is more, the threads enable the reading of minds and even the unification of minds, compared with the failed technology of the Universal Translater, this alien is an extraordinary example of alterity in SF, the very alien Other.

 

The response to this alien, telepathic web/tentacle is similar to 'Arena' and the early attitudes to Drac's in Enemy Mine. Reed wants to give the creature pain to see how much stress it can tolerate but the conscience of this episode is the alien doctor Phlox who says that would be wrong as "their mission is to understand new forms of life and in his sickbay at least that's how they're going to do things" (Green, 2002).

 

Instead of devising a way to kill the alien they find a way of communicating with it through a blend of technology and a strong faith in the rights of all aliens from T'Pol the Vulcan and Doctor Phlox. All of the Enterprise officers coorperate to contain the alien, save the life of their trapped crew mates and then to communicate with the alien - to find out its purpose.

 

While at first the alien seemed unknowable, by the end of the episode the alien tentacle/web has become a childish creature with amazing powers. It is one part of a group or Hive Mind (discussed in more detail in the theme area of The Ghost in the Shell where Star Trek's Borg are a wonderful example) and it has a definite need to return to its home planet and join its tentacle/web family.

 

The Enterprise returns the alien to its planet and they discuss their learning which can be boiled down to: try to understand first, be flexible, only fight aliens when there is no choice'.

 

The comparison between 'Arena' and Vox Sola' is very clear, separated by 35 years of production time but also a complete reversal in the way modern humans think about aliens. Instead of an alien and human first contact being a safari to kill aliens, the first contact has become a gentler, tour of the game park armed with cameras and sympathy.

 

This change in attitude is very marked between the two Star Trek episodes 'Arena' and 'Vox Sola' with humanity seen as improving further, welcoming change, becoming more flexible rather than reaching for a laser pistol. This change may be a societal change in general where humans are now confronted by a scarcity of wild and dangerous animals due to earlier safaris. In modern times, the tigers and killer whales are photographed and left alone, gaining the respect of humans for their difference rather than feared and attacked. The Star Trek episodes seem to recommend this change of attitude for exotic aliens and, by extension, for our own dealings with each other in the global society.

top

 

Podcast II:

The second Podcast for the Enemy Within theme area is available in this week's learning episode for learning episode eight. The audio-visual texts of 'Arena' and 'Vox Sola' are comparatively simple with a comparison drawn to changes in sensibility to alterity and the alien Other.

 

The ideas of alterity and Otherness are first noted and described in Podcast I, and this MP3 file can be accessed through the property for learning episode two

 

The second podcast draws together the several different ways aliens are presented both in the visual texts accessed through the mySF Project, and by the four core short stories as well as subsidiary readings and the notes for each learning episode.

 

Podcast II is recommended for all students undertaking the mySF Project and it should be accessed before the limited time test in learning episode nine, where a response to an essay topic is required, or a creative response as a short story or artwork.

 

Podcast II, like Podcast I, has a duration of about 5 minutes and it can be accessed by clicking the link, below, or through the Files Box. Clicking on these links will send a large (4.5M) MP3 file to your computer where it can be buffered and played. The time it takes to download will depend on the connection speed to download the filel, as well as other factors, so please be patient if it takes a few minutes to download.

 

Of course, the Podcast can be downloaded to an iPod or iRiver device for mobile learning (MLearning) use. Comments on the Podcast II content are expected in the Forum property.

 

 

top

Resource List:

 

Alsford, M.   (2000). 'Aliens We'. What If?: Religious Themes in Science Fiction. London: Darton, Longman & Todd.

 

Csicsery-Ronay, I. (Jnr). (2005). 'Escaping Star Trek'. Review of Alan N. Shapiro. Star Trek: Technologies of Disappearance. Science Fiction Studies, Volume 33, Part 3, November,  2005. Retrieved 2 June, 2006 from http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/review_essays/icr97.htm

 

Dawson, R.  (Director). (2002). 'Vox Sola'. Story by Berman, R., Braga, B. & Dekker, F. Teleplay by Fred Dekker. Star Trek: Enterprise. Season 1, Episode 21. DVD Version. Paramount Pictures, 2005.

 

Green, M. (2002). 'Review of Vox Sola'. TrekNation. Posted May 2, 2002. Retrieved 1 June, 2006 from http://www.treknation.com/reviews/enterprise/vox_sola.shtml

 

Nicholls, P., & Clute, J., (Eds.)     (1995). Grolier Science Fiction: the multimedia encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Danbury, Danbury, CT: Grolier Electronic Publishing.

 

Pevney, J. (Director). (1967). ‘Arena’. Star Trek. Episode 18. Written by Frederic Brown. Paramount Home Cinema. DVD Version. 2003.

 

Westfahl, G. (2002). 'A Civilised Frontier'. Review of Michèle Barrett and Duncan Barrett's Star Trek: The Human Frontier. Science Fiction Studies, Volume 29, Part 2, July 2002. Retrieved 2 June, 2006 from http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/review_essays/westfahl87.htm

 

Wikipedia (2006). 'Fredric Brown'. Wikipedia. Retrieved 2 June, 2006 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fredric_Brown

 

top

Readings and links:

 

 

Wikipedia notes on Manifest Destiny, relating to the American belief in spreading civilisation. An interesting read linked to both 'Arena' and 'Vox Sola'!

 

A selective list on aliens in SF with a great Bibliography of sources by Elisa Sparks of Clemson University

 

Michael Bard's article and introduction for 'Aliens: 103'

 

Ongoing readings and links:

 

 

Electronic text of 'The Father Thing' by Phillip K Dick

 

Electronic text of Damon Knight's 'Stranger Station'

 

Electronic text of Octavia Butler's 'Bloodchild'

  Electronic text of David Rade's 'The Ticket Whisperer'

 

Podcast 1 of overview of Aliens in SF, 5M mp3 file for download and playing

  Podcast II of overview of Aliens in SF, 4M mp3 file for downloading and playing

top

 

 

enemy within  brave new world fate and predestination the shape of things to come ghost in the shell
Image of the CC license iconmySF Project is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Australia License.
 
Main menu
Learning episode 1
Learning episode 2
Learning episode 3
Learning episode 4
Learning episode 5
Learning episode 6
Learning episode 7
Learning episode 8
Learning episode 9
Learning episode 10