Looking back from a quarter century on, it's hard to believe I cared that much. I'd just seen Star Trek Generations and I decided to tell Rick Berman what was wrong with it. Audacious, you might think. Pompous, even. But I stand by what I said then. If they didn't want constructive criticism, they could have written a better script. If any reader of Mirabilis has a bone to pick with me about mistakes in the story, I'll listen.
And I was aiming to help. They wanted to write a story of tragic sacrifice, but all they'd done was describe a high-stakes gamble that didn't pan out. The climax wasn't "a far, far better thing"; it was just "oops!" The letter went on:
"Mr Zimmerman is right. Heroic figures like Kirk and Spock have so often been seen to take extreme life-threatening risks that the only way to have them die in a way that works in narrative terms is when they are faced with certain death. When Spock died in The Wrath of Khan he knew in advance that his action would be fatal. But that wasn't the case with Kirk's death. Scrambling about on the collapsing bridge is the kind of thing he's done hundreds of times before. He knew he was taking a risk, but at no point did we actually get to see him make that crucial decision to sacrifice himself. In real life you could say that this turned out to be the one time his luck ran out, but the rules of real life aren't after all the rules of fiction.I even went so far as to enclose a five-page treatment for a follow-on Trek movie, in which the bad guys were the Yu, a neotic offshoot of humanity in the far future. Earth is now known as Terra, feared throughout the galaxy as the nerve centre of a ruthless empire. I described our time-travelling heroes' first glimpse of what was once their homeworld:
"In this sense I believe Kirk's death was wasted. Obviously it is time to move on with the Trek movies now, but when a character like Kirk has been built up to such a genuinely mythic level the way he leaves life should be on a par with the way he's lived it -- full of sound and fury, and signifying a very great deal.
"This touches on a secondary problem I think you could have with subsequent Trek movies. You have a large cast there, and the awkward subplot with Data showed that it is not so easy to give time to every character and still maintain the narrative momentum demanded by a feature film. People aren't going to come into the theatres every two years to see the latest developments in an outer-space soap, and the more cerebral and complex character-based issues for which the TV series is justly famous are too subtle to carry an action movie. The best Trek films haven't just been TV episodes on a bigger screen, but stories with a big canvas and big ideas to fit.
"Mumon said, 'Do not shoot another's bow, do not ride another's horse, do not criticize another's work.' My suggestions are meant as constructive ones and I hope they don't give the impression that the movie as a whole wasn't good. It's just that I think it could have been great."
"Terra is not the blue jewel that it was in their own time, but a sinister shadow against the heavens, mustard yellow with pollution and crisscrossed by myriad lights marking out vast continent-spanning metropolises. A grim testament to the Yu's implacable totalitarian society."A year and a half later, Star Trek First Contact came out. This time I realized the futility of firing off a letter about the flaws in the story. It would have had to be a much longer letter anyway. But there was one bit in the movie that got my seal of approval... No blue jewel, this.