‘Star Trek’ Keeps Ripping Off A Legendary Sci-Fi Author
This article contains SPOILERS for the most recent episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. This week’s episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, “Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach,” is all about a utopian planet full of uniquely advanced medical technology that, in the end, turns out to be run by an ancient form of artificial intelligence that can only be powered by literally torturing a child. Which is pretty upsetting – and hopefully, isn’t also how that viral A.I. art generator currently clogging up social media functions.
Ultimately, the episode is a familiarly Star Trek-y allegory for our current world, and how the spoils of privilege come with the price of overlooking abject suffering. In the wake of the episode, though, a lot of fans noticed that the storyline was “almost a beat-for-beat recreation” of a short story by Ursula K. Le Guin, the legendary author who penned the Earthsea Cycle fantasy series and groundbreaking sci-fi novels like The Lathe of Heaven. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” is similarly about a beautiful city full of cool people that turns out to be dependent upon one child’s “abominable misery.”
The story didn’t just serve as the apparent basis for this episode, it also reportedly inspired a storyline in a recent season of Star Trek: Discovery. While Le Guin was never actually credited in any of these episodes, the folks behind Star Trek seemingly named a ship after her which … is still not as good as being credited, to be honest.
Le Guin’s influence on Trek doesn’t end there; her Hainish Cycle series of books, first published in 1966, concerns a Federation-like organization who adhere to a “Law of Cultural Embargo” which predates, but is “basically the same as Star Trek‘s Prime Directive.” And the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Outcast” about a genderless alien race, “closely resembles” Le Guin’s novel The Left Hand of Darkness – although Star Trek was criticized at the time for its timidity and restraint, and for ultimately presenting “queer lifestyles as alien.”
Le Guin likely didn't mind the homage; she was a fan, and once penned an impassioned piece praising Star Trek: The Next Generation in the pages of TV Guide. Yes, one of the greatest science fiction authors of all-time once published work in the same outlet that was mainly used to discern exactly what time Home Improvement was on.
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Top Image: Paramount