A[n ugly] face of the word CANONICAL

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2006/09/02 03:01 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2006/09/02/736241.aspx


Nothing technical, for now. Maybe later...

The word 'canonical' is used in many contexts -- in mathematics, in religion, in physics, and so on. This post is going to be about two of them that tend to bother me a lot....

One of them is when canonical is used in fiction, and in particular in the science fiction/fantasy realm. In this area, the Star Trek universe makes a nice uber-example of the phenomenon. Content in the Star Trek universe is considered 'canonical' if it is in one of the movies or in one of the TV shows. And then people will argue bout whether content in that cartoon version that ran years back is canonical or not.

The importance of having this distinction is so that Paramount can control the destiny of the franchise. So where the hell are all the people who hate Microsoft for not being "open source" when it comes to Star Trek? Why does Paramount get to control the destiny of anything?

I mean, they had linguist Dr. Mark Okrand create the tlhIngan Hol (Klingon) language, but for the most part they do not even use it -- they randomly put gibberish on Klingon control panels and so on. I personally preferred John M. Ford's vision of the Klingon people and their language Klingonaase -- and Captain Krenn from The Final Reflection. The whole way Klingons were presented in all of the series and movies after the original just annoyed me, and made me not want to watch most of the time.

For that matter, the conception of Romulans and of Vulcans in the movies and the later TV shows also blows, in my opinion. Give me Diane Duane's conception of Rihannsu, or of S'Task, or of Ael, or of cthia, is much more compelling in my mind -- and it makes the Romulans of the series look stupid by comparison. The tight way she took elements across the original series and the next generation and combined them in Dark Mirror or the way Peter David did the same in Q Squared was astounding to me, and is the other major reason that I could never get into the series or the movies.

Because these authors who intricately plot out conpelling stories are quite simply better guardians of the series than Paramount will ever be, since they care so much more about the quality. Being canonical means being what I don't want to watch - give me the apocryphal text any day, from the people who really seem to care.

Or maybe have an open model where the community decides what fits into the universe, rather than the current model. I ask again, where are all the fans of open source when it comes to Star Trek? Microsoft has been a much better guardian of its legacy than Paramount has been of it's, all things considered (and if you have to compare).

I probably shouldn't pick on Paramount too much, after all they did cut Tom Cruise loose. And it is not just them, anyway. You can extend this problem out to George Lucas (who pretty much torched the Star Wars universe with his inability to plot or to write convincing dialog or storylines. And many other examples, as well. The foks controlling the canon (and what is canonical) should not even be allowed to do more than watch the show/movie, let alone control its destiny.

Now I won't extend this sort of concern to Joss Wheadon, who I think is a wonderful owner of the canon for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly. I mean, because he clearly does care, even in the networks didn't. But in general I think that is more the exception than the rule.

For the most part, to be canonical in this area is to be held to a lesser standard.

A standard that neither requires nor creates a robust and consistent legacy....

I am likely in the minority on this whole issue, so in retrospect this post is probably a bad idea. And since most of the opinions are from my childhood, saying them strongly now as if I was really going to take on the canon probably makes it even worse. Be sure to take it all in stride. :-)

And in future posts I'll talk about other faces of the word canonical and see what else we can find....


Bob on 3 Sep 2006 9:41 PM:

Actually, it was Peter David who wrote Q-Squared. He and Keith R.A. DeCandido (SCE, Articles of the Federation) were responsible for a lot of the "unification" novels combining Classic Trek with NextGen and DS9. As for Voyager/*****prise, we don't like to talk about them. :)

Michael S. Kaplan on 3 Sep 2006 9:54 PM:

Hi Bob,

Well, in my defense it was several years ago that I read it. Corrected now in the post. :-)

Bob on 4 Sep 2006 10:34 AM:

"The tight way she took elements across the original series and the next generation and combined them in Dark Mirror or Peter David in Dark Mirror was astounding to me..."

Still not quite right.

Did you ever read Ford's How Much For Just the Planet or David's Q-In-Law?

Michael S. Kaplan on 4 Sep 2006 11:11 AM:

I did, both of them....

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