Where No Cliche Has Gone Before

On September 6, the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek began. Included are all of the sequels and spin-offs based upon the original series, which began in 1966. I was never a hard-core Trekki, but I enjoyed the imaginative scope of the series and the sometimes thought-provoking subjects that it explored. It   was a strong subliminal influence in my life and I’m sure it pre-disposed me to study quantum mechanics in relation to the reality I was beginning to doubt. It dramatized a credible alternative to the earth-bound existence I had become used to.

All of the versions of Star Trek, both old and relatively new, are still in syndication. Recently, I watched an episode from Star Trek: the Next Generation that gave me new food for thought. I believe the episode was called Royale, and told a story about an American astronaut named Col. Steven Richey. Richey had been taken by aliens 287 tears prior to the appearance of the Enterprise. The aliens, perhaps regretting their kidnapping of Richey, had created a reality for him that they believed would be most like his natural environment. Unfortunately, the aliens based their perception of this environment on a novel entitled Hotel Royale, which they found in Richey’s space craft. It was a terrible novel, badly- written, and full of cliches and shallow characters.

When Worf, Riker, and Data appear, investigating signs that human DNA exists on an unknown planet, Richey had already been dead for 287 years and his DNA and desiccated body are all that is left. However, Richey’s remains are found in a hotel room in the Hotel Royale, which the three crew members of the Enterprise have entered, looking for the source of the mysterious DNA.

The Hotel Royale is a lively place, full of guests who are engaged in gambling in the hotel’s first-floor casino. Worf, Riker, and Data interact with some of the guests who prove to be stereotypes of conventional characters one would expect to find in a casino.

In their subsequent exploration of the hotel, the three crew members find Richey’s remains along with a copy of the novel, Hotel Royale. Riker, paging through the book, immediately recognizes the utter banality of the narrative and, reading an entry in Richey’s diary, learns that Richey, to his dismay, had become aware of his circumstances and was unable to find his way out of the artificial environment created for him by the aliens. Richey bemoans his imprisonment and before his death notes that he had spent thirty-eight years longing for his demise just to escape the confines of a terribly-written novel.

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Like Col. Richey, I have begun to suspect that I have been confined to the parameters of a badly-written novel, and so far have found no avenue of escape. Everywhere I look, every encounter I experience with others, leads me to believe that I am a character in an unconvincing narrative about my life. The events are too predictable and the other characters I meet or see presented to me by conventional media are too stereotypical to be believable. They look alike; they talk alike; the things they do are alike. Even the things they do to be different are alike. The background scenery seems to be painted onto a diorama that revolves, eventually returning one’s view to the diorama’s beginning so as to initiate the process all over again. It’s inevitably dull.

Worf, Riker, and Data escape the Hotel Royale by reading how the novel ends. In other words, they have to reach the end of the narrative. In that version, the hotel is bought by foreign investors and the story ends. So the three become the foreign investors themselves and conclude the story-line. I guess that’s what I have to do as well, but the last scene eludes me. I try to imagine all of the possible variations that could serve as a conclusion, but so far, nothing clicks.

Notice that the critical first step is to recognize that you are in fact in a novel. That gives you options that you didn’t have before. Then, you have to realize that novels end and bring the fictional ending into being by taking an active part in the novel, no matter how shallow and cliche-ridden it may be. I like both the irony and the paradox of that necessity. So, I infer that to escape I must further the action of the novel at the same time that I know that I am participating in a fictional story. It’s a kind of two-worlds thing. You know, I think I wrote about that very circumstance in my book, Disobliging Reality. I just need to create the appropriate ending. I need to discover the foreshadowing in the story that foretells what the ending will be. This could take some time.

Let’s begin at the beginning: “It was a dark and stormy night–”