Monday, January 11, 2016

Top Five Favorite Star Trek Races

I've been recently re-watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and I am reminded of how much I enjoy some of the aliens from the Star Trek universe. One of the best features of Deep Space Nine and Voyager is that, because these two series offered windows into unexplored quadrants, the writers had the opportunity to create brand new races. Additionally, Deep Space Nine had the luxury of exploring some races that we'd only briefly touched on in Star Trek:The Next Generation. All of this new content really fleshed out these races' identities, and created the basis for this list.

And as we all know, the Internet loves lists.

The best alien races are those that are the embodiment of some facet of humanity. We like to think of ourselves as eternally varied, and it's true that each of us has in ourselves a capacity for wildly different emotions/philosophies/decisions. While it's a bit simplistic to reduce each prominent alien race to a single characteristic, the opportunity is there because, in all likelihood, that's how they were originally conceived.

Vulcans, for example, are logical to the point of being emotionless (though as we see in many circumstances, different paths of logic can take the same information and get to completely different destinations). Bajorans are immensely spiritual, often frustratingly so. Romulans are a bit murkier, but I would say that they're defined mostly by their paranoia; they assume everyone is plotting against them, so they're secretive and ruthless.

Similarly, my five favorite alien species each embody a particular aspect of the emotional spectrum, taken to an extreme. What's fun(/horrifying) to think about is that each of these species could be simply a future iteration of human beings. While we may not currently embrace the single-mindedness of any of them, we see the value in certain aspects of them. So as I list them and what I enjoy about them, I'll also mention what I believe to be their "primary attribute," (D&D seeps into all my writing these days).

5. Ferengi (multiple series)

There are things I love about Ferengi, but I always feel like they're portrayed as a little too naive when it comes to profit. Naturally, their primary characteristic is greed. Quark, Rom, and Nog play important roles in the Deep Space Nine series, which is where we learn the most about the Ferengi. We also get to meet several secondary Ferengi characters, such as Brunt, the Grand Nagus, and other assorted businessmen, assassins, and bartenders.

What makes Ferengi interesting to me is that they thrive on capitalism. Not like the United States thrives on capitalism; I mean that capitalism is deferred to as the law of the land. Exploitation is just another way to make profit. Labor unions are strictly prohibited. Anything that moves wealth down the ladder is seen as weak, foolish, and downright immoral. Sometimes the show plays it up a little too much, but overall, it's an interesting take on what our society would be like if left in the hands of big business.

4. Hirogen (Star Trek: Voyager)

Voyager's Hirogen seem to be a twist on the first alien race to pass through the wormhole in Deep Space Nine. A creature called Tosk is being hunted by an unnamed race as part of a ritual hunt. The hunt is revered by the unnamed race; the hunt is a vital part of their culture. The Hirogen seem to be a further fleshing out of that mentality. Their sole motivation in life is to pursue and slay challenging prey. I would say their most prominent characteristic is their single-mindedness; the hunt has become the only thing that matters to them.

The effect of this focus is interesting. They're technologically proficient, with all of their technology focused on battle and pursuit. But they actually haven't advanced in technology for many years. Additionally, their nomadic nature and the danger they regularly face has kept the Hirogen from growing their population. In fact, Hirogen ships don't often even travel with other Hirogen ships, unless it is in pursuit of a particularly dangerous prey. We don't get to see enough of Hirogen society to know the details, but I suspect that the Hirogen are a dying race, kind of like the Krogan from Mass Effect, without the genophage.

Because Voyager didn't linger in a particular spot in the Delta Quadrant, we only got limited access to the Hirogen. I would've liked to see more, and maybe someday we'll start to get more Star Trek TV shows that delve into these ancillary species. Maybe like a giant superseries that encompasses several miniseries about various species. I mean, that will never, ever happen, but I can pretend that maybe it will.

3. Klingon (all series)

Klingons value one thing above all others: glory. We've seen Klingons from the original series, and they've always been threatening. But as time went on, we met dozens of Klingons and we learned so much more about what makes them tick.

The Klingon we learn the most about is Worf, who is perhaps the Klingon least focused on traditional "Klingon things." Many times we hear other Klingons talk about how, while Worf has all the honor and tradition of a Klingon, he doesn't have the immersive passion that Klingons share with each other. They kill and they embrace death. They love and they hate with equal fervor. They sing, they laugh, they weep, they just feel their lives, and they live them to the fullest.

The one unifying force behind everything is glory. When Klingons are victorious in battle, they don't talk about the value of their newly acquired territory. They don't talk about the safety they've created by defeating their enemies. No, the thing you hear every Klingon say when they talk about a great victory is that it is "worthy of song." They fight simply to be remembered for having fought. Obviously we don't have the same innate value system, but I have to say, there's something beautiful about pursuing a goal with the intent of having the goal be so impressive that your peers will want to write songs about it.

2. "Borg" (multiple series)

I hemmed and hawed before deciding to go ahead and put Borg on the list. My consternation wasn't about the awesomeness of the Borg as a group; that, at least, is undeniable. But there's some room to question whether or not the Borg are actually a race. Every Borg we've run into over the course of the shows was previously another race, an individual that had been assimilated by the Borg. But when it comes to determining whether or not the Borg qualify as a race, I decided that while Borg drones may have biological components of whatever their born race was, they act in a manner specific to Borg, and all Borg share the same characteristics.

So what single, sinister word defines Borg? Try this one on for size: improvement. While every individual finds the Borg to be horrifying and unnatural, their main focus isn't so much "evil" as it is "indifferent." The Borg acknowledge that the instinct of those they come across is to resist assimilation, but if you listen to the whole communication, it's not a threat so much as a reassurance.
"We are the Borg. Existence, as you know it, is over. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Resistance is futile."
Consider this. If humanity were to achieve a "higher state of being," wouldn't it be something like the Borg? Where we all work together towards common goals? Where we abandon petty squabbles and minor ethnic differences? Where everyone is considered equal and valuable? Maybe we'd want to keep out of each other's heads, and keep open the possibility for art and leisure, but the basis of idyllic human existence is peace and cooperation, which the Borg have in spades.

So why are Borg cool? Because they can be studied and, to some extent, understood. Over time we learn certain things about Borg behavior. The Borg don't assimilate individuals; unless they appear to pose a specific threat, they don't even give a shit about people being on their vessels. Borg reclaim and repair or recycle fallen drones.

But also, the specific Borg we've met have been fantastic characters and great for advancing plots. Seven of Nine from Voyager, with her Nordic attractiveness and deadpan wit, was a welcome departure from the quirky and often frustratingly naive Kes. The Borg Queens, while oddly emotional and thus unpredictable, gave us an interesting window into the hierarchy of the Borg.

Far and away the best Borg story, though, was Hugh. Hugh was the Borg who the Enterprise crew discovered and nursed back to health, and in doing so, discovered individuality. The episode is one of my favorite from any Star Trek series, maybe my #1 of them all. The pacing is perfect, as the different members of the crew come to know Hugh as an individual, rather than a faceless Borg drone. When Hugh refuses to assimilate Geordi La Forge despite being ordered to by Locutus (Captain Picard's designation during his brief time as a Borg)...goosebumps.

1. Cardassian (multiple series)

Cardassians have appeared in multiple series to various extents. They were introduced in The Next Generation, but Deep Space Nine occurred on the Cardassian border, which meant they were a factor in most episodes. I've had some trouble trying to isolate the one word to capture the essence of Cardassians, but I think the best one is order. Cardassian culture is built off of an overwhelming servitude to the state.

In fairness, while I enjoy Cardassians overall, they wouldn't rate number one on my list without my all-time favorite alien: Garak. Garak is deceptive, clever, and funny, and he plays perfectly off of the other prominent characters on Star Trek:Deep Space Nine. I mentioned above how Kes' naivety was frustrating; well, Dr. Bashir's own flavor of naivety was a perfect counter-balance to Garak's penchant for stretching the truth.

But Garak wasn't the only interesting Cardassian. Until he went all Pah-wraithy, Gul(/Legate) Dukat was an awesome villain. He was selfish, controlling, deceptive, and utterly believable. While I wasn't a big fan of Seska from Voyager (who seemed far too emotional for a Cardassian agent), the Cardassians who were sprinkled into The Next Generation were all fascinating. Torturers, agents, administrators, all manner of Cardassian officials made their way into storylines, and they were all brilliant. They were a stark contrast to Bajorans, who had a strong spiritual nature but didn't offer nearly as much in the way of intrigue.

So there it is, my top five alien races from the Star Trek universe. This article took me about six months to write, and it definitely doesn't look like a six-month post. Still, it's nice to complete something after putting a fair amount of time into it. I look forward to taking less than six months to complete the next post...


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