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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

Star Trek Voyager, "Fair Haven" (***)
written by Robin Burger
Other Babylon 5.1 Columns
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Ratings are based on a four star system.
One star means that the commercials are more entertaining than the program.
Two stars watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars is good solid entertainment.
Four stars means you never dreamed television could be this good.

Star Trek: Voyager Do the men and women of Voyager have sex with holograms? This question is answered, in the affirmative, by new writer Robin Burger, in this slight but entertaining episode. He leaves far more provocative questions unanswered.

The plot involves the holo-town of Fair Haven, in Ireland in the Nineteenth Century, and a romance between Janeway and one of the holo-characters. Meanwhile an ion storm or some such is threatening the Enterprise, sorry, Voyager.

There are two moments I find troublesome. Actually, neither moment would be a problem in isolation, but taken together -- well, see for yourself. First, we have a conversation between The Doctor and Captain Janeway. He tells her that her holo-lover is not that different from The Doctor himself, both being holograms. Second, we have a moment when Janeway orders the holodeck characters shut down, to divert the extra energy to punch through the ion storm, knowing that her own lover may be marked "file deleted, data unrecoverable".

Now, you can't have it both ways. If the holodeck characters are not self aware, then they are not like The Doctor, and it is OK to delete them. On the other hand, if they are self aware, then deleting them is murder.

Given how much of Voyager takes place on the holodeck, this is something the story editors need to decide, and soon, or the show is apt to go the way of Harsh Realm. It may seem like a minor matter, but it is actually the whole ball game. People enjoy fiction because they react emotionally to the characters. No emotion, no enjoyment. If a person feels he has been gulled into responding emotionally to a cardboard cutout, the off button is just a fingertip away.

Introduced on the Star Trek animated series, the holodeck became a major part of the Star Trek universe in Star Trek: The Next Generation. The first holodeck character to display real feelings was Minuet, in the episode "11001001" (***). But it was made clear that Minuet was an exception, and that most holo-characters were just light and air, no feelings, no moral dilemma about turning them off. In some of the Dixon Hill episodes that and other holodeck rules were broken, but we must just put this down to an error, or nothing in the other episodes makes sense.

The next holodeck character who was self-aware was Moriarty, who appeared in "Elementary, Dear Data" (**) and "Ship in a Bottle" (****). Here it was clear that, unlike other holodeck characters, Moriarty had a right to life.

On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, considerable warmth and humanity was invested in the continuing holo-character of Vic Fontaine. Oddly, it was never clear whether the DS9 crew went to so much trouble to help Vic because he was self-aware, or because they had come to care about him, self-aware or not.

Now, on Voyager, The Doctor, a holo-character, is a regular on the show. He is self-aware, and his value as a person has been explicitly discussed many times.

As things stand then, in the Star Trek universe, a very few holo-characters become real people (does the Blue Fairy touch them with her magic wand?) but most don't and aren't and can be used as objects with no moral qualms. We badly need some future episode to examine this in depth.

Now, back to the sex.

Is there anything "wrong" with having sex with a hologram? I tend toward the school that holds that as long as no one gets hurt and it doesn't frighten the horses, it's OK. But actions have consequences, and I think we need to consider the consequences of sex with holograms. Who could resist the temptation? And yet, not to put too fine a point on it, what is going to happen to the human race? Who will risk the ups and downs of a real relationship when they can be in complete control and act out their every fantasy on the holodeck? Also, sex isn't the only thing you can use the holodeck for. You want children? I bet holo-children are a lot better behaved than real children. Computer, delete dirty diapers. Once you accept holo-sex, you open the door to a lot of other holo-options.

Maybe this explains why the Federation is so peaceful, rich, and uncrowded. I've never seen a slum on a Federation planet. Maybe all the work is done by holo-slaves, who don't eat or sleep, and the entire real human population has decreased to just a few million, as fewer and fewer people have children. That would explain all those empty parklands we see on the future Earth. Instead of overpopulation, we have underpopulation. It also explains why, in seven years, only one child has been born aboard Voyager.

The things we get out of a real relationship, like someone who cares and the joy of pleasure shared, are absent in a holodeck romance. But they are only absent if the holodeck characters do not have real feelings, with rare exceptions as noted above. I think, now that the Voyager writers have brought this subject up, they need to provide answers, fast. This changes everything.

Copyright © 2000 by Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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