Wednesday, August 08, 2007

BabelCon Installment 2: Klingons And Brilliant Star Trek Writers

A group of guys dressed up as Klingons had rooms right across from me at the hotel. They are members of a group called KAG, which stands for Klingon Assault Group ( Greg and I first saw them on Friday night as we were returning to our hotel room. There they were—five Klingons—marching almost in formation. It turns out that they were going to the airport to welcome Robert O’Reilly, who played Chancellor Gowron on Star Trek, at the airport. I’m told that Mr. O’Reilly had never had a welcome so special, and I’m sure he was grateful for their support.

(Here are two of the group, ready to listen to a speech. The one in the foreground is their commander.)

(Here, the commander is having a conversation with Robert O'Reilly (Chancellor Gowron). It's really hard to see the intricacies of his costume from here. He used real leather, and it looked AWESOME!)

On Saturday, as I was selling books in the dealer room, one of the Klingons stood next to me and said he had a sciatic nerve problem. I let him have my chair every now and then when he needed a rest, and we ended up having a lovely conversation about education (he’s a high school history teacher by day), the Civil War, and—of course—the Klingon culture.

(This is me and Klingon Kevin.)

After talking with a few people about Star Trek, I have come to the conclusion that the writers were/are absolutely brilliant. It’s one of those things where I covet their ability to write. Many people might wonder why Star Trek was such a powerful series/movie/s that fans today take the time to buy or make their own costumes and have their own conventions, and I think I know why. Writers, including me, this is the part where you might want to take notes.

First, the writers of Star Trek made the cultures of their various alien lifeforms intricate and real. (Tolkien did this in Lord of the Rings, and George Lucas did this in Star Wars.) The The writers developed their culture so much that they made Klingons seem real. (They even gave Klingons a language and a form or writing that you can find with Google.) Basically, any Klingon fan can take what they now about Klingons(based solely on what they have seen in the series) and create their own weapons, etc.—and they would probably be right on. Now that’s good writing on the part of the Star Trek writers.

Second, the writers of Star Trek patterned their cultures after actually human experience and history. Klingons were actually based on the Russians (according to Klingon Kevin), which is why they became allies with the humans in Star Trek: Next Generation. Because the writers patterned the Klingons after a culture familiar to us, Klingon behavior often makes our human brains go, “Hey, that’s like this-and-such-example that happened during this-and-such era.” It makes their culture easier to believe. The Klingon culture is also one of honor. Well, I can think of many cultures that are similar, and that makes the Klingon cultures seem more real. Patterning created cultures after real ones helps give familiarity to science fiction and fantasy, and that familiarity is helpful for readers. It's something they can grasp onto when they are reading about so many new technologies or fantasy concepts.

Third, the Star Trek writers adopted the Kligong language and colloquialisms to match their culture. The standard Klingon greeting is Kaplah (sp?), which the uneducated fan might think means “hello.” Imagine my amazement when Robert O’Reilly said “Kaplah” to me (Oh my gosh, Chancellor Gowron Kaplah-ed me!), and then told me that it meant "success." I looked at him and said, “You know that tells me so much about the Klingon culture right there.”


You can tell what drives the Klingons. Hawaiians say “Welcome.” Americans say “Hi.” Israelis say "Shalom" (peace). Klingons wish each other “Success.” I’m telling you, the writers of star trek were BRILLIANT! I need to make sure to apply this concept to my gnome and dragon cultures, which I will be introducing in Out of the Shadows.

P.S. Regarding the spelling of Kaplah--I went to several Klingon Language sites and tried to find out how to spell it, but I couldn't seem to find anything. If any of you out there know how to spell it, please leave me a comment!

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Randy Richards said...

When looking for anything related to Star Trek, always check Its a Wikipedia-styled database for everything Trek.

Try this page for language lessons:

Qapla' to all!

M. B. Weston said...

Randy, thank you so much for the information--especially the spelling of Qapla'. No wonder I couldn't find it. I was looking under "K" and "C!"

Brian said...

It's spelled Qapla but it's close lol

M. B. Weston said...

Yes, I thought the "H" at the end of my flagrant misspelling was an especially nice touch. :-) I like the real version much better than mine. No silent letters.

Commander Ri'Par sutai-bortaS said...

Thanks for posting the great Klingon pics in your blog. I completely agree about the writing of Star Trek.Though I am also a Star Wars fan,I think Trek is better written and more than just blasters.It's thoughtful and inspiring. Why else would we suit up in leather and fur in 95 degree heat! Ok, Robert O'Reilly's presence had a little to do with it. I was an honor to meet you. Qapla!
Commander Ri'Par sutai-bortaS
IKV Bayou Serpent commander

Qob said...

To be pedantic, and yes we Klingons can be pedantic, it's Qapla'. the "'" at the end has a real sound to it to, it's a glottal stop.

Also the beauty I think of the Klingon culture is that the fans and the writers has a symbiosis, with the writers learning from fans who actually try to inhabit the characters what works and what doesn't. Also there are quiet a few fans writing some deep stuff about the culture that seeps into the cosmic consciousness.

Ahem, I will direct you to this:

Qob said...

ahhh the "'" omission was of course, not yours but that of a commentor.

M. B. Weston said...

I like the symbiosis idea. I've found that fans tend to give me more information about my characters than I knew.

Randy Richards said...

So let it be written, so let it be done. Live long and prosper.