70 Comments

  1. The date on this is 1991, the year Zsa Zsa died, two days after her 99th birthday. But, defense shields? Duh?

  2. Indeed, ’tis a mystery. But TBH it’s not actually any worse than some of the ST:TOS season 3 plots…

  3. I’m not sure why this is a CIDU, unless it’s because of the missing caption, which originally read “The crew of the Enterprise meets the floating head of Zsa Zsa Gabor“, but the post’s title indicates that Bill was aware of that.
    There really isn’t anything to not understand here, but hat doesn’t mean that there is anything understandable about it. This panel is simply weird: or in other words, classic “The Far Side”.

  4. P.S. Ooops. Forgot to refresh the page before posting.
    P.P.S. Despite my use of the adjective “classic”, I think Larsen’s weakest comics were those in which he made references to topical subjects or celebrities. His original “anonymous” characters were much funnier than anything he cribbed from real life (news, etc.).

  5. I’m pretty sure that IF the crew of the Enterprise encountered the floating head of Zsa Zsa Gabor, defensive shields would be an appropriate response. Then again, I’m often confused as to why defensive shields up isn’t the default position.

  6. Remember, the crew of the Enterprise met floating heads, floating hands, Greek gods, space amoebas, and any number of other improbable things floating in space. The head of Zsa Zsa Gabor just pushes that trope into slightly more ridiculous territory.

  7. ” ‘shields up’ means you can’t do anything fun, like beam somewhere or shoot at things.”

    Neither of these is actually true, as it turns out

  8. As much as I hate to support an undocumented statement presented in a terse and unfriendly manner, I think JP is right about the shields in Star Trek. The Enterprise did a lot of fighting with her shields up, and I don’t remember a story in which they had to lower shields to beam somebody up (or down), although I may be wrong about the latter condition. This is in contrast to the “cloaking device”, which did have to be deactivated to get off a shot.
    Presumably, the reason Federation ships don’t always use the shields is to conserve power, although that was never explicitly mentioned.
    P.S. Once the Federation knew that the “cloaking device” existed, one wonders why they never bothered to equip their own starships with such a thing. I believe that the Enterprise even stole one for at least a short while. Copying the design should not have been a problem.

  9. @Kilby – I remember occasions in which they couldn’t beam someone up because they had the shields up and had to keep them up. On the cloaking device, I think they said in the Patrick Stewart days that the peace treaty with the Romulans specified that they wouldn’t put cloaking on their ships.

  10. @ Kilby

    I think most would agree that Larson was at his weakest when referencing real people or events in living memory, though the Jane Goodall strip was certainly well-received. Personally, I do have a soft spot for the “Charlie Parker’s private hell” strip (it’s a well-constructed slam of new age music) and, to a lesser extent, the strip where the parents watch their son playing video games while imagining a newspaper classifieds section full of job offers for video game players. The latter strip is largely funny because one of the ads reads “Do you laugh in the face of killer goombas?”

  11. The Federation did not have cloaking devices because of the Treaty of Algeron which was signed at the end of the war between the Federation and the Romulan empire. It formally established the Neutral Zone and included a prohibition on cloaking devices in Federation star ships.

    Transporters usually cannot beam through the shields unless the script contains sufficient technobabble to allow it.

  12. ” and I don’t remember a story in which they had to lower shields to beam somebody up (or down)”

    Think back to the episode where Kirk is on a prison planet to check up on a convict. Once he’s down, it turns out that the dangerous convict can shape-shift himself to look like anyone… even a prison warden. They can’t just beam him back up because the prison’s shields are up.
    Until, of course, Spock figures out how to beam through the shields.

    ” This is in contrast to the “cloaking device”, which did have to be deactivated to get off a shot.”

    Nope. Watch ST VI: The Undiscovered Country, again. If you’d rather not, a major plot point is the cloaked ship that can shoot while remaining cloaked.

    ” I believe that the Enterprise even stole one for at least a short while.”

    “The Enterprise Incident”. In which the prop department came up with a slick workaround for the fact that they only had one Romulan ship model, and the storyline called for three Romulan ships in the same shot.

    “one wonders why they never bothered to equip their own starships with such a thing”

    Because they don’t work reliably. In “Balance of Terror”, the Enterprise follows a cloaked Romulan vessel., eventually destroying it.

    The Federation has a long history of obtaining fabulous new capability, and then never using it or even mentioning it again. Prime example: The Genesis effect is a failure at creating new habitable planets, but remains a devastating weapon, ending the threat of Khan Noonian Singh permanently. But when faced with existential threats like energy-eating space-whales, Klingon aggression in violation of the Organian Treaty, or the Borg incursion, they don’t even think of using a Genesis-Wave weapon in self-defense.
    They also meet powerful, advanced alien civilizations… and then never call on them for help. The First Federation has a powerful ship design that is far more powerful than the Enterprise. But Federation ships of 80 years later still don’t include any First Federation tech. On one occasion, they encounter an alien being so powerful that it exterminated an entire race for being too aggressive and warlike, but not smart enough to make a cannon out of bamboo and locally-sourced gunpowder. Maybe mention to those guys that the Borg are coming? Nah. 80 years later, they meet and entirely different alien being so powerful that it exterminated an entire race for being too aggressive and warlike. Mention the Borg to that guy? Nah.

  13. And then there’s me, who can’t tell the diff between ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Star Trek’. Wasn’t there one with ‘Danger, danger, Dr. Robinson!’ in it, too?

  14. “I’m often confused as to why defensive shields up isn’t the default position”

    I don’t remember them ever addressing this, but I figured it was probably a power thing, the equivalent of keeping your wi-fi turned on for the entirety of a five-year mission.

    (Of course the real-world reason is, it’s more dramatic having to put up the shields each time)

  15. “And then there’s me, who can’t tell the diff between ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Star Trek’. ”

    One was ruined by JJ Abrams, and the other one was ruined by JJ Abrams. Hope this helps.

  16. Kilby: “The Enterprise did a lot of fighting with her shields up, and I don’t remember a story in which they had to lower shields to beam somebody up (or down), although I may be wrong about the latter condition.”

    This was a pretty common plot point. There were lots of episodes where the Enterprise was involved in fighting, some officers would be in grave danger on a planet, and the people on the ship would say “we can’t beam you out, our shields are up.” Dramatic tension ensued. There were also lots of episodes where someone figured out some clever technological trick to circumvent that rule (which, this being Star Trek, they promptly forgot the next episode). I believe there were also episodes where the writers seemed to flat-out forget that rule.

    “Once the Federation knew that the ‘cloaking device’ existed, one wonders why they never bothered to equip their own starships with such a thing.”

    As Brian R said, the treaty with the Romulans forbade it. In “The Pegasus” (TNG), Picard discovers an early attempt by Starfleet officers to install a cloaking device on a Federation ship, and Picard, appalled at the treaty violation, reveals it to the Romulans. In DS9, the Romulans give special dispensation for one Federation ship (the Defiant) to install cloaking ability.

  17. Kilby: See for example, this clip, where Picard dramatically announces to an opposing Romulan warbird that he will lower his shields to beam up injured officers (one human, one Romulan), despite the fact that it will give the warbird an opportunity to blow up the Enterprise.

    AFAIK, because of the way this page now embeds Youtube clips, I can’t make the link at the appropriate time mark, but the relevant dialogue is at 1:50.

  18. Star Wars was ruined by George Lucas:
    Ewoks
    Greedo shot first
    Special editions
    Jar Jar Binks
    Trade negotiations
    The Phantom Menace
    Attack of the Clones
    Revenge of the Sith
    Racist caricatures
    Stupid names
    Sold to Disney
    QED

    In Trek lore, they sometimes refer to “navigation shields”, which are the default for travelling on impulse power. These shields, working with the deflector array, stop space rocks from smashing into the ship.

  19. “There were also lots of episodes where someone figured out some clever technological trick to circumvent that rule (which, this being Star Trek, they promptly forgot the next episode).”

    There was a short story that impressed me because the whole point of the story was how important just knowing that something is possible is, even if you haven’t worked out how to do it yourself yet — everything changes from that point on, as opposed to the stupid Star Trek cliché of everything is back to the way it was by next week.

    I can’t remember the story, and as so often is the case, it’s almost impossible to find on Google based on vague recollections of plot points. The story was basically: a planetary culture works hard, but cannot come up with any way to exceed the speed of light c; they do, however, discover a weird effect described as going off at right angles to c while researching. Anyway, they set up a generation style space ship to travel to the stars, since they determine faster than light must be impossible. A few months into the voyage, the generation ship comes into contact with an alien ship. It is hostile. It also is clearly able to go faster than light. A fight ensues, and thanks to their clever weird right angles to c trick that they’ve incorporated into their shields, they manage to win, destroying their foe. And now is where the crucial bit, the whole point of the story happens: the generation ship immediately turns around to head back home, because they’ve just seen that FTL is possible. This changes everything, there is no point wasting generations to get to the next star, they just need to finally figure out how to go faster than light (and now they know it’s possible), and they can travel to the next star minus development time, but still much less than the generations they previously thought it would require.

  20. I remember it being funny at the time…. (I think redundant captions actually help).

    I *really* hate to say this but I think the Far Side doesn’t stand up to time the way I assumed it would.

  21. “There was a short story that impressed me because the whole point of the story was how important just knowing that something is possible is, even if you haven’t worked out how to do it yourself yet”

    I’m not familiar with a story exactly as described, but it sounds vaguely similar to some of the early fiction in the Man-Kzin Wars era of Known Space. Humans are using slower-than-light craft because they don’t have the quantum 1 hyperdrive yet, and they encounter a Kzinti ship. They fight (because kzinti ALWAYS fight) and the humans win.

    But the plotline of the exact story I’m thinking of is that the kzinti telepath scans the humans’ mind and finds that the humans are thinking that they don’t have any weapons. Turns out, they don’t have anything that was INTENDED as a weapon, but they do have powerful lasers for messaging, and a thermonuclear drive exhaust, which they adapt into weapons when attacked.

    Not, I think, the same story. But it’s possible that one of the “shared universe” Man-Kzin Wars stories might be the one you’re looking for.

  22. On a tangent, is nobody going to complain that Mr. Larson had apparently not recently seen a Star Trek episode recently when he drew the Enterprise’s bridge?

  23. “One was ruined by JJ Abrams, and the other one was ruined by JJ Abrams. Hope this helps.”

    So, tell us how you REALLY feel ‘-)

  24. A tangent, but maybe someone can help me find this short story – about an empath (to the point of ‘hearing’ grass screaming as it was being mowed). I thought it was by Harlan Ellison, but not been able to find it. Anyone?

  25. The first three-ish seasons of Lost were gripping and compelling, until it became obvious that they didn’t actually have a plan, and were just inserting random details to make it confusing. But the characters and their interleaving stories worked, until they didn’t.
    Continuity is not one of Mr. Abrams’ strong suits. This is why, when they handed him the Star Trek franchise, the first thing that happened was to toss aside all the existing continuity, and when they handed him the Star Wars franchise, the first thing that happened was to toss aside all the existing continuity. OK, as previously mentioned, Star Trek wasn’t big on continuity, either, before Mr. Abrams popped into the picture. A handoff between creators can be tricky, but it can be done well. See, for example, the transition from Ridley Scott’s “Alien” to James Cameron’s “Aliens”. Each creator made the kind of movie they’re good at, but the flow between the two pretty good. The Alien franchise didn’t get broken until the NEXT movie. Or, for one closer to the topic I started this post with, consider Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars shorts. HIGHLY stylized, in Tartakovsky’s style, but Star Wars, nonetheless. Or, consider the best transition of all time, from Tim Burton’s Batman to the animated series.

  26. 25% of this is because Bill wanted to know what Larson thought was funny about the Enterprise encountering Zsa Zsa Gabor’s head.

    75% of this was because he wanted to use the subject line.

  27. larK: I remember when I was a math major, homework problems that asked “determine whether X is true, and provide a proof” always were much, much harder than “prove X is true” or “prove X is false,” even though logically it seemed like they should be no more than twice as hard.

  28. @larK: “There was a short story that impressed me because the whole point of the story was how important just knowing that something is possible is, even if you haven’t worked out how to do it yourself yet ”

    When you said that, I thought you meant Noise Level by Raymond F Jones, from 1952. I will SPOIL it in a moment, after I mention that John W Campbell had the idea in detail and tried to get Heinlein to write it, but he demurred,and Raymond F Jones took it on. The spoilery bit now… top scientists are shown convincing footage of a small working anti-gravity device, made by a paranoid recluse who kept no notes of how he did it, and then his machine was destroyed beyond analysis and reconstruction in a crash. The scientists are then assigned the task of finding the principles of anti-grav and build a new one. They know it is possible. One eventually makes a huge but definitely working antigrav device. Then the scientists are told that the original footage was fake – the whole operation was to “show” the scientists that something was possible, so they would lower their sceptical filters and get to work.

    https://nevalalee.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/astounding-stories-18-noise-level/ is a piece about that story by Alec Nevala-Lee, the author of a new book about Astounding. Which I have but haven’t opened yet.

  29. Continuity was constantly reset in ST:TOS, but that was standard in most shows made in the 60’s and 70’s (how many girlfriends did the bachelors of Bonanza go through with nary a mention the next episode?) The later ST shows were relatively good with continuity and even trying to explain continuity errors in the original series. (I attribute this as much to the ST fanbase obsessive devotion to details as much as changes in television storytelling.)

  30. ” The scientists are then assigned the task of finding the principles of anti-grav and build a new one.”

    That, in turn, reminds me of the miniseries “Ascension”, currently available on Netflix.

  31. Blinky: I disagree, at least as far as the technological advances go. The basic pattern where amazing technological advances are made, and then forgotten in the next episode, strikes me as fairly constant across all the series. It’s to some degree required by the fact that the writers want to have the crew to come up with miraculous solutions that show how clever the crew is, but don’t want the crew to have accumulated god-like powers by the end of the first season.

    Heck, in “ST Into Darkness” they can transport between planets, and cure death! You’d think this would have totally changed the Star Trek universe. Why do they even have spaceships anymore? Instead, there was no mention of these advances in “ST Beyond.”

  32. In the original series alone, just under 80 episodes, they discovered at least three independent methods of giving human beings telekinetic abilities. But they still made Scotty climb down the manhole with a clipboard to adjust the warp drive flux, and there aren’t any telekinetic humans in the Next Generation. There are three different methods of time-travel (gravity warp, alien library, and the Guardian of Forever). The number of super-advanced species they encountered, but then never consulted about any other problem…Transporter systems can push you into a different universe, split you into two beings each with half a psyche, or cure aging… no wonder they look different with each incarnation of ST.

    In Next Gen, they discover that travelling at high warp causes distress, even death, to certain subspace entities who are intelligent and beg the Enterprise crew to stop doing it. (They stop travelling at high warp… for the rest of the episode. Next week, they’re travelling at high warp speeds again.)

  33. ” about an empath (to the point of ‘hearing’ grass screaming as it was being mowed).”

    That was a Roald Dahl short story about a machine that could hear higher frequencies and the inventor discovered *everything* felt and screamed in pain. … And wasn’t this a side-line of Stranger in A Strange Land?

    “On a tangent, is nobody going to complain that Mr. Larson had apparently not recently seen a Star Trek episode recently when he drew the Enterprise’s bridge?”

    I thought that. But figured there was no point.

  34. @woozy: The Dahl short story is “The Sound Machine.” I don’t believe there’s anything there about grass screaming while being mowed, but it did involve roses screaming while being pruned, and a tree screaming when cut with an axe.

    The “screaming grass” detail sounds vaguely familiar to me also, though. I vaguely associate it with a Charles Beaumont or Richard Matheson short story, but I think it’s 90+% likely I’m wrong about that.

  35. “wasn’t this a side-line of Stranger in A Strange Land?”

    Doesn’t sound familiar to me, though it’s been a while since I last read it.

  36. ” . . . I vaguely associate it with a Charles Beaumont . . .”

    So I looked up Beaumont, and his 1957 book is ‘Hunger and Other Stories’, WHICH I HAVE . . . (it has a wonderful Hieronymous Bosch cover) . . . and I’ve read the first few paragraphs of each story, but not found the Empath. Dang!

  37. “wasn’t this a side-line of Stranger in A Strange Land?”

    The recently-arrived Michael learns to enjoy walking on grass, even though the grass is complaining about being stepped on. It was a real grass “carpet” in an apartment.

    (Why yes, we are a bunch of geeks.)

  38. “It was a real grass “carpet” in an apartment.”

    And I have a fake grass ‘carpet’ in my dogs’ potty pen. Go figure . . .

    (Why yes, I am a dogfanatic, and would be proud to be called a geek.)

  39. Thanks to all for the corrections about transporter vs. shields. I never watched more than a few “TNG” episodes, especially after they started using the holodeck to turn the whole series into Fantasy Island.
    P.S. Larson may have known that Spock never sat up front, but it would have been impossible to compose the drawing showing Kirk, Spock, and the viewscreen in their respective (correct) positions.
    P.S. @ Bill – I would never have been able to identify the face on the screen without the caption (or alternatively, your title). I dug up the original text by searching for “far side star trek zsa zsa gabor”.
    P.S. @ Arthur – Michael was initially revolted by the idea of walking on living beings, and had to be encouraged to try it, but when he extended his empathy, he discovered that those beings did not complain, because it was the grass’s “purpose” to be walked upon.

  40. @ billytheskink – Thanks for reminding me about Jane Goodall. That comic was not just one of Larson’s best “celebrity” digs, but one of the best Far Side comics ever drawn.

  41. ’60s-’70s TV shows do tend to have Reset buttons, which I’d think make syndication broadcast simpler, without the pesky continuity. Brings up a question…when did audiences begin to keep notes of plot devices and characters? Some time after the TOS wrapped up?

    It’s interesting to note in anime forums the debates regarding serial vs episodic series. I don’t mind the shorter serial anime shows, but I watched the full run of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and decided I wasn’t going to go through that again.

  42. “P.S. Larson may have known that Spock never sat up front, but it would have been impossible to compose the drawing showing Kirk, Spock, and the viewscreen in their respective (correct) positions.”

    I don’t know if Larson knew it, but Spock did occasionally operate the navigation console. However, he wore a blue shirt.

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