Live Long and Evolve by Mohamed A.F. Noor

I am a big science fiction fan. I love books and shows that imagine alternatives and futures for humanity rife with intriguing possibilities and ingenious improvements. My journey into this subset of geekdom has included shows and books like Doctor Who, Star Wars, and of course, Star Trek. In troubled times like these, Star Trek is a particularly appealing franchise for me because of its positive vision of the future: humanity grows out of violence and bigotry, embraces science and diplomacy, and goes forth to understand and befriend the galaxy. Together with a whole host of interesting galactic neighbors, Star Trek’s humanity builds a diverse and cooperative society committed to exploration and discovery. It’s an amazingly attractive vision, but sometimes it begs the question: just how likely is this utopia?

One way of tackling this question is through Mohamed Noor’s Live Long and Evolve: What Star Trek Can Teach Us About Evolution, Genetics, and Life On Other Worlds. This deceptively slim volume is packed with accessible explanations of how genetics, biology, and evolutionary processes work, and it carefully examines examples from across the Star Trek film and television canon. Specifically, Noor examines definitions and origins of life, DNA, reproduction, and various evolutionary processes including natural selection and genetic drift.

What I liked about this book was that it represents good scientific process, a fan’s devotion to the Star Trek franchise, AND an accessible translation of complicated concepts. Each of the six chapters is laid out like a scientific paper: it has an introduction, separate labeled sections on subtopics, and closing thoughts. Not only is this structure good scientific practice, it also makes the topics clearer for non-scientists to understand. In the same way, each topic and concept is explained in clear terms and helpful analogies to be understandable to the layman. Moreover, the author doesn’t lose sight of Star Trek as he explains complicated biology concepts; each chapter and subsection is peppered with references from Star Trek: The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Discovery, and Enterprise.

Predictably, while the author’s love for the franchise is evident, it’s also necessary to explain that the shows often get biological concepts wrong and use terms incorrectly or in misleading ways. I appreciated how gently these errors were pointed out, and that the author also took time to applaud what the various shows got right about scientific concepts. I also thought it was helpful that the reader isn’t obligated to have the entire Star Trek canon memorized; examples are given enough context to understand what is happening in the relevant scenes.

I would definitely recommend this book for lifelong learners interested in biology (or Star Trek), for Star Trek fans who want to know how close the shows get to reality, and for anyone who likes to wonder about humanity’s past and future existence. My only caveat: while this book is a good way to learn about basic scientific ideas, the concepts are still fairly complicated and can require a bit of focus to really grasp.

Cult Classics – The Box Office Flops

Cult Classics are films or TV shows that initially do not catch on with mainstream audiences, but develop a devote band of followers. A spectacular example of this is the original Star Trek series that premiered in September of 1966. Ratings for the show were consistently low, and the show was cancelled after 3 seasons. Shock is a perfectly normal reaction to this news. After all, Star Trek was the first of its kind, and since then numerous movies and TV shows have been made using the Star Trek franchise or its fundamentals. Fast forward to today and Star Trek is part of American culture. Popular catch phrases from the series such as “beam me up Scotty” are often used in TV and Cinema or in everyday interactions between friends. There is even a word for the franchise’s most loyal fans, Trekkies. Multiple Star Trek conventions throughout the year are held all over the United States.  Star Trek is the ultimate cult classic. Most cult classics never attain that level of notoriety but nevertheless still deserve recognition.

There are plenty of TV shows or movies that could be considered cult classics depending on who you ask. Many shows develop a cult following and remain on TV for many seasons like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I thought it would be fun to look at the cult movies that didn’t let a box office flop get them down. These movies became cult classics despite having a poor initial audience response to them. The website Gamesradar provided a nice list of movies. Some of these I have seen and love, and others I have never heard of. I’m going to highlight some of them that we have at the library. For the full list visit Gamesradar. I’d recommend writing these down or putting them in your phone. It can be a fun way to spend an evening with friends or maybe just watching something different from the norm.

clueClue premiered in movie theaters in 1985 and had a box office gross total of 14 million dollars. The budget for the movie was about 15 million dollars so it almost broke even. The movie stars Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, and Madeline Kahn. Clue is based on the popular game of the same name. The movie begins with a group of people arriving for a dinner party at a lavish home. During the dinner party, a murder is committed. The guests spend the rest of the movie running around trying figure out who done it and how! With outrageous characters with names like Professor Plum and Colonel Mustard, its no wonder it was quick cult classic.

 

office spaceOffice Space came out on the big screen in 1999 and grossed 10.8 million dollars. However on DVD it made nearly as much as it did at the box office.  The movie stars Jennifer Aniston, Ron Livingston, and David Herman. The movie is a good comedy, but just had bad advertising when it came out in the theaters. Three office workers plot to rebel against their unlikable boss. Perhaps it hits home with the disgruntled office worker in all of us, making it an office cult classic.

 

 

fight clubFight Club appeared on screens in 1999 and grossed 37 million dollars. That number might be good for some movies, but this movie stars Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. Not to mention the budget was about 63 million dollars. Ouch. Luckily, you can’t  keep a great movie down. Word about Fight Club’s awesomeness quickly spread, and the movie made 100 million dollars in DVD sales. The movie is about a loner that forms a friendship with the coolest guy he’s ever met. Together they start a fight club where misfits gather to fight, sell goods, and cause mischief. With a great message, fun script, and intense acting, this movie remains a chronic topic of conversation among thirty-somethings.

 

big lebowskiThe Big Lebowski hit theaters in 1998 and grossed 17 million dollars. While the film technically didn’t lose money, it did not make nearly as much as was projected. The movie is a comedy about mistaken identity with high stakes, and stars Jeff Bridges, John Goodman and a slew of other well known actors. This movie is loved by many, especially the male population between 20-40. It is almost a rite of passage into manhood. It is definitely an ultimate cult classic.

 

rock horror picture showThe Rocky Horror Picture Show was pulled from theaters in 1975 after its release in 8 cities grossed a mere 22,000 dollars. The movie stars Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick as a young couple that have car trouble and have seek help from an eccentric doctor living in a nearby mansion. Eventually midnight showings started in New York and spread nation wide. The catchy tunes and crazy wardrobes brought fans out in droves to dance and sing along in theaters. This cult classic is still holding midnight showings today.

 

 

If you are interested in more cult movies and TV shows, here are some links to direct you to even more lists!

Rolling Stone’s reader’s poll of best cult movies of all time

Games Radar’s 34 best cult classics of all time

Rotten Tomatoes list of top cult movies

Entertainment Weekly 26 cult TV shows