The terraforming device from Star Trek II — “The Genesis Device” — is a bomb that completely remakes the surface of a planet into a biological and geological version of the earth. It’s like a nuclear weapon that produces an ecosystem. In the video above we see the genesis device transforming a lost moon into a world akin to the Earth.
Genesis is a fictional tool for making nature, but it’s also a system of historical representation; although this latter aspect of the device is completely unexplored in the Star Trek films. Not only does the genesis device make barren moons into a depopulated biotic version of Earth, the Genesis wave generates specific historical landscapes and historical images of landscape — culled from Western systems of colonization and exploration . Genesis fabricates jungle landscapes, large oceans, and mountain ranges on top of a surface that looks suspiciously like the moon.
Ultimately, Genesis creates the double image of colonization: it remakes an unexplored moon into a landscape that looks like unexplored continents. Genesis is really a system of historical representation that makes the explorative vista (the depopulated, resource-rich landscape) appear as something scientific.
Genesis is critiqued in the scripts of Star Trek II and III, but from an entirely different perspective: For the script writers, Genesis represents the dangers of nature made by human forces. I believe the message of the film-makers suggests that the landscape of earth belongs on earth, not elsewhere (btw, this is also the subtext of the science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson). For the writers of Star Trek, the freakishness of genesis lies in its auto-generation of earth-nature — aggressive terraforming without consideration of a planet’s inherent nature.
A post-structuralist or Marxist geographical lens provides a necessary critique to the the above critique. Within critical strands of geography, all nature is a production and a representation; Every tree we encounter is, in some sense, the result of a Genesis Wave: the American Parks Movement, Johnny Appleseed, the Lumber Industry, Suburbanization.
One might argue that from a critical geographical perspective, all nature is a Genesis project.
But if a genesis wave is both a system of historical representation and a representation of reality (versus a scientific fantasy) that only makes its effects (and what it represents) all the more interesting.
The fantasy of Genesis lies in the notion of nature authorship: Can we release the Genesis wave from the literalness and naturalism that underpins a large amount of the sci-fi genre?
What if a genesis wave was less literal and more literary, less a scientific endeavor and more a philosophical and historical one?
What if it we understood this less literal force conceptualized by post-structural geographers or architects with a hankering for critical representations of nature?
What if, like the Genesis device itself, such nature-production was never finished, but an ongoing and unstable process? What landscapes would be generated; what imagery produced? What aesthetic sensations the result?
The imagery above and these questions have been on my mind lately: In the past four months I’ve slowly been asking a group of architects, scientists, geographers and urbanists colleagues to consider these possibilities (albeit without the Star Trek referencing!) In a forthcoming issue of AD — “Territory” — something akin to the Genesis Wave will be reconceptualized, reconsidered, made into something far more interesting and perhaps aggressive. The issue proposes a type of terraforming outside the science-fictional and within the nitty gritty of the historical and geographical.
As the issue takes shape and as the above ideas become more formed, I’ll post updates here.