O Captain! My Captain!

Friday, December 12, 2008
For a variety of reason, both personal and literary, I've been doing some thinking about the characters of ship captains, particularly in science fiction.

For the most part, captains are the leaders of their vessel or stations, burdened with all the pressures of command. They are almost universally expected to be paragons. Although human, they are never allowed to be "human". Mistakes, any kinds of perceived weakness, are not permitted.

Who, then, can these people turn to when they need to be "human"? To expresses their fears, doubt—their feelings in general?

In thinking about it, I find it interesting that the majority are the confidantes that these captains have are, in fact, not human. Kirk has Spock, Janeway has Tuvok, Sisko had Dax. In my own stories, Devereux has Hope.

I'm not claiming that this is a universal character situation, but I found the recurring theme interesting. It does make sense in a way, though. Having an alien confidante would allow a captain to express human feelings without being judged by human standards.

Non-human insights also play a strong role in these relationships, providing the captain a point of view that he or she might not have considered.

I wonder if this is why we are often drawn toward people who are also unlike ourselves in some ways. Are we seeking the same insights about the world and about ourselves that only an "outside" opinion can provide?

Perhaps this is not the stuff of which great drama is made, but it does make for something worth watching and reading.