It was twenty years ago or so—seems insane to imagine it was that long ago—that I happened to be watching an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation with my mother. I’m a full-on Trekkie, an utterly unashamed fan of all things Trek (except Voyager, really, and the new movie, but don’t get me started) and I always have been—at least since I was two. I’ve already posted about how I don’t remember my first exposure to Star Trek. I’ve just been a fan as long as I can remember.

Anyway, my mother is not a Trekkie, and in general pretty much just dismissed Star Trek as a goofy show for nerdy kids, like me. She wasn’t against it or anything—very little was actually “banned” from our house—but she never once went out of her way to watch it. I have no recollection of the circumstances that led up to her sitting there watching some random ST:TNG episode with me, but I’ll never forget this comment she made, which I think she meant as some kind of criticism. I don’t recall her exact words, either, but it went something like this:

“Everybody on this show is always so busy with such important stuff—saving the universe, doing science experiments. Doesn’t anyone ever go to the bathroom? They never just go to the bathroom.”

Kirk and Spock, struck by the Deneb Dribbles, Race to the Bathroom

Without much thinking, I responded that, sure, the Enterprise crew probably did go to the bathroom, but they’re only showing us less than an hour (accounting for commercials) of activity that stretches over at least a day or two, sometimes much longer, so they only have time to show us the significant, exciting, universe-saving, scientifically groundbreaking stuff. It’s sort of assumed that the characters occasionally go to the bathroom, but no one wants to waste one of those precious minutes on that when there’s a star about to go super nova.

I think we kind of laughed it off, though she continued to maintain that the fact that Captain Picard never excused himself to take a leak somehow made the show “unrealistic.”

In The Guide to Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction I’ll tell you how much I hate that word, “unrealistic,” and pontificate on the difference between realism and plausibility. This is at the heart of the question as to why we never saw any of the Star Trek characters in the toilet, though it certainly would be “realistic” that even in the far-flung future people will still have to poop…

Read the rest in…

Editor and author Philip Athans offers hands on advice for authors of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and fiction in general in this collection of 58 revised and expanded essays from the first five years of his long-running weekly blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook.


—Philip Athans


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Or contact me for editing, coaching, ghostwriting, and more at Athans & Associates Creative Consulting.


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. octoberrose says:

    I have to say that most “realistic” fiction I read doesn’t involve characters going to the bathroom either.

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  4. Sean Durity says:

    Great title on this one!

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