I’ve had few constants in my life, so to have something be part of it for fifty years is certainly a milestone.
September 8, 1966, a Thursday, was within the first week of school, and negotiating with my parents to stay up to watch a new television program was a contentious issue. I persisted, using, I might say, logical arguments: my homework was done and checked; I could use the small TV in my room and not disturb anyone else (though my father preferred all television be supervised); and I may have stretched the truth a little when I said this new show was like a Saturday morning cartoon.
I won, and the rest is personal history.
Issues with Sci-Fi
My mother didn’t like the show because it was that “science fiction” stuff. I’d been a sci-fi fan since my grandmother (her mother) introduced me to Superman comics when I was a pre-schooler and taught me to read using them. I discovered Marvel comics in elementary school, and my local library had a small collection of sci-fi books and magazines.
Back in those ancient times, sci-fi novels and mags had fairly lurid covers: scantily clad women pursued by leering aliens or images of grotesque space monsters. I’d been having nightmares that summer, and my mother attributed it to my reading “all that weird stuff” rather than typical adolescent angst exacerbated by her alcoholism.
My father thought sci-fi wasn’t educational, that it was escaping reality at the least, psyche-damaging at worst. I would read Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein at the library, returning there to finish books or short stories rather than checking them out and bringing them home.
That summer, my mother had sent me to a Baptist camp in southwest Virginia where a woman confiscated a Heinlein paperback which had cost me my allowance for a month and told me it was a sin to read such “trash.” (A youth minister assured me I’d get my book back when I left, and he was true to his word, perhaps the last minister in my life to be so.)
All of these parental concerns were pretty generally held by people who didn’t understand science fiction. I read on, and I watched Star Trek.
A TV Show Can Be Life-Changing
I’ve never done cosplay of any kind. I find nothing wrong with it. I simply don’t have the personality for it. Rather, the philosophy of Star Trek appealed to me more than imitating it. Oh, be assured, I indulged in typical fan behavior. I went to conventions. I tried to buy the shooting script of my favorite episode (“City on the Edge of Forever”) written by my favorite author (Harlan Ellison) and was, thankfully, outbid, because I couldn’t have afforded it anyway. I collected Star Trek novels.
Star Trek got me on the road to writing. My first “coherent” stories I wrote were Star Trek and Man from U.N.C.L.E. fan fiction. It wasn’t called fan fiction then; it was only writing to me. To this day, I wish I could write “good” science fiction, but whenever I try, it comes out dystopian.
Star Trek got me interested in astronomy and physics, but no matter how hard I tried, no matter what logical arguments I used, I couldn’t convince my high school counsellor to let me take physics. Too bad back then I didn’t have this argument: There are doctors today because of Leonard McCoy and Beverly Crusher; engineers because of Montgomery Scott and Geordi LaForge; scientists because of Spock and Data; and astronauts because of the vision of Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry. We have cell phones and talking computers and medical scanners and ion engines and many, many more things because of Star Trek. We send probes to the planets in our solar system for the sole reason of “Let’s see what’s out there.” I became a pilot because that was the closest I could get to space, and, yes, that Cessna 150 I learned to fly in was my Enterprise.
Mostly, Star Trek showed a young woman who’d grown up in the shadow of the Cold War, who’d participated in nuclear attack drills, that there was a future, a good one, one to strive for.
There was an episode called “Operation: Annihilate,” the final show of the first season, where Mr. Spock is infested with a parasite that causes excruciating pain. He manages to get the pain under control without medication, to Dr. McCoy’s amazement. “Pain is a thing of the mind,” Spock said. “The mind can be controlled.” Later, he struggles to maintain his control, saying, “I am a Vulcan. I am a Vulcan. There is no pain.”
Sometimes the pain of my youth was physical, from a mother who couldn’t manage her own demons; sometimes it was mental, from that same individual. At night, in bed, I would murmur, “Pain is a thing of the mind. The mind can be controlled. There is no pain.” It became my mantra.
Star Trek saved me.
A Personal Connection
When Star Trek was twenty years old, I was an associate editor of an aviation magazine. We regularly did features called “Famous Flights” and “Famous Flyers,” historical articles and the more obscure the aviation history the better.
In the summer of 1986, the magazine’s editor was on vacation, and I was acting editor. I decided one issue’s “Famous Flight” would be one that, on the space-time continuum, hadn’t happened yet. I wrote a feature about the twentieth anniversary of Star Trek.
Gene Roddenberry was unavailable for interviews, because he was busy trying to convince some studio to produce “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” but at a con in Baltimore, I managed to ambush Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, his wife, to confirm a missing piece of biographical information about “The Great Bird of the Galaxy.” You see, Roddenberry had been a pilot, too. That was my hook for justifying the article in a conventional aviation magazine. We pilots like to talk about the aircraft we’ve flown, and I wanted the readers to know exactly which aircraft Roddenberry had flown for Pan-Am after World War II. (A Connie, by the way.)
All our articles got run through my agency’s public affairs department to make certain we didn’t say anything embarrassing about the agency. That gave me some worry; if the public affairs officer who read our articles decided my Star Trek piece was inappropriate, it wouldn’t get published.
No email then; we passed documents around by hand, and I came back from lunch one day to find the public affairs officer’s comments in my in-box. He hadn’t changed a word, and he’d written a note that said, “This is great! Boldly go!” We published the article in the
My 20th Anniversary Star Trek article, framed and hanging on the wall of my writer cave.
September-October 1986 issue of FAA General Aviation News.
The editor groused a bit on his return, said it wasn’t aviation related, and didn’t take my word for it that public affairs approved it. We got no negative reaction from our readers. End of story, I thought.
A few weeks later, an envelope arrived from the mail room, addressed to the “Editor, FAA General Aviation News.” The magazine’s assistant editor showed me the envelope. In the upper left corner where the return address usually goes was a small U.S.S. Enterprise and the words, “Paramount Studios.”
Oh, sh*t, I thought, Paramount is suing the magazine for that article (an issue the disgruntled editor had raised). The assistant editor opened it, and this is what was inside:
A letter from Gene Roddenberry to the “unnamed writer” (me) of the “very well written article” about Star Trek, also framed and hanging in my writer cave.
Needless to say, I was speechless. How on earth, no pun intended, had Gene Roddenberry seen an article in an under-read, low-circulation government aviation magazine? The assistant editor asked the Government Printing Office for a list of subscribers, and there was Roddenberry’s name. He was a pilot, and he subscribed to our magazine, and he’d read my article, and I was beside myself with many emotions.
You see, because Star Trek saved me, something Roddenberry had probably heard from thousands of fans, but this simple note meant everything to me; it validated twenty years of being a fan.
I see that article and Roddenberry’s letter every day when I sit down to write or edit, and, unbidden, the words come into my mind:
“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise,
its five-year mission, to explore strange, new worlds, to seek out new life
and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before!”
And I write. Because Star Trek saved me.