This year marks the 55th anniversary of the modest beginning of a science fiction juggernaut, a phenomenon that spans not only decades but generations; the full range of media from television, films and animation to comics, novels, fan fiction and podcasts; and different universes, different ships, and different crews over time. This is the vision that creator Gene Roddenberry founded, and countless others have expanded upon, of a “Wagon Train in space;” a franchise that almost died aborning, but, like its most famous hero, would not accept the “no-win scenario” and thrived in adversity.
I’m talking about, of course, STAR TREK, which first aired on NBC in September,1966, as what is now known as The Original Series and survives today on the streaming service Paramount Plus as three separate ongoing series (with more on the way).
Most of you already know I’ve been a fan of TREK since its earliest days on broadcast television. I was already a science fiction fan when Kirk, Spock, McCoy (played, of course, by William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley) and company appeared on my home TV screen. I had been reading New Age SF for a couple of years by that time, and I loved THE TWILIGHT ZONE and THE OUTER LIMITS. In fact, some of my favorite episodes of those shows had starred William Shatner (“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and “Nick of Time” on TTZ, “Cold Hands, Warm Heart” on TOL).
So, I was inclined to love STAR TREK from the beginning. I watched faithfully every Friday night before it was canceled (a time slot that was normally a death sentence for such a show, but at my age, the only other thing I might have going was a babysitting gig). A few years later, when the show was in syndication, I watched with my college buddies in a beer-soaked lounge at the Coughyhouse, a campus hangout, during Friday Drink, when all you could drink could be had for a buck. You can imagine the intelligent comments that accompanied each episode.
I was among the devoted fans who thronged movie theaters in 1979, when Paramount, owner of the TREK franchise, bowed to pressure generated by Roddenberry and legions of fans at conventions across the country (plus the glittering promise of big bucks inherent in the success of STAR WARS) and released the first big-screen STAR TREK adventure, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. The film had all the elements of greatness: the original cast, other well-known actors in supporting roles, a big budget for special effects, and, best of all, a veteran Hollywood director, Robert Wise (of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, among many other films), behind the wheel.
But I, like many other fans, was disappointed with the result. The film leaned heavily into the special effects and forgot what Star Trek was all about—the characters, particularly the relationship between that triad of Kirk/Spock/McCoy that had drawn us to TOS.
Still, so many fans were so desperate to see TREK again in any form that they lined up to pay good money to see the film no matter how slow it was. (All we’d had for years besides the reruns, after all, was two seasons of bad animation and recycled plots in THE ANIMATED SERIES, which for me was little better than Scooby Doo in Space.) The success of the first film gave Paramount execs the financial incentive they needed to make more TREK films. And the next ones—particularly STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, in which Kirk’s nemesis Khan Noonian Singh, from TOS episode “Space Seed,” makes a spectacular reappearance; and STIV: THE VOYAGE HOME, in which Kirk and the crew must go back in time to 1980’s San Francisco to kidnap a pair of whales in order to save the galaxy—are far superior contributions to the TREK canon.
By this time I was watching old TOS episodes with a new generation of my own family at home and becoming engrossed with the professional novels based on the series published by Pocket Books. Those books served as inspiration for my own writing efforts, and I wrote my first TREK novel about that time. Pocket Books wouldn’t take it—presumably because it had a strong female lead character and let Kirk take the daring step of showing personal growth—but I found an underground fan fiction press that loved it.
Orion Press published four of my novels and at least six short stories for sale to other fans online and at TREK conventions throughout the Nineties. I started going to the Shore Leave Trek con in Towson, Maryland, where I met my writing mentor SF author A.C. Crispin and Founding Fans Joan Winston and Jacqueline Lichtenberg, as well as other lifelong friends. And I learned the skills I needed to start writing my mainstream SFR novels a few years later.
I’m suddenly unearthing and airing out all my stores of TREK lore not only because of the 55th anniversary, but because I’m auditing an online course called “Exploring STAR TREK,” taught by my old friend and TREK con buddy Dr. Amy H. Sturgis at Signum University. Dr. Sturgis, a recognized expert in SF and fantasy studies and Native American studies, has a Ph.D. in Intellectual History from Vanderbilt University and can speak or write at length on TREK or STAR WARS or Tolkien or any number of similar iconic pop culture subjects. Another TREK con buddy persuaded me to take the class with her, and we’re having a ball talking TREK with a bunch of other like-minded Trekkers. Some are newbies, some are lifetime fans, but we’re all there to share the love of this series that, as Dr. Sturgis points out, is both a reflection of our society and a propulsion into the future as it could be.
Gene Roddenberry believed firmly that history was a progression, an evolution of humankind in an upward direction. STAR TREK was his manifesto, one all of us who became Trekkers came to hold in common with him. May it live long and prosper.