Friday, April 11, 2014

Geek Memories: Discovering Star Trek!

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I've been a fan of Star Trek for almost as long as I can remember. While it wasn't my first introduction to science fiction (I'd have to put the Space Cat books in that spot), nor my first introduction to sci-fi on TV for that matter (that might have to go with some Saturday morning show, probably either Filmation's Fantastic Voyage or Journey to the Center of the Earth), it's probably one of the most personally influential shows in my life.

When Star Trek first aired in 1966, I didn't get a chance to see it. According to my mom, she did watch the first aired episode, “The Man Trap,” but the appearance of the salt vampire made her think that it was going to be a “monster of the week” show, like she perceived The Outer Limits to be, so we weren't allowed to watch it (like most prime-time sci-fi at the time... I only got to see Land of the Giants by being sneaky, for example).

Fortunately for me, it wasn't very long after NBC cancelled Star Trek that it went into syndication. I recall that channel 11 around here started showing Star Trek Monday through Friday, either at 6:00 or 7:00 pm, and that's when I discovered it for the first time, and instantly became a fan.
And how could I not be? You had what I consider to be the most beautiful spacecraft ever (don't try to convince me that any other ship can compare to the Enterprise, it's in a class by itself), plus an amazing cast of characters in Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and so forth. Every member of the crew had a different background, yet they still worked together towards a common goal, despite any differences they had between each other.

st_bridgemodelamt.JPGI'm sure it didn't hurt that there were beautiful women in every episode, often dressed in the most preposterous manner to show as much skin as network TV would allow (heck, even the women's uniforms were sexy as hell, even if miniskirts aren't the most practical military uniform).

My whole family got into Star Trek, and we watched it as faithfully as we could, although I more than the rest of them. I talked my mom into getting me the models of the Enterprise, the Klingon Cruiser, and the Romulan Bird of Prey, followed not long after by Spock, the shuttlecraft, Space Station K-7, and the bridge – not that any of my attempts at building them worked out very well! My model-building days were never all that skillful, especially when it came to painting or putting decals on (the Romulan ship's decals were a major pain in the ass to put on without bubbles). Oh, and the Exploration Set was probably my favorite, with a communicator, tricorder, and phaser – although they were scaled down, sadly.

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I had other Trek toys, too... like the AHI Phaser Flashlight. But I never got the toys I really wanted, all of which came from Mego – the Tricorder toy (which was a tape recorder that didn't really look much like the tricorder), or the Communicator walkie-talkie, or the action figures (later, I did pick up the original set of action figures, as well as the bridge playset, when I had my own money to spend).

Fortunately, Mom was more generous when it came to reading materials, and I started collecting and reading the James Blish Star Trek books, each of which adapted several episodes into short story form, as well as The Making of Star Trek, The World of Star Trek, and The Trouble With Tribbles, all of which gave me a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the show.

modelst_explorationsetWhen JC Penney came out with Star Trek shirts based on the uniforms, Mom got me one of those, too (command gold, I believe). The next-door neighbor kid (the same one who had all the GI Joes) was also into Star Trek, and he also had an 8mm movie camera, and we started filming our own Star Trek home movie, but to the best of my knowledge, the film was never developed, much less edited into any kind of form. We had no script, just made it up as we went along.

It was when I was in junior high school that my Trek fandom went to the next level. I heard that the annual Star Trek convention was coming up in Seattle, hosted by the Puget Sound Star Trekkers, and I talked my mom into bringing me to that (along with the daughter of one of her co-workers, coincidentally also a Knutson, but no relation). The guests at this convention included George Takei and Grace Lee Whitney, if I recall correctly, although George was the only one I got an autograph from. Even though I was suffering from a cold the entire day, I had an amazing time! Sadly, because I was carrying a bag with me for my Kleenexes as well as what loot I got, I ended up losing the photo George signed for me.

mego_megotricorderboxThere were amazing things to see there, models that had been built from scratch, someone had made up a “working” transporter that used mirrors and lights to make someone disappear from the platform (the exact same technology was later used by Playmates Toys for their Next Generation Transporter Playset), as well as a mock-up of Captain Kirk's chair.

But the most influential thing that happened to me there was meeting up with Sherrill Hendricks, who was the “captain” of the Tacoma branch of the Puget Sound Star Trekkers. She let me know when their meetings were, and I started attending them at her home. I was easily the youngest member of this club for some time, but I never felt like anyone talked down to me at all.

It was thanks to belonging to PSST that I was able to get to other conventions in the area (eventually, mom let me go with other members instead of being accompanied by her – heck, the first few months she went to the meetings with me, just to make sure that the other members weren't a bunch of weirdos [they were, but they were my kind of weirdos]), attended a showing of Forbidden Planet in the theater, and even heard about this movie opening up in Seattle called Star Wars that the club was going to be able to get advance tickets for, as well as be allowed in first on opening day!

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Meeting up with a group of people, mostly adults, who liked the same kind of stuff I did was a revelation to me... I'd already been dealing with having interests that many of my peers in school didn't have (although I'd have to say that having these interests probably put me ahead of the curve in many ways... my reading level in grade school was college level by the time I was in fifth grade, or maybe even fourth grade, thanks to comics). Sometimes I'd get teased at school because of my interests, but here was a group of people who accepted me for who I was and what I liked, who I could talk about these interests with. And I think that's a very important thing for anyone to have.

Certainly not all the members were wonderful people – get any group of people together, there are bound to be some people who are just going to be unpleasant to get along with – but I learned to get along with them as best as I could.

Eventually, the Puget Sound Star Trekkers group started falling apart, I've never known why. The club ended up becoming part of the Northwest Science Fiction Society (or NizzFizz for short), and eventually splintered, with part of the group forming a new club, New Frontiers or something like that. I made some great friends in the incarnations of this group, but unfortunately, I don't see any of them any more (some of the friendships were broken up during the time where I became, for all intents and purposes, a Jesus freak, and drove them away... fortunately I realized that I wasn't being happy when I was going through that phase, and went back to what made me happy again). Like happens with a lot of friendships, sometimes people move or otherwise drift apart.

But I was talking about Star Trek, wasn't I?

Star Trek also, albeit accidentally, led me to discover Robert A. Heinlein's books. You see, sometimes I could be a little scatterbrained, with all the information I was trying to absorb about Star Trek, and somehow I managed to mistake Robert A. Heinlein with Harlan Ellison (who, as I'm sure you know, wrote the original script for “City on the Edge of Forever”), and so I purchased my first Heinlein book, believing somehow that he'd written for Star Trek. That was probably one of the happiest mistakes I've ever made!

As a Star Trek fan, I also tried my hand at writing fan fiction... and I'll be the first to admit that my Trek stories were pretty damn awful. I had no real sense of story structure, much less characterization, but I was still encouraged, and even had one or two stories printed in the fanzine one of the club members produced (I got more drawings than stories in the fanzine, and I don't even recall the fanzine's name these days, much less have any copies of it). With a few friends, I even produced three issues of a pretty terrible fanzine called Star-Zine, part of which featured a really badly drawn Trek comic... and later I did an issue of my own fanzine that I don't believe had any Trek content at all.

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Of course, I watched the animated Star Trek when it came out, and went to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture (although to this day I'll insist that the extended edition was much better than the original release... oddly, although the extended edition is longer, it feels like it goes faster, thanks to all the characterization that was lost in the theatrical release) as well as the sequels to that.

And while attending other conventions, I got to meet a few other cast members briefly, such as James Doohan, Majel Barrett, and Walter Koenig. They were all very nice, and didn't charge for autographs!

Even after losing touch with the club in Tacoma, I still kept on being a Star Trek fan. By this point, Bantam Books was finally publishing original Star Trek novels, and I started picking them up to read here and there. During my navy days, I subscribed to a new Star Trek fanzine, and even wrote an article or two for them that got published (one was comparing ranks on Trek to real naval ranks, and theorized about enlisted personnel we never saw).

I remember hearing about Next Generation, and wondered why they didn't just continue from the same era with a crew comprised mainly of the characters from the original series that didn't get into the films, such as Kevin Riley and Chief Kyle. I liked Next Gen, as well as Deep Space Nine, but never got into them half as much as the original series. Voyager? I didn't really give it a chance, although I caught a few episodes here and there. Enterprise I only watched the first episode of, and then never again until the Sci-Fi Channel started running it in blocks, which gave me the opportunity to watch the entire series.

I guess in some ways, I'm a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to stuff from my childhood. I have the first in the new series of Star Trek movies, but I didn't really care for it. It just doesn't feel like Star Trek to me, you know? I think if it had been a completely different crew and different starship, I might've bought into it, but it just wasn't Kirk, Spock, McCoy and all the rest to me. The Original Series is still my favorite, and probably always will be.

And that's why, although it took me a year or so, I finally got around to rewatching the entire original series on Netflix, even the third season episodes which weren't so great. They all have something to enjoy in them, even if it's just the interplay between the characters.

1 comment:

  1. I echo your feelings on the reboot Star Trek movie, but I do want to say that - as a lover of the Original Series (which I am old enough to have seen when it started), I enjoyed Enterprise a lot, for the use of Andorians, Vulcans, and Tellarites.

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