You always remember your first.
I’m not talking your first kiss, or first ice cream sundae, or your first rock concert. In this case, I’m talking about your first science fiction show.
I’m not yet 50 years old, but getting close to it. So I don’t remember when Star Trek first aired. But back in those days where we had just a few channels to choose from and not a lot of competition for your eyes, shows had a second chance at life during the daytime and weekends in syndication. Star Trek was one of those shows that found a second life there, and that’s where Star Trek found me.
I got my love of science fiction from my dad. I’m not sure what it was about the shows, but if Star Trek was on he found it and we’d watch it together. Other shows as well – I still remember watching a mostly forgotten show called The Starlost on a little black-and-white TV in the kitchen with him. I also got my love from old school Disney programs as well from watching Mickey Mouse Club reruns. We watched Lost In Space, Space: 1999 and Battlestar Galactica together. But Star Trek was the first.
Star Trek influenced me in so many ways. Before I was even in school, I could tell you the entire plot of any episode from the opening act. I recorded episodes on audio tape using an old Radio Shack cassette recorder on Memorex tapes. (The episode “Wolf In The Fold” gets really creepy with just the audio.) I even acted out my own episode recorded on audio tape – it was very short and very lame, and fortunately lost to the annals of time…but it did involve a third adventure into the Great Barrier…I’m afraid my skills as a science fiction writer haven’t really progressed much either.
There were two things that always drew me to science fiction – space and technology. Space, because it brought all sorts of cool spaceships but also a vast universe of settings and stories, and the “advanced” technology that was shown. Sure, I know know they were just plastic buttons with lights on a black backing, but they looked cool and I wanted to know what each of those buttons did! The communicators that became our cell phones, the computer tapes that were later mimicked by floppy discs, and now we’re even getting to tricorder technology. Although in many ways our technology has advanced further than what was shown back then, it was what they showed that inspired people to develop that which we have today. Star Trek likely accelerated our own technology from the dreams of the past.
I was convinced I would be an astronaut when I was eight just so I could be in a spaceship like the Enterprise. That didn’t happen, although my interest in the space program didn’t wane. I still have science and space program books from then, showing actual current theorized future space travel systems. My technology interests translated into other areas of science, ultimately into computers, where I eventually got two degrees in Computer Science. But I always kept one eye on the stars.
For a long while though, what was on TV remained on TV and didn’t really cross into real life. Conventions were a bit difficult for me to attend early on, but by the time I got to high school I was able to attend my first real convention in Boston. It only had a couple guests and was a fairly formal affair (it was a commercial convention and not of the much better fan-run variety), but it is where I met the late Jimmy Doohan in person, and not by spending hours in line for an expensive signature or photo op – by him coming down before the convention actually opened and shaking hands with everyone in line! Forever a fan of his with that. He was so gracious and friendly. He was the first TV celebrity I ever remember meeting.
While in college, Star Trek returned to TV in the form of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I was living with a friends family, where he and I convinced the family to get cable TV wired to our room just so we could watch it. Star Trek influenced computer programmers a lot. There were always references to it somewhere. The granddaddy of internet forums, UseNet, had several discussion groups dedicated to Star Trek. Early computer games either paid homage or overtly referenced it (such as the famous “trek” game where you explored sectors and fought Klingons.) When the Internet started to grow in the early to mid-90s (yet before AOL was truly online), an early multi-player graphical game called Netrek ate up bandwidth at many universities. I was working at a university at a time running the computer systems and network, and hosted a pretty popular netrek server and was even involved in the International Netrek League for several years.
All through these years, the love of science fiction that started with Star Trek has never wavered. Now I’ve been doing science fiction news, mainly on the TV and movie side of things, for 16 years next month. I’ve made friends in the industry that work both in front of and behind the camera. Now I have two daughters who are eager to see the new movies as soon as they come out, sharing the same love of SF that I did then, watched “The Cage” with me tonight, and I have high hopes that they will continue to do love science fiction as I have done.
I may not have reached the actual stars myself yet, but I still do keep an eye on them.
For the 50 years you’ve been around and the nearly 50 that you’ve influenced my life, a most heartfelt thank you to all of the casts, crews, and fans that helped created and keep going this long trek to the stars.