Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Introduction to Boarding the Enterprise

The introduction to Boarding the Enterprise, coming in August 2006 from BenBella Books:

Welcome Aboard the Enterprise

by Robert J. Sawyer

Last fall, I got invited to the Singapore Writers Festival, along with fellow science fiction authors Bruce Sterling and Norman Spinrad. Periodically, when we were out sightseeing in that beautiful city, people would notice our fancy name badges, or overhear us chatting about the festival, and ask who we were. At first we mentioned our books, but, of course, the titles elicited blank stares. And so I started simply pointing to Norman and saying, "This man wrote an episode of Star Trek."

"Oh, wow!" people always replied. "Which one?"

"`The Doomsday Machine,'" I said. And the appreciative nods began. Four decades on, and all over the planet, people still know and love Star Trek -- indeed, they know it so well that they recognize individual episodes by their titles.

And of course, everyone is familiar with the catch phrases from the show: "Beam me up," "He's dead, Jim," "the Prime Directive," "warp factor six," "At the time, it seemed the logical thing to do," "phasers on stun," "hailing frequencies open," "Live long and prosper" and the most-famous split infinitive in human history, "To boldly go where no man has gone before."

Those last words, part of Star Trek's opening narration, were first heard on September 8, 1966, when the debut episode was broadcast. In a way, that narration was hopelessly optimistic: it promised a five-year mission for the starship Enterprise, but Star Trek was taken off the air after only three seasons.

But in another way, the words also turned out to be enormously shortsighted. Forty years on -- time enough for eight five-year missions -- Star Trek is such a major part of our culture that it's almost impossible to imagine the world without it. More people today know who Mr. Spock is than Dr. Spock; the prototype of the Space Shuttle -- still the most advanced spacecraft humanity has ever built -- was named Enterprise; our cell phones flip open just like Captain Kirk's communicator; and the original fourteen-foot model of good old NCC-1701 is on permanent display at the Smithsonian.

To date, there have been five primetime television Star Trek series, a Saturday-morning animated Star Trek series, ten Star Trek motion pictures and hundreds of Star Trek books. And it all started when a former cop and airline pilot named Eugene Wesley Roddenberry decided that maybe, just maybe, television audiences were ready for some adult science fiction. His "`Wagon Train' to the stars," with its irresistible mix of gaudy sets, hammy acting and sly social commentary, has been warmly embraced now by two full generations of human beings.

Granted, for the first time in two decades, there's no new Star Trek TV series in production, and, yes, there are no new Star Trek movies currently in the works. But if we've learned anything from the voyages of the Enterprise, it's that even death is not permanent. Star Trek, no doubt, will live again.

And well it should: No TV series of any type has ever been so widely loved -- or been so important. Yes, important: Star Trek was the only dramatic TV show of its day to talk, even in veiled terms, about the Vietnam conflict, and it also tackled overpopulation, religious intolerance and race relations (who can forget Frank Gorshin -- Batman's Riddler -- running about with his face painted half-black and half-white?). As William Marshall, who played cyberneticist Dr. Richard Daystrom in the episode "The Ultimate Computer" (Season 2-Episode 24), said in an interview shortly before he passed away, it's impossible to overstate the impact it had in the 1960s when white Captain Kirk referred to the black Daystrom as "Sir." Was it any surprise, two decades later, that NASA hired Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura, to help recruit the first minority astronauts? Star Trek gave us an appealing vision of a tolerant future that included everyone.

And that future is still compelling. We may not be quite sure how to get there from here but, as Edith Keeler said in Harlan Ellison's episode "The City on the Edge of Forever" (1-28), Star Trek taught us that the days and the years ahead are worth living for. More than anything else, the series was about hope.

To celebrate four decades of exploring strange new worlds, of seeking out new life and new civilizations, we've commissioned these commemorative essays. Some are by the people who actually made Star Trek: Norman Spinrad is here, along with D. C. Fontana, Howard Weinstein and my coeditor, David Gerrold, all of whom penned adventures of Kirk, Spock and McCoy that actually aired on TV. Other essays are by people like me: the current crop of science fiction writers who were deeply influenced by Star Trek, and at least in part took up our profession because of it. Still others are by academics who have found in those original seventy-nine hour-long episodes much worth pondering. Together, in these pages, we celebrate Star Trek with all the over-the-top gusto of Jim Kirk, we analyze it with the cool logic of Commander Spock, and we explore its fallible, human side with the crusty warmth of "Bones" McCoy.

The first-ever book about Star Trek was the phenomenally influential The Making of Star Trek, published in 1968 when the original series was still in production. Written by Stephen E. Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry, it made possible the Star Trek fan-following that exists today, providing us with photographs of the props that were only glimpsed on screen, official biographies of the characters, blueprints of the Enterprise and the Klingon battle cruiser, and the first ever Star Trek episode checklist. That book ended with these words: "Whither Star Trek? It really doesn't matter. We have its legacy ... all we have to do is use it."

After forty years, we still don't know where Star Trek is going. But one thing is sure: it'll be a wondrous journey. So, come on aboard -- we're about to leave orbit. Mr. Sulu, ahead warp factor one!


At March 01, 2006 4:27 PM , Blogger Ryan Oakley said...

Good intro.

Patrick Stewert is in an episode of Ricky Gervais's new show, Extras, and he keeps saying "Make it so." No one knows what he's talking about because they don't watch Star Trek.

But the joke would never work if the audience didn't know what he was talking about.

At March 01, 2006 8:43 PM , Blogger Scott said...

Very well-written introduction.

And I think maybe you and me are the only two people in the world who actually kinda sorta like STAR TREK V...

At March 01, 2006 9:07 PM , Blogger Robert Arrowsmith said...

"Whither Star Trek? It really doesn't matter. We have its legacy ... all we have to do is use it."

A legacy indeed. More so with later series as they explored serious issues that might befall the Star Traveller.
Numerous episodes covered long term voyages involving Generation Ships. Indeed an old Original Trek book I read once covered the degredation of society and return to a tribal state. The voyagers not even knowing they were aboard a ship.

Television SciFi appeals to everyone with a wondering mind. Sadly not everyone can read or have a willingness to sit down with a book (or have the time).

Thanks for your great intro Robert.
I enjoyed it.

At March 01, 2006 9:31 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Hi, Scott. Thanks! And, yes, indeed, I do have a soft spot for STAR TREK V. I mean, how can one hate a film that has dialogue like this:

KIRK (looking lovingly at the ENTERPRISE, as they approach in a travel pod): "All I ask is a tall ship, and a star to steer her by."

McCOY: Melville.

SPOCK: John Masefield.

McCOY: Are you sure?

SPOCK: I am well-versed in the classics.

McCOY: Then how come you don't know "Row, Row, Row Your Boat"?

At March 02, 2006 8:28 AM , Blogger TimothyPilgrim said...

>McCOY: Then how come you don't know
>"Row, Row, Row Your Boat"?

A classic line indeed!

At March 02, 2006 9:50 PM , Blogger Scott said...

The thing about STAR TREK V is that it's really the only self-contained film in the series -- the first one is, well, the first one, parts II-IV form their own encapsulated trilogy, and THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY caps things off. (Unless you count GENERATIONS, which I don't. After all, in STAR TREK V Kirk tells his crew, and us, that he always knows that when he dies, he'll die alone; GENERATIONS violates that prophecy.)

THE FINAL FRONTIER has a wonky structure and a kind of feeble climax, but the scenes of Kirk,Spock and McCoy around the campfire have a real poignancy to them; there is a real lonely yet potent sense of grace to the fact that these guys elect to spend their shore leave with each other. And, for me, the entire film feels like an extended episode of the old series -- somewhat clunky effects, a philosophical underpinning, new revelations about old characters. It's good fun.

On a side note, I recently picked up an old SF paperback by Clifford D.Simak. Anyone have any thoughts on him and his legacy in SF? I haven't read any of his stuff...

At March 06, 2006 12:15 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Of Simak, Clute and Nicholls's Encyclopedia of Science Fiction says: "He was a man of strong moral convictions and little real concern for ideas, and surprisingly for a man of such professional attainments he rarely tended to stray outside his natural bailiwick. Wisconsin in about 1925 -- or any extraterrestrial venue demonstrating the same rooted virtues -- was that true home, and when he was in residence CDS reigned as the pastoral king of his genre. He received the Nebula Grand Master Award in 1977."

(There's no such thing as a Nebula Grand Master; the Nebula and the Grand Master are separate awards.)

I very much like Simak's work, and have a particular fondness for MASTODONIA.

At August 30, 2006 8:33 PM , Blogger Lou_Sytsma said...

Super intro Rob. I know it had a major effect on me, especially in reruns when I was a teen.

I agree the Kirk, Spock, McCoy scenes encapsulate the bond of friendship, humour, and loneliness the three characters shared.

The reveal about McCoy and his father was a brilliant stroke. It really explained much the character.

Another book to add to the TBR pile.

At September 28, 2006 7:52 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also loved the ST V scenes with the big three. I thought that those were the best of the series, and I really loved the music to that movie at times. The big flowing theme (I'm bad with Titles) is wonderful to have on when I'm reading a Star Trek novel.

At June 22, 2007 3:23 PM , Anonymous Shoshana said...

“I shall always wonder why as I gaze skyward with wonder / How to live amongst the stars and sail on past the thunder…” (opening lines of a poem written by a 10 year old me). I used to sneak downstairs and watch the midnight re-runs of TOS and then let the images and ideas that had assuaged my youthful insomnia dance behind my eyes and carry on into my dreams. In ways I cannot articulate, Star Trek made me who I am. The enthusiasm in your introduction made me smile as recollections of episodes washed over me, as real as any memory of my life. It is always nice to be reminded that one is not alone, in love—call it fandom if you will—or in anything else. I look forward to reading the book and to being reminded that Star Trek existed long before it beamed its way into my basement, that this thing that is so much a part of me continues to live in and to influence so many. :)

At August 03, 2007 10:03 AM , Anonymous James said...

Hi Robert, I am so glad u like Singapore. Pity that we missed your visit in Singapore.

We are Trekkies from the Singapore Star Trek Fansite at ... feel free to visit us. Live long & prosper.


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