[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
Hugo and Nebula Winner

SFWRITER.COM > Nonfiction > Welcome Abord the Enterprise

Welcome Aboard the Enterprise

by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 2006 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.

First published as the introduction to Boarding The Enterprise: Transporters, Tribbles and the Vulcan Death Grip in Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek, edited by David Gerold and Robert J. Sawyer and published by BenBella Books in 2006.

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?" [Boarding the Enterprise]

"'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," 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," 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!

[2006 bionote] Robert J. Sawyer won the Hugo Award for his novel Hominids and the Nebula Award for his novel The Terminal Experiment. In addition, he's won Canada's top SF award nine times, Japan's top SF award three times, and Spain's top SF award three times, as well as best-short-story-of-the-year awards from Analog and Science Fiction Chronicle magazines and the Crime Writers of Canada. His latest novel is Mindscan. He lives in Toronto.

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Rob's essay on The Death of Science Fiction
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