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January 5th, 2013

Thank you, Star Trek.

I just read two versions of the same book. I dug out my two copies of The World of Star Trek by David Gerrold: the original 1973 text (in a 1979 printing, right before Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out) and the 1984 edition, where Gerrold could finally talk about the actual for-real return of Star Trek. I once had to replace that 1984 edition, because I read my first copy so much it fell apart. It was one of the first times I really got thinking about drama and storytelling and why they work; so it had a value even beyond helping to cement my fondness for Star Trek.

(That fondness wasn't guaranteed. When I saw the first film, first-run, with my mom, I fell asleep 20 minutes in. That was late 1979/early 1980; I was six. Even though it was rated G, it, heh, wasn't a kid's film. (I hope I didn't snore.) It wasn't until circa 1983 in Virginia Beach that I started seriously watching the original series reruns, plus Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan on cable. Back then, had I read, say, Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers, my tastes likely would've gone in a slightly different direction than Star Trek; I was jonesing back then for "space war" science fiction. Heck, reading Starship Troopers back then may have been the goad towards sending me into the military; I already was a Navy brat...

(But Star Trek spoke to me and worked for me, and I got to see Star Trek III: The Search for Spock in the theater in 1984 and that worked for me, too, and by the time I got both The World of Star Trek and the 1985 wall calendar for The Search for Spock, yeah, I was all but card-carrying in my fondness.)

This was a quick read: I know the book really well, and both versions are easy reads no matter what. I'm less familiar with the original text; I've had that copy a much shorter time. Gerrold didn't go nuts revising throughout (beyond correcting mistakes; he'd thought Thomas Edison made the early film The Great Train Robbery, which Edwin Porter made), so when I got to the later book I could skim large chunks of it, which felt a bit like cheating. As opposed to when I read the first-published and revised version of Stephen King's The Gunslinger: the Dark Tower I, where King made changes on practically every page. (I had both editions side-by-side on my desk. I was being thorough.)

I was amused by the mention of how popular George Takei was with female Trek fans (he'd get lots of them to join him for jogs on mornings at conventions), decades before Takei told the world at large that he's gay. The books' descriptions of Seventies/Eighties fan culture still fit really well with fan culture in this second decade of the 21st century; it's mainly just sped up and powered by the Internet. There were occasional sad updates: the young man Gerrold wrote about in 1973, who'd made himself look and act much like Spock, had killed herself. But the happy, inspiring stories are there in the 1984 edition: the fan George La Forge, who cosplayed as radiation-scarred Captain Christopher Pike and later inspired Geordi; a marriage proposal in the line at Mann's Chinese Theatre for Wrath of Khan; the makers of the first film thanking fans by hiring over 100 of them to appear in a starship Enterprise crowd scene; the 1977 Trek convention that not only got Heinlein to appear as a guest, but also held a blood drive in his honor (which became a tradition in a lot of convention-dom, I'm happy to say)...

...damn, all this still works for me. Even accepting how sometimes Star Trek is thuddingly obvious and ripe for critiques, parody and jokes (which John Scalzi did handily in his fun novel Redshirts), and how there's plenty of bad or mediocre Star Trek, this is still a cultural touchstone (46 years running! Sometimes I forget that), and it still gives us fun and lovely off-shoots like Portland's own Trek in the Park, or the makers of this year's Star Trek Into Darkness showing a rough cut of that film to a fan before he died.

Nine-year-old me watching reruns in 1983 didn't know what he was getting into. 39-year-old me is glad nine-year-old me did.