Star Trek’s original series premiered on September 8 in 1966, and Paramount has recently dubbed that “Star Trek Day,” usually filled with a few franchise announcements and previews. This year, it’s a little tepid because of the strikes, but it still got me thinking about the influence the show had on my life.
(A few months ago, they asked some other nerds about that with heart-warming results.)
Now, it’s unquestionable that Star Wars was first and had a huge impact, especially with the ability to make my own stories with action figures. That’s one of the biggest reasons I became a writer, I suspect. Star Wars also taught me about courage and loyalty and friendship, and it had an enormous influence on my entire generation.
(I suspect you could call Generation X “the Han Solo Generation” instead because we learned to be independent and skeptical and cynical but still good at heart from him.)
As I got older, though, I saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture and The Wrath of Khan, and something about them resonated with me from the start. Thanks to my friend Norman, I went back to watch re-runs of the original series, which were always hit-or-miss for me. I really liked James Blish’s novelizations, as well as the novels by Pocket Books.
Still, the movie era Star Trek was what changed my life.
My father left us in 1986, not that we were too sad for his reign of capricious twitchy terror to end. Still, I’d learned a certain way of seeing the world thanks to him, one that relied on fear and anger for the energy to get things done.
When he was gone, there was no one to be scared of, and the sudden vacuum was both freeing and awful. In the same way that Hitler supposedly made the trains run on time, my father established a pattern for our lives that, damaging as it was, at least provided answers. Bad ones, but…answers.
After my father was gone, my grades at school took a dive and I lost a sense of what was actually worth caring about. When someone decides all of that for you since birth and suddenly leaves, you don’t know how to make those choices for yourself.
During middle school and freshman year of high school, my brain felt like the day room at an unaccredited mental hospital. Sometimes the manic people bounced off the walls, full of passionate glee. Other times, the depressives took over and doom darkened the windows.
I truly felt like a bunch of different imaginary people were fighting (ineptly, like with gardening tools) for my soul. None of them were particularly nice about it.
I vacillated back then between delusions of epic importance (a future President, perhaps) and terror that I was a nascent sociopath blooming into an awful genetic destiny.
In 1987-ish, I watched The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock probably two or three times a week after school, often with my friend Carl (who was also no stranger to teenage melodrama), but it was one time when I was alone when a certain set of lines hit me in a new way.
You know which ones, I’m sure.
Marooned in the Genesis planetoid, Saavik asks Kirk how he handled the hopeless Kobyashi Maru command test. Kirk explains, blithely, that he cheated because he didn’t agree with the conditions of the test.
“I don’t believe in the no-win scenario,” he says.
On that particular day, probably after terrible grades or loneliness or God knows what, I had the strongest epiphany of my life until that point. I couldn’t quite articulate it then, and for years, I assumed it was about believing there were always possibilities even in the darkest hour.
But I think at a different level than I consciously realized, the message I received from that scene is that circumstances are usually mutable, but even the ones that aren’t can always be…bent. You can improvise with even the bad ones.
I learned the gift of reframing: looking at disasters as chances for heroism.
So began a (slow, limping, barely-on-impulse-power-with-the-mains-offline) turn toward…well, many more years of being a reckless idiot with intermittent bursts of competence.
Star Trek provided a positive internal structure for taking action in the world. The self-talk my father had left behind like a bee’s stinger slowly faded in favor of Starfleet’s more professional kind of discipline, doing good because what was the point of doing something else?
Why be human if you’re going to still live by the tooth and the claw?
I’ve been blindsided often over the years when people are proudly and spectacularly self-interested (or when I’ve been), but I still don’t believe in the no-win scenario.