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Thursday, September 08, 2016

Happy Fiftieth Birthday, Star Trek!

Live long and prosper!

Okay, I took a "selfie" here because it's just too much trying to find a photo that's not copyright to Paramount or whoever. And they can't claim copyright on the gesture, which is part of the Jewish tradition, though our people do it with both hands. Still, I don't have copyright either.

Fifty years ago, On This Day, the first aired episode, "The Mantrap", was aired, about a creature known as the Salt Vampire, the last of its kind, which could take on the appearance of anyone it wished, to help it get close to an intended victim. (I used to use this as an excuse to attend Austrek parties out of costume, claiming that I was the Salt Vampire, who had eaten Sue Bursztynski at the door)

Star Trek means a lot to me. I grew up with the original series. I was a science fiction fan looking for real SF. I found it in Star Trek. In later years, according to an interview a friend and I did with David Gerrold, author of "The Trouble With Tribbles", Gene Roddenberry was upset that he wasn't getting respect from the SF community, so decided that he was having no more SF writers on his show. You might notice there was a stable of scriptwriters on the spinoff shows, and none of them had any SF credentials, as far as I know. Not that the spinoffs weren't wonderful in themselves, but there weren't any of the big name SF/F writers of the original series.

I'm talking about the likes of Jerome Bixby, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Bloch, Norman Spinrad - should I note Harlan  Ellison? Well, he did write the original "City On The Edge Of Forever", except they rewrote it completely and he complained about it quite a lot in the years that followed. Still, he won awards both for the original script and the episode and I hadn't heard that he turned down his Hugo. I do understand how he felt, though. As a writer, I wince! But he went on to work on the new Twilight Zone and Babylon 5, which I assume didn't do that to him. 

And a classic episode of a classic TV show has his name on it, however he may feel.

Larry Niven's story "The Soft Weapon" became "The Slaver Weapon" on the animated Trek. Mind you, he later had his story removed from Trek canon, but then, I don't think Roddenberry considered it canon either, though it had some lovely episodes, especially Dorothy Fontana's "Yesteryear". I think Dorothy Fontana wrote some of the best episodes of the series and she did some lovely stuff for Babylon 5, too.

There was an episode based on Fredric Brown's short story "Arena". Having read the story and seen the episode, I can say the episode is different, but it's still Fredric Brown.

Isaac Asimov never wrote for the show, but he said in an interview that where Star Trek erred in the science, it did so intelligently. 

And what about the Trek novelisations?  Also done by well-known spec fic writers! The live action episodes were written by James Blish and the animateds by Allan Dean Foster. I actually preferred those, because they were developed into novella-length stories, but Blish did pretty well considering he had to squash so much into short sttories!

I have a vague memory of seeing a script for one of the spinoff shows, and where a character was supposed to explain the science, there was the word "technobabble" in brackets, to be filled in later.

Last Saturday night, my own birthday, I went to the Classic Cinema in Elsternwick to see Adam Nimoy's crowd-funded documentary about his father, For The Love of Spock. It was nearly two hours long and well worth sitting through every minute. There were not many people in the small cinema, but those who were there were all fans. Who else would sit through a full-length documentary about Star Trek lateish on a Saturday night? Glancing around, I saw happy faces with smiles on them. I must have looked the same.

I already know quite a lot, but there were things I hadn't known about Mr Nimoy and his family's lives. Like the fact that he never turned down any work because he wanted to make sure that what had happened to other actors on popular shows when their TV series were cancelled never happened to him. So, he'd finish filming on a Friday, catch the red-eye flight somewhere else and do another job over the weekend. His work hours were long - that I knew - and when they were over, he'd go home, have dinner and read lines with his wife. All that meant the kids didn't get to see much of him, but they still had to sit for family portraits in the magazines - and help with the fan mail!

There were interviews with everyone Adam Nimoy could get hold of - all the surviving members of the original cast, members of the new cast, some directors... There were snippets of archival footage, but also some bits of interview with him, because this film started before he died.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will be available on DVD at some stage, because it gave me a lot of pleasure and I'd love to re-view it at some stage.

So, I wonder what the new series will be like?

But the joy of our wonderful Internet era is that fans are making their own films, some of them including the original cast. I think it may be their version of fan fiction, which we oldies had to write for publication in fanzines. Myself, I've written around 150 fan stories in my time, and at least 100 of those would have been Star Trek. It was a part of my early life in fandom, and I don't regret any of it! It taught me to write short fiction and develop characters within the limit. It also taught me to write book reviews, without which this blog might never have existed.

By the way, if you'd like to read some of the old fan stories, there's a wonderful web site, 1001 Trek Tales, which has republished a lot of the old classic stories - all of them with permission of the authors or their estates. (There are two of mine up there, not my greatest, but still, I'm chuffed... They happened to be what the site owner had in her collection).

So, to all fans out there, live long and prosper!

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