Fifty years

by Diane Duane

It’s the best kind of day, and I barely know how to begin describing how I feel.

Star Trek is fifty, and I’m sixty-four… and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to watch this whole long story arc unfold from the start. More the point, beyond all dreams, all possibility, over the years I’ve become a little part of it. And that is so cool.

I remember when I first saw the description of this new show in the TV Guide in 1966. And for the quiet, geeky kid who grew up reading Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov and Andre Norton, it sounded almost impossibly good. When it was finally time for the show to come on, and the teaser ran, and the titles ran, I sat there completely spellbound. I can remember right here and now exactly what I felt then: amazement, and delight, and so much excitement… because there was going to be more of this. I didn’t know how much more—but I couldn’t wait.

The next three years brought their ups and downs, especially when the series was almost canceled, came back, and then didn’t last beyond its third season. But the dreams it left in its wake were more than enough to keep me going for a long time. I started writing Star Trek fanfic before I knew there was such a thing. (Rarely, from now till then, have I been happier to be able to say that all that fiction is gone forever. Believe me, some things are better lost.)

And though the series had died, it refused to stay quiet in the grave. First came the miracle of syndication, of reruns… for which we have to thank the foresighted Lucille Ball, Star Trek’s too-often unsung fairy godmother. And then, with the reruns, came the people who loved Trek too much to let it die, and decided to stand up and do something about it.

Sheer luck—the happy accident of being in the right place at the right time in the early 1970’s— meant I was able to be at those first great New York Star Trek conventions. At those cons I met so many terrific people, and forged connections that were about to start having a profound effect on the rest of my life. Because of Star Trek I found a skilled and endlessly committed mentor for my writing (and a good friend too). Because of Star Trek I started finding my voice as a writer. Because of Star Trek, I got published and was nominated for awards. Because of Star Trek… I started writing Star Trek.

And that was genuinely kind of unexpected. But I still bless the day when (while reading someone else’s Trek novel) I got so annoyed with what they were doing that I threw the poor book at the wall and declared, in the full of my writerly arrogance, “I could eat a ream of typing paper and barf a better Star Trek novel than this!”

And if something like this actually happened eventually—without my even having to actually eat the paper—it was because I wasn’t at all concerned about looking better than that other writer, but seriously concerned with doing better Star Trek. In retrospect, judging from my mailbag, it seems like I may have succeeded at this at least once or twice (or maybe more). That’s honor enough for me. I’m delighted and humbled to be counted among the number of the many gifted people who find serving the same purpose—making better Star Trek—to be both privilege and pleasure.

Many amazing things have happened along this journey. I met my husband of (now) thirty years because of Star Trek. I co-wrote a Star Trek novel with him on our honeymoon. More or less accidentally, I ascended to possibly the peak of achievement for a nursing professional and cured Dr McCoy (or, all right, DeForest Kelley, just as you prefer…) of a sore throat. I’ve heard Leonard Nimoy speak words I’d written for him. I’ve seen George Takei eat my husband’s cooking (and go back for seconds, and thirds: but then George is a perceptive guy).* I’ve had the honor to be walked through other people’s Star Trek books, specifically and especially one by the wonderful John M. Ford—one of the best of all Star Trek writers, and taken from us far too soon. Over the years I’ve met and been befriended by amazing names, both people who’ve written for the shows or the films, and people who’ve acted in them—open and warmhearted people all endlessly devoted to bringing joy to the viewers and readers who’re also in love with this particular universe. They know how lucky they are to be able to contribute again and again to something so big, and so loved, and so meaningful.

Such contribution isn’t always easy, and doesn’t always go the way you wish it might. Naturally Trek hasn’t always been perfect. Crass reality has more than occasionally gotten in the way of the storytelling. Trek’s been jerked around by interoffice politics and all-too-human blindness and people besotted by money and power, and has been beset by plain old misunderstanding of the basic concept—exploration, discovery, diversity, delight in the different. Sometimes something goes wrong with the storytelling, and parts of the puzzle just don’t quite fit together, or look bad when viewed later. In the Star Trek universe as in the real one, entropy is running and no matter how you try, you can’t win ‘em all. But the times when Trek does get it right (in my opinion) far outnumber the times when it doesn’t, because the people working on it are aware that they have a certain level of excellence to match, and a well-established, much-loved vision to evoke and sustain.

In this regard, over the years I’ve been asked as often as anybody else working in this universe, “What is it that makes Trek so special, and why is this particular vision so evocative? Why does it appeal to people so?” There are a hundred possible answers, but mine is simple and clear. I’m a member of the last US generation that was asked to believe, as kids in school, that hiding under your desk would actually protect you in some way from a nuclear bomb. The aura of hopelessness and terror that hung over the Cold War period for many of us was powerfully opposed by what Star Trek seemed to be saying from the very beginning: that humanity would get through this, that we would get past it—and that human beings were, actually, better than this, if we would just allow ourselves to act as if we were.

And this message seems still to work for subsequent generations introduced to Trek. Despite the terrors of the present— which are by no means to be dismissed—Star Trek did a lot in its earliest generations to dispel some of the terrors of the past. I firmly believe that if Trek is written with what Harlan Ellison calls “clean hands and composure”, it will continue to do the same in the future. Storytellers who come to Trek meaning to serve the vision of human exploration and compassion honestly will, in my opinion, do so even more successfully than they might expect.

It’s my sense that the longer story lasts, the stronger it gets. Well-loved universes and the stories told in them, I think, have a way of furthering and protecting themselves. From the very beginning there has always been so much love and hope and enthusiasm surrounding Star Trek, the stories it tells, the people who tell the stories, and the people who act the stories, that it has become much stronger with time than it was when it started—tougher to kill and quicker to bounce back from failure, and not just because of the financial opportunities involved.

Every new generation of Star Trek will inevitably have its own difficulties, its own exigencies, its places where things go very wrong or seem to. But I strongly believe that there is something about this particular vision of the future—of a future, of a future that works because people are consciously working on making it work—that means it will just keep on coming back. The power of the vision and the stories that have lasted this long and keep getting refined and expanded is not to be dismissed, not to be discounted. Yes, story can sometimes wither and die young if its roots don’t delve deep enough. But there is something about Star Trek’s roots that seems to have delved very deep.

Since everybody else will probably be saying better, smarter and more clearly articulated things about Star Trek today than I’m likely to be able to, I want to wind this up and go read what they’re saying. But backtracking briefly to the personal end of things, I can say there are very few parts of my life—professional, personal, emotional—that Star Trek has not touched and will not continue to. For those who were going to ask the inevitable question: yes, I do have one more Star Trek novel in me. I have my own universes to tend to at the moment, but I really do need to get in touch with whoever’s handling Trek at Pocket Books and see if they can work me in sometime in the next year or three. Because some of the very best times of my life have been spent standing (in imagination) on the bridge of that starship… working out what happens next, and what the person sitting in that center seat will do. And the next-best times have been spent seeing Enterprise pass by low overhead—on the home screen or in the theater—and feeling that old familiar shiver of awe and hunger and delight go down my spine. To me she will always be Star Trek’s biggest character, and of all of them, my favorite.

In the meantime, to all the many friends and acquaintances—there are so many of you, too many to name—whose paths have crossed mine in the service or enjoyment of Star Trek, I just want you to know that I’m thinking of you today, with affection and so much gratitude. You’ve made my life, as Trek has, a better and happier place. Without Star Trek I couldn’t be many things I am. And I can’t wait to see what comes of all our work next, and where it goes now. That particular frontier—not all that final, after all—just keeps stretching out further and further ahead of us, and looking more and more interesting all the time.

Fifty years… Early this morning I thought, “You know, with medicine being what it is these days, it’s not completely beyond belief that I might see Trek turn one hundred.” But whether I do or not, some of you will see it. I wonder what those celebrations will look like, a bit; and (just a little) I envy you.

…But only a little. My job as a Trek writer is after all to look ahead—one of my favorite parts of the job (besides keeping company with one of the most extraordinary casts of characters ever devised). So for the moment, let’s concentrate on enjoying and celebrating the first fifty years of Star Trek. The next half-century can wait… but only until tomorrow.

*BTW, will somebody please have George tweet me at @dduane? I just remembered that I promised him that recipe. 🙂

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1 comment

Dwight Williams October 10, 2016 - 6:37 pm

I hope you get to see that centennial…and to enjoy seeing it.

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