SFWRITER.COM > Nonfiction > Welcome Abord the Enterprise
Welcome Aboard the Enterprise
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 2006 by Robert J.
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?"
"'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
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.
More Good Reading
Other anthologies edited by Rob
Rob's essay on The Death of Science Fiction
Rob's essay 1993: The Dark Side of the Force