James R. Kirk

January 14, 2019

Where No Man Has Gone Before

In which we meet Captain James R. Kirk and the valiant crew of the Enterprise as they venture beyond the great barrier at the edge of the galaxy.

 

The single most striking thing about this, the very first episode starring Captain Kirk, the second pilot film for the series, the episode meant to sell this whole venture as a series, is the way it begins: a chess game between Kirk and his alien science officer. No grandiose introductions to the vessel and its mission. No tedious assemblage of a team and shots of a captain getting his first command. No origin story at all. We’re simply thrust right into the action. This is the story of a captain and his crew and we learn everything we need to know about the ship, its mission and the dynamics between crew members by watching the story unfold. Even the opening title sequence lacks the traditional “These are the voyages” narration. We’re dropped into the future, onto a starship exploring the outer fringes of the galaxy, with almost no explanations for anything. Technology is taken for granted. When Kirk orders the Valiant’s stray recorder be brought on board, we cut to the transporter room and watch the machine appear on the platform. There’s no expository dialogue about dematerialization, no explanation given or necessary. We see it happen, we’re shown, not told, in the way the best stories are always handled. Just do it and trust the audience to figure it out. Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

Being Leonard Nimoy

January 7, 2019

Somewhere around third grade, I developed a habit of clasping my hands behind my back, “at ease”-style. I took to saying “Fascinating” whenever the situation even vaguely warranted it. And if I squinted one eye and tilted my head, I could just about fake raising a single eyebrow.

Armchair psychology tells me I identified with Spock because I, too, was the “other,” the outsider, the new kid. But come on – the logic, the dry humor, the ears. What’s not to love?Spock as Wisdom Figure

As I watched Star Trek reruns after school, my loyalties sometimes shifted. Kirk was the best. Scotty was the best. I even underwent a long stretch of naming the seldom seen transporter chief Lt. Kyle as my favorite. But I always came back to Spock, the science officer, the emotionless, super-competent alien.

Eventually, the show itself was not enough. So I bought books. Armed, for the first time, with money that was actually my own – earned by cashing out a savings bond given to me by my grandfather – I begged my mother to drive me to the mall. I made a beeline for Waldenbooks (or was it B. Dalton?) and left with three precious volumes that remain on my shelf today – The Making of Star Trek, The World of Star Trek, and The Trouble With Tribbles.

I devoured them, relishing the reprinted memos, the stories of backstage pranks, and the myriad details that emerged from inside the production. The life I read about on the soundstage was almost as interesting as life depicted on the Enterprise. Pretty soon, though, I started reading boy detective novels and my imaginative adventures began to change.

Yet Leonard Nimoy remained.

As an obsession with bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster and Chariots of the Gods took root, Nimoy appeared on TV to fuel it. In Search Of… provided an infuriatingly catchy theme song as well as frightening speculation behind mysteries that, when looked at now, don’t seem all that mysterious. Yet it pushed me to read even more, to explore, to weigh the evidence for myself.

I discovered Nimoy’s memoir, I Am Not Spock. Inside were photos of the actor in other roles. I was particularly taken by his appearance as King Arthur in Camelot, and vowed that I, too, would one day play that role.

Nimoy starred in Mission: Impossible for two years, including the single most memorable – to me – episode of the entire series, “Submarine.”

He wrote and starred in an acclaimed one-man play about the brothers Vincent and Theo Van Gogh. I followed news of it and could not wait to see the videotaped version run on HBO.

He recorded albums that I both treasured as cheese and fully enjoyed. One song, “You Are Not Alone,” from his debut album, Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space, became one that I introduced to college friends. They found it hilarious while also joining me in singalongs.

After watching the first several episodes, I gave up on William Shatner’s cop show, T.J. Hooker. But I tuned back in for Nimoy’s guest appearance.

I memorized a poem from one of Nimoy’s numerous poetry collections. Common wisdom says everyone should know one poem by heart, and mine is titled “Rocket Ships Are Exciting.”  I once shouted it aloud, over and over again, from the back of a parade float we titled “Trailer Full o’ Poets.”

When I spotted a memoir by Adam Nimoy, Leonard’s son, I instantly bought it and read it, heartened to learn that Nimoy was fully human, a good if sometimes too career-driven father.

I still find myself clasping my hands behind my back, Spock-style. If someone flashes me a peace sign, I respond with the Vulcan salute. One of my very few pieces of original art is a framed line drawing of Spock.

I guess all of these things, taken together, begin to explain why, for the first time in my life, I cried at the death of a celebrity.

Though I’ve yet to play King Arthur, I did get to perform another role that was, in the long run, much more memorable for me. While still in high school, I put together a cutting from the book I Am Not Spock that encompassed several imagined dialogues Nimoy devised between himself and his alter ego. I performed the piece for a statewide “solo acting” competition. For those few minutes on stage I became, quite literally, both sides of my hero.

It ended with this:

NIMOY: Don’t forget that I’m real and you’re only a fictitious character.

SPOCK: Are you sure?

Written in March 2015 for Shelf Unbound magazine. Later reprinted in the book Spockology.

Spock’s Booger

April 28, 2016

I can’t really remember when it happened. In fact, I’d forgotten about it completely until I was abruptly given a reminder.

But it happened. And I admit it.

I dared Dayton Ward to make Spock say the word “booger” in a Star Trek novel. More than dare, I told him I’d give him a shiny new dollar if he did it.

Yesterday, I sent him a dollar.

13043233_10209204555212007_6154965886810061928_n

This is page 284 of Dayton Ward’s latest Star Trek novel, Elusive Salvation. I received my copy yesterday and, well, I am a man of my word. And that word, apparently, is booger.

UPDATE: I’d completely forgotten that my original dare also said I’d make it two dollars if he had Spock say it. So I sent hm a second dollar.

 

Spock and Roll

January 28, 2016

Right now I am listening to an iTunes playlist made up of every track in my music library that contains the word Spock in the title.

It’s two and a half hours long.

Granted there are some duplicates – Leonard Nimoy’s “Spock Thoughts” appears on three separate albums in my collection and I somehow have five versions of “Spock’s Arrival” from ST:TMP – but even so, that’s a lot of Spock.

Not surprisingly, I created that playlist the day Leonard Nimoy died. After playing “More Soup” and “Spock (Dies)” in endless loops for a few hours, I wanted to expand my listening while continuing to honor Nimoy. And so the Spock list.

It’s clearly a quick creation, since something truly meaningful, like “More Soup”, doesn’t appear at all. But it gave me what I needed at the time I needed it.

The track that stands out as the most unlike the others is, somewhat ironically, titled “The Search for Spock.” Originally included as a separate bonus disc (a 12-inch single) with the Star Trek III soundtrack LP, “The Search for Spock” is a curious hybrid.

Of course, it quickly found its way into heavy rotation on my cassette mix tapes, along with other tracks I categorized as ‘space disco’, e.g., “Something Kinda Funky” from Buck Rogers and “Death’s Other Dominion” (aka “Funko”) from the Space: 1999 soundtrack LP.

Often, I’d also include such instrumental gems as “Music to Watch Space Girls By.”

As Captain Kirk once said, there’s no accounting for taste.

______________________________________________________

After Leonard Nimoy died, I was asked to write a tribute for Shelf Unbound magazine. It was later included (along with another essay of mine) in the anthology Spockology, edited by Kevin C. Neece.

Starfleet’s Greatest Captain

January 25, 2016

Caveat: I haven’t read a lot of Star Trek fiction.

Before 1988, I remember reading the novelizations of the first three movies. There were also a few original novels – definitely Spock Must Die, and Enterprise, and a couple of others. I’d have to look through a full list of Trek novels to jog my memory. I know I owned several, but I didn’t read every one I owned.

In 1988, however, I began keeping a list of every book I finished, so I can tell you precisely how many Star Trek novels I’ve read since then. Reviewing the list last night, I noted seven Star Trek novels – and twenty books of Trek-related non-fiction. From biographies to technical manuals, my non-fiction experience far outweighs the fiction. And the novels listed tell their own story – of the seven I read, five were written by William Shatner. I guess Trek novels just aren’t my cup of earl grey.*

Last year I saw the title of an upcoming book: The Autobiography of Captain James T. Kirk. It immediately grabbed my attention, made me smile at the possibilities. I noted the release date and thought one day I’d go ahead and order it. Maybe when it came out in paperback. Maybe.

Then I pretty much forgot all about it.

Until a couple of weeks ago when a friend mentioned to me on Twitter that he was enjoying the book. A few days later, quite by accident, I saw a tweet from the book’s author, David A. Goodman, noting that the Kindle version was on sale for 99 cents.

Sold.

I soon dove in and was immediately hooked. The Autobiography of Captain James T. Kirk reads like the memoir it purports to be while, of course, being complete fiction. It weaves in and out and around a lot of familiar stories while also adding new elements of its own. It’s a perfect hybrid of the biographies I love to read and the Star Trek universe I just plain love.

Author David A. Goodman does an excellent job putting Kirk’s voice on the page. It was easy to hear Shatner’s voice in my head as I read the text. I enjoyed the clever way he incorporated key characters and story elements from both the original series and the movies while also giving them his own spin. His take on the events chronicled in Star Trek V, for instance, is  – shall we say – unique.

But even more than that, I loved Goodman’s attention to details and inclusion of, for lack of a better term, easter eggs. Take this passage, for example, when Kirk first arrives on an alien world:

“I was surprised at what I saw: blue skies, rolling hills, grass, and trees. My first exposure to a Class-M planet; it wasn’t foreign at all. It could easily have been mistaken for Southern California.”

Or this, when Kirk gets his first look at a Romulan commander (as seen in the episode Balance of Terror):

“Pointed ears, slanted eyebrows, he could’ve been Spock’s father.”

The book is full of these meta observations. It also demonstrates a deep knowledge – and love – of the source material. Sure, another author might have added different moments as being the “most meaningful” or “memorable” to Kirk, but what we’re given seems right. Sure, we could have spent a lot more time learning about details behind other episodes, but knowing that we’re all quite familiar with what’s on screen, Goodman manages to jog our memories without overwhelming us with recaps.

I had a wonderful time reading this book. It sucked me in and I found myself sneaking time to read more. It made me laugh, it made me rethink some of my favorite adventures (and appreciate some I’d long ago dismissed as subpar), and, in a couple of places, it very nearly had me choked up with pesky human emotion.

But more than that, this book opened up a new world for me, a new desire – it made me want to explore more Star Trek fiction. I’ve got a couple of volumes on my shelf that I’ve been toting around for years, and I’m finally going to give them a chance. If they don’t capture my interest within the first few chapters, I’ll move on. Because if there’s one thing for certain, there are plenty of Star Trek novels to choose from.

It was the best of times.

*Sorry about that.

Klingons Fart in Airlocks

January 12, 2016

Funny what sticks with you.

When I was 12 I cashed out a savings bond given to me by my grandfather. I used the proceeds to buy Star Trek books.

I still don’t regret it.

Whenever we’d go to the mall bookstores (remember when there were competing bookstores in a mall? Good times…)  I’d hit the science fiction section and glance at the spines, always coveting the James Blish novelizations and admiring the photos inside the three primary non-fiction books always shelved nearby.

The Making of Star Trek by Stephen E. Whitfield.

The World of Star Trek by David Gerrold.

The Trouble with Tribbles by David Gerrold.

Armed with cash, I grabbed all three.

These books transformed me. I read them multiple times, referred to them for details. Likely they are the exact reason that my favorite thing to read is non-fiction ABOUT my favorite TV shows rather than fictional stories et in those universes.

Anyway, David Gerrold’s World of Star Trek immediately impressed me with both its depth of knowledge and its forthright tone. Gerrold pulls no punches, pointing out the series’ numerous flaws alongside its many charms.

The phrase that stuck with me, because when I was 12 it was the single funniest sentence I’d ever read, came amidst Gerrold’s description of Star Trek villains: Klingons fart in airlocks.

It’s perfect. It tells you everything you need to know about Klingons while also making you (or at least me) laugh.

Boldly Go

October 6, 2013

In fourth grade, I sold tribbles to my classmates. On Star Trek, they were cute alien creatures that gave Captain Kirk and his crew no end of trouble. In real life, they were balls of fake fur stuffed with foam rubber, sewed together with Mom’s help and marketed to my friends as ideal gifts. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even mention the TV show in my sales pitch. I didn’t need to – the tribbles thee584_star_trek_propaganda_posters_3 (1)mselves were a great idea.

At its heart, Star Trek revolved around ideas and inspiration. On screen, the tribbles were just a bit of fun, but their story can be seen as a commentary on population control and diplomacy. At its best, Star Trek specialized in social and political commentary. Some have even argued that the series as a whole represents America’s idealistic faith in the universal appeal of liberal democracy.

A somewhat mystical approach fueled the show’s first reinvention, 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which tried to marry 2001: A Space Odyssey’s cerebral pace and cinematic visuals to a character-based adventure. Unfortunately, while the result is watchable – largely due to the power and majesty of Jerry Goldsmith’s stunning musical score – the movie failed to capture the spirit that made the original series so beloved.

On the other hand, 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was everything the first movie wasn’t. Well-paced, well-acted, and centered around one of the series’ best episodes, the second Star Trek film raised the stakes for the characters and the franchise as a whole. 1984’s underappreciated Star Trek III: The Search for Spock played almost as Wrath of Khan part 2, while Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) embraced a lighter approach that translated to broader public appeal.

In 1987, Star Trek returned to television with a new generation of stars and a continued embrace of culturally relevant stories. On the big screen, the original crew stumbled with Star Trek V: The Final Frontier before going out in a blaze of glory for 1991’s détente-themed Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

The Star Trek: The Next Generation crew’s first foray into movies, 1994’s Star Trek: Generations, gave us an unsatisfying (and probably unnecessary) melding with some of the original crew, while their next film, the somewhat derivative Star Trek: First Contact (1996), gave them a better chance to shine. Their final two films, 1998’s Star Trek: Insurrection and 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis, attempted some depth and originality, but nearly killed the franchise with tepid box office returns.

In 2009, JJ Abrams re-envisioned Star Trek as a straightforward action picture. While it made some fans angry, I thought it was a rip-roaring good time – then again, I may have let the tribble cameo sway me too much. The most recent entry, 2013’s Star Trek: Into Darkness, attempts a small return to social commentary while also ramping up the action. It’s also, much to its detriment, slavishly tied to Wrath of Khan. Like Nemesis before it, there seems to be too much looking backward, almost to the point of pastiche.

The original series sought to “boldly go” forward, and ended up inspiring people to become astronauts, to invent flip phones, and, in my case, to make their own tribbles. I have to wonder: will kids today get the same charge from the current action movies that are called Star Trek? Will today’s generation boldly go into the final frontier, or just munch some popcorn and move on to the next fad? Let’s hope that any future entries will once again explore strange new worlds.

Image from Think Geek.

A Star Beyond Time – Love Theme from Star Trek: The Motion Picture

May 15, 2012

Star Trek 365

November 15, 2010

So I got myself a present.

It’s a big, fat book full of Star Trek.

And I quite enjoyed it.

It bills itself as the “definitive” guide to Star Trek, but, as the owner of manyStar Trek reference books, I beg todiffer.

It’s got a lot of interesting stuff, a lot of stuff I already knew, and a lot of photos. Sadly, most of the photos were really just frames from the episodes themselves, but they were well selected and well reproduced.

I found it very odd that third season producer Fred Freiberger, a figure universally shat upon by Trek fans as the one who killed the show (and similarly scorned by fans of Space: 1999, for which he served as producer for the hated second season) is not once mentioned by name in the entire book. That, to me, is simply spiteful and certainly not definitive. So bottom line is, if you’re looking for a book that gives you a list of all the cast and crew, you need to look elsewhere.

But it does work as an overview of the production and life of the original series, with all its ups and downs.  It’s handsomely put together and does contain a lot that was new and interesting to me, despite all the Trek non-fiction I’ve read over the years. Discussion of the disposition of the original Enterprise model, particularly, and photos of same, fascinated me. And it actually discussed the music, which is, unsurprisingly, a favorite topic of mine.

One of the most striking features of the book, though, is a completely unintentional reveal of the immense cultural divide that separates us from the 1960s. And I’m not talking about go go boots and short skirts and such.

There’s a backstage photo from Amok Time featuring several actors getting Vulcan make up applied. And here’s the thing. The make up artists are all men. And they’re all wearing ties. You can even see fancy cuff links on the sleeves of chief make up artist Fred Phillips. What a shock! Can you imagine seeing anyone on a movie or tv set today actually wearing a tie? And, really, aren’t almost all film/tv make up artists women these days? People in the sixties still dressed up to go to work at the movie studio. Being professionals meant dressing like a professional. And that meant a suit and tie. Sure, you can take off your jacket while actually gluing on ear tips, but by gum you’re going to keep your tie on.

This all put me in mind of Jesse Thorn’s web series about “dressing like an adult” and how unusual it is that director Paul Feig wears a suit and tie to the set every day.

Maybe I’ll start wearing a tie whenever I write a blog post. There are worse ways to dress.

Win, Lose, Draw, Win, Lose

January 26, 2010

A post at Topless Robot about the Top 20 Nerd Commandments plucked a painful memory for me. Specifically, this commandment:

5) All nerds must be able to sketch, from memory, the basic outlines of the Millennium Falcon, USS Enterprise (NCC-1701), and the TARDIS.
Yes, I drew the TARDIS as my big project for a High School art class. Sadly embarrassing in retrospect.

But then there was the embarrassment of doing something similar on NATIONAL TV.

In 1988, I appeared on the game show Win, Lose or Draw. Midway through the game, it was my turn to draw and I was shown my phrase: Beam Me Up, Scotty. As a lifelong Star Trek nerd, it felt like some kind of strange providence. But in my nerdliness, I could not figure out how to parse up the phrase into chunks that the “celebrities” could then guess. So I started drawing what I thought was a passable Enterprise, hoping the celebrities would get the Trek reference and start throwing out catch phrases.

It did not happen.

Read the rest of this entry »