Being Leonard Nimoy

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

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.


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 him a second dollar. As I said, I am a man of my word…


Starfleet’s Greatest Captain

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.


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

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.


Star Trek 365

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.