Sunday, September 17, 2006

Trek check

Yesterday, for the first time in about 25 years, channel surfing brought me face to face with Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise. A classic Star Trek episode airing on local TV? It was a miracle. I watched the remaining minutes of the show raptly.

Seeing Captain Kirk on the small screen — Season 1 Kirk, fit, dashing, arrogant — was like traveling back in time. (Slingshot method? Wormhole? Guardian of Forever? Take your pick.) I fell in love with Star Trek when I was 10 years old, and although the ferocity of my passion has waned over time, I've remained a fan all this time. It's a simple explanation for why I am the way I am.

I'm a sci-fi fan because of Star Trek. I'd always thought planets and stars were fascinating, so when I came across people who traveled among them, my imagination took off and never came back. From Trek I branched out into the boundless possibilities of science fiction and fantasy books, TV shows and movies in an agape fandom covering everything from H.G. Wells to J.K. Rowling, from Twin Peaks to The X-Files to Men in Black. And I just got back from bonding with fellow fans at Dragon*Con.

I'm liberal-minded because of Star Trek. Though I grew up in a conservative area, my mind was full of images of the multiracial crew of the Enterprise working together to make sure beings of all kinds got a fair shake. Some of the alien civilizations Kirk encountered were led by strong, powerful women, and some of them had strange customs and beliefs, and I thought that was all terrific. Accepting the alienness of others always made more sense to me than condemning it.

Maybe I'm even sane because of Star Trek. My hometown, my college town and my grad school town did not offer a whole lot of entertainment options that didn't involve alcohol. It would have been easy to move from boredom to despair or risky behavior. Luckily, I always had somewhere to go, in my mind at least, and responsible friends to hang out with when I got there.

True, Star Trek turned me into a big geek as well. On Star Trek, it was cool to be smart, so I embraced my inner science officer and kissed traditional teenage popularity good-bye. I may not have been hip to the latest fashions or the hottest bands, but I knew that arms races were destructive, that too much of a good thing isn't necessarily a good thing, and that you can't outrun your problems even at warp speed. It seemed like a fair trade.

After nearly three decades of being a Trekker (not a Trekkie; there's a difference), I'm still boldly going. I visit new places, meet new people, try new things. I'm captain of my ship, responsible for the trail it blazes and the trail it leaves. I know there's much more to life than just what we see here. And I'm curious: What's out there?

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