Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Just before the radio play, there was a brief montage on the screen covering the events of the Celebration. All of them featured the Star Trek stars. Though there was nothing of the many panels, they were a major part of the weekend, and I hope there were recordings of them and that they were kept, because they were often fascinating.

My panel was one of the first. Discussing “The Soul of Star Trek: The Prime Directive and Beyond” were Jeff Greenwald, author of Future Perfect: How Star Trek Conquered Planet Earth; Dave Marinaccio, author of All I really need to know I learned from watching Star Trek ; TNG writer Tracy Torme, and the aforementioned Star Trek novelists and Enterprise writers, Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens. (They've got several new projects and reprints--check their site at

I frankly don’t remember much of what we all said, partly because my attention was divided by my moderator duties, and partly because I heard my fellow panelists on several other panels, and what they said on each has all blended together. I do remember we had a spirited discussion on war and peace in the Trek universe, in response to an audience question on whether Gene Roddenberry would have approved of some of the galactic war storylines, like the Dominion War in DS9.

If memory serves, Tracy Torme (who actually knew GR) thought he would have. I (who met him briefly once and was so tongue-tied by Majel Roddenberry's beauty that I barely could talk) didn’t think so. I believe that while Roddenberry accepted that there would be circumstances that required force, he knew the realities and the effects of war were so extreme and lasting that it was worth every possible effort to avoid it, and especially to find alternatives to warmaking. He knew that war was a barrier to a better future. I mentioned that in contrast to later writers, he and Gene Coon and other writers and producers for the original series had experienced the horrors of war first hand.

I think it was Jeff Greenwald who added that they had real war as a reference, but later writers had war movies---and that confirms a point I’ve made here before, and probably will again. On the other hand, Jeff noted on another panel that these same writers in their twenties and thirties had invented negotiating tactics for TNG and DS9 that the world’s politicians still haven’t figured out how to use as well. (I think it was in his book that U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright is quoted as praising TNG as the world’s most acclaimed model for conflict resolution.)

Jeff’s book, we both agreed, is just about the only book-length work of actual journalism on Star Trek and its impact in the world at large. These days he is the Executive Director of Ethical Traveler in Berkeley, working on human rights and environmental protection around the world. He’s a travel writer, and plays one on stage occasionally, and he looks like one. He’s got charm as well as shrewdness and intelligence, and had the knack for being in the right place at the right time during the Seattle weekend—all good qualities for a journalist to have.

He was on several panels discussing science and technology, Star Trek’s popular impact and other issues, but I was most taken with something he said about the interview he did with the Dalai Lama (A TNG fan) that seemed to have profoundly affected him. He told a story that wasn't in the chapter in his book about the encounter: in preparation for the interview, he had placed his tape recorder and notebook on a table near where the Dalai Lama would be sitting, but when the Dalai Lama entered he accidentally knocked the tape recorder to the floor. Before Jeff could move the Dalai Lama was on his hands and knees to retrieve it. Jeff tried to say he would get it but the Dalai Lama said, “No, no. Is my responsibility.”

I could see how a moment like that could change your life.

Jeff was a TNG man all the way—he did his book at the height of the Next Generation’s popularity. Dave Marinaccio is an all-out Original Series guy. He’s senior VP and Creative Director of an advertising agency in Arlington, Virginia, though there’s still a lot of Chicago in his voice and outlook. There’s a story he told I’ll get to in a minute.

Gar and Judith Reeves-Stevens were pretty much the first people I met, and by chance they were also the last—I ran into them at the airport as I was leaving, and we had a relaxing lunch there to cap the weekend. Especially for writers of such prominence they were very friendly and generous, and I enjoyed their insights and their company.

I also enjoyed meeting Greg Bear, the science fiction writer who lives in Seattle. Since returning, I’ve read his exceptional novel, Darwin’s Radio, and although I’m a little embarrassed about not having read it until now, in another way I’m glad I didn’t see it when it came out. Some of my reading since then—about evolutionary theory, the work of Lynn Margulis and others, as well as books with insights about the politics within the sciences—gave me a greater appreciation for the realism in this remarkable story.

I didn’t get to spend much time with the scientists in attendance, but again, Amy did, so her account is a good reference. I also took note that while there seemed to be an increased presence of very right wing fans on Star Trek boards over the past few years, they wouldn’t have found much support from the panels at this convention. And some discussion was overtly political, but the line was drawn from Star Trek to support for human and civil rights, environment and support for science and life-saving technology.

As for my own participation, I figure I did a fairly decent job as moderator of my one panel. On the plus side I kept about equal time for our discussion and audience questions, and I had us finish on time. The big minus was I forgot to give everyone an opportunity to mention their books or projects. I had originally planned to do that during my introduction of the panel, but it turned out we were all introduced by the Master of Ceremonies, Marc B. Lee. And then I just forgot.

As for what I said, I tried to suggest areas of discussion with my opening remarks, which were taken from my 40th anniversary essay here—they may have been the only prepared remarks for any panel. Judith later complimented me on elevating the discussion, and I immediately said, “Too much?” She gallantly said, no, but I’m not so sure. Not that I’m going to stop using the shared language of Star Trek to take me as far as it can into useful ideas for a better future. But at the Celebration, I saw again why Star Trek has been so important to many people, in very basic and very real ways.

For example, Dave Marinaccio told the story of a woman who had been abused by her stepfather, and Star Trek became her refuge. On Star Trek, people treated each other with dignity and care, which she had not experienced in real life. It was the kind of life she wanted. She met another Star Trek fan, who felt the same way. They married and had children. Star Trek gave them the model of a life, and in doing so, gave them a life. That’s a story repeated over and over.

Or the comment posted on this very blog by a reader called Brandon: “I'm a racially mixed individual--part Puerto Rican Part Irish, and I think that's part of the reason why I've developed suc a liking for Mister Spock. Moreover I've been using STAR TREK reruns as my safety valve for the last six years, escaping into a world where human beings have finally dealt with issues of racial hatred, economic inequality, and war as a first choice to every problem.”

Amy wrote about a panel moment that I also felt was mind-blowing—one to remember. There was a lively interchange on the Friday panel, “The Show That Changed the World,” but one panelist was conspicuously silent. He spoke perhaps only once, and the discussion went on, but what he said stood out like a beacon when I heard it. It was Dr. Martin Cooper, a communications technology pioneer and the father of the communicator—sorry, the cell phone. Here’s what he said, as Amy recorded it: "When I was young, the concept of being a dreamer was a very negative one. If you were a dreamer, you were useless. You didn't contribute anything to society. But Star Trek made dreaming legitimate, and I think that was a huge, huge contribution."

Most people still think dreamers are useless, and Star Trek fans even more so. So perhaps Star Trek fans dress up like aliens because they feel like aliens. They put on the Star Trek uniform because they wear it in their hearts. Star Trek may lead us to many profound insights and even to important commitments in our lives, but it is as support, model, an inspiration to creativity and even a kind of community that constitutes Star Trek’s continuing life, forty years on.

As for the future, I'll end the way I ended my opening remarks for my panel. John and Robert Kennedy adapted a line from a George Bernard Shaw play for their speeches--Robert Kennedy in particular used it to end his campaign speeches for the presidency in 1968. I adapt it once again for Star Trek's 40th anniversary: "Some see things as they are, and ask why. I see things as they may never be, and ask: why not?"

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