Saturday, February 28, 2015

More Musings on a Vulcan's Passing

One of my first memories was of Star Trek.

My parents had a black and white television throughout the 70s, and in the afternoons the local independent television station would show all sorts of cartoons from 3 PM until 5 PM.* And at 5, like clockwork, the image of the starship Enterprise whooshed across the screen. My five year old self was riveted to the screen in much the same way the mini-Reds are to Star Wars Rebels and Marvel's Agents of SHIELD**. When the aliens appeared at the end of Part 1 of The Menagerie, I would have nightmares that they would somehow turn me into an automaton like Captain Pike had become. (Hey, I was young and couldn't follow the plot that well.)

Talosians, with their pulsing craniums,
still give me the creeps.

But more importantly than that, Star Trek served as my entry drug into Science Fiction and Fantasy, and none more so than Mr. Spock.

Leonard Nimoy's Spock was captivating. Sure, he seemed like a soulless computer at times, but underneath it all he did have the same emotions as the rest of us, only well hidden. He was part alien, misunderstood by a lot of his crewmates, and still forged friendships among them. After meeting Spock and the rest of the crew of the Enterprise, I simply couldn't watch anything resembling "aliens-as-monsters" which dominated what passed for SF on television.

As I grew older, I identified with Spock to a significant degree. I was the different, nerdy kid: I was smart, loved to read, liked things that weren't mainstream cool, and wanted to go to college to get a science degree. I used to order fan stuff from the old Intergalactic Trading Company catalog back in my high school years in the 80s, often walking to a local convenience store to purchase a cashiers check as I didn't have a checking account of my own, and the one item I wanted for my first car but never got was the sticker that said "Vulcan Science Academy".*** Screw Starfleet, I wanted to hang with the Vulcans.

From Cafepress.
There's even a thong with this design; some things you just can't unsee.

It was easy to transition that love of Spock to Leonard Nimoy himself. He directed what was the most popular Star Trek movie, The Voyage Home, and he also directed several other successful movies (such as Three Men and a Baby), demonstrating that yes you can have a life beyond Star Trek.

He also lived long enough to see Star Trek, and SF/F in general, become more mainstream than ever before.

And now he's gone.

The Feels.
I don't know who created this, but
I'll assign credit when I do.

I don't think that mainstream America quite knows what we lost. The Internet simply exploded in geek circles concerning Leonard's death with tributes from all corners of geekdom. More than once I saw a commenter on a website say something to the effect of "I came here because I knew people would understand," and believe me, I know the feeling.

This is different than Robin Williams' death. Robin was beloved by many because of his overall body of work, which transcended geekdom. Leonard's best work was rooted in geekdom, and he is defined by what he means to the geek community.

Leonard will be remembered forever by his stellar
work in Westerns.... Waitaminute....

Back in college in the late 80's, I was in a conversation with a couple of fellow students about movies. Good Morning Vietnam had been out that past year, and we'd all seen it and felt that Robin had been robbed at winning an Oscar. But conversation turned to other films, and when one of the girls challenged me on whether guys are only interested in macho "guy" movies, saying "when was the last time you cried at a movie?" I told her that I cried when Spock died in The Wrath of Khan.

Big mistake.

The derisive laughter I got told me exactly where Star Trek stood in the pecking order of interests among my "sophisticated" Honors peers. I couldn't have done worse if I'd have said that Hardbodies is a fine work performed by master thespians.**** To them, Star Trek and their fans were worthy of the mockery provided by Saturday Night Live when William Shatner hosted the show.

So yeah, when people talk about how others don't understand, yeah, I know. I've been there.

You tell 'em, Data.

I'm sad that Leonard has gone, leaving Bill, Walter, George, and Nichelle as the surviving original cast members. But at the same time, I realize that Leonard will live on in both his work and the lives he touched. The original Star Trek series is a geeky touchstone in the same way that the first Star Wars movie was; those who watched it were never the same again.

Redditor MrMorlonelycat captured this image of players
of Star Trek Online serendipitously paying their respects at Vulcan.
Cryptic Studios has announced a permanent memorial for Spock and
Leonard Nimoy will be added to the game in March 5th 2015's downtime.

It is too easy to look at the world around us and not be cynical. Star Trek offered a vision of a better future, something worth striving for. And Leonard Nimoy played no small part in helping that vision play out on the screen. For that, I can thank him, and I wish him well.

Live long and prosper, Spock.

*From 1 PM until 3 PM the station showed an afternoon movie --no national daytime talk shows existed until Phil Donohue made it big-- and among the "boring" dramas I found the occasional nugget of gold, such as Ulysses starring Kirk Douglas.

**And The Flash, and Doctor Who, etc. Even Constantine, which had gotten blah reviews, is much better than anything we had in the SF/F/Superhero genre in US television in the 70s and early 80s (with the exception of The Incredible Hulk). We live in a golden age of genre television, even if we have to put up with Jerry Springer and Honey Boo-Boo.

***I was never convinced that the car would last long enough to justify the sticker; it had more Bondo on it than metal. It also had a hole in the floor where the driver would put their left foot, so as a consequence I had to put my foot in an awkward position to avoid turning the car into a Flintstones' mobile.

****It's not; don't go looking for it to see for yourself. Trust. Me.

EtA: I removed the link to Intergalactic's website, since it seems like it hasn't been updated in ages. Also, apparently customer service has declined, based on the poor reviews I've seen online.


  1. I was more of a TNG girl growing up, but TOS was a big thing in my family too when I was little. I remember getting an assignment in primary school to draw "a typical evening in my family" or something like that, and it showed child-me sitting on the floor playing with a stuffed toy and the rest of the family sitting around a table while a television screen showed a crudely drawn Enterprise. ^^

  2. I spent a lot of years overseas and I will never forget the moment, although my memory of the country may be shaky. I was channel surfing to see what was available on TV in Hong Kong? and I saw Star Trek for the first time and fell in love.

    My parents must have become so tired of the Vulcan Salute. Except maybe not my father since I got the love of all thing sci fi from him. I would read all his Asimov, Heinlein books after he was done.

    1. Ooo... Asimov and Heinlein.

      I discovered them in high school when I finally got curious as to what other Golden Age SF/F was out there beyond a few anthologies I had acquired. The only one I couldn't really get into was Clarke, although I did read 2001 and 2010.