Friday, February 27, 2015

Live Long and Prosper

My entry to the world of Star Trek was probably different than most.  As a child (I was six when the original series debuted), I was only vaguely aware of the show.  By the time I was old enough to actually appreciate it, the series had ended its network run and began airing in syndication around the country.  Yes, that's where a lot of people discovered the show for the first time, and where it gained momentum and started its march toward iconic status, but even then I wasn't paying that much attention.  Until a trip to the bookstore.

My father loved reading science fiction, so once I decided I was too old for children's books (I was nine or ten after all!), I made my way over to where he was looking.  That's what sons do, after all.  Entering this strange new world for the first time, authors' names didn't register.  Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, all would matter to me eventually, but at the time, those and hundreds of other names were meaningless.  I also didn't recognize the name James Blish.  But I recognized the title on the small Bantam paperback: It said "Star Trek".  Specifically, "Star Trek 3."  And I'd HEARD of Star Trek.  It was on TV!

Years later, "Star Trek 3" would be followed by the subtitle "The Search For Spock", but in 1969, it was the third collection of short stories --each one based on an episode of the television series -- that Blish had adapted from the original scripts.  I bought that collection with two hard-earned quarters from my allowance, and was instantly hooked.  I read all the stories, and -- because I knew what the number '3' meant -- managed to locate the first two volumes and devour those.  For the next few years, every trip to the bookstore meant checking to see if the next collection had been released.  Long before it was easy and convenient to know when books would come out, the excitement in seeing the next collection on the shelf is a feeling I can recall fondly today. Eventually there would be twelve numbered volumes in all, plus a novelization combining the two Harry Mudd episodes.  Turns out a lot of the later stuff was actually written by Blish's wife.

Naturally, reading the stories made me more interested in seeing the TV episodes.  Sometimes, I'd watch an episode and recognize it from a story I'd read.  Sometimes, that particular episode hadn't been adapted yet and I followed it for the first time.  Over time, as the episodes reran again and again, I'd start paying attention to the differences between the Blish stories (which were often based on earlier drafts of a script) and the TV adventures.  Ultimately, I became a fan.

In addition to the adaptations, Blish was also the first writer to craft an original Star Trek novel for grown-ups, putting the familiar characters into new situations and expanding the universe beyond those 79 precious original episodes.  Somewhat poignantly, given the events of today, that original novel was called Spock Must Die.  What began with Blish has grown to an industry of hundreds of authorized novels, covering not only the original series but all the Star Trek series that followed, and even expanding upon the universe to feature characters not seen in any of the series.  To this day, anytime I find myself in a used book store, I instinctively (my wife would say 'compulsively') gravitate to the sci-fi paperbacks, in search of a Star Trek novel I haven't read or -- more likely these days -- read once upon a time and forgot about.  There's also countless fan fiction and, increasingly, fascinating fan-made original episodes available for viewing on You Tube.  

I realize very little of that has to do with Leonard Nimoy, who died today at the age of 83, except to the degree that it is totally impossible to picture Mr. Spock, whether on screen or in the pages of an adaptation, without picturing the actor who originally brought him to life.  And though eulogies in the coming days will strain to tell of his other work (he directed the eighties comedy Three Men and a Baby!), he'll always be remembered for that iconic character.

Ultimately, he seemed to embrace that fact.  He especially seemed to have a sense of humor about his place in the pop culture pantheon when it came to commercials.  The website for Advertising Age has amusingly gathered some of them (be sure to check out the German-only one for Volkswagen!) but there are plenty of others.

Much like George Takei, Nimoy had even embraced new technology -- to a degree.  He didn't use his Twitter account (@TheRealNimoy) as frequently as other show-biz legends with more than a million followers, but every one of his tweets ended with the letters LLAP, shorthand for the traditional Vulcan greeting he introduced.  His last tweet, anticipating his death, read, "A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP."

He did.

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