This past week, I’ve been working pretty intensively on two science fiction anthologies and answering questions from my editor about The Astronomer’s Crypt. Both of the anthologies I’ve been working on have been full of science fiction action and adventure. Of course, one of those is Kepler’s Cowboys and it’s still open to submissions. You can find the guidelines at http://www.hadrosaur.com/antho-gl.html. During the week, I decided to take a break by spending some time with the original space cowboys, the crew of the Starship Enterprise in their new film Star Trek Beyond.
My love of Star Trek goes back about as far as I remember. In fact, even before I remember seeing an episode, a friend encouraged me to use my G.I. Joes in an imagined Star Trek adventure. We had a toy van of some sort and that became the Enterprise. We had two G.I. Joes. One was Captain Kirk and the other was Scotty, needed because he could fix the Enterprise when things went wrong. Soon after that, I made a point of looking for Star Trek on television so I could actually see an episode. This was only about two years after it went off the air, but it had started running on reruns. I soon found it and was captivated by the idea of going into space and exploring new worlds. It was the beginning of my love of both science and science fiction.
I literally grew up with Star Trek. It wasn’t just that they had adventures in space, it’s that the episodes had just enough of the ring of truth to make me believe adventures in space were possible. What was perhaps even more important was that Captain Kirk and his crew worked hard to understand the aliens they encountered, even when those aliens might, at first, seem to be out to get them. The mission of the Enterprise was to make friends despite people’s differences—an idea that resonated with me as a child growing up in Southern California and seems even more powerful now in these times when racial, religious, and sexual strife are once again rearing their ugly heads.
Because I’ve loved Star Trek so long, I feel like my love is a little like the love I have for my brothers. Sometimes I have great fun with Star Trek. Sometimes Star Trek really annoys me. Sometimes I ignore it altogether, though I do tend to feel guilty when I do. When J.J. Abrams brought back the original Star Trek characters in 2009, I was excited. I went to the movie and loved its sense of adventure and being reunited with familiar characters. It also annoyed me. I think I audibly groaned when Leonard Nimoy watched Vulcan destroyed from the surface of a distant planet. (You have to be awfully close to a planet to see as much detail as he did!) Without going into a laundry list, there were multiple moments like that in both the 2009 Star Trek and 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness.
What’s more, neither movie really gave us new worlds to explore. Both were about villains bent on taking revenge and harming the Earth. We didn’t get to see Captain Kirk even try to understand or make friends with these people. It wouldn’t have made sense in the context of those movies.
Which brings us to Star Trek Beyond. It opens with Kirk trying to make peace on an alien world. Although that doesn’t go so well, we don’t exactly forget that encounter and it pays off later in the story. The Enterprise soon goes to a new Federation space station, which is one of the most wondrous they’ve built. It reminded me of some of the cool things I’ve read in good SF novels, and even kind of reminded me a bit of the Babylon 5 space station. Then, they go off to explore an uncharted sector of space. They know there’s danger, an alien swarm that hurts others. In the course of the story, Kirk, Spock, and Scotty work to get to the bottom of the mystery and even make a friend or two along the way. I might have wondered about the science in a few places, but nothing made me audibly groan in the theater.
The end result was that Star Trek Beyond felt like going to one of those magical family reunions where everything actually went well and you realize why you love your family. I think a lot of credit goes to a solid script by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung. With a fourth Star Trek movie announced and a new TV series on the horizon, I hope the producers pay attention to what made this one work. It wasn’t perfect, but it embodied much of what makes Star Trek special to me.