The “Monsters” of Star Trek

I remember the first episode of the original Star Trek I watched. I must have been around five or six years old and Captain Kirk was being chased around the desert by the largest, most ferocious green lizard man I had ever seen. Monsters-Star-Trek When the creature first appeared hissing and growling with its strange, segmented eyes, it would have sent me to hide and watch from behind the couch if our couch hadn’t been backed against a wall. Scared as I was, the episode hooked me and even made me feel a little sorry for the green lizard man when Captain Kirk finally beat him. That likely was not only the beginning of my love of Star Trek but my love of monsters as well.

In 1980, soon after the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a book appeared at my local bookstore called The Monsters of Star Trek. It was a thin book clearly designed to capitalize on the new movie. On the cover was the Gorn—the lizard man from my childhood—so I had to pick it up. The book discussed mind-bending aliens such as the Talosians from the series pilot and Sylvia and Korob from Star Trek’s twisted Halloween episode “Catspaw.” It talked about dangerous animals such as the giant space amoeba and the ape-like Mugato. Browsing through the pages today, it strikes me that the original Star Trek dealt with vampires not just once but twice. In the first season, they met a salt vampire, then in the second, they met a vampire cloud that Kirk obsessively hunted. No doubt this contributed to my own vampire novels.

Of course many of Star Trek’s monsters prove to be misunderstood aliens or aliens who don’t understand humans. The most recent Star Trek movie, Beyond had an alien that definitely fell into this latter category—a swarm-like race led astray by an outside force. (I won’t say more, lest I give spoilers). I’ve always found swarms a bit scary, since they’re a large force with a single purpose, operating like one organism. For me, the best zombie stories work from this basis. One zombie is a little scary. A bunch of zombies working in concert is really scary! You can find my zombie stories in the anthologies Zombiefied: An Anthology of All Things Zombie and Zombiefied: Hazardous Materials from Sky Warrior Publishing.

As it turns out, zombies aren’t my only look at the scary swarm. In Owl Dance, I introduce Legion, a swarm of microscopic computers who decide to help humans evolve in the second half of the nineteenth century causing near disaster. Legion clearly took some inspiration from Star Trek. In fact, one of the chapters in The Monsters of Star Trek is called “Androids, Computers, and Mad Machines.”

I never really thought of myself as a horror writer or even a horror fan until I started reading Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft as an adult and writing my first vampire stories. That said, it’s interesting to look back and see how scary stories were influencing me even from an early age. Still, it should really be no surprise. I’ve often said my interest in science fiction novels began from paying attention to the writer credits on the original Star Trek. One of those writers was none other than Robert Bloch, a writer mentored by H.P. Lovecraft who would go on to write the novel Psycho. Bloch wrote the Star Trek episodes “Wolf in the Fold” about an evil entity who possessed Scotty and made him a murderer, “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” which featured Ted Cassidy from The Addams Family as a decidedly creepy android, and the aforementioned Halloween episode “Catspaw.” If you’re looking for some good creepy TV, you could do worse than hunt up copies of these episodes on video!

Going Beyond

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. Star_Trek_Beyond_poster 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.