Fuzzy images of rockets and lunar modules flickered across the black/green screen as gasps of astonishment and wonder volleyed back and forth between the two couples. I knew then, that something important was happening. I even understood that men were walking on the moon, and that they had traveled there in a tube powered on reason, science and balls of steel. The living room of this particular home opened on one end to full sized windows which led out to an upper balcony. Through the glass, I could see the moon, painted silver, sitting quietly on a cloudy pillow in the royal blue sky of the Southern Hemisphere. My eyes shifted, in slow time, between the images on the television, the expression-filled faces of the grownups in the room, and the moon. Perhaps unlike so many, whose love for science was born of science fiction, my love of science fiction was born of fact, as it unfolded in black and white that hot spring night, so far away, and so long ago.
Often, as a child, riding my bicycle, I would fantasize that I was instead in command of the Starship Enterprise, from Star Trek, or the Jupiter 2, from Lost in Space. Bath time was just an excuse to journey fathoms below on the atomic powered Sea-View 7, or Jules Vern’s Nautilus. It was also the beginning of a lifelong love affair with all things mechanical. As tomorrow’s wizardry becomes today’s playthings, I have found much happiness in acquiring the skills and knowhow to build, design, adapt and customize in my own workshop. I am able to see and interpret most machines and devices from ‘the inside out.’ In my mind’s eye I can visualize, or imagine, a “blueprint” of how something is put together, which often surrenders its secrets before I take something apart. Music, for me, is similar. Creating music, or even repairing or building anything, is sometimes like following a path through a forest. Sometimes the path is clearly marked, sometimes you have to get on your hands and knees to see it, and every once in while there is no path at all. Sometimes you just have to cut your own way through.
Today Eileen and I went to see the new Star Trek movie, “Star Trek, Into the Darkness.” To say that I am a “fan” is putting it rather lightly. I'm older than the original series, but only by a year, and it’s fair to say that Star Trek and I, like so many others, have grown up together. It’s the genius of Star Trek that has kept me riveted for so long, and the hope that we may in fact know a similar reality.
I loved the movie, as I'm sure I will love, and faithfully see, every Star Trek or science fiction offering the future may hold, but still….this time….something was wrong. It wasn’t until we were on the way home that I began to realize what was so off-putting about today’s trip to the movies. First, it was fantastic! It was in fact, too fantastic. So much of the success of the story depended on moments of “good” luck on the part of the new Captain Kirk that his ingenuity and cunning seem to have been written out of the script. It is Spock’s character who steals the show, which is OK, but it guess I just liked it the other way around. Now before every other Trekker writes to me and tells me I don’t know what I'm talking about, and have completely missed the point of the new “time-line,” let me say this…you are probably correct…but it isn’t logical….
This brings me to the second reason I’m writing all this about what is, after-all, just a movie. It was entirely predictable. I had purposely stayed clear of most of the previews, and did not read any reviews or spoilers, but I could easily have (If I could type fast enough) written the script about a five minutes head as the movie unfolded before my eyes. I felt like I was asked to watch a story, albeit in a new time line, that I had watched before. The visual effects, outrageously stunning! The movie “magic,” wonderful! The acting, very cool!.......but never for one second did I get the sense of excitement as I wondered what was going to happen next. I did not experience any anticipation, nor sense of relief at the outcome. This is, after all, what science fiction is all about. It is to this, that I felt the movie left me wanting more.
One thing that never gets old is watching the Enterprise transverse from impulse power to warp speed. It has been the delight of my inner child for decades. I have played “Starship Enterprise” in my car, on my motorcycle, on my sailboat, my bicycle and even when I learned to fly. Science fiction is not merely a media genre. It is the living-out-loud of our hopes and dreams, our ideas and future possibilities. It’s possible, I suppose, that we have even become used to seeing something marvelous on screen, only to realize it as part of our daily lives in a few short years.
As a civilization, we have landed spacecraft on three planets, two moons and three other celestial bodies. We have traveled beyond our solar system, more than eleven billion miles, and are still going. We have found 778 (seven hundred and seventy eight) planets, including those in our own stellar back yard. We are just beginning, and soon I imagine our own galactic infancy will find new purpose. It’s up to us to inspire ourselves. It’s up to us write the soundtrack that fuels genius. It’s up to us to turn fear and apprehension into poetry and courage. It would be a crime against all of us, if we begin to settle for what we see on the big screen….as real enough.