Review: Star Trek Lives!

Star Trek Lives! by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Sondra Marshak, and Joan Winston

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As much as I (lovingly!) poke fun at tumblrinas (definition: any bright-eyed lady fan younger than me on tumblr), I realize that every generation of fan can say the same thing about the generation that comes after. Just as I shake my fist about how we used to have to wait for movies to come out to write fic about them, there’s a woman shaking her fist at me about how you used to have to join mailing lists to get your fix, and a woman shaking a fist at her about how you used to have to subscribe to ‘zines to get your fix. As the development of technology accelerates, fandom has definitely benefited. How else could JaegarCon happen mere weeks after Pacific Rim came out?

And yet, I find something romantic about ye olden days of fandom—specifically, the 1970s and 1980s. (Some people find the Tudor court romantic. I apparently like plumbing too much.) Sure, you basically had to luck into actually finding fandom, but you were actually forging the template for media fandom (as opposed to more male-dominated sci-fi fandom) for years to come. We all have much to owe to our Trekkie foremothers.

I’ve wanted to read Star Trek Lives! for a very long time. Not only is it a historical record of Star Trek fandom, it also generated fandom. For some people, this was their first encounter with the concept. Luckily, Lichtenberg, Marshak, and Winston are writing for both the seasoned fan who wants to learn more about the future of Star Trek (1975 saw increased interest in a Star Trek film or even a revived series), for new Star Trek fans, and people who have seen Star Trek but don’t understand fan culture at all.

It’s very easy, when defending fandom, to either raise your hackles so far that you’re too defensive to talk, or to make excuses for how “silly” it is. (Remember, “if you like something then it’s not stupid or unimportant.”) But our three merry authors calmly and enthusiastically delineate why Star Trek has a fandom, why that fandom loves it, and who makes up that fandom. (Given that the contemporary fan stereotype is a white gentleman in his twenties, it’s beyond delightful to see a Star Trek fan roll her eyes at the stereotype that all Star Trek fans are little old ladies in Keds.) The most defensive they get is listing off the unique and interesting people who have been touched and inspired by the show, from a high school student who reconsidered dropping out to a widow whose sense of purpose was reaffirmed by the show. There’s also the occasional backpat for being such astute and sophisticated consumers of pop culture that they watch shows “properly”, but it’s the 1970s. I can give them a little leeway there.

It’s harder to give leeway for the dated gender views, because modern fandom is so vocal about representation. One of my go-to examples when people roll their eyes about fanfiction is a fic where two female cadets at the Mumbai Starfleet Academy talk about the events of the 2009 film in order to dissect what the film says about whiteness, masculinity, and America. (I’ve never been able to find it again.) There’s a lot of language about how men want to be Spock and women want to be worthy of being with Spock. (It was 1975. Spock was everybody’s favorite character.)

But the analysis that composes about half the book is largely free of this sort of thing at its core. Lichtenberg, Marshak, and Winston list off exactly why people respond to Star Trek in the way that they do. A charming majority of it focuses on Spock—again, 1975, everybody’s favorite—but the largest reason is that Star Trek has a specific attitude about the world (as opposed to the limp, “boys will be boys” assumptions of some sitcoms). It envisions a world where all of humanity can work together, no matter their differences—but not in a way that ignores their differences. Fans are often accused of escapism (Tolkien had a good joke about that—it’s only jailers who are so concerned with escape), but our authors claim otherwise:

In STAR TREK, the fan escapes not from reality but to reality—to a reality where failure is only the prelude to success, where strength, determination and integrity can earn triumph just as Spock has won his battle of virtue of his strength. (159)

And that’s why Star Trek has endured as a franchise for so long. Even when it fails (I just watched that Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where they think it’s a good idea to send Riker down to a planet of easily offended ladies; oh, honey), it’s still trying to make a sweeping, optimistic statement about the future and about ourselves. Dreamy.

During Winston’s description of her set visit, she mentions getting a particularly goofy photo taken with Shatner. This book doesn’t include it, but it recently turned up at the Mary Sue’s tumblr! Adorable.

Bottom line: Some of the analysis’ language is a little dated, but the core of Star Trek Lives! remains—why people love the show to the point of fandom and how you can get involved. Well, could, back in 1975. A, shall we say, fascinating piece of fannish history.

I bought this book from Amazon.

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