Happy 49th Birthday, Star Trek!

 

Tonight marks the 49th Anniversary of the first screening of the classic Star Trek: TOS on US television, with the airing of “The Man Trap” on Thursday, September 8, 1966. Due to some strange network mental gymnastics, they managed to air this one, which should have actually been the FIFTH episode, first, and they aired the pilot episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, third. Go figure.

We poor, neglected souls over here in Ireland and the UK had to wait until July 12, 1969 before we first got to watch Star Trek on UK television, when it started in the traditional Saturday evening 5:15pm timeslot usually occupied by Doctor Who. Unlike in the US, we actually started with the pilot episode, although from that point on, there seemed to be no rhythm or rhyme to the sequence that the BBC showed the episodes in, and the series was not shown in airdate or production order.

The series was actually also shown over four seasons, rather than three, and some episodes were edited for violent content, with three of the episodes, “The Empath”, “Whom Gods Destroy” and “Plato’s Stepchildren”, not shown at all during the first run due to concerns over “sadistic elements” in the stories making them unsuitable for the series’ early “children’s” time slot. We had to wait until 1992 to finally see those episodes during a repeat re-run. To add to the insult, the episode “Miri”, which WAS shown in the initial run, was not shown again until 1993, due to “audience complaints” after the first screening. What a complete bunch of WUSSIES!!!

Just by coincidence, I’m sitting here right now with one of my friends, watching some classic TOS episodes on DVD. We started off with “Devil in the Dark”, then onto “Errand of Mercy”, which has just ended, and now we’re starting into “The Alternative Factor”. We’ll be finishing off with “The City on the Edge of Forever”, one of my favourite all-time Trek episodes, from ANY of the five series, and “Operation: Annihilate!”, another classic.

Extremely enjoyable night ahead for myself and friend, and oh yeah… Happy 49th Birthday Star Trek!

The Fog of Ward

“Space…the final frontier….”

These are the voyages where the legend began, 49 years ago tonight!

I’ve mentioned this before (about a zillion times), but my earliest memories include Star Trek to some degree. I wasn’t old enough to watch the show during its original broadcast run, but I watched the reruns every day after school. I did catch the original run of the cartoon on Saturday mornings, which also is celebrating its own anniversary, having premiered 42 years ago on this same date. Beyond that, I had the Mego figures and that crazy bridge set. I built the AMT models, and I read the occasional Gold Key comic book or poster book or collection of James Blish episode adaptations.

And, of course, there were the reruns. Always, the reruns.

Back then, before VCRs, DVD, iTunes or NetFlix, you had to wait for your favorite episodes to cycle back around in the rotation…

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Leonard Nimoy, RIP.

 

I rarely keep up with the celebrity news, so I got a real shock when I read this on Dayton Ward’s excellent blog a wee while ago. I’m sitting here stunned, in tears. I’m gutted. Totally gutted.

Even though Leonard Nimoy was old and in pretty bad health, and this sad news should come as no great surprise to anybody, I’m still gutted. He was always my favourite Star Trek character, and more than any other actor/character in TOS, he epitomized the whole ethos of Trek for me. Star Trek has always been a major part of my life, ever since I watched its first run on UK television as a starry-eyed eight year-old back in 1969-1970, and Spock was always the main man for me.

Leonard Nimoy may once have written a book titled “I am NOT Spock”, but, as far as I’m concerned, he IS and always WILL be Spock. No disrespect intended to Zachary Quinto or any other talented newcomers who try to fill Nimoy’s huge shoes, but the man is irreplaceable.

Live Long and Prosper my friend, wherever you may be.

The Fog of Ward

The New York Times and numerous other media outlets are reporting that Leonard Nimoy died earlier this morning at the age of 83. Our thoughts today are with his family and friends.

NYTimes.com: Leonard Nimoy, Spock of ‘Star Trek,’ Dies at 83

StarTrek.com also has a very nice tribute to Mr. Nimoy, chronicling his extensive career on the stage, television, and the silver screen as well as his writing, poetry, and other pursuits:

StarTrek.com: Remembering Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015

Last year, after he had become a regular, active presence on Twitter, he announced that he was suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and he attributed this to his years of smoking. Mr. Nimoy gave up the habit decades ago and even allowed his image to be used by the American Cancer Society to promote smoking cessation programs. I still have one of the posters from back in…

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Nostalgia Collecting – Old UK Comics and Annuals

They say that nostalgia is the narcotic of the over-forties. I’m almost fifty-three, and I can definitely admit that it’s particularly true of me. I’ve always been a very nostalgic person, always fascinated by the past, even back when I was a kid. So pretty much my entire life, I’ve been on a quest to collect old stuff, particularly stuff that has some meaning for me, or which connects me to the “Golden Age” of my youth.

In recent years, I’ve spent a lot of time and money on Ebay, picking up many of the rare relics of my childhood and early-to-mid teenage years. One of the things that I like most is to grab the occasional old (and by old, I mean 1950s-1970s) British comic, as opposed to the US Marvel comics (which I also enjoy collecting) that I became a fan of from my mid-teens onwards. Way back in the day, before I ever encountered my first superhero comics, I was an obsessive collector of several of the traditional British weeklies. But that was before Marvel UK exploded onto the UK comics scene with The Mighty World of Marvel and its offspring from late 1972 onwards, and changed everything.

Over the years I’ve bought a lot of old issues of my favourite pre-Marvel UK British comics from the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, mainly Lion, Valiant, Eagle and Thunder. I would also dearly love to be able to buy a whole bunch of Countdown and TV21 (otherwise known as TV Century 21), but these seem to be harder to find on Ebay and when you can find them, they are invariably a heckuva lot more expensive than the likes of the Lion, Valiant and Thunder. Maybe someday, when I’m rich. 🙂

Another particular focus of my collecting has been those old UK annuals, the hardback, once-yearly collections of strips and other goodies from our favourite comics. I remember these annuals very fondly from when I was a kid. They were the “Holy Grail” for me back then, something that I eyed up enviously in the shops, and which I really, really wanted to get my hands on, but which were way, way out of my price bracket. We were from a poor family, and I didn’t have a lot of pocket money back in those days (the late 60s and early 70s). And annuals unfortunately did cost on average ten times the price of those weekly comics which were already stretching my meagre resources to the limit. Back then, annuals were simply far too expensive for me to buy on a regular basis, and so were usually only acquired when I got them as occasional Christmas presents from my Dad or other relatives.

So, in adult life, I’ve been trying to rectify things a bit by picking up a lot of these old annuals, and I’ve developed a real knack for snapping them up dirt cheap, or, at least, relatively cheaply. I’ve managed to get my hands on most of the Valiant, Lion, and Thunder annuals, and a whole bunch of assorted other UK comics-based annuals including Hotspur, Battle, 2000AD, Starlord, Eagle, Dan Dare, Countdown, The Trigan Empire and a few others. Add to those the various 1970s annuals put out by Marvel UK, and that’s a lot of annuals.

And just to add quite a few more to the already huge pile, I’ve also built up quite a collection of annuals based on various television sci-fi series, including pretty much all of the Doctor Who Annuals right from the very first one in 1964 up until the late-1970s, plus a bunch of Star Trek, Space: 1999, Blake’s 7, UFO and other assorted television-based annuals.

I often look at these ever-growing stacks of old annuals and comics in my spare room, and wonder “Am I going mental? Why am I collecting all of this old stuff? What the hell am I going to do with them?” Then I open one of them and feel the tidal wave of nostagia wash over me, all the old memories boring up from the depths of my moth-eaten excuse for a brain. And I feel good. Really good. Maybe nostalgia is the narcotic of the over-forties after all, and if it is, I hold up my hands and proudly proclaim that I’m a complete addict.

At least nostalgia is a much safer and more productive addiction than cigarettes, booze and drugs. And we all need our little hobbies to spend our money on, or life would be unbearable, all bills and shopping and crappy Real Life nonsense. The thought of that being all there is to life makes me shudder…

Early Star Trek – How The Original Series Might Have Been

History is totally in the blood for me. I’m a hardcore history buff, and I’m fascinated by history of any kind. I majored in history at university, and I’m a history teacher by trade, although I packed it in very early on (almost thirty years ago) to become a DJ (more fun than teaching, and more money too). I loved the history, but not so much the dealing with classrooms full of rowdy teenagers who didn’t appreciate the subject the way I did.

It isn’t just “real” history that fascinates me, but also imagined or potential history, either past or future. As both a science fiction fan and an historian, the “what might have beens”, “what-ifs” and “what might bes” also really fascinate me. Like many a good SF geek, I’ve even made up a few “future” and “alternate” histories of my own over the years. So it’s hardly surprising that I often mix my love of history with my obsession with SF/sci-fi, both from a fictional and a philosophical perspective.

But it also fascinates me on a more academic level. And when I’m talking about history here, I’m not referring to the above-mentioned made-up future/alternate histories (which I absolutely love), but the real thing, the factual, background history and details of how SF literature or my favourite sci-fi series were conceived and how they evolved to become what we’re familiar with in our books and on our TV screens. Imagine the fun that any student of SF/sci-fi would have researching the history of SF, Star Trek, Doctor Who or some of their other favourite sci-fi shows? It would be a surefire A++ on any university course, wouldn’t it? You couldn’t stop me from studying obsessively for that one!

As a huge fan of Star Trek: The Original Series (from now on referred to as TOS), it was a given that I’d be totally fascinated by the history of Trek, in particular the very early history of TOS. How Gene Roddenberry came up with the idea, what all of his earliest concepts and ideas were, and how they evolved into the TOS that we all know and love. In my youth (this was 30-plus years ago, in the antediluvian pre-internet era), I used to dig up a lot of information from older TOS books with lots of behind-the-scenes info, and a particular favourite topic of mine was the initial (pre-James T. Kirk) creation and evolution of TOS history.

I recall one excellent early book – The Making of Star Trek, by Stephen E. Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry – that one had such a great influence on me. Up until that point I’d only ever read TOS fiction and a few behind-the-scenes magazine articles. Reading this book was like a shot in the head. This was the first time I’d ever come across anything documenting early TOS history in so much detail, and The Making of Star Trek certainly did give an abundance of info on Roddenberry’s earliest TOS concepts and scripts.

One of the earlier chapters in the book dealt with the radically different earliest concepts of the series, back in the days when Robert April was the first captain of the Enterprise (fans will remember him appearing later in the Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS) episode The Counter-Clock Incident). This one chapter was full of so much incredible background information (none of which I’d known before), complete with copious script excerpts, all of which was absolutely amazing, fascinating stuff to feed my obsessive, eager young geek mind!

Some of the differences with later, televised TOS were startling. I remember being totally shocked that Spock was originally a half-Martian, not half-Vulcan, with crazy, shaggy pointed eyebrows and red-tinged skin (instead of green), and he had LOTS of emotions. There were also no transporters in these initial concepts, and other ships had to routinely dock with the Enterprise. But this was quickly deemed to be far too costly as it would be happening in pretty much every episode, so the concept of the transporter was introduced (basically a beam of light and throw in some tinsel – can’t get much cheaper than that). The transporter is now such an integral part of the Star Trek universe that it’s incredible to think back and realize that it was only thought up to save money on the SFX budget.

As revisions and changes were made to the early Trek concepts, Robert April evolved into Christopher Pike, so we also get a lot of great background info on this part of TOS conceptual history. And, since the first pilot, The Cage, was based on these concepts, and was already a particular favourite story of mine, I was hooked. One of my favourite “What-If?” scenarios has always been “What if The Cage had been accepted by the networks?” What if Jeffrey Hunter had decided to stay on in the role of Captain Pike, (and also assuming he didn’t die in May 1969, and was able to carry on in the role) and there never was a James T. Kirk (I can hear the legions of female Kirk fans wailing in anguish)? What if Majel Roddenberry had remained as Number One, and Spock a less important character? And what if there had never been a McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu or Chekov? How different would the show have been, and how long would it have lasted?

It’s enough to make the mind boggle and get tied up in knots! As a hardcore hybrid historian and sci-fi/SF fanatic, I’ve always thought in terms of “what-ifs” and alternate histories, and this alternate version of Trek, splitting off from those initial pre-TOS concepts and developments, has always been one of my favourite “what-ifs”. This line of thinking opened up for me a whole new universe of a Totally Alternate TOS. As far as I’m aware, nothing like this concept exists anywhere in Trek fiction, either commercial or fan fiction, I’ve always thought that a TOS series and entire future TOS/TNG/DS9/VOY/ENT chronology built upon this alternate concept would be a great experiment for a new series of Trek fan fiction, with maybe even a few stories in collections like The New Voyages and Strange New Worlds.

I’d certainly love to see something like this, particularly in fan fiction or book form. I’m just amazed that nobody seems to have done it yet! 🙂

Fanzines – Creative Genius at the Grass Roots (Part Three)

In my previous two posts, I’ve talked about my general experiences with, and thoughts on, fanzines. Now I’ll share a few more specific thoughts about the actual zines that I’ve come across over the years.

The earliest zines that I collected date from the 1970s and early 1980s, and were mostly based around SF literature and comics. But these were sporadic, one-off zine purchases, and I didn’t really become a hardcore zine collector until well into the 1980s. The pattern of zine purchases in that latter period was also different to what it had been before, in that most of the zines that I collected from the mid-80s onwards were deliberate, regular purchases of individual titles, in order to have a complete collection of each of my favourite zines. The pattern was also different in that the vast majority of these newer zines were based around my favourite sci-fi television series, rather than SF literature and comics.

My first regular fanzine (which I have every issue of, more than twenty of them) was published in the mid-80s, the excellent Flickers ‘n’ Frames, a reviewzine, which now has its direct descendant on the internet in the form of The Borderland website. Flickers ‘n’ Frames ran the gamut of pretty much everything, publishing reviews of sci-fi films, TV series, books, graphic novels, music, and the occasional piece of fiction. This one zine pretty much kick-started my current obsession with collecting zines, and I immediately moved on to collecting other fanzines, mostly based around telefantasy and SF.

My main fanzine collecting years coincided with what is known as the “Golden Age” of Doctor Who fanzines, circa 1985-1995. And so most of the zines in my collection are therefore based on Doctor Who, which just happens also to be my favourite ever TV sci-fi series. Although I’ve got quite a few non-Doctor Who zines in my collection, such as the previously mentioned Flickers ‘n’ Frames, and a large number of other zines covering various cult television shows ranging from Star Trek, to Blake’s 7 and the various Gerry Anderson TV shows, the bulk of my collection is made up of Doctor Who zines. That love of Doctor Who zines continues right up until the present day, and I still collect as many of the current batch of zines as I can.

The hoard of zines that I collected over the years covered many different themes and types, but most of them tended to fall into several different categories.

The first, and largest, category was the general review and article-based zines, which covered not only Doctor Who and other telefantasy series, but often other completely unrelated topics as well. They usually also included the occasional piece of fan fiction. These were mostly traditional A5 zines, and included (off the top of my head):

Circus (which also went A4 for several issues out of the eight-issue run).

Star-Begotten.

Soft Targets (A6).

625.

Brave New World.

Purple Haze.

Peladon.

Cygnus Alpha.

Auton.

Game of Rassilon.

Club Tropicana.

Burning the Ground.

the original Skaro.

Rumours.

Apocrypha.

Shockeye’s Kitchen.

Timelines (the fanzine of the Grand Order of the Time Lords).

Frontios.

Cybermag.

Sonic Screwdriver.

Queen Bat/Space Rat.

Eye of Harmony.

Vipod Mor.

Drake’s Drum (an A5 Star Trek zine).

and a few others that I can’t recall right now. But occasionally the zines were A4 and glossy (or sometimes not), such as:

Celestial Toyroom (the news/reviewzine of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society).

Second Dimension.

Matrix.

Skaro.

Antoinine Killer.

Metamorph.

Metamorph II.

Shadowsphere.

Neutron Flow.

The Tomb.

and a few others that I can’t remember off the top of my head.

The second category was fictionzines, mostly A5 but sometimes A4, zines composed almost totally of fan fiction based on Doctor Who, Star Trek or other telefantasy series. I’ve always had a soft spot for good quality fan fiction, so I have a LOT of fictionzines in my collection, including:

A5:

Mandria.

Silver Carrier and many other one-off fictionzine “novels” by the excellent Seventh Door Fanzines.

Chronicle.

Cosmic Masque (the fictionzine of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society).

Inner Door.

The Key and The Key Presents.

the various Gallifreyan Presses publications.

A4:

Inferno Fiction.

Fan Aid – The Storytellers.

Wondrous Stories.

Black Pyramid.

Universal Dreamer.

Vortex.

Trenchcoat (US Letter).

Myth Makers (US Letter).

and, again, quite a few others that I can’t recall right now. Again, mostly Doctor Who zines.

The third category was the larger A4, glossy (and often more colourful) semiprozines such as:

The Frame, which contained an enormous amount of photographs and background information on Doctor Who.

DWB, which started off as a semi-prozine dedicated to Doctor Who, but then morphed into Dreamwatch Bulletin and finally the professional newsstand magazine Dreamwatch, which covered telefantasy and sci-fi cinema of all shades.

Century 21 (based, obviously, around Gerry Anderson shows).

Portal 31 (a tribute to the classic TV21 comic).

There are quite a few other zines that I haven’t mentioned, as this is all from memory, but this is a good sub-section of them, all falling into the three categories which cover most of the zines in my collection.

To Be Continued…

In the Beginning… My Earliest Days on the Internet (Part One)

I’ve been online for a long time now, almost twenty years, in fact. My love affair with the internet started when I first came online on Christmas morning, December 1995, and has continued ever since. I can now barely remember what life was like before the internet, and it’s so much part of my daily existence nowadays that I simply couldn’t picture how my life would be without it.

Back in those days, the internet had been up and running for a while, but the World Wide Web was still in its infancy, and only a relatively few people were brave enough to venture out into the “wilds” of the Web, using nothing but one of the primitive web browsers available at the time. Besides, that early on in the Web’s existence, there weren’t really very many good websites out there anyway. So most of the fledgling web denizens tended to hang out in the safe online enclaves provided by the large commercial online services such as AOL, CompuServe and GEnie, which dominated the internet during its first couple of decades. And it was on CompuServe, otherwise known as CIS (CompuServe Information Service) that I was to spend my first few years on the internet.

In the heyday of CompuServe and AOL, every UK household used to get AOL and CompuServe CDs regularly in the mail. They bred like rabbits! I had dozens of them lying around the house, so many that I was never short of beer mats. 🙂 Early on Christmas morning, I unpacked my latest, most anticipated Christmas present, a shiny new US Robotics Sportster 28.8k modem, connected it to the computer, popped a CompuServe CD in the drive, and I was off and running. I was about to enter the online world for the very first time.

I was a huge Doctor Who, Babylon 5 and Star Trek fan at that time (I still am), so the very first thing I did after joining CompuServe was to become a member of the SFMEDIA forum, a busy, bustling community full of nice, friendly sci-fi geeks, who all just happened to love the same kind of television series and films that I did. After living my entire life in almost complete isolation from other sci-fi fans, I was now in geek heaven. I had literally thousands of like-minded geeks to converse with online every single day. I made my first posting in the Babylon 5 section of SFMEDIA at 4.55am on Christmas morning, and never looked back.

As I was also a big fan of written SF, I moved on to join the SFLIT forum a day or two later, and I liked that forum even better than SFMEDIA. Then, after a few weeks finding my feet in the two SF forums, and as I was also a comics fan, I joined the COMICS & ANIMATION forum, then the SCIENCE forum, the SPACE forum, the HISTORY forum, and quite a few others. But it was the SFMEDIA, SFLIT and COMICS & ANIMATION forums which always remained my main hang-outs, my central “base of operations”, so to speak. From 1995, up until about 2002, my entire online existence, both on CompuServe and elsewhere revolved around those three forums.

These were the days before everyone and their dog had their own webpage/website, when anyone who was anybody had a presence on CompuServe. Big companies like IBM, Microsoft, Lotus and Borland had their own communities there, and ran their online business from CompuServe. Many of the big SF authors and fandom figures hung out on SFLIT (Mike Resnick, Ray Feist, Catherine Asaro, David Gerrold, Jeff Carver, Gardner Dozois, Jon Stith, Dave Truesdale and many others come to mind), the likes of Joe Straczynski (yeah, JMS himself) hung out on SFMEDIA, and Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Steve Gerber and many other big comics writers and artists hung out on COMICS & ANIMATION.

Having notable media figures like this all in one place, interacting directly with fans and other members in the forums every single day, made CompuServe an absolutely incredible place to be back in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

To Be Continued…

It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part Two)

The Golden Years – Geek Nirvana During the Seventies

The start of our teenage years is the sweet spot for the vast majority of us, particularly geeks, the beginning of what is probably the most fondly remembered period of our lives.

It’s long enough ago that most of our memories are fond, rosy ones, but it’s also the first time in our lives from which we retain reasonably accurate and continuous recollections of events (unlike our earlier childhood – most memories from our first decade are pretty vague and fragmented). And it is also during these years that many of us have the most fun and freedom to do what we want (after we finish our homework, of course), before adulthood arrives and the bland banalities, responsibilities and worries of “grown-up” life start to descend upon us.

I mentioned in my previous posting that my childhood was a far from happy one. Things got even worse when I was eleven years old, when my parents separated, leaving my father to raise five kids on his own. He was forced to leave his job, and our descent into poverty became even more severe. To top it all off, my father’s health began to decline sharply after my mother left, and, as the “oldest”, I was shoehorned into the role of “surrogate mother” from this very tender age, taking over the extremely heavy responsibilities of not only looking after my father, but also the other four kids, one of whom was also very severely disabled.

To be blunt, I was a very unhappy young boy as a teenager, one who sought refuge in a world of make-believe. Any kind of an escape from this dreary and depressing reality was a welcome one, and I immersed myself in an alternate world of comics, sci-fi worlds on television, in films, and in great SF literature. I also became very preoccupied with drawing and writing.

To refer to these interests as mere “hobbies” would be a complete understatement. They were obsessions, a vital lifeline for me, and I depended on them utterly to keep me sane, when everything around me was so gloomy and depressing. Since childhood, and throughout my entire life, these “obsessions” have been entrenched as fundamental pillars of my personality and way of thinking, and I simply cannot imagine my life without them.

I may already have been a proto-geek from a much earlier period in my life, but the beginning of my teens marks the time from which I can seriously start referring to myself as a true, hardcore geek. Things may not have been rosy on the domestic and personal front, but my hobbies and obsessions certainly first started to kick into overdrive in a very big way at this age, almost certainly to compensate for my miserable “Real Life”. I was also now growing old enough to be much more sophisticated, systematic and discerning when it came to what I was “into”. And what I was into, and I mean REALLY into, was the Holy Trinity of SF literature, Sci-Fi on television and in films, and Comics.

All through the 1970’s, up until around 1977-78, was a “Golden Age” for me, from a geek perspective anyway, the completely opposing mirror image of my crappy “real life”. All during my teens there was a steady procession of classic sci-fi TV shows and films on local television, and although I had my favourites – Doctor Who, Star Trek, UFO, The Time Tunnel – I loved them all to a lesser or greater extent.

By this stage of my life I was also a totally obsessive reader of both comics (particularly the Marvel UK reprint comics) and SF literature. I’d started off initially in my pre-teens with Wells and Verne, then moving onto Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, and anything else that I could read. By my early teens, the whole world of SF literature was my oyster. I was discovering great new (to me, anyway) authors like H. Beam Piper, Cordwainer Smith, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Frederik Pohl, John W. Campbell, Jr, Alfred Bester, Henry Huttner, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Clark Ashton Smith and many, many others.

By my mid-teens, I was neck-deep in my alternate geek world, spending every available second on my hobbies. I just couldn’t get enough of the whole Sci-Fi/Comics/SF Literature thing, and it seemed like the good days would never end.

But I was wrong.

To Be Continued…