Before I became familiar with the words fan boy or trekkie, I was a fifteen year old who spent an obscenely large part of his allowance and wage on novelisations of the Star Trek series. My siblings considered my habit a waste of money, and they were probably right, for those books now languish on the shelf back at home, coated in dust, browning at the edges, reminder of a time when I was making the right choices in life, or was I?
Perchance to Dream was the first book I read in the series, and for the longest time I thought The Next Generation was the original Star Trek series. Then I discovered the miracle of the Internet and self-medicated my ignorance. But even after knowing that Kirk and his crew were the original folks, Picard’s Enterprise remained my home. (Patrick Stewart is always Picard to me, not Prof Xavier.) I loved all the members of the crew of that ship, and sometimes even admired villains like the anti-hero Q. But of them all, La Forge, Data, and Wes Crusher were my absolute favourites: a black engineer, an android, and a teenage wunderkind. It was years later that I realised the implication of my chosen ones.
There is, now, a lot of talk about the importance of having diverse storytellers, and futures written by people apart from the old white-male default. There was a time I didn’t get the fuss about diversity. I’d always been aware of the unbearable whiteness of the Hollywoodian future, and how black people managed, in centuries yet unseen, to still retain their status as slaves and servants, but I never believed that had any effect on me. Then I dug a little into the books I’d loved as a child and realised I, too, was a walking proof of the case made by the advocates of more stories from marginalized people and communities. I remember reading Deep Space Nine and seeing Sisko talk to his son, while packing what was described as a Nigerian mask (probably Yoruba; I can’t remember), and being very excited about the idea of something Nigerian making it into space.
La Forge was black, so although I admireed the fact that he was an engineer, it is easy to see why I would like him better than Scotty—plus, that VISOR was rad. Wes was a kid who knew a lot and could do preternatural things with his mind, and for a while I really wanted to be smart like him. Of course I abandoned the idea of extraordinary smartness later. (That I liked Data, an android that wanted to feel like humans, is something we—my brain and I—are still trying to figure out its psychology.) Without being told, I had gravitated towards the characters who were more like me. Through them, I could see myself in the future; I could dream. If there’s anything I consider valuable today, it is this ability dream.
That I spend a bulk of my time now writing stories is perhaps the only good thing to come out of all that dreaming, and it’s also the reason I’m not ready to concede that my siblings were right about my wasting money on those novels. There are no easy ways to quantify investments on the imagination. The more I read, the more I realise the importance of a little girl in Okeho being able to see herself as a future NASA engineer, or a Biophysicist on Ganymede and Io, or a punk-rock star touring the planets in Andromeda. This is what stories can do. This is what Star Trek did to me.
I stopped reading the Star Trek novels when I started uni., and haven’t gone back to them ever since. Whenever I feel nostalgic about the Federation and it’s utopic vision of the future, I just watch episodes on the Internet. I read a lot more now, have lived the lives of a lot more characters, yet, its mostly books written by white folks who look nothing like me. But I also know that I’m still looking for myself in those books, not just in the physical, but in the emotions and inner lives of the characters, in the displacement they feel in this increasingly dystopian world.
It’s fifty years, this week, since Gene Roddenberry created that wonderful series. Here’s to dreams, brought to us all by Star Trek; may they live long and prosper. 🙂
Featured Image via Flickr by hobvias sudoneighm (took me a while to realise how cool that username is)