Star Trek has had an enormous influence on the world of science fiction ever since it aired on NBC in 1966. Gene Roddenberry’s drama aboard a spaceship introduced millions of viewers to science fiction across the world, and inspired some viewers to become science fiction authors in their own right.
We asked a handful of authors how they came to discover Star Trek, and how the show inspired them. Here is what they told us:
Allen M. Steele, author of Coyote and Arkwright:
I was eight years old when Star Trek came on the air, so I was in on it from the beginning... but in a strange sort of way. The NBC affiliate in my hometown, Nashville TN, didn't show the first season; it was pre-empted in that Friday 9PM time slot by a locally produced country music program. No one knows the the reason why — NBC had been showing preview trailers for Star Trek all summer long, so kids like me were looking forward to it — although it's been rumored that WSM-TV didn't want to air a show that featured a black woman in a starring role.
I caught up with Star Trek the following Christmas when my sister Genevieve gave me the first Star Trek novel written by James Blish. However, because I had nothing to go on except for the James Bama cover illustration, the trailer, and a small handful of cast photos in TV Guide, my mental images of the Enterprise and its crew were almost entirely from my own imagination. For me, Star Trek began as a literary experience, not as something I saw on TV.
Therefore, on my mental screen, Kirk was much older; Spock was bald and very, very green; McCoy looked like my pediatrician (who had a strong resemblance to Leo G. Carroll); and the interior of the Enterprise looked much like the Jupiter II from Lost in Space. It wasn't until the following year that WSM finally dumped the Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton Show and began showing ST in the middle of its second season, and that's when I got to see what all these people and places really looked like.
Stanley Love, retired Astronaut, STS-122
Peter Tieryas, VFX artist and author of United States of Japan:
What I loved about Star Trek was that its focus wasn't so much on science fiction as it was about humanity and deeper social issues. The best episodes bring a whole new perspective on modern problems and form an ideal which we can aspire to, whether it's the historical and moral quandaries of The Next Generation, to how religion and war push the boundaries of the Federation in Deep Space 9.
Whenever I write, I think about the way my favorite episodes influenced me
That's in a sense what makes so many episodes timeless with messages that still resonate all the way back to TOS. Whenever I write, I think about the way my favorite episodes influenced me and try to re-create that thematic link in my stories so that it's more than just some cool sci-fi idea (or in my case, mechas fighting). One episode that has always stuck out for me was "Tapestry" from TNG. Q gives Picard a chance to change one of the big regrets in his life and he does, only to find that his earlier recklessness and boldness was what gave his life later meaning. This is one of those episodes I think a lot about whenever I'm faced with an important decision.
Mistakes are okay (even if it means losing your heart and getting it replaced with an artificial one like Picard), and accepting the parts of ourselves that we might not like as much later actually forms the "tapestry" of our lives.
Madeline Ashby author of vN, iD, and Company Town:
Growing up, Star Trek was a silly show that my dad liked, and occasionally we would watch it together. I remember sitting on the threadbare couch in the duplex my parents rented, the one with the green shag carpet that looked like Scotty had beamed it right from an M-class planet and onto our floors, and watching syndicated episodes with Dad. Dad recorded them on a Betamax, pausing during commercials and editing in-deck to create almost-seamless commercial-free episodes. Dad was convinced that "City on the Edge of Forever" was the best episode ever made. He kept it on a 4-hour Betamax tape with "The Cage." (For my money, "The Menagerie" is more interesting; Trek has always been best when it's about policy, and the implications of policy.)
Later the show was there for me during university, during lazy noons between classes, on late mornings with a lover who everyone agreed was more of a Spock than a Kirk. By then my friends and I were already doing nostalgic marathons of TNG: after 9/11 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, we fantasized about our leaders being Picards. It's why we voted in Obama — Obama, our first nerd president, is a Picard. I married the Spock.
Now I'm married again, to a man who is more Kirk than Spock. He's in the other room, home sick from work and watching TOS reruns as we speak. Perhaps I'm biased by current experience, but I've come to see Kirk in a new light. Kirk is just a guy who craves the validation of command, and loves his crew more than he loves the Federation. His primary goal is making sure everyone gets home okay. Like we the audience, he's happiest when the bridge crew is together, functioning well, playing their parts, doing their bit. He's as comforted and soothed by the episodic nature of his life as we are by the formula of each episode. Much has been written about the revolutionary nature of Trek, about its hopeful depiction of an inclusive future, of its predictive accuracy when showcasing the communicator and tricorder. Now, as automation ramps up and more people are out of work (or alienated from what labour they do have), I think what Trek does best is show us a future without money wherein people can and do love their jobs, challenge themselves, and think through the ramifications of their decisions. That attitude in itself is world-changing.
Geetanjali Dighe, author of Living with Trees and The Last Dying Man:
Eugene Myers, author of Fair Coin and Silence of Six:
Star Trek accounts for my first professional rejections; when I was in junior high, I wrote spec scripts for Star Trek: DS9 and Star Trek: Voyager (on a typewriter!) and submitted them to Paramount, which was still considering unsolicited manuscripts at the time. They didn't take them, so I guess that also makes the stories my first real attempts at fan fiction... I also submitted a story to one of the early Strange New Worlds fanfic anthologies, well before I tried writing and publishing my own original fiction. Later, Star Trek clearly influenced and perhaps inspired my first novel, Fair Coin, particularly the alternate universe episodes "Mirror, Mirror" (TOS) and "Parallels" (TNG).
I realized that the best science fiction can be entertaining as well as profound
In my freshman year of college I joined a discussion group about the "moral and philosophical issues in Star Trek," which later expanded to reflect all science fiction. That was probably the first time I looked at the shows critically and recognized how often they commented on human nature and problems in society, as the Twilight Zone had — and realized that the best science fiction can be entertaining as well as profound. Even with all the SF literature I read growing up, Twilight Zone and Star Trek most shaped my interests in SF and the kinds of stories I want to tell.
Elizabeth Bonesteel, author of The Cold Between:
I was raised with The Original Series, and went to my first Star Trek convention when I was 11 (my dad bought me a tribble). It’s probably hard to overstate how much Star Trek has influenced my view of science fiction, and what I tend to create myself. Star Trek, even in its darkest moments, tells a story of hope, and even peace — that we may yet manage to let go of the constraints and prejudices that hold us back, and not only survive in the future, but thrive.
For me, the message of Star Trek has always been that each of us makes the choice — to do good, or not; to move forward, or not; to help, or not — and that our individual choice matters. We are all connected, and you don’t have to be The Chosen One to work toward a positive future. I think that’s definitely a theme in the kinds of stories I like to tell: that you don’t have to have super powers to make a difference. You just have to have courage at the right time.
Nerine Dorman, author of Khepera Rising and Khepera Redeemed:
Star Trek was my introduction to SF as a genre, and it was on telly in South Africa during the 1980s at a time when South African broadcasting was... well, not that exciting. I do recall watching it with my parents, and the series most certainly inspired us kids to be fearless explorers when we played our make-believe games. Because I was a girl, I could never be the captain, of course, but we still had loads of fun. Years later, TNG aired, and Patrick Stewart will always make my heart beat a little faster. I was able to see First Contact on the big screen, and the Borg scared me witless; on a subconscious level there was a message there too, that has taken me years to digest.
This is the future we'd like to see, where humanity is able to grow into its role as noble protectors of the galaxy
I think what I love best about Star Trek is the idealism about our future in space that is encapsulated in the setting. This is the future we'd like to see, where humanity is able to grow into its role as noble protectors of the galaxy. Star Trek is aspirational. It reminds me to look up at the stars from time to time, and dream of something more, something bigger than what we currently are — mired in petty squabbles about outdated Bronze Age godlings that cause us to tear ourselves to pieces. As a storyteller I understand that I might not be able to make those destiny-changing decisions for my species, but I can weave the tales that might inspire future decision-makers to reach for the stars instead of grubbing in mud and blood.
Susan Jane Bigelow, author of Broken and Sky Ranger:
Star Trek was one of my foundational science fiction experiences. I watched Star Trek reruns and new episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation every week with my sister in the basement of our house. I went to conventions, bought pins, wrote weird fanfic, and dreamed and dreamed and dreamed.
If I had to pick a few things, I would say that Star Trek captured the essence of a grand venture into a dangerous, limitless unknown more than any other science fiction I've ever encountered. A lot of my love of science fiction and humanity's own real-life space programs sprang from that sense of wonder Star Trek kindled in me. I also have a real love of stories set on spaceships, especially ones that are all about interaction and drama between members of the crew.
But mostly I think Star Trek gave me a love of storytelling. One of the first things I ever wrote and shared was a Trekparody called "Star Trek Sells Out," which I wrote on our Apple IIgs. The only thing I remember from it is Captain Picard saying "fire at will!" and everyone shooting at Will Riker. My jokes have improved, but that's really where it all started.
David Brin, author of Existence and Startide Rising:
Five decades ago, I was at the perfect age. Almost sixteen, pumped with eagerness for science and fiction and outer space and dreams of escaping the dreary prisons of home and high school. And suddenly on the dreary wasteland of TV, in vivid color, appeared something completely unlike anything we ever saw before. Star Trek.
But Star Trek was something else, something new. It lifted, surprised, challenged and offered hope. Amid the ructions of that awful decade – from Vietnam to civil rights to riots and assassinations – here was the notion that hope was conceivable. That (shoo-be-do) things were going to be all right.
In any event, the ship -- Star Trek’s Enterprise -- stands for something, every time we look at it. This traveling city is civilization. The Federation’s culture and laws, industry and consensus values -- like the Prime Directive -- are all carried in this condensed vessel, along with the dramatic diversity of its crew. Every single time there is an adventure, the civilization of the United Federation of Planets is put to the test, through its proxy, the hero-ship.
At times, this lets the show poke at mistakes, ways that some error or flaw or even crime is being done, in civilization’s name! And generally, it is shown best healed by light. Only, when the Enterprise (or Voyager or DS9) passes each test, often with flying colors, so too, by implication, does civilization itself.
A civilization that might – perhaps -- even be worthy of our grandchildren.
(Excerpted from To Boldly Go... Star Trek at Fifty)
F. Brett Cox, Professor of English, editor of Crossroads: Tales of the Southern Literary Fantastic:
The original Star Trek first aired when I was in grade school. It was, for all intents and purposes, my first exposure to science fiction. It’s hard to overstate the show’s impact. Here was far-future space exploration presented, not as a series of brute encounters with monsters, but as a (more or less) plausible and coherent scenario.
Here was the remarkable notion that what was new and different could be understood
Here was the remarkable notion that what was new and different could be understood. Here was the basic apparatus of science fiction — first contact, time travel, interstellar travel, computer tech — presented as a given. Here was a multiethnic workplace, also presented as a given. (I would be surprised if the current generation were not sick and tired of hearing people my age go on about this aspect of the show, but it was true, and it mattered even more than you can imagine.) Here were, as needed, exciting race-against-time crises. Here was Spock. Spock! Mad love to Spock.
Did it influence my own work? Maybe not so much — although I think the first science fiction story I ever tried to write contained a reference to warp drive. Did it influence me? You bet. To this day, I cannot regard Star Trek in any of its incarnations with anything other than affection and gratitude.
Becky Chambers, author of A Long Way to A Small, Angry Planet
Some of my earliest memories are of Star Trek. I have fuzzy recollections of sitting on the couch between my parents as Jerry Goldsmith's majestic fanfare blasted out of our clunky '80s TV, eating rocky road out of the tub, too little to understand that what I was watching wasn't real. The Reading Rainbow episode "The Bionic Bunny Show" -- in which LeVar Burton goes behind-the-scenes on the TNG set -- blew my mind wide open. That was how I grasped that TV was something people made, that you could build spaceships and phasers and alien masks. That was the first domino that started me down the path toward writing sci-fi. And as I grew up, Star Trek was ever-present. I was two when "Encounter at Farpoint" aired. I was sixteen when "Endgame" aired. That's new Star Trek episodes every year, regular as clockwork, from the start of childhood to adolescence. I watched them religiously. If that's not formative, I don't know what is.
Star Trek has continued to shape my life since then -- I met my wife in 2004 in a Trek-themed play-by-post RPG -- and it is hands-down the biggest creative influence on my writing. I cherish Star Trek's hopeful vision of the future, and that's a quality I aim for in my own work (albeit on a much smaller scale and different stage). I very consciously thought about Star Trek when working on my first novel -- the things I loved, the things I didn't, the ideas I wanted to riff on and take elsewhere. My imagining of the future is more scuffed and humble than Roddenberry's post-scarcity utopia, but it is born out of that idea, no question. I wouldn't be writing optimistic space opera if I hadn't been brought up with my head full of said same.
William Ledbetter, author of In A Wide Sky, Hidden, and The Long Fall Up:
I'm really old, so I remember seeing first runs of Star Trek (along with other '60s science fiction programs like Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Johnny Quest, etc.) on network TV when I was a kid. Between programs like Star Trek and watching the actual moon landings on TV, I grew up with the idea of space travel permanently embedded in my head.
Of course I wanted to be an astronaut, but as I grew older, I realized that was going to be very hard to do, especially when the military told me I could never be a fighter pilot (that was about the only route open to being an astronaut then) since I didn't have perfect vision. So I downgraded my ambition slightly, but have still worked in the aerospace industry for the past 35 years. I've helped design rocket programs, aircraft engines, missiles, and even the radiator system for the International Space Station.
I doubt that would have happened had I not been introduced to space and the "final frontier" so early in my life. On top of Star Trek helping to launch my day job career, it helped feed my desire to write science fiction, with a focus on space travel, as well.