This winter, while cleaning out our bedroom, I stumbled across a program for a Star Trek convention in New York.
My husband, nerd that he is, attended the convention at the age of 15, and met the entire cast of the original Star Trek. I carried that 40-year-old program with me this weekend when I attended Star Trek: Mission NY, held over the weekend in New York City.
The differences in the two events, 40 years apart, are doubtlessly legion, but there were also many similarities, including the presence of David Gerrold, who wrote the legendary original series episode “Trouble With Tribbles.” Gerrold looked over the old program and noted that the writing panel he was on in 1976 boasted an impressive lineup; aside from Gerrold, it included Isaac Asimov, Ben Bova, Harlan Ellison, Harry Harrison, Gordon Dickson, and Hal Clement.
The biggest difference between the two cons, of course, is what we’re talking about when we talk about Star Trek today. In 1976, there had been numerous attempts to bring the franchise back to the small or big screen, and a number of projects that had fallen by the wayside in the years before Star Trek: The Motion Picture. These lost stories were the subject of an entire panel at the 2016 convention, which included Edward Gross, the author of The Fifty-Year Mission: The First 25 Years and The Fifty Year Mission: The Next 25 Years; Roger Lay Jr., a producer on the bonus features for the blu-ray releases of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Enterprise; and author Michael Jan Friedman, who has penned numerous novels set in the Trek universe.
Friedman had the most eye-opening story as he discussed a script treatment by Gene Roddenberry himself, called Star Trek: The God Thing.
“This is the one that featured Kirk and Jesus Christ having a fight on the bridge of the Enterprise, and that wasn’t the worst thing about it,” Friedman said, prefacing his comments with praise for Roddenberry. Friedman was hired to adapt the screenplay to a novel after Roddenberry’s death, but finally had to pass because “you just know there are some projects where nothing good ever comes of it.” The essential premise of the abandoned script was that all the beings known as God were manifested in thousands of different ways, including our conception of God and Jesus, across the universe; now, God is back, he isn’t happy with what we’ve done with the universe. Plans went far enough to produce a cover, but not the actual book.
Then there was the much rumored new Trek series, where Xon would have replaced Spock. Sets were ready and 13 scripts were written, and a cast was in place when it was scrubbed in the favor of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which would feature Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. Poor Xon never made it to the screen.
One major similarity to the 1976 convention was the presence of numerous cast members. Back in 1976, of course, that meant only the original cast. My husband said that back then, each actor came out individually to talk and answer questions, including William Shatner, who also drew a capacity crowd in 2016 (as did a tribute to Nimoy). No wonder my husband never felt a need to go to a Trek con again: at age 15, he saw Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, George Takei—even Mark Leonard—all in one go.
“I remember clearly that they had a mock-up of the Enterprise bridge in the room, including the captain’s chair,” he said, remembering 1976. “When Shatner came out, they wanted him to sit in the chair, but he wouldn’t, because he said it was likely a prop chair and he was afraid it might collapse under him.”
That was also the case this year, when a complete mock-up of the original Trek bridge was available for photo ops for con-goers. That attraction, surrounded by props from the original series, drew the biggest crowd on the dealer’s floor.
Another similarity was the focus on panels, though the ones in 1976 featured mostly writers, and this past weekend’s favorited commentary from both writers and fans on the history of the franchise and fandom. One element that spanned the 40-year gap? The presence of NASA, which had a display on the 2016 dealer’s floor, and which was represented in 1976 by Jesco von Puttkamer, who became a legendary scientist at the agency, having started his career working on Werner Von Braun’s rocket team. (He also wrote a Star Trek novelette.)
The 2016 panels focused heavily on Trek’s impact on pop culture and the world, not a possible subject in 1976. Panels included Women in Trek, Queerness in Star Trek, and Trek’s influence on the scientific community. I wish I could have gone to every one of them, of the three I attended made the con worthwhile on their own.
One similarity that I found a little disconcerting was that while the 1976 con had a heavy focus on panels and actor/writer appearances (to the detriment of a dealer’s room), so did this one—to the point that the 2016 dealer’s floor was relatively sparse, taking about 30 minutes to explore fully. I was hoping for much more than that, as the Trek universe is so vast (and the merch so plentiful), they should have been able to fill the room with extended universe books, prop rarities, and (relative) antiques.
Still, this is the first time the con has been back to New York City since 1976, and with another new series on the horizonStar Trek: Discovery premieres early next year—who can say where the journey will take us?
Live long and prosper.