After you’ve spent enough time in the company of geeks and nerds, someone will eventually ask the inevitable question: Star Wars or Star Trek? And I always give the same answer: Star Wars was my first love, but Star Trek is my best love.
Everyone has a fandom origin story, the way they explain why they carry a love of a certain thing through their whole life, the thing that connected to them in a way that nothing else had before. This is mine.
I was eight when I first saw the Star Wars special edition in theaters. I owe Star Wars a lot, including feeding a voracious reading appetite with many, many books of questionable quality. I owe Star Wars for providing an escape during an extremely difficult time in my life, and I love it a lot, but there is one point I need to make: at the end of the day, the three main characters of the original trilogy are three white people.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I became enamored with Star Trek during the period when one captain was black and the other was a woman. It meant everything in the world to me that Star Trek wasn’t only diverse, but that its main characters were. And that no one made those jokes about them. It meant everything in the world to me that Star Trek presented a future where a woman who had the same first name as me could be in charge. It meant everything to me to see female characters with stories that weren’t romances. It meant everything to me to see all of this depicted in our future. Star Trek still means the world to me.
There’s a narrative about nerds and the things they love. It usually goes something like this: I was an outcast, but this thing gave me a place. It’s the myth that gives so many people strength, but also leads to people asking for your “geek card” to prove you’re a “real” fan. It’s always offensive, but I find it even more offensive when it’s applied to Star Trek. Because Star Trek has its outsider characters, but the message I got from it wasn’t “there’s somewhere for you to go,” it was “there’s nowhere you can’t go.” Or, to eliminate the double negative, “anyone can go anywhere.”
At its most basic, Star Trek is a show set in a future where humans have overcome sexism and racism and classism and every other negative -ism out there in order to explore space. Explore, not conquer. It’s a stupidly hopeful view of the future. It was optimistic in 1966, and it’s even more so now, when the rest of science fiction television is concerned with whether or not humanity is going to survive. It’s aspirational. It’s inspirational. It’s earnest.
Being earnestly optimistic is a hard sell. In our media, we’re conditioned to find it shallow or unconvincing. Fiction, especially genre fiction, is dark and gritty because those things are always paired with the words “realistic.”
And the good thing, the great thing about Star Trek is how easy it is to believe in the future it presents. The characters have real flaws, the Federation makes mistakes, and things go wrong. You can see people you know now living in that future, which makes it feel even more attainable. When I was a kid, I may have fantasized about having a lightsaber, but I believed in the Star Trek future.
It sounds stupid and trite and I legitimately hate myself a little bit for saying that Star Trek made me a better person. But it did. I read so many books because they were mentioned in Star Trek. I read Moby Dick, The Republic, and Greek mythology because I was 10 and Star Trek referenced them. I made friends online because Star Trek created that community. I worked hard in school and went to college and spent the entire time believing I could bring Star Trek’s future a little bit closer.
I loved Star Wars, but my love of Star Wars didn’t inspire me to seek out other things. It was Star Trek that made me into a science fiction fan. I read Heinlein, Herbert, and Atwood and everything else because Star Trek made me want more stories like the ones it was telling. And I read them because the Star Trek fans I saw on the internet were talking about them. I joined my first listserv for Star Trek, and it remains the only time I have stopped lurking in a fandom and actually participated.
Is Star Trek perfect? No. God, no. In fact, if you search the io9 chatroom archives for the phrase “my precious garbage child,” you’ll find out that this phrase is my preferred name for Star Trek. But, as badly as it has stumbled, Star Trek always felt like it was trying. And, as I’ve explained many times, I’d rather watch Star Trek try and fail than a million other boring things try and succeed.
Next to my friends and family, Star Trek defines who I am the most. Peel away my anger and my jokes, and my core self is someone who believes in all the things that Star Trek says.
Bryan Fuller, in talking about the new Star Trek: Discovery show, has said some variation on “we need Star Trek now, more than ever” a couple of times. I agree, but I also think that we always need Star Trek. Even if we ever get to the point where we, as a planet, are as advanced as Star Trek predicts, we’ll still need it—for its storytelling, for its iconic characters, for everything it does well.
And I’ll always need Star Trek, to remind me that it’s not stupid to hope for better things. To entertain me when I just want to watch Kirk get beaned in the head with a tribble—to give me the rush of happiness I got back when I was just discovering it.
I make a living writing about science fiction on the internet. And I get a lot of hate for a lot of things: for being a woman, for not being white, and sometimes, when I’m really lucky, solely for my opinions. And it would grind me down more if I weren’t, underneath, still that kid seeing Janeway and Sisko for the first time.
And that is why I am fan of many things, but Star Trek is the one I love best.