Well, It Was Better Than Learning Elvish, or How Meredith Came to Star Trek

People can get into some pretty crazy things in the name of love.

I guess I should count my blessings; had things been different I might have found myself having to learn everything about basketball, or cars,  or a splinter religious sect. As it was, my boyfriend experienced a Star Trek Renaissance soon after we started dating, and the thing I had to learn everything about was the Star Trek universe.

I was a geek already, of course, just not that specific brand. My general areas of expertise were literature, British comedy, old movies, and constitutional law. My sci-fi grounding was in Quantum Leap, Back to the Future, A Wrinkle in Time, 1950s-aliens-as-a-metaphor-for-communism, and the Star Wars MOVIES (first person to say “expanded universe” gets a throat punch).

I wan’t sure how to approach Star Trek. As indicated by my threats, I’d done an excellent job so far of ignoring the swirls of “extra business” around my beloved Star Wars (keeping me safe from the most capricious of Lucas’ cruelties), but with Star Trek knowledge of the “extras” seemed mandatory. It just seemed so big, and people had had (at that time) forty years to think about it and make up backstories for every episode so complete that they included a fully functional foreign language.

If I’m not going to take that shit from Tolkien, I thought, I’m sure not going to take it from Gene Roddenberry.

Then I remembered that my dislike of LOTR and lack of D&D and MTG skills made it impossible for me to be taken seriously as a fantasy geek, so I sighed and figured I should cast my lot in with sci-fi and learn everything about Star Trek. 

I went in armed with nothing more than a cursory understanding of who Jean-Luc Picard was (thanks to mid-nineties afternoon reruns), all of the episodes of the first season of Enterprise (I’d liked the theme song and watched it for a while) and a good working knowledge of Tribbles (the only thing my mom remembered from the original series). My entry point was scattered episodes of The Next Generation, and I immediately loved Riker and hated Wesley Crusher, so my initiation was complete.

I watched the good TOS movies and the NextGen movies, and then it was time for varsity level. Deep Space 9. My boyfriend Tim hadn’t seen all of the episodes, and hadn’t seen any of them recently, so we bought the whole show one season at a time, experiencing it all together.

It remains one of the greatest TV experiences have ever had. I formed deep connections with all of the characters, and was profoundly moved by the whole series, which arcs in brilliant, delicate, architectural plots that all cohere and taper off in incredibly satisfying ways. Later I would watch Firefly, and Battlestar Galactica, and Tin Man, and Voyager, but DS9 would never truly be surpassed.

As my knowledge of Trek grew, however, the “damn this is a giant universe” ghost came back to haunt me. Could I really be considered someone who “knew” Star Trek if I didn’t know all of the mechanics of beaming people aboard and how the warp core works and how to ask where the bathroom is in Klingon?

I don’t pay attention to the technobabble, and I don’t even pay very close attention to the names of the different kinds of aliens. That’s all dressing, Star Trek Sauce. What I pay attention to are the people, being people and having people problems. In space. Where everything is automatically awesome.

Does this make me any less of a Star Trek geek? I can’t answer that. But I do know that, either because of incredible luck or natural ability to gloss over details, I’ve managed to bypass the things that get “regular” people hung up on Star Trek: they get frustrated by all the tech mumo-jumbo or the detailed backstory of made-up alien cultures. The Star Trek Sauce is cool, for sure, and if you like it, more power to you – but remember, it is just sauce, and for god’s sake don’t let it ruin the taste of your mashed potatoes.

Star Trek isn’t as overwhelming as it may first seem – it’s just an ongoing series of stories about people  far from home, solving problems, having relationships, and occasionally blowing things up (all this goes double if the show in question is Voyager). Those are the summaries and analyses I write, because those are the shows I watch.

If you don’t need to know exactly how the alohomora spell in Harry Potter works (um, the kinetic energy in their wands bounces off the Earth’s tectonic plates, causing an undetectable tremor that makes the specified door open?) but still enjoy Harry Potter and accept as a premise that its characters can use magic to open locked doors at whim, then you don’t need to know warp core mechanics. You just need to know that the warp core is what makes the ship go, and it is about to blow up. How will Harry, Ron, and Hermione get out of this one? Wait. I may have confused my metaphors.

(Answer: Obviously they would eject the warp core, then use accio to return it to the ship, then they would use repairo to get it back in working order. Solved)

I write the Trek summaries the way I see them: stories about people facilitated by technology that might as well be magic.

If you can’t see Star Trek for the technobabble, you’re missing a hell of a forest for the trees.

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