Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Star Fleet Guide to Playing Doctor

I WAS A STRANGE CHILD. Or at least that's what I thought.

Before there were a dozen movies*, five spinoff TV series and their 646 episodes, before Star Wars, before Skylab fell from the sky, before Al Gore invented the Internet, there were just unassociated nerdy kids like me and the odd places we went to get our Star Trek fix between broadcast reruns on New York's WPIX, channel 11.

Strange yes, but evidently not alone. Even back in the mid-1970s -- against a backdrop of Gerald Ford trying to W.I.N., leisure-suited Steve Austin running incredibly fast but in slow motion and America's Bicentennial -- there were others like me who had the need for warp speed.

We found it at the local bookstore.

Hortas, Andorians, etc.
all for just 95 cents
Spock gets it on.
Say what?
Two Spocks, for the
price of one paperback.

In the beginning there was Bantam Books' serialized adaptation of the 79 episodes of what my people reverently refer to as The Original Series. That was indeed only the beginning. Amid those 12 volumes, their author/editor, James Blish popped out one of his own: Spock Must Die.

Wait! What? SPOCK MUST DIE??? Well, that was a must read.

So was Bantam's next Star Trek-based work of original fiction, Spock, Messiah! (in which our hero reportedly has sex!)

A conjectural super-starship, with three warp engines!
My virgin eyes! I'd not even kissed a girl (though remarkably, improbably, I would do so just two summers later at the age of 12).

Tom Clancy-like, I retreated to realm of hardware and theoretical technology. If boys like me wanted to live in a make-believe world, long-time SciFi publisher Ballantine Books was more than happy to furnish it: The Star Fleet Technical Manual.

Trekkie wonderland in a very official-looking vinyl slipcover with gold leaf lettering. A compendium of United Federation of Planets peace treaties, star maps, phaser schematics and everything I ever wanted to know about the U.S.S. Enterprise and other ships of the fleet. According to the manual there were hundreds. Who knew?

Soon to follow, official Starship Enterprise blueprints. From the bridge (it has a bathroom!) to sickbay, to the shuttle bay to ship's laundry. Not real? Who cares! To my nerd brain, this was the essence of cool.

Actually some people did care... about me,  about proper socialization and so-called normalcy. Well meaning friends who distracted me with Mets games and stickball, street hockey and FM radio. And girly magazines.

For their patience, I owe them a debt of gratitude. I came along only grudgingly.

In 1977 Ballantine published the Star Fleet Medical Reference Manual, a companion to the Technical Manual for those of us whose favorite character was Dr. McCoy. You could learn a lot from a book like this, how to give first aid to a Gorn, reproductive habits of Vulcans and tribbles and some basic facts about humanoid biology.

But nothing about that mysterious species known as "girls." For that I would need to look elsewhere. It was time.

* Soon to be 13 with the scheduled July 22 release of Star Trek Beyond.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive.

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