I’d intended to do my “lost stories” series in chronological order, but intention and fact tend to be two different things. And I’ve been reading a lot of Star Trek books lately.
See, one of my lost stories, one I actually came very close to writing, was a Star Trek book.
I mean a novel written within the world of Star Trek, for those who are not familiar. I am, indeed, a Trekkie, of the moderate and largely literary sort. I enjoy several of the TV shows and the movies, but I’ve always liked the books best (original series, please). The special effects are much better, for one thing. For another, freed from the constraints of episodic TV and movies, the books can get into an incredible richness of detail about the characters, their cultures, their universes.
As a kid, I knew only that I liked the books. I liked having an essentially infinite supply of stories about the same characters, the same narrative structure, and the same types of adventures. I liked being able to revisit the same complex fantasy whenever I liked. I never thought that they were all excellent literature–I recognized most as good only if for readers who are already emotionally committed to Trek. A few I considered genuinely good novels. As an adult, though I no longer read Trek often, I stand by these judgments and I am, moreover, impressed that so many authors managed to effectively capture the voices of the same characters and to follow to same plot formulae in creative and vivid ways.
Anyone can write a Star Trek book. I looked up the rules in the early 1990’s, and as I recall, you need to ask for permission from Paramount, which owns Star Trek, but permission will likely be granted if your story has the general structure and tone of Trek and focuses on the main characters. It is ok to introduce additional protagonists, but the officers of the Enterprise cannot be marginalized. You also have to conform to all the known “facts” of the fantasy, as laid out in extant TV episodes and movies–but subsequent TV episodes and movies do not have to conform to extant books, only to the other TV episodes and movies.
I figured I could do all that. And I probably could have. Except that I didn’t. After doing all of the pre-writing and taking some notes, I realized that I was more interested in my original characters than in the Enterprise officers, and that keeping the focus where Paramount wanted it would be irritating. I let the project drop.
And yet the story had its points and I’d like to share it in some form. Here it is.
My Star Trek Story
I forget whether it ever had a working title. Its premise grew out of a guess I had made about why Spock has so much trouble controlling his emotions.
For those who don’t know, Spock is a Vulcan/human hybrid. The Vulcans are logical, principled species who are generally understood to have no emotions. Spock looks Vulcan and strives to act Vulcan, but he has human emotions and so struggles with his dual nature–but even within canonical Star Trek, it is made clear that the general understanding of Vulcans is wrong. They do have emotions, but transcend them through an inner discipline that mixes logic and spiritual practice.
So, if Vulcans have emotions anyway, why do Spock’s human emotions give him trouble?
I’ve always liked Spock. Lots of people do, and I have posted a tribute to his excellent actor, Leonard Nimoy, elsewhere in this blog. I’ve always liked Vulcans and the descriptions of how and why they do what they do. But I never encountered a clear explanation of why Spock’s status as a hybrid should make Vulcan discipline hard for him–except for mine.
My idea is that Vulcan emotions and human emotions are subtly different, such that techniques designed for one don’t work well on the other. Spock’s problem isn’t that he is more emotional than Vulcans are, it’s that his more human psyche isn’t a good fit for the techniques Vulcans use to handle their emotions–and as a result, those techniques don’t work well for him.
So, what would happen if another hybrid had the reverse problem? A character who looks human and was raised as human, but with a Vulcan’s emotions?
My main character, Stephen (a human name that follows Vulcan naming convention), is the son of a female Vulcan/human hybrid and a human man. He is raised on Earth, as an Earthling, but soon develops behavior problems. His parents can’t handle him. He’s defiant and volatile. He is sent to a boarding school for problem teens, but the program proves totally ineffective. Eventually, the staff reach out to Spock, who is famously the first hybrid, and he comes to see the boy. Spock recognizes that Stephen is the inverse of himself, that the boy has Vulcan emotions and needs Vulcan training. Spock arranges such training, and then returns to his job in space.
Stephen stays at the boarding school, and the program is altered for him in some way. Soon, he’s doing well and on track to graduate.
His best friend, however, is doing badly (as some humans do–the school’s program sometimes fails). The friend tries to commit suicide and Stephen uses the Vulcan mind meld (a telepathic technique), which he has just learned, in order to bring the boy out of his coma and convince him to live again. A few months later, the friend is kicked out of school for other reasons, but Stephen goes on to graduate.
Many years later, the Enterprise is coping with some kind of violent crisis on some colony planet, and they discover the crisis is being caused by none other than Stephen’s old boarding school friend, the one who got kicked out. Either Stephen is already on board, or Spock remembers that he knew a friend of the instigator and gets Stephen. In any case, it turns out that the friend became a villain because of his unresolved issues from his adolescence and Stephen resolves the situation by drawing on the memories of their friendship. The end.
Points in the Story’s Favor
You can see what I meant about not really being interested in the Star Trek part of the Star Trek story. I wanted to explore Vulcan nature from a new angle, and I wanted to write about a kid in boarding school, since I was a kid in boarding school at the time. To make a real, cohesive story of it, I’d have to make that the focus, and Paramount would not have approved.
But there were a few scenes and images that I liked.
- Before Stephen’s birth, his mother-to-be sits in the window of her second-floor college dorm room, doing homework. A human man, Stephen’s father-to-be, stands below her window and plays a flute for her, courting her. No emotion shows on her Vulcan face, but she is impressed nonetheless, and leaps from the window to join him, landing easily thanks to superior Vulcan strength.
- Stephen and his friends are lying out on a grassy field on campus at night, watching space ships come and go overhead towards a nearby spaceport. The huge machines make no noise as they fly. The sight impresses them, but it a normal part of their life.
- Spock arrives on the boarding school campus, but he’s been in space a long time and has gotten used to automatic doors. So, walking around in Stephens dorm, he shows an almost imperceptible awkwardness as he comes to closed doors. It takes him a split second to remember he has to open them manually.
- Stephen walks his friend to the campus gate on the day the latter is expelled. The weather is misty and cold and Stephen feels like a failure. Afterwards, he walks through campus and finds the executive director of the school, whose name is Michelle DiAngelo, sitting alone in a gazebo, wearing an off-white Irish sweater with drops of fog clinging to it. MC sits with her without speaking, and after a moment, she begins to sing “Bobby McGee.” She feels like a failure, too.
Looking back on it, I still like my premise. I think somebody should write a Star Trek book with that premise, but it should be someone who actually wants to write about the Enterprise officers, too. But, looking back, I can also see that the story was far more autobiographical than I thought it was at the time.
I was, as I said, at a school for problem teens. My problem was that I was depressed, but I wasn’t defiant, like most of my schoolmates, nor did I do drugs or engage in other conventionally risky behaviors. I just wasn’t the sort of kid the school was designed to handle, and while I rarely got in trouble, I could never make the program really work for me, either. I did try, and I was trying very hard during the period I thought up Stephen’s story. Unfortunately, no one thought to contact Spock for me, and I was eventually kicked out.
I did, indeed, feel like the hidden, unacknowledged alien, though I wasn’t consciously aware of that at the time. I was not merely a well-behaved depressed kid–my mind seemed to work a little differently. It still does.
Of course, lots of people think they are different or weird. Many of them are right. There are lots of ways to be abnormal, and Vulcan culture itself presents a succinct articulation of why that’s not just ok, but definitely good–the concept of IDIC, or Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, the simple assumption that the goodness of diversity is a self-evident truth. I’ve often wondered if Spock’s status as a kind of double alien is precisely why the character has become so incredibly popular and stayed that way for so very long.
Spock is often used as a fictional example of autism. He may, in fact, have been intended as a metaphor for autism and for analogous forms of divergence from the neurotypical mainstream. If so, he’s revolutionary–because it’s always very clear that there is nothing wrong with Spock. He’s not human, and he’s not quite Vulcan, either, and that makes things difficult and painful for him, but no one ever seriously suggests that he should be fixed. In fact, his being precisely who and what he is often helps literally save the world.
I’m sure I noticed that and responded to it as a kid. Spock embodied something I desperately needed to hear–that it’s ok to be different. But with Stephen I took it one step further, very specifically declaring that treating the different as though they were not different is toxic. A Vulcan raised as human develops problems. A human raised as Vulcan develops problems, but a neurotypical kid raised as autistic would probably have issues, too. Everybody needs the guidance appropriate to their own nature to grow up well. It’s just that we don’t all get it because nature varies.
That’s roughly the conclusion I came to as an adult after reading up on dyslexia and autism and other forms of neurodivergence–my own particular version of neurodiversity theory. Only recently have I remembered Stephen and realized I’d already had the same idea, expressed in metaphor, twenty years earlier, at a time when I knew nothing about neurology, nothing about the neurodiversity movement, and wasn’t even thinking of myself as a neurodivergent person. At the time, I was deeply embedded in a pop-psych worldview and its not-terribly-helpful assumptions. I didn’t have any of the information or conceptual frameworks I needed to understand what I was really dealing with.
All I had was Star Trek. And I nailed it.
And that, friends and neighbors, is what good fiction can do.