I was about fourteen when it happened. It came at me completely without warning. At the time I was pretty sure there was something wrong with me.
It had started so randomly. I’d been eating dinner one night and Star Trek Voyager had come on. Most of it had been strange technobabble – I’d had no interest in science fiction before this so words like “shields”, “beam”, and “borg” meant nothing. For some reason I kept watching. It may have been the strong human element that hooked me (Janeway was injured, Chakotay betrayed her trust), or it could have been that I just wanted to avoid doing my homework.
At any rate, a few days later I was at the library. I’d just finished Lord of the Rings and the second book had been taken out. I idly perused the other books in the section and, lo and behold, came across a cover with the characters from that TV show that had been on the other night. I decided to take it out, not really expecting much
I read the first story – the one featuring B’Elanna– and I loved it so much that I read it again straight away. Imagine my surprise when that Friday night the episode – the exact TV version of the story I’d just read – played while I was eating my supper.
By the time it finished there was no hope left for me. I was a Trekkie.
I didn’t know that’s what I was at the time. I couldn’t. I didn’t have access to a vast community that shared my passion. I couldn’t even watch the episodes of the original series. But I read all the books the library had and made it my personal mission in life to buy all the second-hand Star Trek books I could get (I still have a bookshelf dedicated to them). I discovered that a boy in my class also liked the show and he gave me the most amazing treasure ever in a pre-home Internet time: the Official Star Trek Encyclopedia CD ROM. I became familiar with every custom, series, character, episode. I knew what Vulcans like to eat (Plomeek soup, obvs), how to insult a Klingon (question their honour, but be prepared to die if you do so), the general principles behind the technology (holodecks use a combination of forcefields and replicators to create matter that one can touch and feel). I became an expert. I became… a Fan.
Fourteen-year-old Tallulah was the epitome of the obsessive Fan. I had a file of Voyager quotes. I found some fanfic that placed all the characters in fairy tales and I rewrote the stories. By hand. I had my own concept spin off book series idea. It was called Starfleet Civilian and it featured stories about normal people living in the Star Trek universe (no, they weren’t all Mary Sues! They had run-ins with the Orion Syndicate and Space Pirates and had to do jobs that weren’t military-related or glamorous and ended up in the firing line regardless and some of them were spies… and maybe a part of me still kind of wants to write this… *ahem*).
Anyway, I had it bad. It took up every second of my day that I wasn’t at school and my entire nights during weekends and over holidays. Fandom completely stole my life.
But here’s what I gained in return:
- I taught myself HTML so I could create a fan site.
- I joined play-by-email role-playing games where I met a bunch of awesome people.
- The PBEM games made me practice my writing every day for years. NanoWrimo has nothing on the USS Liberty in terms of writing volume, I can assure you.
- The RPGs also assisted with my learning touch-typing. First time I ever typed while not looking at the keyboard was during a particularly harrowing ordeal for my character, Sarah Crighton.
- I took science and maths in highschool. I was inspired by Janeway to learn about physics. Ok, I sucked at it and eventually quit but I still got a year more of science education than I would have otherwise.
- Star Trek gave me role models. Women who were in the thick of the action, who brandished their brains as weapons (in the figurative sense!) and were not afraid of anything. Who would die for what they believed in. And what they believed in was always, in the end, human (or alien) rights.
- Star Trek completely shifted my paradigm with regards to technology. It moved it away from the realms of streams of confusing, meaningless, code and into a critical part of what it means to be human in the current era.
- I learned about working in a hierarchy and negotiating. I learned diplomacy.
- I learned the meaning of words like diplomacy. And hundreds of others. My vocabulary expanded immensely.
- It gave me a creative outlet – I learned a bunch about sewing, drawing, writing (as already mentioned), website design and, most importantly of all, taught myself Corel PhotoPaint and Adobe Photoshop, which I use almost daily now.
- It opened my eyes to geekdom in general, enabling me to find my niche in the world.
I think it’s safe to say that if I hadn’t happened to be so intrigued by Voyager that one night back in 2000, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. My fandom played a huge part in shaping who I am and getting me to where I am now. The career I’m in now, the company that I’m working for and the people who I choose to surround myself with are all an indirect result of a teenage obsession.
Recently I’ve gone back to Star Trek. I’ve re-watched the old episodes and I’ve laughed at how utterly terrible some of them are (anyone remember the Voyager episode with the Macro Virus? Lol). Distance (and age) brings perspective. I can see the flaws. But distance (and perhaps age) also makes the heart grow fonder. Now I realise how lucky I was that I happened to be exposed to this particular universe and these particular ideas, at the precise age when one is crafting one’s identity.
The Star Trek universe reached out to me at the very moment when I was mentally stitching together the tapestry of who Tallulah was. A part of that tapestry was formed by Jean Luc Picard, who’d put everything on the line to save a single person if he could. About human rights, he’d say: “With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.”
A part of that tapestry was formed by Kathryn Janeway, who’d handle the tensest situation with grace and who would strand herself on the other side of the galaxy rather than risk innocents being harmed. “Fear exists for one purpose: to be conquered,” she’d say, alongside statements like, “A stranger is a friend you just haven’t met yet.”
B’Elanna and Worf, the two Klingons, taught me about accepting who you are – the good alongside the bad. Through Seven of Nine, Data and Spock’s explorations of what it meant to be human, I came to appreciate my own humanity. The emphasis on intelligence and “being the best and the brightest” reinforced the goals I’d already inherited from Hermione. I stopped assuming there were limits to what I could be.
Finally, there’s the life philosophy that Kate Mulgrew, who played Captain Janeway, distills in this great quote (from Dragon Con 2011):
I meet people all the time who scoff at fandom and laugh at the idea of fanfic. I remember reading an academic article by one of the many academics called Thompson a few years ago. He spoke of fandom as a one-sided love affair. That’s not a terrible way to describe it.
But it is inaccurate.
When one is so deeply embroiled in a fandom the way I was, it is in no way one-sided. You get back so much more than you put in.
A year or so after my initial panicked scrawlings I added another note in my diary, answering past me (I’m an only child, I talk to myself a lot):