For the audience who only comes to Colognoisseur for this column I am in the midst of the Pierre Benard Challenge where I am spending ten days on fragrance inspired posts. I decided I would alter that effort for this week’s column picking geek influences which mean something to me. I’m going to do it in roughly chronological order.
At the beginning there were comic books. Specifically Marvel comic books. Even though it was my father’s Batman and Superman comics which got me interested it was reading Spider-Man which hooked me. I’ve read Marvel comics for almost 55 years now. I was always asked when I was going to stop reading “funny books”; never.
Then came a television series like nothing else called Star Trek in 1966. Even as a child it fired my imagination. As we were taking our first steps toward the moon Star Trek extrapolated that to something grand. One of the things I was grateful for the show was the way it displayed all races and nationalities working together as explorers and scientists. I am happy to say it continues in 2020 with Star Trek: Picard.
The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien was one of the first epic fantasy books I read while in high school. In those days Sci-Fi/ Fantasy took up a few shelves in our local Walden Books store. Now it fills our movie screens with whole entire bookstores devoted to the genre. When I start reading the first book in a new series I always inwardly wonder if it will be the next Lord of the Rings. Only rarely is the answer yes.
At the end of my senior year in high school my two friends and I went to see this movie called Star Wars on opening night. I would spend the ensuing summer seeing it over 50 times. George Lucas tapped into a desire for adventure among the stars that has created an amazing amount of pleasure for me. Little did I know the explosion of the Death Star was just the beginning.
In 1984 I was introduced to William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer. It created the genre of sci-fi called cyberpunk. I have been jacked in form the beginning. More than any other style of speculative fiction this one has been the most prescient. Back then it was fiction in 2020 it is becoming reality.
These are the pillars of my favorite geeky things. As I wrote this, I realized all of them were ridiculed to some degree when they first appeared. Now they all are revered without having changed. I lived long enough to see it happen. Ain’t life wonderful?
Anniversaries are moments to acknowledge the events which are important to you. This first weekend of September has two of them. The somber one is the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. It has been one of the most influential moments in the history of the United States continuing to affect nearly every American.
There is another anniversary which is much more pleasant to consider. On September 8, 1966 the first episode of Star Trek debuted on NBC. The existence of a television series in 1966 which showed a future where everyone worked together to explore the universe was a powerful message for entertainment to provide. Creator Gene Roddenberry has simply described the show to TV executives as similar to a current Western series “Wagon Train to the stars”. After numerous rejections it was Lucille Ball in her capacity as owner of Desilu Productions who saw the potential in the idea and gave Mr. Roddenberry a three-year development deal. He needed almost all of it as the road to that first episode was rocky. The first pilot was seen as “too cerebral” which sent Mr. Roddenberry back to the drawing board replacing the entire crew except the science officer played by Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock. Even after all of that the first episode to air was neither of the pilots it was one called “The Man Trap”.
As a six-year old I knew none of this. All I had seen were commercials about a crew in space. Living in Florida we were in the state where rockets were carrying men into orbit. At this time, we had begun the effort to land a man on the moon but it was almost three years away. Star Trek was the elementary school version of a water cooler show. As I would walk with my friends to school on the Friday morning after a Thursday evening episode. It was all about, “Didja see the alien last night? Weren’t the Klingons gross? Green skin.” What was amazing was never did anyone of my friends question the make-up of the crew. A black woman, a Russian man, an Asian man; at that time prejudice and racism was out in the open. Yet here was a television show where nobody questioned the competence of these fictional characters.
The other message Star Trek provided was no matter how bleak things look with the USSR pointing nuclear missiles at us; in response to us pointing an equal amount back at them. Racial strife warming up in the bullpen. Women beginning to redefine their societal roles. Star Trek told us as a species humanity somehow figured it out. In the future we are all together as explorers.
Those were wider impacts. Personally Star Trek was where I began to believe science was cool. I say it at every career day I do my inspiration to become a chemist was Mr. Spock. It was Star Trek and that character that made me want to follow a career in science.
The incredible longevity of the brand over multiple series and movies is testament to Mr. Roddenberry’s first vision. The crews of every Star Trek version do take us on a Wagon Train in to the stars where we are allowed to see a future full of potential.
I think you would have had to work really hard over the last few days to have missed seeing the new trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I think every geek in the world is hoping for something great with the continuation of the Star Wars saga begun in 1977 by George Lucas. I think that the reason most of us carry that hopeful outlook is because of one person, J.J. Abrams.
Mr. Abrams first jumped onto my radar with his television series “Alias” from 2001-2006. It was a loopy spy show with a crazy mythology around an inventor’s incredible artifacts which held amazing powers. There were times it was too complicated for its own good but it was always fun. For those of you who watch all of the new dramas which call themselves “twisty”; Alias was doing that well before those shows were ever a concept.
Mr. Abrams would transition to the silver screen, directing 2006’s Mission: Impossible III. This seemed a natural progression from small screen spy shenanigan to big screen ones. It was one of the better movies in that franchise but it was what Mr. Abrams did next which really began his upward trajectory.
In 2009 he would take what is one of the two tentpole sci-fi franchises and attempt to reboot it. When it was announced he was named as the director of the new Star Trek movie I was very skeptical. On one hand Star Trek has been ridden into the ground and lumbered under the accumulated years of mythology. There wasn’t much left to screw up. On the other hand I read Mr. Abrams’ unproduced screenplay he wrote in 2002 for Superman. On another property which also suffered from a restrictive historical mythology he completely lost what it was that makes Superman the superhero he is. I worried if that approach was used he would drive the final nail in the Star Trek coffin.
What happened was he found a way to celebrate everything that made Star Trek so much fun while at the same time wiping the slate clean and allowing this cast and this story to essentially start over. It was reverential and revolutionary in respect to the source material and it was incredible. My life as a geek began in front of a television screen watching Star Trek and Mr. Abrams gave it back to me. He had been able to fully exercise his creativity within a universe which seemed impossible to work in. He would direct the sequel Star Trek Into Darkness and then he announced his next project.
If Star Trek is one sci-fi tentpole then Star Wars is the other. After Disney had acquired George Lucas’ Lucasfilm they announced there were going to be more Star Wars movies starting in 2015 with Episode VII. Then they announced Mr. Abrams would be writing and directing. This time there was no skepticism there was just relief that they were putting this in the hands of someone who I think gets it.
We are a few months away from the December release but this week the first full-length trailer was released. It starts with a voice over of Luke Skywalker and ends with Han Solo and Chewie. In between we get glimpses of our new trio of heroes and their new nemeses. If there is any chance of this being great Mr. Abrams might be the only person I would trust this to.
Come December as a scroll of words with the heading Episode VII The Force Awakens begins to move up the screen we will all know if Mr. Abrams has succeeded in bringing home the geek Daily Double. I am betting he will.