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Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Babylon Five ... the list of sci-fi television goes on and on. The genre has experienced quite an evolution, from the programs of the 1950s through the '70s, which portrayed aliens as creatures to be feared, loathed, or destroyed, to the new breed of science fiction, which emphasizes the similarities between species and portrays aliens as working comrades within human society. And the Fox network plans to premiere two new space programs this September: Strangeluck and Space: Above and Beyond.
A friend of mine has a theory: The public is being systematically prepared for First Contact. If we are at ease with the concept of living with aliens, perhaps hysteria will not ensue when the actual ships materialize over Capitol Hill.
Aaah, Trekkies ...
"Eventually we'll achieve real contact, if we haven't already," says a lithe 22-year-old Bajoran female at the Star Trek Convention last weekend at the Nob Hill Masonic Center. "It will force us to face facts: The universe is more than our back yard; it's someone else's front yard." She winks and slips away to peruse a collection of Star Trek ship manuals.
A meeting of visionaries? Or a big geekfest?
There are over 8,000 registered Trekkies worldwide, but this crowd alone was over 7,000 strong. Starfleet, the International Star Trek Fan Association, is made up of 350 individual ships (or chapters), at least six of which reside in the Bay Area, including the U.S.S. Harvey Milk, the U.S.S. Golden Gate, the U.S.S. Atreides, and the Shuttle Gallaudet N.C.C., comprised of deaf fans.
"Race and creed don't matter," explains a 24-year-old male from the U.S.S. Atreides, "and ages range from 7 to I'm-not-telling." A crew member of the U.S.S. Golden Hinde nods emphatically, offering that she's an "enthusiastic 50."
A woman sporting an officer's uniform and a headset scuttles me out of the way: "The lecture's about to start." A rotund Scotty makes his way on stage before the packed auditorium.
Downstairs, at the entrance to the exhibition hall, fresh-faced enlisted personnel check tickets. "We are volunteers, members of various ships," says 19-year-old Kim, one of the few conventioneers not using a character-name alias. "We work at all the science-fiction conventions. Our ship meets once a month, goes on picnics, holds fund-raisers for various Bay Area nonprofits, stuff like that."
"Anywhere in the U.S., there's a ship within a 30-mile radius," she adds.
Inside, aliens and humanoids mingle freely. Vendors hawk wares like key rings, books, dishes, models (ranging in price from $12 to $2,000), T-shirts, costumes, weapons, publicity shots, and autographs. A signed photo of Wesley Crusher, who once organized a committee against the continuance of his character on The Next Generation, costs 39 bucks, while one autographed by the entire crew of the original Star Trek series fetches somewhere in the neighborhood of $300.
One handsomely clothed couple gets numerous stares of approval. "We make all our own costumes," says a 39-year-old Romulan male with ill-disguised contempt. "We're not part of a ship."
"The KAG [Klingon Assault Group] has tried to recruit me on several occasions," points out his impressive Klingon companion. "They want me to help raid other ships." Covetously, he eyes a stainless-steel double-handed "d'K tahg" at a nearby table of Klingon knives.
So why would grown men and women parade around in silly costumes, learn fictional languages, and take faux entrance exams at an imaginary academy?
A slender man with sandy blond hair and Vulcan ears defends Trekkie culture with incredulous dignity. "Star Trek envisions a world in which poverty, prejudice, hunger, and war have been eliminated on Earth, a world in which humans are evolved enough to co-exist with dozens of other species," he says. "Why not be a part of that for a couple days a month?"
A 21-year-old Bajoran women answers more matter-of-factly: "Hey, it's fun. I've been watching Star Trek my entire life."
Science fiction has had a pervasive influence on music as well, if the throngs of people lining up for the Man or Astro-Man? show at Bimbo's last Saturday were any indication.
The band, decked out in astro-gear, silver gaffer tape, and NASA patches, wades out on stage in super "space motion." Slowly, the foursome make their way through a jungle of video monitors, clunky gizmos, and "life support" lines.
"We are from space. We are space beings," announces frontman CoCo as he plucks at the tubes sprouting from his bulbous helmet.
"We receive transmissions from your planet. They inspired us to write this love song," he says, launching into the theme from Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Man or Astro-Man? erupts into a barrage of ultrasonic exotica. Dialogue from old science-fiction films bleeds into manic instrumentals, an organic synthesis of the futuristic vision of surf music and sci-fi pop culture. Not bound by common laws of gravity, band members bounce around and climb the speakers, turning their blinding head lights on the ecstatically pogoing crowd.
"From Mars, not Alabama!" they reiterate.
The crowd cheers. "More aliens!" someone shouts. "Take us to your leader!"
By Silke Tudor
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