Roddenberry Responds to the Snark About "Star Trek"
Dustin sent me a fantastic link last night over on Letters of Note, a website that puts up old letters of note that have been dug out of one archive or another. Vonnegut’s letter home to his family about his time in Dresden is in there for instance, and a letter of Albert Einstein to a religious philosopher late in his life. It’s one of those niche websites that you can find yourself spending three hours in, without watching a cat do something cute even a single time.
Ah, but before your morning disappears reading old letters, first take a look at the “Star Trek” one, in which Gene Roddenberry and Isaac Asimov devolve from snarkiness into friendship. There are a few letters in which Roddenberry and Asimov discuss the evolution of the characters of Kirk and Spock, in particular how to balance out the tendency of strong and interesting side characters to take over the story from the main character who has to play it straight by necessity. At least from a writer’s point of view, it’s fascinating to read two storytellers musing over particular characters and what they’re trying to do with them years after the fact.
But the gem of the pile of letters is the first one chronologically, the initial contact between Roddenberry and Asimov after the latter published a snarky, but bordering on scathing, indictment of scientific inaccuracies in “Star Trek.” Roddenberry sent Asimov a letter (on paper! Through the pony express!) arguing for leniency.
It’s easy to forget in this age of genre television just how groundbreaking something like “Star Trek” was for its time. As Roddenberry argues, getting this show on television was just about impossible. The studio wanted make it a juvenile series, add a “Lassie” and scoffed at bringing in science fiction authors to write scripts. He describes how they employed physicists in order to correct scripts, but even so the scientific errors criticized by Asimov snuck through.
On a surface read, it would be simple to dismiss Roddenberry’s words as just excusing sloppy work by citing the difficulty. And there is some of that. But the heart is much more interesting, arguing that at least for now, this is the only game in town as far as science fiction on television is concerned. He appeals to Asimov that they are exposing millions of people who would never dream of picking up a paperback with a rocket on the cover to dreams of the stars and science. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.
So today at least, I spare the snark.
(Source: Letters of Note)