“An Enterprising Young Reader”
Throughout the 1970s, every polyester-clad television program director in Evansville, Indiana, did me a huge favor: They chose not to show Star Trek on their channel. At the time, this seemed like a gross injustice to me – the kind of thing that would (and did) make a budding young nerdling (which is what I was) shake a flabby fist at the heavens and cry “Why, God, why?” But looking back, I can see that my hometown TV stations, by choosing The Beverly Hillbillies and Mr. Ed over Star Trek, where steering me away from TV and toward my destiny.
I discovered Star Trek during a visit with my grandparents in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville seemed to get all the cool shows Evansville didn’t: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, Wild Wild West, etc. etc. Which was why I had to be pried from the TV set kicking and screaming for every family meal.
My kicking and screaming was loudest for Star Trek, the coolest of the cool. Trek was different for a few reasons. First off, it was objectively good (most of the time, anyway), something that couldn’t be said of monster-of-the-week silliness like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. And second, even though this was in the days before DVDs or even VCRS, I could take Trek home with me.
My grandmother, you see, in addition to having access to way cooler adventure shows (not that she cared), was also a bargain hound. And in one of her many garage sale sorties she bought (for reasons I never learned) a battered old copy of Star Trek 3 by James Blish. Star Trek 3 has nothing to do with the movie Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. The film would come later. Star Trek 3 is a collection of short story adaptations of Trek scripts. So while it would be years before I actually got to see classic episodes like “The Trouble with Tribbles” and “The Doomsday Machine” on TV, I could see them in my mind’s eye whenever I opened the book.
Thanks to Star Trek 3, I knew Trek could always be found on the greatest TV station around: my brain. So I began to explore strange new bookstores. Seek out new libraries and new yard sales. To boldly go where every Trekkie in Evansville had to go: to books.
From 1977-ish to 1985-ish, I read a lot of Star Trek novels. And I got more out of them than a mental rerun of a favorite show. I got adventure and escape. I got a respect for science and teamwork and diversity. I got new ideas and new hope. And I got a doorway.
My interest in Star Trek led to an interest in science fiction in general. Which led to an interest in novels in general. Which led to an interest in writing in general. Which led a career in writing.
Which led to here: me promoting (in an incredibly roundabout way) my new science-based middle grade mystery by reminding teachers that inspiration can come in surprising packages.
How many librarians rolled their eyes when I asked if there were any Star Trek books to check out? How many teachers shook their heads when I said I wanted to skip the pre-approved “classic” and do my book report on science fiction fare like The Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat or Dune Messiah?
I’ll tell you how many. None. I was never discouraged from reading Star Trek tie-in books or SF novels. Or comic books, for that matter. Back in the day, all three were the Rodney Dangerfields of the library – no respect! – yet they opened up new worlds for me. Thank god no one told me they shouldn’t.
What are today’s literary Dangerfields? Manga? Twilight-inspired YA? Online fan fiction? Romance novels? I hope students are being encouraged to boldly pursue whichever might strike their fancy. The results could be out of this world.
Nick and Tesla’s Solar-Powered Showdown: A Mystery with Sun-Powered Gadgets You Can Build Yourself
Authors: Steve Hockensmith and Bob Pflugfelder
Published May 10th, 2016 by Quirk Books
About the Book: Kid inventors Nick and Tesla Holt have outsmarted crooks, spies, and kidnappers. Now they have to crack their biggest mystery yet: Where the heck are their parents? To outwit the criminal mastermind who’s holding their parents hostage, the twins will need all their brainpower, the help of their eccentric Uncle Newt, and an assortment of homemade solar gadgets. Will the Holt family be reunited? Or will a hijacked solar satellite beam down doom from the skies? This adventure – the sixth in the exciting and unique “Nick and Tesla” series – includes instructions for creating a solar-powered hot-dog cooker, alarm, secret listening device, and model car, plus a nighttime signal cannon that fires illuminated ping-pong balls.
About the Author: Steve Hockensmith is a New York Times best-selling author and an Edgar Award finalist. His books include Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls, The White Magic Five and Dime, Holmes on the Range and six “Nick and Tesla” middle-grade mysteries. His coauthor for the “Nick and Tesla” books, “Science Bob” Pflugfelder, is an elementary school teacher in Newton, Massachusetts. A fan of science since the age of six, he promotes Random Acts of Science through instructional videos, public presentations, workshops, and appearances on national televisions shows including Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Dr. Oz Show, and Live! with Kelly & Michael.
Thank you, Steve, for your reminder that there are many different ways to find your passion!