How scifi novelizations of the ’80s fed my geek self

Indianapolis 1992. It’s my very first Star Trek convention, and I’m equal measures excited to walk among my Trekkie brothers and sisters and terrified of making a fool of myself. It’s not a huge convention, but I buy a few trinkets and spend most of the time in the main auditorium, where some of the actors like Rene Auberjonois came out to talk to us for a while.

Between one set of actor interviews, the host announced a trivia contest for any fans who were experts in Star Trek novels. My hand shot up and I joined the stage, confident that I had every answer at the ready. I have no recollection as to what happened next — I didn’t win, that’s for sure — but I remember how excited I was that all of those hours of collecting and reading every single Star Trek novel and novelization and short story collection in existence was about to pay off. Seriously, I read The Motion Picture’s novelization and all of the adaptations of the animated series and everything.

Growing up as a bonafide scifi geek in the ’80s presented some serious challenges. We didn’t have the internet and instant access to every fandom and every episode/movie. It really was up to chance and opportunity — finding a good comic book store, seeing a magazine featuring articles on a beloved franchise, begging for related toys, taping an episode on the VCR, and once in a great while going out to the movies to see the latest installment.

I was starving as a scifi junkie, and I could never get enough. TV was too infrequent and inconsistent of a source, although I availed myself of that as much as I could. Weirdly enough, the solution that I struck upon ended up being… books. Books were everywhere, and they were cheap. I could find them for free at the library and for quarters at the discount bookstore. And I discovered that so many of the scifi properties that interested me — Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, Robotech, Photon — churned out novelizations of episodes and movies and expanded adventures.

Once I hit upon that, there was no going back. Every Saturday I’d take my allowance or work pay and zip over to the cheap book store where shelves were crammed with paperbacks stacked on top of each other. I wish I had the words to convey what heady thrills it was to walk in there with five bucks in hand, spend over an hour combing the shelves looking for new discoveries and missing installments, and then walk out with a bulging sack of stories to keep me going for the next week.

I devoured these books, reading them again and again and again. Star Trek (mostly the original series) was by far the largest section of my personal library, which is why I have a fondness for Kirk and company above the rest. They were my friends through a lonely childhood, always dependable for another adventure.

I never saw an episode of Robotech, but believe you me, I know the whole saga by heart from reading the entire collection of novels. I actually preferred it that way. I dipped my toes into many franchises for the first time through these books, planting seeds for future interest.

One of my major regrets in life is that I got rid of all of these books at some point. I think I got to embarrassed at my youth when I got into college, but whatever the reason, they’re gone. I wish I had held onto them as old friends to perhaps share with my children, who each have their own geeky obsessions these days. But really, I’m just glad I had these books back then, because they gave me an appetite for scifi and reading that continues to this day.

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