Boldly gone: KU connections lament loss of 'Star Trek'

Several Jayhawks have contributed to the science fiction franchise through the years


"(The 'Star Trek' show) 'Enterprise' is over. 'Star Trek' is absolutely not over." -- KU grad Kevin Dilmore, co-author of several "Star Trek" novels

Is Mr. Spock a Jayhawk?

That's tough to say -- no one has seen 23rd century graduation records at Kansas University. But KU has certainly played a role in shaping the "Star Trek" universe.

"It's rare for a fan like myself to get to put the words in the mouths of childhood heroes," said KU grad Kevin Dilmore, co-author of a number of "Trek" novels. "The 'Star Trek' characters are icons of American pop culture."

Dilmore isn't the only KU connection. James Gunn, a professor emeritus in English, has published a "Trek" book. So has English lecturer Kij Johnson.

And, oh yeah, KU alumnus Scott Bakula plays the captain on "Enterprise," the latest television show set in the "Star Trek" universe."

So there was some wistfulness among the local authors this week at news that UPN had canceled "Enterprise." The final episode is scheduled to air May 13. Next fall, for the first time in 18 years, there will be no new "Star Trek" show on TV.

"In some ways it has grown a little tired, but I don't think this is the end of it," said Gunn, who wrote the "Trek" novel "The Joy Machine" in 1996. "There is a kind of mythology behind it that may make another appearance in the future."


Kansas University has had a strong influence on the "Star Trek" universe, with books such as "S.C.E. Foundations," co-written by KU alumnus Kevin Dilmore.

The original "Star Trek" series in the late 1960s gave the culture new phrases -- "Beam me up, Scotty" -- and was credited with inspiring technology such as cellular phones. The show became the basis of movies and books that took the characters on new adventures.

Daniel Bateman, community outreach manager for the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, said the show and its descendants had even inspired support for the space program at NASA.

Bateman had attended several "Star Trek" conventions on behalf of the Cosmosphere, exhorting fans of the show to come to Hutchinson and delivering lectures about the similarities between the fictional and real space exploration programs.


"Dragon's Honor" is co-written by KU English lecturer Kij Johnson.

"To not have it on TV, it's taking one more thing about space exploration from the public eye," Bateman said.

But "Enterprise" was pulling in low ratings, and Samantha Ratzlaff, of Kwality Comics in downtown Lawrence, said Thursday that sales of "Trek" paraphernalia had declined in recent years.

"Trekkies weren't as attached to it," she said.

Johnson, who co-authored the "Trek" novel "Dragon's Honor" in 1994, said she became a fan of the original series because women had prominent roles on the show.

"Little girls like me had a chance to envision living in this science fiction world that boys had always been able to fantasize about," she said.

Gunn, a science fiction expert, agreed, saying fans were drawn to the show's utopian, multicultural vision of the future.

Gene Roddenberry, the show's creator, "had this idea of a better world in which people were recognized for their abilities instead of their appearances," Gunn said.

"Star Trek" probably won't completely disappear. There's reruns, for one thing, and Dilmore -- who now lives in Prairie Village -- said his book contracts will keep him busy until 2006. And he expects a television show or movie to resurrect the franchise in the future.

"'Enterprise' is over," Dilmore said. "'Star Trek' is absolutely not over."


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