How Isaac Asimov Went from Star Trek Critic to Star Trek Fan & Advisor

asimov star trek

When we think of a sci­ence fic­tion, most of us doubt­less think of a Star Trek. Since the orig­i­nal series made its tele­vi­sion debut almost a half-cen­tu­ry ago, the spec­u­la­tive future it cre­at­ed has come to stand, in many minds, as the very mod­el of the sci­ence-fic­tion­al enter­prise (as it were). But the insti­tu­tion of Star Trek in all its forms — TV shows, movies, movies made out of TV shows, nov­els, video games, action fig­ures, and so on — still has its detrac­tors, and back at the very begin­ning it hard­ly looked like a sure suc­cess.’s list of five things that near­ly killed off Star Trek includes a failed pilot, a near-fir­ing of Leonard Nimoy, and the words of no less a sci­ence-fic­tion titan than Isaac Asi­mov.

Star Trek,wrote its cre­ator Gene Rod­den­ber­ry in 1966, “almost did not get on the air because it refused to do juve­nile sci­ence fic­tion, because it refused to put a ‘Lassie’ aboard the space ship, and because it insist­ed on hir­ing Dick Math­e­son, Har­lan Elli­son, A.E. Van Vogt, Phil Farmer, and so on.” This came as part of a response to Asi­mov, who, in a TV Guide arti­cle enti­tled “What Are a Few Galax­ies Among Friends?,” crit­i­cized Star Trek for get­ting the sci­ence wrong. He cites, for exam­ple, a line about a gaseous cloud “one-half light year out­side the Galaxy,” which he likens to “say­ing a house is one-half yard out­side the Mis­sis­sip­pi Basin.”

Mea­sure­ment flubs aside, Star Trek, despite its can­cel­la­tion after three sea­sons, had become so big by the ear­ly 1970s that its fans had begun to put on whole con­ven­tions ded­i­cat­ed to the show. You can see in the clip above one such event in 1973, which pro­vides proof that even Asi­mov had turned fan. He speaks of his appre­ci­a­tion for the show three times dur­ing the video, now describ­ing Star Trek as the “san­est” and “most mean­ing­ful” pro­gram of its kind, one that “tack­led real social prob­lems,” was “not devot­ed entire­ly to adven­ture,” and had “ful­ly real­ized char­ac­ters” (cit­ing Mr. Spock as Exhib­it A). He may still have object­ed to the infa­mous split infini­tive “to bold­ly go” (once a nit­pick­er, always a nit­pick­er), but he still thought the show “real­ly pre­sent­ed the broth­er­hood of intel­li­gence.”

After Asi­mov wrote his ini­tial cri­tique in TV Guide, he and Gene Rod­den­ber­ry exchanged let­ters, and the two for­mi­da­ble sci-fi minds became friends and even col­lab­o­ra­tors there­after. A 1967 Time mag­a­zine pro­file described Asi­mov as “bat­ting out books on a new elec­tric type­writer, emerg­ing only occa­sion­al­ly to watch Star Trek (his favorite TV show),” and he went on to become an advi­sor to the show. A Let­ters of Note post on Rod­den­ber­ry and Asi­mov’s cor­re­spon­dence con­tains a 1967 exchange where­in they put their heads togeth­er to solve the prob­lem of how to give Cap­tain Kirk lines as good as the ones that nat­u­ral­ly go to a more unusu­al char­ac­ter like Spock. Since Asi­mov also con­tributed orig­i­nal ideas to the show, after hav­ing gone on record as a fan, I won­der: does that mean, in some sense, that Isaac Asi­mov wrote Star Trek fan fic­tion?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Klin­gon for Eng­lish Speak­ers: Sign Up for a Free Course Com­ing Soon

Isaac Asi­mov Pre­dicts in 1964 What the World Will Look Like Today — in 2014

Free: Isaac Asimov’s Epic Foun­da­tion Tril­o­gy Dra­ma­tized in Clas­sic Audio

Isaac Asi­mov Explains the Ori­gins of Good Ideas & Cre­ativ­i­ty in Nev­er-Before-Pub­lished Essay

Isaac Asi­mov Explains His Three Laws of Robots

Isaac Asimov’s Favorite Sto­ry “The Last Ques­tion” Read by Isaac Asi­mov— and by Leonard Nimoy

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­maand the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future? Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (6)
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  • Gulliver63 says:

    What could be bet­ter? Star Trek, that I grew up with, and Asi­mov, who I’ve read about 30 books from. I shared this with my daugh­ter, and many friends.

  • Bill says:

    Thanks for your post­ing. Is there any­place I can find the rest of the arti­cle “What are a Few Galax­ies Among Friends?”

    I read it in TV Guide in 1966, would like to see the whole thing again.



  • Michael LaRocca says:

    I remem­ber read­ing about this in a col­lec­tion of Asi­mov’s works, but it’s always fun to revis­it. It’s easy to crit­i­cize a TV show you know lit­tle about, but much more impres­sive to admit a mis­take.

    (For the record, it’s impos­si­ble to split an infini­tive in Latin, so mak­ing it “wrong” in Eng­lish is one of those bogus rules we’ve wise­ly let fall by the way­side.)

  • Lawrence de Martin says:

    The aside about hir­ing sci-fi writ­ers is amus­ing. The entire con­cept of “Star Trek” bears a strong resem­blance to the A.E. Van Vogt seri­al­ized novel­la “Voy­age of the Space Bea­gle”, enough to make a case for con­cep­tu­al pla­gia­rism.

    This book was not only the epit­o­me of sci-fi for me (along with the Foun­da­tion Tril­o­gy), it was a mod­el of my life. Van Vogt cor­rect­ly iden­ti­fied the short­com­ings of com­part­men­tal­iza­tion of sci­ence and pre­dict­ed many recent dis­cov­er­ies in Biol­o­gy. This inspired me to become a Nex­i­al­ist and led to many of my dis­cov­er­ies and inven­tions.

    “Star Trek” was more of a stage one work by Asi­mov’s clas­si­fi­ca­tion. Adven­ture dom­i­nat­ed as rep­re­sent­ed by James T. Kirk, who had the most lines but was as like­ly to punch the alien and get the girl than solve tech­ni­cal or social prob­lems. He was a cross between a naval com­man­der and a pirate, like Sir Fran­cis Drake. When he did solve tech­ni­cal prob­lem, it was most­ly get­ting lucky look­ing for a way to cheat, as in his solu­tion to Kobayashi-Maru. This only proved that in TV, a coin can pre­dictably come up heads 80 times in a row.

    The tech­nol­o­gy of OST was absurd — trans­porters, warp engines, food syn­the­siz­ers, non-con­tact med­ical scan­ners; and yet, they were so essen­tial to the plot lines one could also make a case for stage two clas­si­fi­ca­tion. Cer­tain­ly a lot of the wide appeal was the whiz-bang aspect, which was also a lot of the com­mer­cial suc­cess from sales of para­pher­na­lia and con­ven­tion rev­enues — which pro­vid­ed a sec­ond career for the actors.

    I did not come around to “Star Trek” until Next Gen. Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Offi­cer Uhu­ru evolved into offi­cial Bridge Offi­cer empath Coun­selor Troi and ersatz Shake­spear­i­an Shat­ner was upgrad­ed to Roy­al Shake­speare Com­pa­ny vet­er­an Stew­art. The only loss was the Chief Sci­ence Offi­cer, Leonard Nimoy’s riv­et­ing char­ac­ter Spock. I miss his Vul­can phi­los­o­phy, mind-meld­ing and sig­na­ture lines “That is not log­i­cal, Cap­tain” and the clo­sure of “Your log­ic is irrefutable” — which does not nec­es­sar­i­ly mean agree­ment.

  • Bill says:

    Links to the cor­re­spon­dence no longer work, and I can only reach the first page of the TV Guide arti­cle. Can any­one assist me in find­ing more?


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