The 1960s were a formative time for popular culture and nowhere is this truer than for science fiction. In 1963, William Hartnell first took a voyage through time and space in the TARDIS; in 1965 Frank Herbert published Dune; in 1968 Stanley Kubrick and Author C. Clarke collaborated on 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, one of the most seminal science fiction beginnings in the 1960s was in 1966, when NBC premiered a TV show that promised to boldly go where no man had gone before. Over the years and series which followed, Star Trek has come to define science fiction, phrases like “redshirts” and "set phasers to stun” are well known to the fans of the genre because of the iconic characters which brought them to life.
Of course, one of these iconic characters were Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy. Spock was a character who on paper is difficult to relate to, cold and logical, he could have been a two-dimensional parody of non-human characters, but Nimoy brought the humanity out in him through his subtle performance. It is because of Nimoy that Spock became the character most geeks, myself included, related to the most. He was the outsider, the one who thought and acted differently to everyone else, but just as much a part of the team as the hot-blooded Kirk or the ever-exasperated Scotty. It was through Spock that most young geeks learned to believe that the future would be better, in the future we would be accepted.
Star Trek encapsulated that spirit of optimism which possessed 60s science fiction. At a time when there was civil disorder, rational strife and it looked like nuclear annihilation was inevitable, people looked to the future for a solace from their fears, and Star Trek showed them a future where humanity had not only survived but flourished in peace and harmony. Today's science fiction has a much more pessimistic outlook, from the unending grimness of Battlestar Galactica to the bloody Imperialism of Ancillary Justice and endless zombie apocalypses, we are now scared of our future. It is important to remember a time when we thought our problems would decrease in the future and not multiply.
Nimoy was born in Boston in 1931 to Ukrainian immigrants of orthodox Jewish background. Nimoy started acting at school and at community college, acting which was not stopped by service as a sergeant in the US army. When he left the army, he moved to New York where Nimoy worked a series of jobs around acting before getting noticed on TV shows like Rawhide and Perry Mason, then came his big break when he was cast in Star Trek.
The show was cancelled after three series due to low ratings, but it had already captured the imaginations of a generation and the characters at its core become some of the most loved in science fiction. It is an extremely difficult job to take a character from a script and bring them to life in a way that is believable; it is even more difficult to bring that character into the hearts and minds of millions of people. Nimoy created in Spock a character people genuinely loved, a character whose very existence made a difference to his fan's lives, this is the highest goal of any actor or writer.
As the popularity of Star Trek grew, Nimoy and co. took their characters to the big screen where they worked on some of the most iconic science fiction films of all time, most notably the sublime Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan. Nimoy remained central to the film franchise, going on to direct Star Trek 3 and 4. Some of my earliest memories of enjoying science fiction is watching these films on VHS cassettes recorded off the TV. The ones which really stick in my mind as forming a strong early impression are 1 and 3, I am not sure why. It is partly through watching Nimoy and co. playing these iconic characters in amazing space adventures that I first learned to love a genre which would come to define a lot of my life.
Nimoy and Spock have been parodied over the years. As Star Trek came to define science fiction, its mannerisms were imitated and mocked. Nimoy, I assume, had a sense of humour about this because he participated in a fair few of these parodies of his famous character, most notably in the Simpsons where he appeared several times.
Nimoy also remained attached to the serious side of Star Trek fandom, appearing at conventions and in the two most recent Star Trek films. Even well into his 80s, he was still performing, appearing recently in the music video to Bruno Mars’s The Lazy Song.
The early days of Star Trek were part of science fiction’s formative years, or at least the formation of what we popularly understand to be the genre. Great writers, actors and characters will come in the future but the adoration that has been heaped upon these early luminaries is not something that we will see again. Put simply, once a genre's worth of fans’ hearts have been captured for the first time, nothing will ever be that loved again.
Nimoy was one of the last living connections to that early days of the genre, when we were optimistic that science could solve the world's problems and science fiction could show us how it was done. Now it serves as a warning of the terrible future we are sleepwalking into. That sense of passion, of optimism, that love was something unique and special and Nimoy was not only a part of it but he was central to it. Make no mistake that he is a titan of the science fiction genre who will be greatly missed.
“Live long and prosper.”