'Trek' fans: from military to rocket scientists

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If Dr. "Bones" McCoy were to beam down into a modern-day "Star Trek" convention, he'd probably use his famous catch phrase, "it's life, Jim, but not as we know it."

"Star Trek" fans, known as "trekkies" or "trekkers," often dress up in Starfleet uniforms and alien makeup at conventions. The subculture has even invented a new language: Klingon, spoken by one of the most famous alien races in "Star Trek" mythology.

So far, the Bible and major works of Shakespeare have been translated into Klingon under the "Klingon Shakespeare Restoration Project." (In the movie "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country," Kirk is informed by a Klingon that "You can't appreciate Shakespeare until you've read him in the original Klingon.")

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Fans of "Star Trek" include former President Clinton, Stephen Hawking, Mel Brooks, Sir Arthur Clarke, Newt Gingrich, Tom Hanks, and Whoopi Goldberg. But, Trekkies say, they're still unfairly derided by the media and non-"Trek" fans as freaks.

"Anywhere you find a lot of computers, you find a lot of 'Star Trek' fans," observes Roger Nygard, whose film "Trekkies" is one of the most profitable documentaries ever made. "And anywhere you find a lot of computers, you find a lot of intelligent people ... because the shows themselves are intelligent."

Garfield and Judith Reeves-stevens, coauthors of many "Star Trek" books, recount visiting the flight-systems manager on the Mars Pathfinder project at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., to do some book research.

"When we go into their offices - all of those rocket scientists - [they] are crammed with "Star Trek." And when you go over to the art department at "Star Trek," it's filled with space-exploration material. They're the same people: One side is reality, one side is fantasy," Ms. Reeves-stevens says.

On another research trip, to the Pentagon, they discovered that the Department of Defense has so-called "Star Trek" rooms with advanced-computer interfaces. Indeed, "Star Trek" set designer Herman Zimmerman had been brought on by the Pentagon as a consultant.

The show's biggest supporters don't wear United States military uniforms, though.

"When a person dresses up in a costume and goes to a 'Star Trek' convention, it's considered weird. But if you're wearing a Boston Red Sox T-shirt, you're considered normal - a fan," notes Kurt Lancaster, who has written about science-fiction fan communities.

Kathryn Clark of Hartford, Conn., dresses up for conventions. She's the president of the USS Konkordium, a "Star Trek" club with 35 members, which include systems analysts, postal workers, teachers, and other professionals. "You won't find any of my crew members showing up at work in a 'Star Trek' uniform," she laughs.

The club was founded in 1987 when the debut of the TV series "The Next Generation" series made Ms. Clark realize that she and fellow fans didn't have to wait for the occasional "Star Trek" movie to come out to spark "Star Trek" activity.

The Internet has been a blessing for tracking down information about "Trek," Ms. Clark says. But the Internet has changed the nature of "Star Trek" fandom, too. Clubs are smaller now, as some fans form online communities.

That has made the nature of her club's outlook more social in nature, not only watching episodes at her house over dinner or attending conventions, but also having parties or picnics. The club has also done charity work in the past.

Why is she a "Star Trek" fan?

"I think science fiction as a whole has tried to say: 'There's something positive, here's a bright future,' " she says. "That's why people watch 'Star Trek.' "

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