I just happened to be online when word of Leonard Nimoy’s passing was announced, and though I’d known in my heart that his time was near, I was still stunned by the news. I quickly shared it with my friends, as one does, and only gradually did the truth of it sink in.
Mr. Spock was dead.
Now before I go any further, I’d like to say that I know everyone and their mother is going to post some sort of statement about their reaction to the news. This isn’t about jumping on the bandwagon and getting people to come read what I have to say because I’m going to be amazingly articulate and say something worthwhile. No, in fact, I’m having a hard time typing through the tears. This is just one fangirl mourning the loss of an icon, and a lifelong hero, and the man who gave that character brilliant, enduring life. It doesn’t matter that I never met Leonard Nimoy, or that he was an actor on a very old television show. His portrayal of Mr. Spock has been, and always shall be, a big part of my life.
Star Trek, and my love for Mr. Spock in particular, woke in me a fierce love for science fiction. After I devoured the James Blish novelizations, I wanted more. I needed more stories about these wonderful characters and their adventures. Star Trek was one of the few sci-fi universes that believed we’d solve our problems, that we weren’t stupid enough to kill ourselves or poison our planet. I didn’t grow up thinking that a woman’s place was in the kitchen because I saw a woman right there on the bridge. I didn’t think the Russians were our enemies because, even though Chekov endearingly thought all great things came from Russia, well, he was Chekov. They weren’t black, or Russian, or Asian, or alien to me. They were the crew of the starship Enterprise, and I wanted so very badly to be a part of their five year mission. More than that, I wanted to be good enough to be a part of their mission. Above all, I didn’t want to disappoint Mr. Spock, Captain Kirk, or Bones. The fact that I was a girl was immaterial to me. It never even registered that I might not have a place on the Enterprise. You have no idea how powerful, how liberating that kind of life lesson that is for a young girl. I credit it with helping shape who I am today.
I read all the tie-in novels, but when I ran out of those, I desperately tried to get on one of those mailing lists for these things called ‘fanzines.’ Failing that, I read some of the published short stories written by dedicated fans, and let me tell you, some of these works were utterly brilliant. I began writing my own stories, horrible self-insert tales where I would miraculously get beamed aboard the Enterprise and save the day (despite being twelve at the time). Still needing my sci-fi fix, I went to the library, where I discovered Bradbury, Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, and more. You should have heard the dolphin squeals of glee the day I realized that the ST episode Arena was actually adapted from a short story by Fred Brown. It was like running into a member of a secret club right there in the library.
I became a dedicated sci-fi fan thanks to Star Trek, and my love of sci-fi has brought me my most enduring friendships, introduced me to some of the best people (including my boyfriend of seven years) and brought me back to writing after a decade-long hiatus. So yes, I owe Star Trek–and Mr. Spock–so very much. More than a lifetime of shared jokes and laughter. More than some tears at storylines that hurt and cheers when things were put right again. Star Trek is one of those foundational cornerstones in my life. I can’t imagine the person I’d be without having experienced it. Mr. Spock made science cool. He made science sexy.
As the news broke today, people took to the airways to express their sorrow and to say their goodbyes. I think that’s when it really began to hit me.
As John Scalzi put it on Twitter: every geek has just lost their favorite grandfather. William Shatner tweeted that he’d loved Leonard Nimoy as a brother. My friends began expressing their sorrow, sharing their memories, their pictures, their stories. Every time I’d pull myself together, I’d read another tribute and I’d start tearing up again.
Leonard Nimoy brought Mr. Spock to life and made him the iconic character he became. He wasn’t always comfortable with being so closely associated with the role (hence the book: I am not Spock) but he came to embrace the role of Spock as being part of his legacy (hence the book: I am Spock) later on. He portrayed the character with a subtly that was the perfect counterpoint to the more bombastic style of Shatner’s Kirk. In fact, the on-screen chemistry between Nimoy, Shatner, and DeForrest Kelley was part of what made Star Trek resonate to such a degree with so many people for so many years. And though other people will play the role, it was Leonard Nimoy who first breathed life into a writer’s words and a creator’s vision, and made Spock unforgettable. He is the reason why other people will continue to play the role. Spock will live on.
I think perhaps this letter Nimoy wrote to a young fan in 1968, bullied for being biracial, shows best who Leonard Nimoy was and how much Spock has meant to so many throughout the years.
Yep, Crying again.
I’ll leave you with Nathan Fillion’s words, tweeted this afternoon:
“I have been, and always shall be, your fan.”
Goodbye, Leonard Nimoy. Your legacy will live on as long as even one person remembers Spock. Live long and prosper, Mr. Spock.