Everyone has a passion in their life: something they love to learn everything about, something that makes them fanatical. Most fans only ever watch their favorite television shows, or sports teams, or other activity. Some seek out like-minded fans who share their passions at conventions and other social gatherings. Meeting an actor or writer who helped create the stories you love can be a highlight of your year. But a few—a lucky few—get to create part of that story.
I never thought that I would actually get to create a small part of the canon Star Trek universe.
See also: An abbreviated version of this story is posted on TrekCore: How Memory Alpha Helped Star Trek Beyond
Prologue: How I Helped Start Memory Alpha
Since the very early days of my fandom, I’ve always been fascinated with the rich background and technology of the Star Trek universe. My parents gave me a copy of the first edition of the Star Trek Encyclopedia for Christmas 1994, and over the following years I eagerly read and re-read every single entry it contained. I learned about many of the details of Kirk’s and Picard’s missions before I even saw the episodes in reruns, but knowing those little details only made me want to see the episodes even more.
I was also fascinated by computers, and I used my dad’s copy of FileMaker Pro to create a personal Star Trek database, which I used to record all the details I saw in the shows I watched. I started out with a list of starships (cross-referenced by which episodes they appeared in), and eventually added lists of episodes, characters, planets, and more. In some ways, this database was even better than the Encyclopedia, because I could update it the very same night that I saw a new episode. But due to the limitations of the internet at the time, I couldn’t share that database with anyone else.
In the fall of 2003, I saw a message from Harry Doddema posted on the Flare Sci-Fi Forums. He had found this new site called Wikipedia, and it had a pretty radical concept: it was an encyclopedia that anyone could edit. He noted how most Star Trek fan pages were limited or incomplete references, and you needed to browse multiple sites to find the information you were looking for. He wondered if the Wikipedia concept could be applied to a Star Trek reference site. With my existing interest in building my own database, I jumped at the chance to build something like that. We named the site Memory Alpha, after the Federation’s central library from the TOS episode “The Lights of Zetar”.
Harry and I poured a lot of time into Memory Alpha in the early years, assembling lists of episodes to set up the structure and writing example articles that others could build from. I particularly enjoyed writing articles about historical events like the major battles of the Dominion War, because I could recount the events of the episodes in great detail but also connect the events together in a way that the Encyclopedia’s necessarily terse entries couldn’t. I think this style is what made Memory Alpha stand out, and it quickly gathered a thriving community of contributors.
I gradually stopped contributing to Memory Alpha after the first few years; I’d gotten a little burned out from writing so many articles, and I also got promoted to a full-time position at work, so I had less time to
waste writing and editing articles. I also fell out of touch with Harry, as we stopped posting frequently at Flare and moved on with our lives.
I continued to visit Memory Alpha, though, and was very pleased to see how it continued to thrive—thanks to the efforts of all the other fans who contributed their time, thoughts, and energy into creating the most comprehensive Star Trek reference in the world. And over the years, Memory Alpha got noticed: Mike Sussman, co-producer of Star Trek: Enterprise, contributed fascinating background details about the stories that he wrote. Many authors of licensed novels thanked Memory Alpha in their acknowledgments, too.
I was proud to have helped this invaluable resource and thriving community to take off.
An Incoming Hail from Scotty!
Stardate: April 14, 2015. It started as just an ordinary, lazy day off for me. I was sitting at my desk around lunchtime, catching up on some news on my iMac. I spotted the red notification badge that an email had arrived. I switched over to the mail app and read the subject line: “From Simon Pegg”.
No way, I thought. I opened the message in growing disbelief and geeky exhilaration. It truly was from Simon Pegg, with a personalized photo attachment and everything! I already knew that he’d been co-writing the next movie. The email, addressed to me and Harry, thanked us for starting Memory Alpha and described how he’d been using the site as a resource for writing the new movie. But more than that, he was looking for a little help with with creating an element in the story!
What he was looking for was a Vulcan mineral with some unique properties: a stone or gem used in jewelry, which transmits a harmless energy field that could be detected by a scan, and was uniquely identifiable to Vulcan.
(If you’ve already seen the movie, you know exactly where this is going… but those were all the details that we had to work with.)
Naturally, Harry and I exploded with excitement and jumped at the chance to contribute to our favorite show! For the next few hours we furiously emailed back and forth, pitching ideas. Harry thought of trininite, a real-world radioactive mineral created during the Trinity atomic bomb test that was briefly used in jewelry before the consequences of radioactivity were fully understood. Vulcans were known to have detonated atomic weapons during the Time of Awakening, so a similar mineral could easily have been created from the desert sands of their planet. It would be very slightly radioactive (and have become less so over the 1500 years), giving off an energy signature that could be detected by a scanner. And as a physical relic of Vulcan’s illogical wars, it would hold deep meaning for them, justifying its use as a memento in jewelry and similar artifacts.
So, what to call it? We dove in to a bunch of references, starting with Memory Alpha (of course!). I found a few promising words: vokau (“remember”, from “The Forge” [ENT]) and heya (“mountain”, from the novel Spock’s World). This felt like a perfect starting point for a name, since this stone would be a physical reminder of the memory of Vulcan’s past. We tried a few different variations, but the translation was always meant to roughly be “remembrance stone” or “memory stone”. I suggested vokau-heya as a tip of the hat to other hyphenated Vulcan words (like koon-ut-kal-if-fee), and we eventually shortened it to vokaya.
I was lucky it was my day off, because I was so excited I dropped everything to work on this—and I’m pretty sure Harry did too. We did all our research, brainstorming, and discussion in about 5 hours, and then sent off a reply to Mr. Pegg with our ideas.
We heard back the very next day, and if we were excited before, we were thrilled when Mr. Pegg loved our idea! We had a nice little email chat, sharing some feelings about the reboot series in general. It was refreshing to hear from someone so closely involved in making Star Trek, and to hear that even a fan who helped make the films might not have liked every single plot and detail (the Enterprise hiding under the ocean was mentioned), yet still was proud and excited about the movies. I’d been a little bummed about the future prospects of Star Trek after seeing Into Darkness, but this brief conversation reassured me that my favorite fictional universe was in excellent hands.
The first trailer for the now-named Star Trek Beyond came out in December 2015, and it was a pretty discouraging trailer for a Star Trek fan. Plenty of comment threads raged about the motorcycle, the rock music, the destruction. And in retrospect, all of these elements were certainly present in the movie. I reassured myself that this teaser was edited to attract the general public, not Trekkies. Based on my experiences with Mr. Pegg, I was still confident that this would turn out to be a good movie. But I couldn’t tell anyone else about that yet!
I saw a few interviews about the writing and production. It was exciting to read about our contributions to the movie, even if we weren’t mentioned by name. Mr. Pegg described how he’d used Memory Alpha, and gotten help from “the Memory Alpha guys”. I think it was reassuring to other fans who saw these interviews, as Harry and I had been reassured in conversation, that the writers, actors, and director were invested in making a Star Trek movie, not just an action-heavy sci-fi film with the words “Star Trek” slapped on it.
I was definitely looking forward to seeing the movie in July!
A Surprise Away Mission to San Diego
Stardate: July 9, 2016. The release date of Star Trek Beyond was getting close. It started as another ordinary work day for me. At lunch, I checked my email on my phone, and saw a message waiting. As I read it, it slowly dawned on me that my life was about to get even more exciting. Folks from Paramount and Wikia (the host of Memory Alpha) had heard about Harry and my contributions to the movie thanks to Mr. Pegg’s interviews, and were inviting us to attend the world premiere at Comic-Con in San Diego!
My reflexive reaction was, I can’t possibly go! It’s only 10 days away, I’ve already got my work schedule for that week! And I wasn’t sure I’d want to go, even if I could—I’ve seen pictures of the crowds at Comic-Con, I would be overwhelmed. I started to write a reply, graciously declining due to the last-minute timing. But on a whim, I asked one of my managers, Steve, a semi-hypothetical question: “How much trouble would it cause if I needed to take a last minute trip in 10 days?”
Now, I’ve always known that I have amazing managers and co-workers, some of whom I count as close friends. I knew that a sudden absence would place a bit of a burden, but they’d support me if at all possible. And I’m also rather introverted in person; even though I work at a fairly busy store, big shouting crowds are definitely not my thing. But I was still a bit surprised—though I shouldn’t have been—at the enthusiastic outpouring of support from everyone I talked to. Steve immediately looked into the schedule to see what changes could be made. When he heard that I was still uncertain about going due to the crowds, Fred threatened to beat me up every day of the rest of our careers together if I didn’t go. (But that’s Fred for you—he means well, he’s just sarcastic!) Becca was more productive, she checked out the location with me, and helped find a few candidate locations for booking a room. Ultimately, I realized that I’d probably regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t go!
Harry, sadly, couldn’t make it. He lives in the Netherlands, so it was a longer trip, and the obstacles were more difficult to overcome. I promised to video chat with him if anything interesting happened.
It was a nerve-wracking week making preparations. I was more nervous than I’d been in a long time. Some of my comments on Twitter made it sound like I had some major upheaval in my life. …Well, it was a major upheaval, it was just the good kind. I had to arrange time off from work, book flights and lodging, find other activities during the trip, arrange for my cats to be fed… I’m not very comfortable making last-minute plans. But I got some help, and I got it done.
Picking a friend to go with me was a little tough. Several of us at work hold a semi-regular “Star Trek Night”, where we either watch old episodes and movies, or play games like Fleet Captains or Five Year Mission. I didn’t want to pick favorites, but this wasn’t a group trip! I decided to ask Becca—she’d been very supportive in convincing me to take the trip in the first place.
I don't usually set my wake up alarm for 3:30 AM, but when I do, it's for a very interesting reason. Stay geeky. 🖖— Dan Carlson (@minutiaeman) July 19, 2016
Our flight departed Philadelphia airport at 6:30 AM on Tuesday. I was barely awake, but I was naturally incredibly excited. Because of the last-minute nature of the trip, we’d decided to keep it short—but we still managed to pack a decent amount of fun in! We landed in San Diego in the early afternoon, spent a few hours at the San Diego Zoo, slept like the dead that night, and visited the aircraft carrier USS Midway Museum on Wednesday morning. Then, it was time to rest up and get ready for the big night. As if to prove that the universe really does have a sense of humor, we grabbed dinner on our way to the premiere, and the bartender’s name was… Scotty! (Yes, really.)
The World Premiere
Stardate: July 20, 2016. I really didn’t know what to expect at the premiere. I’d been in contact with Brian and Brandon from Wikia, and Mr. Pegg’s assistant Claire, but due to the busy nature of the event, a lot of the planning was last minute. I was told to text them when we arrived at the park, and to be there around 5:30 PM. Becca and I scouted out the park the morning of the premiere when we picked up our tickets. There was a certain irony in our being in San Diego just as Comic-Con was about to start, but we weren’t too disappointed at having to miss it. (I’d tried, but there was no chance in Gre’thor of us getting tickets so close to the convention. And frankly, as cool as it would be, the crowds were a major drawback for both of us.)
So we threaded our way through the crowds lined up for the preview night of Comic-Con, then past the long line waiting to get in to the Beyond premiere. I met up with Brian at the head of the line, and… they let us right in. Becca was shown to our seats—they played “The Corbomite Maneuver” for everyone who was already in and seated. Meanwhile, they gave me a press pass so everyone knew I was supposed to be where I was, and then I was taken over to the red carpet.
The red carpet. Was this actually happening?
Sure, my place was the very last spot at the end of the line. I was completely out of sight of the exciting photo ops that everyone sees. (In one of the photos below, you can see the reverse side of the black backdrop that’s in all the promotional shots.) But I didn’t care. It was the freakin’ red carpet.
It was a long time waiting for all the stars to arrive. Luckily I had a great time hanging out with Brian and Anthony from Wikia. We chatted about the reboot films, our favorite stories, the proper way to pronounce “Wikia” (it’s “Wih-KEY-ah”, for the record), and other fun stuff. Somehow, we three became the guardians of the bottled water—mainly because it was just an ice-filled bucket on the corner of the platform, and we happened to be standing right next to it. I didn’t mind.
We heard cheering as the first stars finally arrived at about 7:00 PM. Unsurprisingly, it took a while for everyone to slowly make their way down the whole red carpet. I saw plenty of familiar faces as they filed past. I didn’t get a chance to actually talk to any of them—I could tell the whole thing was fairly tightly scheduled. Still, it was amazing to actually see Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoë Saldana, and all the others walk past!
I called Harry on my iPhone, and got the video chat started. I’d already been in touch with him by email, and we both agreed that this definitely qualified as “something interesting”! Simon Pegg was getting close… and then he was pulled away! Fortunately, it was just for a group photo, and then he came back. My heart was pounding in my chest. I was this close to turning into a stereotypical blabbering fanboy.
Then, it was suddenly happening. I was talking to Simon Pegg, so glad to meet him in person after chatting over email. It was a short, but friendly and sincere conversation. He really is as cool as he appears in the interviews. I’m so glad that Brian and Anthony were there to record it on video, because the entire thing was a blur! And Harry got to join in too, even if it was only on a video call.
After that, I had just enough time to make it to rejoin Becca at our seats. I felt a little drained, but the excitement was far from over. Conan O’Brien was his usual witty self as MC, introducing the cast and producers.
Then there was an absolutely spectacular laser and fireworks show, accompanied by the San Diego Symphony Orchestra. There are some photos available, but frankly they don’t do the show justice. It was simply 10 minutes of pure geeky awesomeness.
Finally it was time for the movie itself. On an outdoor IMAX screen. With the soundtrack played live by the orchestra. Yes, it was amazing. (They said it was the very first time there had ever been an outdoor IMAX screen.)
Despite having spoken with Mr. Pegg, I didn’t really know how our idea was going to be used in the film. Harry and I had seen a promo clip that we strongly suspected featured vokaya, but we didn’t know for certain. And so, when Spock started talking about modifying the Franklin’s scanners, my ears perked up. This was it… and then I heard it said aloud, “vokaya”! The scene itself was funny, as Bones and Spock discussed the utility of the mineral. I laughed at Bones’ quip—“So… you gave your girlfriend a tracking device?”—followed by Spock’s hilariously subtle look of shock as he realized the implications. And then the scene was over, and I sat back to enjoy the rest of the movie.
(I’ll save my thoughts on the film as a whole for another post. Suffice to say, I loved it, and it was everything the Star Trek fan in me had hoped for. And I could tell that everyone around me enjoyed it too.)
After a night of excitement, it was time for one more surreal moment. Mr. Pegg had suggested that it was coming, but I’d never heard anything official, so I’d never quite believed it was going to happen. But Becca and I were watching for it, and then, there it was:
There was my name, and Harry’s name, in giant letters on a giant screen, thanked by the producers in a major movie. A Star Trek movie. Becca cheered and I clapped, grinning from ear to ear.
We slowly filed out with the rest of the crowd, grabbed our gift bags with lots of cool swag, and headed back to our room. There had been mention of an after-party, but I’d never gotten any details on exactly where it was or how to get in. It’s my one—very slight—regret in the whole adventure. But Becca and I didn’t mind much, our bodies were telling us it was after 2 AM (those pesky time zones get you every time).
The next morning, it was time to fly home. Less than 48 hours on the ground in San Diego, but what a trip!
As I said before, I’m a fairly introverted person. But I’m so glad that I got to take this trip, and to contribute to my favorite sci-fi universe. I couldn’t have done it alone. I’m grateful to so many people who helped me along the way:
Becca, who joined me for my surprise away mission. It was a little scary to take a trip at the last minute, but it was so much more fun to have someone to share it with.
Steve, Fred, and Mary, who were all so encouraging in their own ways, and helped convince me that I had to take the trip. And Scott, who can say “I told you so!”
Simon Pegg, Doug Jung, Justin Lin, and the entire cast and crew, who made a fantastic Star Trek movie. It was an honor to be included, even in such a small role.
Brian, Brandon, Anthony, Claire, and Casey, who arranged the invitations and helped me once I got there. It was a bit overwhelming, but I made it through with their help.
Harry and I may have set up the Memory Alpha website, but we only wrote a tiny fraction of the articles that can be found there. Memory Alpha is a true group effort, and I’m grateful for everyone that has contributed to it over the years. We always were aware of the potential in the project, but I never really thought that it would become the single most authoritative Star Trek reference in the world. It wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without so many diverse contributions.
Star Trek has been a part of my life for years, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my chance to be a part of the Star Trek community.
See also: Harry’s Facebook message