Spaceship in My Basement: How My Trekkie Dad Inspired My Writing
by K.E. Ormsbee
There is a spaceship in the basement of my childhood home. My dad, a civil engineer and hardcore scifi nerd, built the aforementioned ship when I was a toddler. It’s a glorious amalgamation of 2x4s, dental chairs, slide projectors, and dozens of lite-brite pieces. From the pilot’s seat, you can click through various lunar phases, watch the IMAX classic The Dream Is Alive, and command the ship using an MS-DOS shuttle launch program. In this ship, you can pay a visit to the moon, Jupiter, or the farthest reaches of deep space. And believe me, as a kid, I did all of the above.
I can’t remember a house party at my place that didn’t involve a quick trip to the moon. The spaceship was a magical experience, a talking piece, and the obsession of every childhood friend my sister and I brought home. Later, it became my go-to fun fact so often required by summer camp icebreakers. It’s saved me from many a conversational rut and even found its way into my official author biography. But only recently have I begun to contemplate the long-term effect that spaceship and my dad’s general love of scifi had on me and, by extension, my writing.
My personality is a carbon copy of my dad’s. I inherited his melancholic disposition and his obsession with all things theoretical. Growing up, he and I debated everything from Plato to predestination to the legalization of pot. He taught me the fundamentals of calculus, logic, and rhetoric. And he instilled in me an abiding love for Star Wars, Star Trek, Lost In Space, Battlestar Galactica, and The Twilight Zone. Looking back, I realize that those philosophical debates, differential equation lessons, and Friday night family movie dates all shared a common theme. They were all about asking big questions and looking for answers. (It’s just, the questions The Twilight Zone asked were way more fun to answer than the questions found in my Calc 101 textbook.)
My dad and I didn’t watch all those scifi shows and films for the special effects. (I mean, have you seen tribbles?) We watched them because their screenwriters weren’t afraid to explore difficult issues in unique ways. I remember staying awake in bed after our movie nights, brain whirring through questions about mortality, mob mentality, eugenics, treatment of “lesser” sentient beings, addictive behavior, vigilante justice, justice versus revenge, and harmful measures taken in the name of “the greater good.”
Granted, I didn’t have fancy labels for those questions at the age of ten; but those shows forced me to engage in thought territory I otherwise wouldn’t have touched until much later. Thanks to the stories my dad inundated me with at an early age, I learned it’s important to ask the big questions, no matter where they lead you or how uncomfortable they may be. It’s important to empathize, even when the other party seems completely alien to you. It’s important to look at all possible solutions to a problem. It’s important to stay far away from dolls named Talky Tina. (Seriously, though.)
I began writing regularly at the age of twelve. Almost all of my stories were fantasies. They involved strange worlds and different species, and every single one of them tried, in however clumsy a way, to ask big questions. Not answer them, because I don’t think that’s a storyteller’s job. But they asked questions that were important to preteen and teenaged me. Questions I couldn’t properly voice without a fictional, fantastical world in which to explore them.
Years later, when I sat down to write The Water and the Wild, some of those big questions were still bubbling in my mind. So I used those questions. I used the wonder and awe I’d felt on my numerous pretend (?) voyages to space. I used my love of new worlds and strange civilizations. I think it’s safe to say that, had I not grown up with a spaceship in my basement, The Water and the Wild would’ve turned out to be a very different story. It might not have even come into existence.
My childhood home houses a bust of Jean-Luc Picard, a life-size cardboard cutout of Luke Skywalker, and a couple of sturdy lightsabers. It also contains the memories of missions to Mars, philosophical debates, and multiple Wrath of Khan viewings. It’s impossible to divorce that history from my writing. My Trekkie Dad’s unabashed love for all things scifi filled my past with some epic memories, and I have a feeling it will continue to leave little marks on my writing for as long as I keep typing.
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