Of Cosmos and Kin : Families find that a passion for science fiction bridges the generation gap. And the Valley offers ways to pursue their fantasies.

Share via
SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; <i> Jeff Schnaufer writes regularly for The Times</i>

Harry Turtledove did not hang around the hospital long after his first daughter, Alison, was born. Even before his wife and child left for home, he had slipped out for a rendezvous with the other love of his life.

“He went down to Anaheim,” recalls Laura Frankos, his wife, “to a science fiction convention.”

From that day in 1984 forward, Alison’s life has revolved around other worlds in distant galaxies.


The now 9-year-old Canoga Park girl has celebrated every birthday at a different science fiction convention, from San Francisco to Pasadena. Her parents are both science fiction writers. And Alison and her two younger sisters have read every thing they can find about Hobbits.

“If there’s one thing that all kids have in common, it’s an active imagination,” said Frankos, as she and the three children recently scoped out Phil and Ed’s Excellent Convention, a science-fiction fan-fest at the Burbank Airport Hilton. “And science fiction has the greatest appeal in stirring the imagination.”

Alison agreed: “I like when things happen on other planets,” she said, “and that’s in a lot of science fiction books.”

Alison and her family are not the only San Fernando Valley household with their minds on other worlds.

From middle-aged fathers with videotape libraries of the original “Star Trek” television series, to children who grew up with “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” science fiction and fantasy have not only bridged the generation gap, they have cemented a stronger foundation.

“The people who started out watching ‘Star Trek’ in the 1960s now have children and possibly grandchildren who are watching it,” said D.C. Fontana, who wrote episodes for both the original “Star Trek” and the recently concluded “Star Trek: The Next Generation” series.


In fact, if ever a capital of sci-fi fandom is placed on the map, the San Fernando Valley may well be it--with authors, fan clubs, amusement park rides, specialty shops and even a sci-fi radio show within its confines.

“It’s quite an enclave,” said Fontana, who lives in Studio City.

In the Valley, as everywhere, fandom begins at home.

There are the tens of thousands of science-fiction books--including the “Trek” series--that have entertained the public for decades.

And when they do not have their noses in books, many fans spend time glued to their television sets, tuned in to such weekly shows as “Babylon 5” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” or watching videotapes such as “Terminator II” and “Aliens.”

Even with the cancellation of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” series in May, “Trek” fans can rent episodes of the original series as well as the six follow-up movies. And a seventh film, “Star Trek: Generations” is due out this fall.

The sci-fi universe also enters Valley homes in the form of “Talk Trek,” a nationally aired talk show for (you guessed it) “Star Trek” buffs.

Produced by Cable Radio Network in the basement of a Sunland shopping mall, the sci-fi show airs every Friday on cable television from North Carolina to Northridge. Cable subscribers can pick up the latest Trek news, listen to interviews with Trek celebrities and call in to answer trivia questions.


“I just realized that Trekkers love to talk about Trek,” said Joyce Mason of North Hollywood, who created the Friday night hourlong program three years ago. “We don’t make any money from the show. We just do it because we love it.”

One recent program even helped soothe the fears of a family who had heard that one of the characters on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” is killed in an upcoming episode.

Co-host Daren Dochterman of Los Angeles told the caller that the rumor was false. If it had been true, he said, “we would have had a two-hour episode to talk about it.”

But sci-fi fans do not need to stay holed up on the telephone to talk about their favorite pastime. Although science fiction has always been considered by some to be a refuge for social misfits, the popularity of “Star Wars,” “Jurassic Park” and the “Trek” empire has propelled the genre into the social mainstream.

And the largest social enclave for science fiction in the Valley is the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society in North Hollywood, which bills itself as the oldest science fiction club in the United States, having been established 60 years ago.

Not only does this club have what it says is the United States’ largest private library of sci-fi and fantasy, including more than 7,000 volumes, it is a place where new fans can be indoctrinated into the genre.


David Weiner, 46, of Sherman Oaks wanted to take his 12-year-old son Jonathan with him to club meetings so the two could spend quality time together while Weiner and Jonathan’s mother were divorcing. He knew Jonathan liked “The Terminator” and other sci-fi films.

“I kept telling him how much fun I was having,” said Weiner, a sci-fi fan since he was 8.

Weiner hoped his son would enjoy interacting with the 200 active club members: an eclectic mix of world-renowned sci-fi writers (such as Tarzana resident Larry Niven, co-author of “Lucifer’s Hammer,”) and sci-fi readers, from Army Reservists to sandwich makers.

Many are drawn to the group’s weekly Thursday night auctions, raucous events at which everything from baseball tickets to candy bars is sold to raise money for club activities and maintenance of the aging clubhouse, a wooden house with a “low-gravity” toilet, spaceship-covered wallpaper, computer games and, of course, the musty library.

Finally, after three months of pleading from his father, Jonathan agreed to attend a meeting. “He came one night in February, and they had a real hysterical auction,” Weiner recalled, “and he’s been coming with me since.”

“It’s nice to see adults acting like kids,” Jonathan said.


Sci-fi fans also pursue their passion by forming their own fan clubs. The closest “Trek” clubs, which are called ships and named after people associated with the TV series, are in Lancaster and, most recently, James Monroe High School in Van Nuys.

“We knew there were Trekkers in this school, but people didn’t know how to express it,” said 17-year-old Thomas Cruz of Panorama City, one of eight students who founded the “USS Garrett” club at the school in May. “We eventually want to expand the club to involve all the high schools in the district.”


Members meet monthly to talk Trek, raise money and and organize field trips to science fiction films and other attractions. Club presidents are “captains” and members are the “crew” of their ship.

For the ultimate social sci-fi experience, fans voyage to an even stranger universe: the science-fiction convention.

These events, such as the May 20 Star Trek mini-convention at the AMC Burbank 14 movie theaters, allow fans to mingle with their favorite stars. Walter Koenig who played Ensign Pavel Chekov in the original TV series, was at the Burbank event to sign autographs.

Some fans go to conventions to take on roles for themselves. Ron Thomas brought his 10-year-old daughter Dorothy from their home in Chatsworth to Phil and Ed’s convention to check out the latest role-playing games. A math teacher at Foshay Middle School in Los Angeles, Thomas says he and his wife Sandy often play the games, based on the “Dungeons and Dragons” template, at home with their two children.

“For us, it’s a family activity,” he said.

Although Thomas prefers Marvel super-hero character games, he and Dorothy found themselves wrapped up in a dice game of “Plague and Pestilence,” based on the plague that ravaged medieval Europe. “I’m game to play anything,” Thomas said.

Other convention-goers take the role-playing more seriously, shedding street clothes for Starfleet uniforms or costumes of other favorite characters who, for a day, roam the convention halls as though they were intergalactic ports of call.


Debra Lee Hall ventured from Van Nuys to a Creation Inc. Trek convention in Pasadena recently to model her handmade Klingon opera diva costume, complete with crested forehead, shoulder pads and cape.

“I’ve been stared at all my life,” said Hall, who stands 6 feet, 2 inches tall even without the high heels. “Here, I can be the alien I thought I was and people can accept it.”

But not all convention-goers feel comfortable standing in line for autographs with a Klingon wanna-be.

“It’s obsessive,” said Victoria Wilson, 34, who came to the Pasadena convention from her home in the Hollywood Hills. “You gotta worry about people who do this.”

Not so, say many “Trek” fans. Just because fans dress up for a convention does not mean they try to give Vulcan nerve pinches to people in line at the checkout stand. They may be dedicated, but they are not deranged. And wearing a costume is the exception rather than the rule.

“This isn’t something I’d wear around the house,” Hall said, “although my husband would love it.”


Mason, of the sci-fi cable show, pointed out: “I’ve never worn Spock ears and I’ve never worn a costume. Most fans don’t. They just don’t.”

Adam West, who rose to stardom as the campy caped crusader in the “Batman” television series of the 1960s, expressed a similar sentiment during Phil and Ed’s Excellent Convention.

“There are some nerds, but you’d be surprised at how normal most of the people are,” said West, who now lives on his ranch in Idaho. “Maybe we should all have a fantasy life if reality gets too painful. It’s better than people who get an Uzi and spray a McDonald’s.”


Merchandising has given many a fan the chance to prove allegiance to a favorite science fiction show. Toy props, action figures, T-shirts and other sci-fi items are available in department stores, as well as new specialty shops that cater to fans.

“The entertainment and other industries have finally come around,” Mason said. “Sci-fi is the golden goose.”

“There’s definitely a lot of merchandising compared to when they had ‘The Twilight Zone’ and other series,” said Fontana, the writer.


The Glendale Galleria has one of those shops, Creation’s Sci-Fi Universe, a menagerie of T-shirts, model kits, bumper stickers and gadgets. Things From Another World, at Universal CityWalk, in Universal City, sells similar items, including comic books and model kits.

Universal Studios itself has the most ambitious science fiction marketing and entertainment effort in the San Fernando Valley, if not on the West Coast. Rides such as “Back To the Future--The Ride” and “The E.T. Adventure” lure fans from across the country. And Six Flags Magic Mountain has jumped on the bandwagon with its new “Gotham City Backlot” attraction and “Batman--The Ride.”

But there is more to science fiction’s enduring stronghold on society than merchandising and amusement park rides. Most fans tout the hopeful future of the “Star Trek” universe--where war, poverty and racial bias have all but been eradicated on Earth.

Mason, who is also president of the Willian Shatner Fan Club, believes the show has already had an impact on today’s younger generation. “You don’t see a kid into Trek who is also into gangs,” she said.

Whatever the reason people are drawn to science fiction, one thing seems clear: It is a genre that has proved itself over time--from the first episode of “Star Trek” in 1966, through seven years of “The Next Generation” and continuing with spinoff series and films.

For David Weiner, it binds generations together at a time when they need it most.

“This is another way for Jonathan and (me) to spend more time together,” Weiner said. “It’s for people from 8 to 80.”


Galaxy of Events


* Activities include convention expeditions. No costumes required. Chapters are sanctioned by the International Federation of Trekkers.

* Locations: The Antelope Valley and Bakersfield each have a local chapter. International Federation of Trekkers World Headquarters mailing address is P.O. Box 3123, Lorain, Ohio, 44052.

* Times: Chapters meet monthly. Locations, dates and times vary with activities.

* Price: $22 a year for local chapter and international fees. Each additional family member is $2.

* Call: For the Antelope Valley chapter, Shauna Schonfuss, (805) 256-8384; for Bakersfield, Phyllis Gutierrez, (805) 872-4798.

* To start a chapter: Call Gutierrez, fleet captain in charge of establishing regional chapters.


* What: A 60-year-old sci-fi club with 7,000-plus-volume private sci-fi library.

* Location: 11513 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood.

* Times: Meets every Thursday. Social hour begins at 7 p.m.; regular meeting and auctions at 8 p.m.


* Price: $2 per meeting.

* Call: (818) 760-9234.


* What: A radio talk show for Trekkers. Aired by the Cable Radio Network, 10487 Sunland Blvd., Sunland. Hourlong program airs at 8 p.m. Fridays. Ask your cable TV company which channel airs CRN.

* Call: (818) 352-7152, call-in line. Office number: (818) 764-5499.


* Six Flags Magic Mountain, Magic Mountain Parkway, Golden State Freeway near Valencia. The park offers “Batman--The Ride,” “Batman Stunt Show,” “Batman Nights Fireworks and Laser Show” and “Gotham City Backlot” theme attraction. Call: (805) 255-4111 for hours and prices.

* Universal Studios Hollywood, Hollywood Freeway at Lankershim Boulevard, Universal City. Sci-fi attractions and shows on the tour include “Back to the Future: The Ride,” “The E.T. Adventure,” “King Kong” and “The Beetlejuice Graveyard Revue.” Call: (818) 508-9600 for hours and prices.


* Things From Another World, Universal Citywalk, Hollywood Freeway at Lankershim Boulevard, Universal City. A sci-fi specialty shop. Call: (818) 622-8464.

* Creation’s Sci-Fi Universe, a sci-fi specialty shop, 2233 Glendale Galleria, Glendale. Call: (818) 409-0983.