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Thursday, 6 January 2011

Superfans: Boldly going where no woman has gone before

 Superfan Alva Underwood of Naples,
As the writer of the six-book series "Star Trek Reader's Reference to the Novels," the 70-year-old with several advanced degrees has read and summarized nearly 80 Trek-themed novels. You could say she's gone where no woman has gone before.
No man either, for that matter. But skip the "Star Trek" jokes. She's heard them all, including visitors saying "Beam me up!" to her second-floor condominium, where the part-time Missourian winters with her spouse of 32 years, Bill Enslen.


That's not to say she's humorless about her passion. But she does take the "Star Trek" television series and their spinoffs - the movies, novels, animated series, and other fan material - seriously. Studiously, even.


For years, she taught a college-level science fiction class based on "Star Trek." She retired in 1998 from her post at a Midwestern community college, where she taught for 27 years, following eight years at the grade school level.


She greets a visitor wearing denim-colored leggings, a cardigan sweater and white ankle socks. She traffics in several interests at once: Right now, counted cross-stitching flowers and learning about the Regency period in English history intrigue her. And so does "Star Trek," of course. That doesn't change.
In fact, it hasn't since she saw her first episode - "Devil in the Dark" in black and white, which originally aired in March 1967. Reportedly William Shatner's favorite, the show involves the Horta, a rocklike creature that the Enterprise crew first tries to kill, then begins to understand and even helps to survive.
"I had always read science fiction," Underwood said. Although sci-fi isn't all she has read. She's kept a list of the 50 or 60 books she reads a year since fifth grade, in all topics.

She doesn't watch much television, but she was hooked on "Star Trek" early on - not long after the series debuted in September 1966.
"My niece kept telling me about this TV series and I said I'd come over and watch it with her," Underwood said.
"From then on, I watched them all. I didn't care if I was seeing them in the proper order or not."
She also read every "Star Trek"-themed novel she could get her hands on.

"Every one of those characters had something they were interested in," Underwood explained. "And they didn't have to be told to study it. They didn't say, 'I've been to Starfleet Academy, I don't have to learn this.'"
Lt. Uhura was interested in language and music, Underwood said. Sulu was a fan of weaponry and fighting and "was a biologist at heart," she said; Worf liked ships in a bottle and was an avid reader - "which was unusual for a Klingon but he was raised by humans and his parents were both lifelong learners."






Besides that, "It was an intelligent show," Underwood said. "It looks hokey today because they didn't have any money to do things, so sometimes they'd just stick a big piece of cardboard behind them and shoot."
Those humble production values didn't bother its legion of fans who became Trekkies as children, like Brian Chandler, owner of Comics Cards & Stuff in Fort Myers.
"I grew up on the original series," said Chandler, 41. "I guess I was part of the rerun generation. I was a kid who came home from school, ate dinner, watched 'Star Trek' and went to bed."
Like Underwood, he grew in fandom from watching the TV series to reading the novels. "Some fans are just fans," Chandler said, "and then there are some who read the books, and are more well-rounded."


The problem in each episode or novel is a matter of duty, morality or ethics, said Underwood.
One of her favorites is "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," from the original series in 1966. The last two survivors of a humanoid species are both black and white. Although both are black on one side of the body and white on the other, they are reversed, and cause the two characters to hate each other and battle to the death.


Issues like this are fodder for the hundreds of "Star Trek" novels as well, Underwood soon learned.
And although she's been to a few conventions and at one some years ago, wore a fur bikini like the character Zarabeth, she is much more content to sit in her Trek-themed room in Missouri or on her couch in Naples and read.

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