Fall, 1975. I was ten years old.
A writing competition was announced at my school: write about a story or book that really moved you, and if you won, as a prize you would record your essay and it would be played on the local radio station. My god, The radio station is still there. WHAV.
Anyway, I wanted to write an essay about James Blish’s adaptation of Norman Spindrad’s THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE from ST:TOS.
Even at ten, I knew it was not “cool” to espouse about the DOOMSDAY MACHINE. Among my ten year old TREK geek friends, it was okay to talk w/ semi-profundity about such episodes as THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER, FOR THE WORLD IS HOLLOW AND I HAVE TOUCHED THE SKY, LET THAT BE YOUR LAST BATTLEFIELD, even ARENA. But THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE? It was not cool. It was a war story, essentially, not up to Star Trek’s philosophical “higher ground.”
I didn’t have the means to articulate it at the time, but I wanted to scream THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE IS ABOUT AN OBSESSED GUY FIGHTING AN OVERWHELMING FORCE WHICH HE CANNOT DEFEAT. LIKE—AHAB! OR NEMO!
[I would not know till decades later Norman Spinrad very consciously based DOOMSDAY’s Decker on Ahab.]
Gregory Peck as Ahab
I steadily lost my nerve. I said, “The Doomsday Machine,” to my teacher and she said, “What?”
I wanted to win the competition, I wanted to be cool, I wanted to be on the radio, man. I was ten.
Nemo started gaining traction.
James Mason as Nemo
So I totally chickened and wimped the fuck out: I wrote a page and a half about Nemo and Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea,” I wanted to be “real,” “serious,” and “literary.” I was ten. I wimped out. And I won the writing competition.
This story haunts me to this day.
And the kicker! The day I had to record my bit at the radio station I WAS SICK AS A DOG, I WANTED TO DIE. An assistant at the radio station literally had to help me to the water cooler. I did my bit in the sound booth in one take and I said, “That’s it. That’s all you’re going to get.”
Because I felt like this:
William Windom as Matt Decker in THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE
I never heard my radio broadcast. Not a recording, not a copy, nothing,
But days later, staggering home after being beaten up by bullies (another story, another time, maybe), I walked into my kitchen and my brother-in-law said HEY I HEARD YOU ON THE RADIO, YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT CAPTAIN NEMO!
I never wished more dearly for The Doomsday Machine to blow my head off.