The thing I couldn't say to Mr. Spock's dad

Vonda McIntyre, author of beloved Star Trek novels like The Entropy Effect, tells us the story of how she met Spock's dad - and what she was too embarrassed to tell him.

Photo by Peter Meimon

Despite having done quite a bit of media tie-in work, I haven't been in the habit of attending media conventions. They're usually awfully big, while my speed of convention is Potlatch (population 200).

But I once was Writer Guest of Honor at a convention that was a combination of classic SF convention with a bit of media convention thrown in. The other writer guests were Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens (who are the nicest people in the known universe), and the media guest was Mark Lenard, who's best known in SF for playing Sarek, Mr. Spock's father.

When you're a guest at a convention, you're usually pretty solidly booked on panels and workshops, which is only fair since the convention is paying your way. So you sometimes don't get a lot of time to chat with the other guests or go to programming.

Halfway through the convention I did have time to listen to a few minutes of Mark Lenard's appearance. He liked to tell Klingon jokes, which are blonde jokes in a clever plastic disguise.

The audience was friendly, but restless, and after a few Klingon jokes, murmurs rose:

"Mark, we've heard all those jokes before!"

He looked a little sheepish and said, approximately: "You're right, I've told those jokes too many times. If anybody has any good Klingon jokes, please tell them to me and I'll add them to my routine."

I had to run off to the writers' workshop, so I didn't get to hear whether the audience told him any new jokes.

Later, we all participated in the autograph party. Autograph sessions can be a little hard on the ego. I've been on book tours where I sat for an hour at the entrance of a mall bookstore, all by myself, ten feet from the smoking area (downwind, naturally), with everybody who passes staring off in the other direction because they're afraid you might leap up and try to sell them a book.

At conventions, sometimes you get paired up with somebody who's about 1000x as well-known as you are, and their line goes across the room, out the door, down the stairs, through the lobby, and around the block.

That's pretty much what happened at the convention with Mark Lenard. He was sitting to my right, signing his heart out, doing his best to acknowledge and speak to everyone who brought him something to sign.

Judy and Gar were sitting to my left. As the convention happened to be in their home town, most folks already had their Reeves-Stevens books signed, and my autograph sessions tend to be a few people coming by and chatting, which is actually a lot more pleasant than having to sign books for a solid hour. (Though it isn't as satisfying to the publisher, or to the poor bookstore owner who's been pressed into service to bring the books to sell.)

So Judy and Gar and I got to sit around and chat with each other and with other convention-goers after Mark Lenard had signed their photo or their program. We were having our own little party.

I turned to Judy and Gar and said, "Mark Lenard told his audience he needs some new Klingon jokes. I actually know a good Klingon joke. When I'm in name-dropping mode I say ‘Stephen King told me this Klingon joke,' but really what happened is that about 20 of us were at the same table at a bar at a convention, and he told it to everybody."

You should tell Mark your Klingon joke," Judy said.

"I dunno," sez I. "It's kind of raunchy."

"Mark has a great sense of humor," Gar said.

"Gosh, I dunno…"

"Tell you what," Gar said. "You tell us the Klingon joke, and we'll tell you if you should tell Mark the Klingon joke."

"OK," I said, a little dubiously. "Here goes. Why are the Enterprise and toilet paper alike?"

"No idea," said Gar.

"I give up," said Judy. "Why are the Enterprise and toilet paper alike?"

"Because they circle Uranus and wipe out Klingons."

They both cracked up and assured me that, yes, I should indeed tell Mark Lenard my Klingon joke.

Just then, Mark Lenard took a little break to rub the writer's cramp out of his hand, and I turned to him, and I opened my mouth to tell him Stephen King's Klingon joke, but nothing came out, and he looked at me quizzically and picked up the pen again and greeted the next person in line and went back to signing autographs.

"What happened?" Judy asked me.

"Why didn't you tell him the joke?" asked Gar.

"It's like this," I said. "I think I could tell that joke to my dad. But I cannot tell that joke to Mr. Spock's dad."

Vonda N. McIntyre writes science fiction and is the author of Dreamsnake and The Moon and the Sun. Her website is here and she is a founding member of the authors' co-op, Book View Café, which recently released Breaking Waves, a benefit anthology for the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund. Her contributions to the book include "A modest Proposal for the Perfection of Nature" and "Paradise," a memoir of playing hooky from elementary school in the early 1950s on Sanibel Island, where her family spent winters and which she considered paradise.