Saturday, June 2, 2012
Review: 'Star Trek FAQ'
Applause Theatre & Cinema Books
A long time ago in our galaxy, not one far away, network television found itself hoodwinked when writer/producer Gene Roddenberry promised NBC "Wagon Train to the stars" and instead delivered the beginning of a new part of our culture, Star Trek.
For those who grew up on TOS (The Original Series), whether as teens waiting for 10 p.m. on Friday nights that final season or the syndication every weekday that endlessly recycled the original 79 episodes, Star Trek had it all and promised it all. We didn't kill ourselves during the Cold War. We ended Vietnam. We became an integrated society. We fulfilled President Kennedy's promise of space exploration. We could dream of becoming astronauts and our dreams could come true. We didn't have to be the popular kids to find a place to fit in, as David Gerrold eloquently explains in his foreward to a new compilation of behind-the-scene facts, background material and episode highlights, Star Trek FAQ.
Clark's compendium has many strengths, whether the reader is a first-generation Trekker or wondering what that big 2009 movie was based on. Clark provides a concise, highly readable, rundown of the original influences and executives in various companies who contributed to what became Trek. Although Trek was Roddenberry's baby, he had to run the gauntlet of studio and network approval to get that baby on the air.
The ins and outs not only show how difficult it is for any show to get on the air with any vestige of its original intent intact, it also chronicles how the Trek universe was refined and designed to become what ultimately became beloved. For example, the FAQ has excellent point-by-point notations of the contrasts between the original pilot -- "The Cage" -- and the final program that aired. Spock originally was meant to be more curious than logical. Jeffrey Hunter's Pike is closer to Roddenberry's version of Horatio Hornblower than that swashbuckler James Tiberius Kirk ended up being.
The episode guide is not "full service" because, as Clark notes, "there are plenty of those available elsewhere". However, all are included with thumbnail plot sketches and notes about other aspects such as broadcast history, guests and even such details as changes in scores and opening credits.
Worthwhile ideas to consider abound. In noting how Trek differed because it posits that mankind has survived and improved, there is a quick roundup of SF antecedents. It's about as cheery as The Hunger Games and other current examples of the popular YA genre of dystopian fiction. The chapter itself admirably brings together the examples of how mankind shows its better nature by rejecting killing and slavery through the run of TOS. Another Trek theme of a better civilization with cool gadgets that is still run by the people who made the gadgets, and not the gadgets themselves, is detailed in a thoughtful manner.
Religion and other social issues also are dealt with as part of Roddenberry's overall philosophy, refracted through the lens of the individual Trek episodes. A philosophy can be determined from the show: Hatred hurts and kills. Humanity is better than that. Religion is one way people have tried to control others over the years. Technology is a tool for humanity but not more important than its creators. IDIC (Infinite Diversitiy in Infinite Combinations) may have originated with the logical Vulcans, but it is a philosophy of empathy and acceptance, not mere tolerance.
The book also addresses, with specific examples, how TOS reflects the 1960s and the attitudes of men born in the 1920s who didn't quite get how their view of women didn't mesh with their intent to portray a future of equality and non-prejudice.
Subsequent Trek series are woven into the various accounts when necessary. That this is done without having the whole Trek universe take over the book, which remains focused on TOS, is an achievement worthy of praise.
Clark is not afraid to let his opinion show. The author really does not like Nimoy's singing and really likes Shatner's acting (even while acknowledging the bombasts). A lengthy chapter points out nearly every facial expression and line delivery that Shatner made. He does write about acting highlights of the other actors as well, devoting roughly same amount of space to each actor in relation to the importance of their characters.
At its weak points, the tone is total fan boy. At one point, Clark notes that when one considers how the other actors felt about Shatner, perhaps their characters beating up Kirk in one episode wasn't a stretch at acting. For the thumbnail of "The City on the Edge of Forever", Clark writes: "Come on, you don't really need a plot summary for this one, do you? OK, here goes:..." Oh, indulge us. This is a FAQ. Also, the availability of buying gadgets seen on Trek goes full geek. Then again, since some people are still waiting for their jet packs, why worry about buying a transporter?
And, unlike the author, it's possible to see that Next Generation's backing of Commander Data as a sentient being expands and fulfills the promise of equality for living beings, and does not, as he contends, soften the stance of humanity's superiority to any technology. Actually, including Data as a sentient being is nothing more than a logical extension of IDIC. All right. The very fact these idea come up in a review shows a strength in the overall presentation of information throughout the book.
Star Trek FAQ is an excellent addition to any Trek collection, for novice or expert. Based on the strength of this book, the upcoming edition dealing with later programs and the movies also will be worthwhile.
©2012 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reposted with permission