Thursday, 5 January 2017

Read in 2017 - 1: A Brief Guide to Star Trek

Actually, I only finished the very last chapter of this book in 2017, having read most of it still in 2016. Nonetheless, it is when I finish a book that it counts, not before.

The full title of this book by Brian J. Robb is "A Brief Guide to Star Trek - The Essential History of the Classic TV Series and the Movies". I bought it either in 2014 or 2015 while on holiday in Ripon, at a massively reduced price of just £1,99 pounds, and then put it on my To-Be-Read stack on the shelf. There it sat, silently waiting until I would be inclined to read it.
And after the sometimes overly sweet Christmas-themed books I have been reading on my kindle, it seemed perfect to counterbalance all the sugar.

As a Star Trek fan of old, I was really looking forward to reading this. But to be honest, I found it hard to get into. I hesitate to blame the rather "dry" writing (with that I mean it is not the most chatty, entertaining and amusing style). It could also be due to my own set of mind, and that I simply am not the Trekker I used to be.

There was a time when I avidly watched anything Star Trek I could find on telly, and read several books such as "A Stitch in Time" by Andrew J. Robinson (the actor who played Garak, the mysterious taylor/spy on Deep Space Nine). In fact, I met my late husband through Star Trek! We were both hanging out at a Star Trek chat room back in the late 1990s, when chat rooms were nothing more than typed conversations - no pictures, not even avatars. This one was then hosted by Paramount Pictures and consisted of several rooms; the one where I made friendships lasting for years was called Klingon Great Hall. You can guess from the result (that I found myself a husband there) that we did by no means merely talk Trek there!
But priorities and interests shift as we find ourselves facing changes in our lives and the world around us, and while Star Trek will always hold a special place in my heart, I would not call myself a fan these days.

Anyway, back to the book. In 14 chapters, it explains not only how Star Trek originally came about, but also follows the development, rise and fall of everything that came after the original series. The author shows the different approach to the Star Trek universe each team of producers and writers had, and explains the role of fandom in the process.

The book ends with the highly commended 2009 film and a brief outlook of how (and if) Star Trek will survive in popular culture with its latest incarnation.

What I found really interesting was the dismantling of the Gene Roddenberry myth. Apparently, much of his "Great Bird of the Galaxy" nimbus was self-created, and he took credit for things he never did or wrote. In fact, the author says that "This Great Bird had feet of clay". Still, the original idea was his, and he is cited on the first page: "The job of Star Trek was to use drama and adventure as a way of portraying humanity in its various guises and beliefs. [It] is the expression of my own beliefs using my characters to act out human problems." And problems are certainly something humanity will never run short of, so that there will always be art in its many forms (including storytelling via movies and TV series) to pick them up and look at them from various angles.

Another interesting chapter was the one about "Unmade Star Trek" - ideas that never made it to the screen. Some of them emerged later as novels, others can be in parts detected in an episode or film, but a lot of what was written (sometimes by very well-known authors, or by the actors themselves) will probably be collecting dust in a drawer forever.

Brian J. Robb has written several biographies of film stars and directors, and for more than 10 years, he was editor of "The Official Star Trek Magazine".


  1. I wonder if the book mentioned this...the actress who played Uhura, Nichelle Nichols, felt that during the 1960's she should do more for Civil Rights. Martin Luther King, Jr. told her to stay right where she was, playing a wonderful character on TV who just happens to be a person of color. If that didn't make it into the book, it should have!

    1. Yes, that incident is mentioned in the book, but I knew about it before (this is not my first Star Trek read, hehe). When I watched Star Trek as a kid in the 1970s, I adored Lt. Uhura - she was one of the most beautiful ladies on telly, in my opinion!