Most Star Trek fans realize that their favorite pastime is fiction, but that doesn’t stop them from applying logic to the show’s plots and timelines that go beyond work conducted by a television shows continuity team, let alone by a studio over the course of nearly 50 years. Without a methodical rethinking of Star Trek’s fictional context, the events that led to such iconic moments as “First Contact”, the signing of the Articles of the Federation or the conduct of the First Romulan War easily appear disjointed and muddled.
In Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years, David Goodman pieces together these disparate events into a historical fiction that spans the Star Trek oeuvre, creating the show’s first comprehensive and coherent narrative. For the most part, Goodman succeeds, but despite the book’s appealing look on the outside, the design of the book detracts from the project.
Let me start with the presentation. A silver plastic display stand with speakers surrounds the $99 tome, which, with its raised plastic federation logo, appears a document of some import. Pressing a button on the display provides audio of a single paragraph of text in the voice of Admiral Hikaru Sulu (read by actor George Takei) to provide the reader with context for the book. Unfortunately, after hearing Sulu’s speech a couple of times, it becomes an irrelevant part of the package. I’ll come back to that later.
Opening the cover reveals a well-constructed book, but one that doesn’t feel “Star Trekkie”, if you will. Being about Star Trek, even documenting Star Trek’s history, requires a a certain authenticity that started with early attempts to document Star Trek’s backstory, like the Franz Joseph Designs Star Fleet Technical Manual and the Star Trek Blueprints. In the era before personal computers, those books had an authentic mechanical engineering feel to them. One could easily imagine that Star Fleet personnel actually used them. Many books have published since those 1975 publications, and most have attempted to either capture the feel of the show, or to just be non-fiction reference books about the show, with no pretense to being part of the universe they document.
With Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years Goodman and the 47North publishing team, with it appears full support of CBS and Paramount, created a book that tries to look like a compilation of historical artifacts, culled together into a narrative. Unfortunately, Star Trek fans know that even in the earliest incarnations of the show, visual and audio records where rather sophisticated, and most weren’t handwritten notes. Outside of a few paintings that hung in Captain Picard’s Ready Room, artwork was not the chosen method for documenting historical events. Only in a couple of places does the book draw on actual images rather than somewhat impressionistic paintings, handwritten notes and other “artifacts”.
The book also includes an envelop of “historical” documents, including a high-level blueprint of the Enterprise and a hand-drawn sketch of Zefram Cochrane’s warp ship feel more authentic than those in the book itself.
As noted, Goodman writes well and does draw together all of Star Trek’s far flung historical events, into a “historical” narrative much richer than previous timeline-oriented attempts, including the History of the Future Museum at the Las Vegas Hilton’s Star Trek the Experience. Fans will appreciate Goodman’s novel solutions to many Star Trek Enterprise’s cannon breaking plot points that so infuriated long-time fans.
Even for those who love the show, any attempt at piecing together a fictional history necessarily point to the problems of writing such a “history” based on previously speculated events—namely, that real events have overtaken the speculation. The Eugenics Wars, for instance, that took place between 1992 and 1996, leading to the rise of Khan Noonien Singh and the character’s appearance in the original series episode “Space Seed”, never happened. Even when Khan reappeared in 1982’s movie, The Wrath of Kahn, those events leading to the character’s rise to prominence were a decade away. Today they are a real history, one that does not include the Eugenics wars or Kahn. The book also includes fictional references rather than pointers to episodes, movies and scenes that substantiate the “historical” assertions.
As a modern version of a coffee table book, Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years, provides an admirable centerpiece for a library punctuated with Star Trek decor. It would be a better book had it drawn upon the designs and wealth of images from actual shows and movies. The display stand could have used modern electronics to include additional audio to support various stories in the book. Hearing log entries in the voice of the characters would have been far superior than poorly executed paintings that endeavor to capture a “historical” moment. The book would also have benefited from an index.
Despite its design flaws, though, this book appears to be Paramount canon, pulling together, rationalizing and repairing the fictional history of the studio’s space opera franchise. Goodman’s story rises above the design, offering fans a new perspective of the Star Trek universe. Many fans will buy this book simply because of its subject matter, others for the quality of the display, but some may avoid it because in its attempt to create a “historical record” it makes the Star Trek universe seem that much more fictional.