The Wrath of Khan

The following is an excerpt of Star Trek FAQ 2.0 by Mark Clark, as posted by Bookgasm.com. Please visit Bookgasm to read the entire excerpt.

The Wrath of Khan offers everything its predecessor promised but failed to deliver. It’s a thrilling, fast-paced sci-fi adventure rich in both sustained suspense and character exploration. The story wades into meaningful thematic currents on the way to a powerful emotional payoff. Not only is Khan a worthy successor to the television series, but in some respects it represents an improvement on the classic program. Not only is the movie far superior in all technical aspects (sets, costumes, special effects), as almost any feature film would be, but it’s also better scripted, directed, and performed than the vast majority of the seventy-nine original episodes.

Although piecing it together was a painful process, the film’s dramatic structure is masterful, with early scenes (especially those involving Khan) providing the initial thrust and events steadily gaining momentum as the story progresses. The dialogue is crisp and often witty, supplying both amusing bons mot (such as McCoy asking Kirk, as young Saavik steers the Enterprise out of space dock, “Would you like a tranquilizer?”), a Spock-McCoy verbal joust, and some eminently quotable ethical observations (including Spock’s assertion that “The needs of many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one”). Best of all, where the classic series often settled for heavy-handed moralizing (and The Motion Picture came off as ponderous and self important), The Wrath of Khan almost effortlessly addresses weighty, timeless concerns, such as aging and death. It also provides the franchise’s definitive statement about the self-destructive folly of seeking revenge, a theme also present in a handful of classic episodes.

Meyer’s direction is a model of narrative precision and clarity. While not renowned for his visual style, he includes several deep-focus compositions that greatly enhance the unfolding drama, particularly during Spock’s funeral, as the black torpedo-coffin slowly glides toward the camera, flanked on either side by mourning crewmates.

Keep reading this excerpt on Bookgasm.com!

 

In the 1980s and ’90s, Star Trek rose from the ash heap of network cancellation and soared to the peak of its popularity with a series of blockbuster feature films and the smash sequel series Star Trek: The Next GenerationStar Trek FAQ 2.0 picks up where the original Star Trek FAQ left off, chronicling the historic comeback of the “failed” series and its emergence as a pop culture touchstone. The book provides accounts of the production of every Star Trek movie (including creator Gene Roddenberry’s struggle to retain control of the franchise) and every episode of The Next Generation (and the conflicts that roiled its writing staff). It also offers profiles of the actors, directors, writers, producers, and technicians whose excellence fueled the franchise’s success, and explores often overlooked aspects of the Star Trek phenomenon, including unofficial, fan-made productions. Star Trek FAQ 2.0represents the final frontier of Trek scholarship. This book is not endorsed, sponsored, or affiliated with CBS Studios Inc., Paramount Pictures, or the “Star Trek” franchise.

Common Thread: Wells and Roddenberry

MarkClark in ColorGuest Blogger: Mark Clark, author of Star Trek FAQ and Star Trek FAQ 2.0talks about the eerie similarities between H.G. Wells and Gene Roddenberry.

Common Thread: H.G. Wells and Gene Roddenberry

By Mark Clark

His fiction is inspired by vast views of a universe better conceived and better executed than the one we live in. Consequently, his stories are highly imaginative. Supposedly based upon science, they portray an evolution of mankind onward and upward into a social order than is only a dream.

Astonishingly, those words were not written about Gene Roddenberry. Although these lines seem to echo criticisms frequently lobbed at the man nicknamed “the Great Bird of the Galaxy,” they derive from the 1940 edition of Prose and Poetry of England, a high school textbook originally copyrighted in 1934. The object of the editors’ derision is author H.G. Wells, who they dismiss as a literary lightweight. “In spite of Mr. Wells’ contemporary popularity, his works will not interest the future,” they write. “His science is too unscientific, his fiction too unreal.” Time and again over the past forty-plus years, Star Trek has been written off in much the same manner, but it refuses to die…

That’s how I began my introduction to Star Trek FAQ 2.0: Everything Left to Know About the Next Generation, the Movies and Beyond. However, with a wealth of other fascinating material to cover, I didn’t have room in the book to elaborate on the parallels between Wells and Roddenberry. This week, while writing a review of the Criterion Collection’s new Blu-ray of Wells’ Things to Come (1936), I was struck again by the similarities between the esteemed novelist and Star Trek’s creator.

For the uninitiated, a brief recap of Things to Come will be necessary.

Although it was produced by the great British filmmaker Alexander Korda and directed by William Cameron Mezies, Wells had near-total creative control over Things to Come, which he adapted from his 1933 book The Shape of Things to Come. Although categorized as science fiction the movie, like the book, is more a polemic — a manifesto demanding the radical re-ordering of human civilization, foisted by a deeply imaginative and profoundly compassionate futurist who foresaw the coming World War and wanted to rescue his species from imminent destruction. While Wells’ proposed solution was misguided, no film ever had greater ambition or a more noble sense of purpose. This was H.G. Wells’ attempt to save the world. Literally.

Things to Come is a “future history” of “Everytown” from 1940 to 2036. A decades-long World War begins in 1940 and is followed by a horrifying plague known as the Walking Sickness. By 1976, human civilization has regressed to the dark ages, the world ruled by bickering regional warlords and struggling for mere subsistence. But then the Airmen arrive. They are a society of scientists and engineers who, hidden away from the rest of the world, have made great scientific advances and are now prepared to lead humanity to a brighter future – so long as it submits to their benevolent rule. Under the regime of the Airmen, by 2036, war, poverty and hunger have been eradicated and humanity is on the brink of its first explorations into space. The story contains some harrowing sequences — when the healthy people begin shooting the lumbering victims of the Walking Sickness, the picture suddenly becomes a forerunner of Night of the Living Dead (1968) – but, ultimately, Things to Come is uplifting. It assures us that, no matter how corrupt or cruel human civilization may seem, we contain within us the potential to build a peaceful, shining world.

The parallels between this scenario and Roddenberry’s Star Trek “future history” should be obvious to any Trek fan. Like Wells, Roddenberry postulated that a coming World War (a third one, fought with nuclear weapons) would nearly extinguish our species, but would also obliterate the national, cultural and religious barriers that separate us, enabling humanity to rise from the ashes and build a far better world.  It’s easy to imagine Roddenberry’s Zefram Cochrane as one of Wells’ Airmen, inventing warp drive and helping extend Earth’s near-Utopia to all corners of the galaxy. Roddenberry, a well-read science fiction fan, may have been influenced by Wells’ ideas; both men envision a brave new meritocracy free of national and religion identities, where people seek self-improvement rather than wealth, and everyone is treated equally regardless of race and gender.

Things to Come possesses extraordinary strengths. It was the most expensive film made in England as of 1936, and Korda brought the full measure of his legendary production polish to bear on the project, hiring prestigious collaborators such as Menzies, Oscar-winning cinematographer Georges Perinal, esteemed composer Arthur Bliss, and Hungarian abstract artist László Moholy-Nagy, among others. The result is a science fiction epic that would remain unmatched in its interplay of unforgettable visuals and stirring music until Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

However, Things to Come also has glaring weaknesses. It is tediously paced, insufferably preachy, and completely devoid of believable characters or human drama. Wells was so intent on getting his message across that most of the story’s characters simply function as bullhorns spouting the author’s socio-political theories.  On the whole, Wells’ effort to save the world might have proven more successful had he been willing to emulate the approach of his early, most famous novels, which contained both big ideas and believable characters. As it stands, World War II arrived two years sooner than Wells anticipated (but mercifully ended 19 years earlier than Wells’ predicted 1966 resolution). And Things to Come was a critical and box office flop.

The flaws in Things to Come also present remarkable parallels with Roddenberry and his work. Both men looked back on their wildly successful early work (Wells on his classic SF novels, Roddenberry on the original Star Trek series) with some embarrassment. Both privately considered their early efforts immature and inadequate, especially as expressions of their Utopian aspirations for humankind. Consequently, their later works grew more overt and emphatic in their social messaging.

In a sense, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) was Roddenberry’s Things to Come. It was a tremendously ambitious and expensive project (the costliest single film ever made in Hollywood at the time) that brought together enormously talented collaborators (including Oscar winners director Robert Wise, composer Jerry Goldsmith and visual effects genius Douglas Trumbull, plus science fiction legend Isaac Asimov), but it met with critical and commercial disappointment. Both films suffered because their guiding force (which in the case of ST: TMP remained Roddenberry, even though Harold Livingston received sole screenwriting credit) placed far greater emphasis on ideas than on characters, resulting in slow-moving, emotionless pictures that left audiences cold.

Both men suffered as a result of their failures. Two of three other planned Korda-Wells collaborations were scrapped. (The other finished picture, The Man Who Could World Miracles, was far less ambitious than Things to Come.) Roddenberry lost control of Star Trek, reduced to a figurehead “executive consultant” with no real power while Harve Bennett took the reins of the film franchise. When, with the creation of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Roddenberry gained a new fiefdom, her persisted in his insistence that Star Trek’s first priority was not to present compelling dramatic situations, but to promote his progressive philosophy, including his belief in the perfectibility of the human race.

Roddenberry believed that the Bennett’s Trek feature films had strayed from this mission and tried to put the franchise back on course with The Next Generation with a series of decrees to his writing staff. Since the new series was set a century later than the original, he believed it should reflect the ongoing maturation of both future technology and our species. Starships of the 24th century would be more sophisticated and more reliable, so he also banned plots based on mechanical malfunctions. More problematically, Next Gen Starfleet officers, he reasoned, would be of higher moral caliber than their twenty-third century counterparts; therefore, Roddenberry forbade the depiction of interpersonal conflicts among the crew. No personality clashes, petty jealousies, competing personal ambitions, romantic triangles or other such story elements would be tolerated, even though because such conflicts have been essential building blocks of drama as far back as Sophocles. A revolving roster of writers struggled to devise compelling plots and flesh out the show’s ensemble of characters, without recourse to forbidden plot devices.  As a result, during Next Gen’s first two seasons, Captain Picard and his crew went underdeveloped, their personalities, relationships and backgrounds largely unexplored. Next Generation never consistently hit its stride until Season Three, when Roddenberry’s grip began to loosen, as a result of health problems. Eventually new executive producer Rick Berman lifted most of Roddenberry’s most restrictive screenwriting prohibitions.

I could go on, but this is already pretty long for a blog entry. Suffice to say that in many respects Wells and Roddenberry seem to have been cut from the same bolt of cloth. It was fine silk, but eventually gathered a few moth holes.

Star Trek FAQ 2.0

This book is not endorsed, sponsored, or affiliated with CBS Studios Inc., Paramount Pictures, or the “Star Trek” franchise. In the 1980s and ’90s, Star Trek rose from the ash heap of network cancellation and soared to the peak of its popularity with a series of blockbuster feature films and the smash sequel series Star Trek: The Next GenerationStar Trek FAQ 2.0 picks up where the original Star Trek FAQ left off, chronicling the historic comeback of the “failed” series and its emergence as a pop culture touchstone. The book provides accounts of the production of every Star Trek movie (including creator Gene Roddenberry’s struggle to retain control of the franchise) and every episode of The Next Generation (and the conflicts that roiled its writing staff). It also offers profiles of the actors, directors, writers, producers, and technicians whose excellence fueled the franchise’s success, and explores often overlooked aspects of the Star Trek phenomenon, including unofficial, fan-made productions. Star Trek FAQ 2.0represents the final frontier of Trek scholarship.

Star Trek FAQ Giveaway

Trivia time! Be the first to answer all four questions correctly and you’ll receive a free copy of Mark Clark’s  Star Trek FAQ . Make sure to include your email so that we can contact you if you win.

1. Who played Khan in Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan?

2. Name three civilizations that feature in Star Trek.

3. What is Warp Drive?

4. Who played the original Spock and Captain Kirk?

Star Trek: Into Darkness, a review

MarkClark in ColorGuest Blogger: Mark Clark is the author of Star Trek FAQ (available now) and Star Trek FAQ 2.0 (available June 2013).

Very soon, Applause Books will publish my latest work, Star Trek FAQ 2.0: Everything Left to Know About the Next Generation, The Movies and Beyond (Unofficial and Unauthorized). This volume picks up where my previous book, Star Trek FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the First Voyages of the Starship Enterprise, left off, and continues the story of the franchise up to now. Or rather, up to last fall, when the manuscript was completed. The book concludes with the impending release of Star Trek into Darkness, about which little was known at the time. Since Star Trek FAQ 2.0 covers (among many other things) all the other films in the series, I felt compelled to share my thoughts about the latest Trek movie here. Consider this an addendum to the book proper. Feel free to print this out, fold it up and slip it into Star Trek FAQ 2.0 between Chapter 40 and the bibliography. No extra charge.

For the sake of brevity, I’m going to dispense with any plot summary and assume anyone reading this article has already seen the film. (If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?) Warning: Spoilers ahead!

The bottom line is simply that if you liked producer-director J.J. Abrams’ 2009 re-boot, then you will adore Star Trek into Darkness. If you didn’t enjoy the previous film, then you probably won’t go for this one, either. All the flaws from Abrams’ first Trek outing return, but so do all the strengths – and the good stuff is much better this time around. Like the last one, Into Darkness is handsomely mounted, impeccably performed, thrilling and often hilarious. The story moves at warp speed and is overstuffed with dazzling action and visual effects sequences, including the most spectacular space battles and white-knuckle chase scenes of any Trek film. And once again, the film is strewn with inside jokes and references to classic Trek people, places and things, including a tribble in sick bay. But, as before, the frenetic pace disguises gaping holes in story logic and faulty science (for a hilarious rundown of these gaffes, visit http://io9.com/star-trek-into-darkness-the-spoiler-faq-508927844). For me, the only really bothersome lapse was that exploding 72 photon torpedoes inside a starship would not only vaporize the vessel and everyone onboard, but would also obliterate everything else in the vicinity and possibly rip a whole in space. But Abrams’ biggest mistake was casting Peter Weller as Admiral Marcus. While the actor’s work is fine, the presence of Weller – who hasn’t played a sympathetic character since the Robocop films, and already portrayed a two-faced Star Trek villain in a memorable Enterprise two-parter (“Demons”/“Terra Prime”)  – telegraphs the “twist” that Federation power brokers are up to no good. This plot point would have been far more effective with someone warm and likeable (for instance, avid Trekker Tom Hanks) cast against type as Marcus.

On balance, however, the film’s assets far outweigh its liabilities. If Abrams isn’t very good with precise, logical plots, he excels at understanding audience expectations and playing off them. Evoking The Wrath of Khan enables Abrams and screenwriters Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman to toy with fans’ preconceived ideas; the film delivers everything viewers think they see coming, but never quite as anticipated. At times Into Darkness stands Wrath of Khan on its head, with suspenseful or amusing results. Among the most refreshing of these inversions is the sight of Spock, rather than Kirk, starring in a major action/chase sequence. Considering that Vulcans are supposed to be physically stronger and more agile than humans, this should have happened before. Abrams also has a gift for eliciting fine performances from his cast, and Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg and Bruce Greenwood shine again as Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty and Captain Pike. One of the major differences between this Trek and the original is that Abrams and company don’t even attempt to recreate the Kirk-Spock McCoy chemistry of the classic series. This is a Kirk-Spock bromance, with McCoy, Uhura and Scotty as supporting characters and Chekov and Sulu for window dressing. This is intended merely as an observation, not necessarily a criticism. It’s probably smart, since I don’t believe Pine, Quinto and Urban (or anybody else) could duplicate the rapport of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley. Similarly, while Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Khan Noonien Singh has garnered much well-deserved praise, his icy take on the character couldn’t be more different from Ricardo Montalban’s alluring, romantic performance.

In Star Trek FAQ 2.0, I wrote the following about the 2009 film: “Although fans may disagree with some of the choices made by Abrams and Orci and Kurtzman, the reality is that after Nemesis and Enterprise, the franchise had been written into a corner. Abrams and his compatriots simply did what was necessary to break out of that trap, while crafting a livelier, more sensational and more emotional Star Trek with wide appeal beyond the Trekker faithful. The film may or may not mark the passing of the previous, statelier version of the franchise, but its success has assured that Trek will continue, in some form or another, for years to come.” Star Trek into Darkness only confirms that verdict. Although its opening weekend box office fell slightly below expectations (due largely to competition from Iron Man 3 and Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby), Into Darkness has all the markings of major hit, and figures to keep Star Trek in business for the foreseeable future.

At the conclusion of Into Darkness, Pine’s Kirk has finally begun to mature into something closer to Shatner’s version of the character, and the USS Enterprise is set to embark on its famous five-year mission. The galaxy is wide open. The most interesting question now becomes, where does the franchise go next? And who – with Abrams busy making a new Star Wars trilogy – will lead it? Look for musings on those topics in a future blog entry.

——————————————————–

Star Trek FAQ 2.0: Everything Left to Know About the Next Generation, The Movies and Beyond (Unofficial and Unauthorized)

This book is not endorsed, sponsored, or affiliated with CBS Studios Inc., Paramount Pictures, or the “Star Trek” franchise. In the 1980s and ’90s, Star Trek rose from the ash heap of network cancellation and soared to the peak of its popularity with a series of blockbuster feature films and the smash sequel series Star Trek: The Next GenerationStar Trek FAQ 2.0 picks up where the original Star Trek FAQ left off, chronicling the historic comeback of the “failed” series and its emergence as a pop culture touchstone. The book provides accounts of the production of every Star Trek movie (including creator Gene Roddenberry’s struggle to retain control of the franchise) and every episode of The Next Generation (and the conflicts that roiled its writing staff). It also offers profiles of the actors, directors, writers, producers, and technicians whose excellence fueled the franchise’s success, and explores often overlooked aspects of the Star Trek phenomenon, including unofficial, fan-made productions. Star Trek FAQ 2.0represents the final frontier of Trek scholarship.

Mark Clark, an interview

 Onstage and Backstage podcast from Hal Leonard is available on iTunes and Libsyn. Each episode authors and their guests have a chat about the topics of their books. Today, Mark Clark, author of Star Trek FAQ and the forthcoming Star Trek FAQ 2.0, chats with Patrick Phillips, host of The Patrick Phillips Show. Re-posted here with Patrick’s permission.

>>>LISTEN HERE<<<

Star Trek FAQ tells the complete story of Star Trek, from the before the beginning (the books, films, and TV shows that inspired producer Gene Roddenberry to create Star Trek) until after the end (when the show emerged as a cultural phenomenon in syndication), and including dramatic behind-the-scenes stories (e.g., Leonard Nimoy’s struggle with alcoholism and actress Grace Lee Whitney’s controversial firing) often omitted from “authorized” histories of the program. Along with in-depth looks at the pre- and post-Trek careers of the show’s iconic leads, Star Trek FAQ includes profiles of guest stars and “redshirt” extras alike, as well as the many writers, technicians, and artisans whose efforts enabled Star Trek to take flight. The book also explores the show’s unprecedented resurgence in the 1970s with chapters devoted to early Star Trek fiction, merchandising, and the short-lived animated series. Combining a wealth of fascinating information about every facet of the show’s production with original analysis of Star Trek‘s enduring appeal and cultural influence, Star Trek FAQ goes where no Star Trek book has gone before.

Is Star Trek: The Next Generation All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

 

Guest Blogger: Mark Clark, author of Star Trek FAQ (Applause Books)

 

In a previous blog entry, I answered the question (posed by reviewer of my book Star Trek FAQ: Everything Left to Know about the First Voyages of the Starship Enterprise), is Star Trek all it’s cracked up to be? For the record, I responded with an emphatic yes. But what about Star Trek: The Next Generation? In my forthcoming companion volume, Star Trek FAQ 2.0: Everything Left to Know about the Feature Films, I write about the quality of the sequel series:

During its prime era (from Seasons Three through Six), Star Trek: The Next Generation consistently delivered elegantly produced, convincingly performed, character-driven stories enriched by imaginative, thought-provoking science fiction concepts. The series was as ambitious and well-crafted as any on the air. Simply put, it was one of the best shows on television. But The Next Generation, while collecting an impressive haul of Emmys in various technical categories, for many years was shut out of these more prestigious “creative” categories. This became a source of frustration for the show’s producers and cast, who believed Emmy voters didn’t take the series seriously because it was syndicated, and because it was science fiction.

“Because our show doesn’t air on one of the traditional networks, we continually face the frustration of being an anomaly,” Berman complained to a reporter from Entertainment Tonight, in a story about the production of Next Gen’s landmark eightieth episode (one more than the original program). “We can only hope our show will be acknowledged by the industry, which an increasing number of viewers have obviously been enjoying for the past four seasons regardless of where they watch it.”

In the same interview, Patrick Stewart seemed even more irritated. “We’re conscious of that some people think of us as ‘That syndicated kid’s show,’ and as far as a large part of the TV industry is concerned, we are,” Stewart fumed. “Otherwise, how can you explain the total absence of Emmy nominations for directing, writing and acting?” Stewart went on to compare Star Trek with Shakespeare, pointing out that the Bard’s plays were also considered escapist entertainment in their day, but “clearly his plays could be very serious, too.”

Indeed, looking back, Star Trek: The Next Generation compares favorably with many of the programs that earned higher ratings and greater Emmy recognition during its prime years (from Season Three in 1989-90 through Season Six in 1992-93).

Situation comedies dominated this era in television. Shows such as Cheers, Roseanne, The Cosby Show and Murphy Brown ruled the Nielsen ratings. For the 1989-90 season, no drama series finished in the Top 10. The top-rated dramas were L.A. Law and Murder, She Wrote, which tied for Number 14. In the Heat of the Night (Number 17) and Matlock (Number 20) also cracked the Top 20. Over the next three seasons, only three dramas cracked the Top 20: Murder, She Wrote (all three seasons), Matlock (in 1990-91), and Northern Exposure (in 1991-92 and ’92-93). Today, Next Gen boasts a far larger following than any of those series.

The critical darlings of the era were L.A. Law (which won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series in 1990 and ‘91), Northern Exposure (Emmy champion in 1992) and Picket Fences (the 1993 Emmy winner), along with frequent nominees China Beach, thirtysomething, and Law & Order. A science fiction series rubbed elbows with this distinguished company, but it wasn’t Next Gen; it was Quantum Leap, Emmy nominated for three consecutive seasons from 1990 through 1992. Yet The Next Generation, arguably, was more innovative and in form and adventurous in content than any of those more celebrated programs.

The Next Generation was belatedly honored with an Emmy nomination as Outstanding Dramatic Series following its final season in 1994, which was somewhat ironic since the show’s teleplays were very inconsistent that year. Although it failed to win that year (losing to Picket Fences), Next Gen became the first syndicated program ever nominated for the award. Next Gen won a George Foster Peabody Award for the Season One episode “The Big Goodbye.” It was the first syndicated program ever to win the award. Over the next several seasons, the Peabody Award (not widely known outside the broadcasting industry but cherished within it) went to China Beach, thirtysomething, Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure. Peabody voters, at least, considered The Next Generation on par with the finest dramas on TV from the very beginning.

Of course, this analysis leaves open the question of which series was better, the original or Next Gen. But that’s an issue for another day – and, perhaps, for a future blog entry.

Star Trek FAQ tells the complete story of Star Trek, from the before the beginning (the books, films, and TV shows that inspired producer Gene Roddenberry to create Star Trek) until after the end (when the show emerged as a cultural phenomenon in syndication), and including dramatic behind-the-scenes stories (e.g., Leonard Nimoy’s struggle with alcoholism and actress Grace Lee Whitney’s controversial firing) often omitted from “authorized” histories of the program. Along with in-depth looks at the pre- and post-Trek careers of the show’s iconic leads, Star Trek FAQ includes profiles of guest stars and “redshirt” extras alike, as well as the many writers, technicians, and artisans whose efforts enabled Star Trek to take flight. The book also explores the show’s unprecedented resurgence in the 1970s with chapters devoted to early Star Trek fiction, merchandising, and the short-lived animated series. Combining a wealth of fascinating information about every facet of the show’s production with original analysis of Star Trek‘s enduring appeal and cultural influence, Star Trek FAQ goes where no Star Trek book has gone before.

Is Star Trek Really That Good?

Guest Blogger: Mark Clark, author of Star Trek FAQ (Applause Books)

Author Mark Clark

In an otherwise favorable critique of my book Star Trek FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the First Voyages of the Starship Enterprise, reviewer Reed Farrington of the Film Junk web site, takes me to task for failing to address a simple question: Is Star Trek really that good? “The Star Trek books I have read all seem to be written by fans,” Farrington notes. “So I often wonder if Star Trek really deserves all the accolades heaped on it. And I wonder if fans have exaggerated the importance of the show.”

Farrington is correct that I never directly address this question within the pages of the book, mostly because the answer seemed to be self-evident. The original Trek has so far spawned another 647 TV episodes and 11 feature films (soon to be 12), as well as more than 600 published works of fiction. Star Trek changed the economics of television and altered the course of popular culture by changing perceptions of science fiction. Once dismissed as juvenile drivel, the genre is now the stuff of blockbuster movies, smash TV shows and best-selling novels, as well as university curriculums and museum exhibits. (And given that Star Trek counted Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke among its fans, it must be quality science fiction.) Perhaps most importantly, the series enriched the lives of generations of fans, inspiring them to take up careers in science, engineering, medicine, and show business, and to work for political social change, to help bring about the utopian future creator Gene Roddenberry imagined. No other television show has such a massive, profound and enduring legacy. All this sets Star Trek apart.

Still, for the sake of argument, let’s compare Star Trek to the other most popular and critically acclaimed dramas of its era.

The mid- to late-1960s were a surprisingly conservative era in television history. Few shows overtly addressed the social and political upheavals of the day. The dramas that performed best were those that served the television equivalent of comfort food – old fashioned Westerns, escapist adventures and warm-and-fuzzy family fare. During the 1966-67 season, when Star Trek made its debut, the top-rated dramas on television were Bonanza (Number 1 overall), Daktari (Number 7), and The Virginian (Number 11) – two Western war horses and a cozy adventure series about an American veterinarian working in Africa. These were the only three dramas among the Nielsen Top 20. The following season, the highest-rated dramas were Gunsmoke (Number 4), Bonanza (Number 6), The Virginian (Number 14) and Gentle Ben (Number 19), about a family living in the Everglades with a cuddly, 650-pound black bear. During Star Trek’s final season, Bonanza (Number 3) and Gunsmoke (Number 6) finished in the Top 10, while Mission: Impossible, Ironside, The Virginian and Dragnet all landed in the Top 20. Today, Star Trek is much more popular than any of those higher-rated programs. Only Mission: Impossible (the Desilu-produced sister series of Trek) retains any significant cultural currency.

Star Trek’s critical reception was mixed. It was panned by most critics upon its debut but earned back-to-back Emmy nominations as Outstanding Drama following its first two seasons (losing both times to Mission: Impossible). During its first season, the other Emmy nominees (besides Trek and M:I) were the lighthearted spy-fi series The Avengers and I Spy, and Run for Your Life, about a terminally ill man (Ben Gazzara) who decides to live to the fullest during his final months. Trek’s Season Two Emmy competitors also included those same four shows, as well as NET Playhouse, an anthology series broadcast on public television. Star Trek failed to earn an Emmy nomination following its troubled final season. That year, NET Playhouse won the Emmy, beating The F.B.I., Mission: Impossible, Judd for the Defense, and The Name of the Game, a glitzy, big-budget series about the staff of a large magazine publisher. The short-lived Judd for the Defense remains notable as one of the few shows on television that were more overtly socially conscious than Star Trek, and as one of the few series the lowly rated Trek outperformed in the Nielsen ratings. The Emmy nominees of the era are a diverse and intriguing assortment of programs, but Star Trek, at least during its first two seasons, was certainly as thoughtful, ambitious and well-crafted as any of the other honored series. This much, at least, was reflected by Emmy voters. However, given the many production and screenwriting challenges created by its sci-fi format, Star Trek’s achievements, arguably, were even more impressive.

In his review of my book, Mr. Farrington suggests, “Of course, maybe Star Trek is simply awesome.” It is.

Star Trek FAQ tells the complete story of Star Trek, from the before the beginning (the books, films, and TV shows that inspired producer Gene Roddenberry to create Star Trek) until after the end (when the show emerged as a cultural phenomenon in syndication), and including dramatic behind-the-scenes stories (e.g., Leonard Nimoy’s struggle with alcoholism and actress Grace Lee Whitney’s controversial firing) often omitted from “authorized” histories of the program. Along with in-depth looks at the pre- and post-Trek careers of the show’s iconic leads, Star Trek FAQ includes profiles of guest stars and “redshirt” extras alike, as well as the many writers, technicians, and artisans whose efforts enabled Star Trek to take flight. The book also explores the show’s unprecedented resurgence in the 1970s with chapters devoted to early Star Trek fiction, merchandising, and the short-lived animated series. Combining a wealth of fascinating information about every facet of the show’s production with original analysis of Star Trek‘s enduring appeal and cultural influence, Star Trek FAQ goes where no Star Trek book has gone before.

Star Trek FAQ

Author Mark Clark

The following is an excerpt from Star Trek FAQ by Mark Clark (Applause Books), as posted on bookgasm.com.

In the late 1960s, the near-utopian future imagined by Gene Roddenberry offered hope to viewers shaken by the Vietnam War, race riots, political assassinations, and cultural upheavals of all kinds.

This upbeat tone was bracingly different than most science fiction of the era, which tended toward the dystopian and apocalyptic. Consider these two revealing examples: Producer George Pal’s The Time Machine (1960), an update of H. G. Wells’s classic novel, predicted that a nuclear conflagration would occur by 1966 and forecast a future where mankind has split into two species—the sheep-like Eloi and the cannibalistic Morlocks. Hammer Films’ The Damned (1963), based on H. L. Lawrence’s 1960 novel The Children of Light, assumed not only that the world was teetering on the brink of Armageddon but that world leaders assumed the same thing. Its plot involved secret government experiments aimed at producing a race of radioactive children capable of surviving the inevitable holocaust. While otherwise very different, both of these tales took for granted that in order to survive, humanity will have to mutate into something no longer human. And these are just two of countless nihilistic stories published or filmed during the ’60s.

Star Trek stood in bold opposition to this prevailing pessimism. The cornerstone of the show’s radical optimism was Roddenberry’s unflagging confidence in the perfectibility of the human race. The show’s overriding message was that our species can and will overcome war, racism, and poverty, and that once those ancient evils are defeated, the stars are the limit.

“It isn’t all over; everything has not been invented,” Roddenberry told a TV Showpeople interviewer in 1975. “The human adventure is just beginning.”

Keep reading on bookgasm

Star Trek FAQ

Star Trek FAQ tells the complete story of Star Trek, from the before the beginning (the books, films, and TV shows that inspired producer Gene Roddenberry to create Star Trek) until after the end (when the show emerged as a cultural phenomenon in syndication), and including dramatic behind-the-scenes stories (e.g., Leonard Nimoy’s struggle with alcoholism and actress Grace Lee Whitney’s controversial firing) often omitted from “authorized” histories of the program. Along with in-depth looks at the pre- and post-Trek careers of the show’s iconic leads, Star Trek FAQ includes profiles of guest stars and “redshirt” extras alike, as well as the many writers, technicians, and artisans whose efforts enabled Star Trek to take flight. The book also explores the show’s unprecedented resurgence in the 1970s with chapters devoted to early Star Trek fiction, merchandising, and the short-lived animated series. Combining a wealth of fascinating information about every facet of the show’s production with original analysis of Star Trek‘s enduring appeal and cultural influence, Star Trek FAQ goes where no Star Trek book has gone before.