❉ We review ATB’s latest anthology, celebrating fifty years of Star Trek.
One of the wonderful things about ‘Star Trek’ is that for all its broader cultural familiarity there’s relatively little consensus on what it really is. Outside of certain obvious characters, iconography and tropes, the essence and content of the show is a bit more inscrutable. Is ‘Star Trek’ a cerebral science-fiction drama or a swashbuckling space-opera? Could it be an allegory on broader cultural concerns or perhaps a self-referential reflection on its own fictional universe? The answer is, of course, all of the above – a point nicely articulated by ATB Publishing’s recently released anthology ‘Outside In Boldly Goes’.
As the promotional copy for the book observes, if you put ten Star Trek fans in a room, you’ll end up with eleven opinions. Not content with such low-key discussion, ‘Outside In Boldly Goes’ collects 117 essays covering the entirety of ‘The Original Series’ (TOS) and any TV or movie production that could reasonably be considered “Kirk era” from The Cage through ‘Star Trek Beyond’. Matching that broad range of topics is an equally broad range of writers mixing well-known figures in science-fiction fandom with individual – but no less insightful – fans.
The sheer diversity of approaches is on display in the first few pieces alone. Novelist Jonathan Blum’s discussion of the ahead-of-its-time drama series ‘Star Trek’ could have been if The Cage had become the show’s template instead of just a fascinating first effort is followed by a riff on Poe’s The Raven recounting a viewing of The Man Trap. That in turn gives way to a spotlight on how key Grace Lee Whitney’s performance as Janice Rand was to the episode Charlie X (and another glimpse of a different show ‘Star Trek’ could have become) and an obituary for Lee Kelso, one of the manifestly non-“red shirt” fatalities from Where No Man Has Gone Before.
With 117 essays and an equal number of viewpoints, not every essay is uniformly interesting. While their intent is admirable, the pieces on Space Seed and Errand of Mercy come across as trying too hard to make a point about commercialism. In a similar vein, the essay about The Apple is working a bit too hard to set up a fairly obvious joke, though, admittedly a bit of irreverence can be welcome addition to any discussion of ‘Star Trek’. Ultimately, the strong pieces are far more numerous and offer engaging perspectives on a wide range of episodes and movies from the show’s 50 years.
Sometimes individual characters are the focus, as in the piece about For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky where Stephanie Crawford examines McCoy’s role as “the passionate, emotional center of Star Trek.” Similarly, Kate Orman’s piece about The Enemy Within and the treatment of Janice Rand therein is a stark reminder that the idealistic, progressive vision of the future ‘Star Trek’ presented wasn’t always reflected in its onscreen reality. Another common thread is looking at episodes in the cultural context of their time, reflecting still potent issues such as racism in Let That Be Your Last Battlefield or environmental concerns in the animated story More Tribbles, More Troubles.
It’s especially nice to see ‘The Animated Series’ treated with respect in this volume. The status of TAS has been inconsistent over the years, but there’s no indication that the writers here view it as anything other than proper ‘Star Trek’. Certainly, the range of approaches to it is no less varied, as shown by the whimsical entry for The Magicks of Megas-Tu. Presented as an internal Starfleet memo regarding the possibility that Captain Kirk is a devil worshipper, it playfully references a variety of other ‘Star Trek’ stories, including ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’.
In discussing the movies, the writers are to be commended for boldly going beyond the conventional wisdom of odd-bad/even-good. This is particularly noteworthy in the essays about ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ and ‘Star Trek: Generations’. Graeme Burk effectively argues that the former is the only actual “Star Trek film” while Thomas Cookson’s offers an eloquent defense of “the last ‘Trek’ film to not feel written by a committee”. Kudos also to Arnold T. Blumberg for keying in on the emotional impact of the music from ‘Star Trek III: The Search for Spock’.
Other highlights include essays relating to occasions where episodes of later ‘Star Trek’ series tied back to TOS. In discussing Trials and Tribble-Ations Anthony Wilson finds connective tissue between that ‘Deep Space Nine’ episode and The Trouble With Tribbles that makes the crossover between ‘Deep Space Nine’ and TOS not just work but also seem perfectly logical. More surprisingly, Finn Clark’s piece on The Tholian Web makes a good case that the titular aliens were actually used to greater effect when they appeared in the prequel series ‘Enterprise’.
Whatever approach taken, from straightforward reminiscence to offbeat “in universe” narratives, the pieces here are above all very personal expressions. Like the people who made it, ‘Star Trek’ itself is both brilliant and flawed. The measure of its fans is that so many of them can engage with it on both those fronts. ‘Outside In Boldly Goes’ is nothing less than 117 testaments to the intelligence and passion of a remarkable fandom.
❉ ‘Outside In Boldly Goes: 117 New Perspectives on 117 Classic Star Trek Stories by 117 Writers’ edited by Robert Smith? is out now from ATB Publishing and you can order it directly from the publisher.