Review: Star Trek FAQ

Star Trek FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the First Voyages of the Starship Enterprise
Mark Clark
Hal Leonard Books
$19.99, paperback, 414  pages
Release date: June 12, 2012

Chances are, even if you’re not a fan of Star Trek (in any of its incarnations), you can reference Captain Kirk, “live long and prosper,” and “beam me up, Scottie” in conversation. Casual fans may remember the episode with the tribbles or visiting Vulcan. True fans know “beam me up, Scottie” was never uttered on screen.

Mark Clark’s Star Trek FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Voyages of the First Starship Enterprise serves all three classes of fans. As he explains in his introduction:

Star Trek FAQ is primarily a historical account, with some analysis and criticism to provide perspective …. While it’s perfectly acceptable to read this book front to back, Star Trek FAQ has been designed for nonlinear consumption. Each chapter functions independently.

Clark’s self-assessment is on the money. Repetition can’t be avoided given how the book is organized. Fans of any stripe will be better served by dipping into sections that catch their eye from time to time. Not every section is for every reader.

Star Trek FAQ doesn’t take an academic approach, but it isn’t a tell-all book of feuds and dressing room hi-jinks either. Clark manages to hit both notes though.

He addresses Gene Roddenberry’s goals in creating the show and uses it to provide commentary on modern society and to answer why the show’s popularity carried on from the original series through four expansions of the universe on TV plus movies, books and a pervasive hold on pop culture:

Roddenberry’s vision of a future where the ancient evils of war, poverty, and racism have been replaced by peace, prosperity, and brotherhood comforted its audience during the turbulent 1960s and continues to reassure viewers today …. Until his vision becomes a reality – something that, sadly, is unlikely to happen any sooner than the twenty-third century – Star Trek will continue to serve as a beacon of hope.

The book starts with the creation of the show. For hard-core fans, the list of influences won’t provide any surprises, but Clark does a good job showing the specific pieces Roddenberry took from his muses. Bios of the original cast highlight their pre-Trek appearances, but misses the opportunity to explain why the actors were hired for their particular roles.

One of the highlights of the book is how Clark covers the episodes. Instead of a season-by-season plot summary, he divides his episodic discussion into villain type. Tribbles show up in the monster category, while “malignant life forces” highlights Redjac (“Wolf in the Fold”). Technological terrors and madmen round out the villain section. Vulcans, Klingons and Romulans have their own chapter. Other episodes are discussed according to the show’s setting: strangely familiar worlds, strange old worlds (the time travel episodes), strange new dimensions and strange new worlds.

The organization works well and may send you searching for reruns to spot connections you may have missed the first (or forty-first) time you watched the series.

One of the best sections covers Trek technology. It explains what the tech does, how it works and whether we may ever see it. It’s a great introduction for someone new to Star Trek and offers some laughs for longtime fans. For example, on when man will ever see the transporter come to life:

So when can I buy one? Right after you ride your unicorn over to Frodo’s house and borrow his magic ring. The transporter defies so many of the basic laws of physics that it is, essentially, a fantasy element dressed up as science fiction.

Some sections are for true die-hard fans who want every detail down to music rights and how score changes were needed because of rights issues when the show was released on VHS but restored for the DVD release. Casual fans may skip these sections.

At times, Clark provides a little too much information. A section on Star Trek’s competition covers Bewitched with details about the cast switch, influences on the series, spinoffs and the 2005 movie. The section on famous actors, scientists and politicians who were Trek fans may be interesting to some, but may seem like too much padding to others.

The FAQ ends flatly (famous fans precedes a bibliography) for a book that began by addressing Roddenberry’s philosophy behind the series. Perhaps Clark’s planned sequel, which will look at the movies and Star Trek: The Next Generation, will bring those opening thoughts full circle. For now though, Star Trek FAQ can be a book with which to dip your feet into the Star Trek universe or with which to add to your knowledge of Trek minutiae.

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