Friday, July 10

Canon and History in the STAR TREK Universe

05 April 2063: Getting closer all the time....
One of the tasks with which any historian must grapple in constructing a narrative of the past is determination what source materials are available and how reliable are the facts they provide. Many different factors must be considered, including the proximity of the source to the event, whether it constitutes a “primary source” providing contemporary first-hand knowledge unfaded by the passage of time and unmediated by subsequent accounts and influences, or, alternatively, whether the evidence is to be considered “secondary,” providing a more distant perspective based on assessment of such primary sources. In both cases – primary as well as secondary – one must consider in what ways the recording of the account may have been motivated by an agenda – unconscious or acknowledged – which determined inclusion or emphasis of certain facts and deemphasis or even exclusion of other facts which may, objectively, be critical in creating an accurate reconstruction of the events as they happened.

Such is no less the case when, based on a body of admittedly fictional work created by a myriad of authors, producers, directors, actors, and devoted commentators over the course of more than half a century, one sets out to construct a reasonable and cohesive history of a near future which has gradually caught up with and surpassed the earliest accounts provided and yet possesses what has come to be widely considered a definite terminus – 05 April 2063, the development of the Warp Drive. I discussed previously [LINK] the breadth of the still-growing Star Trek franchise of television series, movies, novels, and assorted supporting materials, how even the future time-frame in which the adventures are considered to occur developed only gradually, and what I called “The Perils of Prognostication” to which the earliest predictions of the near future established in the Original Series, approaching six decades ago, have inevitably fallen. I acknowledged as well that what I am attempting to do will ultimately, with the passage of time, be rendered invalid as time marches on and – inevitably, I believe, given its demonstrated longevity – the Star Trek franchise literally catches up with itself in a far more untenable way than was the case when the 1990s did not (thank God) bring World War III and the Eugenics Wars, and the first couple of decades of the 21st century did not (unfortunately) see such things as manned missions to Mars and Saturn as well as an advance in propulsion technology rendering “sleeper ships” unnecessary for interplanetary travel by cutting transit times from months or years to mere days or weeks. But I do consider the task worth doing, if only as an intellectual exercise in what I tongue-in-cheek call “making history” (more accurately, “making up history”) by maintaining as many as possible of the “facts” that have been established over the years while fleshing them out into a narrative that provides “a reasonable and cohesive history” of the near future.

To be honest, I must also acknowledge that this is one way that I can play in the wonderful universe that is Star Trek. From the very beginning – in fact, blazing a trail in such activities – Star Trek fandom has produced a huge volume of fan-made creations, in every genre imaginable: fan-written short stories and novels, fan-created technical manuals and other supporting materials, fan-acted, -directed, and -produced movies and faux television episodes. Some attempts at fiction have been dreadful, constituting wish-fulfillment sexual fantasies “starring” the authors and various of the characters. Some has been quite good, meriting – and sometimes even gaining – publication, or at least earning their creators the chance to write something specifically for publication. The best – and this is where I would place Star Trek Continues – is, in my judgment, a better recreation of the original 1960s vision of Star Trek than much of what has been officially published or produced in the fifty years since the original series ended. The same range of quality can be seen in the various supporting materials – blueprints, technical manuals, and the like – that have appeared since the mid-seventies at the very latest. Analysis of the minutiae appearing in the episodes – even in background monitors and schematics flashing on the screen for a second or less – have been united with reasoned hypothesis to produce marvelously intricate speculative materials that are (like any prediction of near-future history will be) inevitably rendered invalid by subsequent presentations. That does not stem the tide of such work, however, which has only exploded in volume with the coming of the Internet. A myriad of web sites are devoted to what is called “Treknology” [e.g.,], offering an overwhelming number of usually contradictory visions by what must be thousands of devoted fans.

I cannot write fiction. I have tried – many years ago I spent a huge amount of time over the course of several years (easily a decade or more) constructing a science-fiction/fantasy universe owing much to Tolkien/Star Wars/Battlestar Galactica/Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni Chronicles/and, of course, Star Trek and just about every other science fiction and fantasy world I read during my adolescence to early adulthood. I called it The Starsaga. I constructed worlds and languages and cultures and a vast (60,000-plus years) historical context set in the Andromeda Galaxy, generating a very thick binder full of notes and outlines and synopses and so forth … but every time I tried to turn it into story – whether short story or novel – I foundered on one inescapable fact I ultimately just had to accept: I cannot write fiction – or more specifically, I cannot write believable dialogue. I still have that binder; I occasionally pull it down and thumb through it … and consider burning it because it is so embarrassingly bad. The overall structure I created is moreover hopelessly derivative of the aforementioned works.

But, I can, I believe, interpret sources and write passable history. It is my profession, after all. I also, having my first degree not in history but rather in engineering, have some affinity for “treknology,” although I am not adept enough with image manipulation software to create the beautifully rendered illustrations that typically accompany such works. Nonetheless, applying my knowledge of history and its principles seems to me to be an area I can contribute to the every-growing volume of – admittedly non-canonical – Star Trek analysis and reference material.

The admission that what I intend to do will inevitably be “non-canonical” brings me to the real subject of this essay. As mentioned above, given the vast amount of Star Trek material ranging in authority from the official productions to licensed novels and supporting works to the wealth of fan-constructed stories and “treknology” sites out there, the first task I must accomplish is to identify what among all of that I will consider “authoritative” and to what degree. There is, as I have mentioned repeatedly, a huge – overwhelming – amount of contradictory data from fifty-plus years of episodes, movies, novels, and so forth – even when considering “just” Star Trek’s vision of its own in-universe past, our own near-future. As I sift through the material for the purported facts that have been presented – as detailed in my last post [LINK] beginning as early as the later episodes of the first season of The Original Series – it will inevitably entail a process of picking and choosing that I do not wish to be simply arbitrary.

Definition of Terms

For the discussion that follows, it will be useful to begin by establishing some definitions. The use of the terms “canonical” and “non-canonical” (or “apocryphal,” although I prefer “non-canonical” for reasons which I believe will become clear) seems initially to be fairly straightforward: what appears in officially produced series and movies is “canonical,” everything else is not. But then the question arises of whether to consider, e.g., The Animated Series and the movie, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier canonical or not. The creator of the franchise, Gene Roddenberry himself, disavowed both. There is also the question of various background and supporting materials issued by the production teams of various series and movies as well as innumerable contradictions that appear over time – many of them clearly intentional, what is often termed, in other such broadly serialized ever-expanding narrative structures that have endured for decades and yet ground themselves in a more or less cohesive continuity, “retconning” or “retroactive continuity” – essentially changing the narrative past to preserve the narrative present and future. And that is without even considering the vast amount of Star Trek written fiction! Clearly the binary “canonical” or “non-canonical” assessment is too limiting. I believe a useful analogy expanding the categorization may be found in an area of historical and literary studies which inevitably confronts a similarly vast and varied array of sources – the field of Biblical studies, particularly Catholic Biblical studies, which classifies Holy Scripture and similar writings in four broad categories – canonical, deuterocanonical, apocryphal, and pseudepigraphical. Taking those categories in turn:

Canonical means the official, authoritative list of divinely-inspired writings comprising the Bible, as identified by Tradition and the Church’s teaching authority exercised in the 16th-century Council of Trent (for the Old Testament) and by proclamation of Pope Damasus I in 384 (for the New Testament). The word “canon” comes from the Greek word for a measuring rod or standard. Of course, anyone familiar with the subject will realize that the breadth of that “canon” of Scripture is itself a matter of debate – which is where the second term comes in.

Deuterocanonical literally mean a “second canon” and refers to several books and portions of other books in the Old Testament were written later and were not universally recognized as being authoritative until the Church ultimately decided the issue once and for all in the context of vigorous challenges to their authenticity during the Protestant Reformation. Specifically, these are the seven books that appear in Catholic Bibles but not in Protestant Bibles – 1 and 2 Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, Sirach, The Wisdom of Solomon, and Baruch, plus parts of Esther and Daniel. Although there was early consensus about the other 66 books including most of Esther and Daniel, these particular texts remained controversial until the Council of Trent removed all doubt for faithful Catholics. Despite carrying the same level of authority as the “primary canon” of Scripture, the late date of their acceptance led to their being dubbed “deuterocanonical” by Catholics – although Protestants include them among the next category.

Apocryphal – There is a misconception about this and the last category, that the works so called are somehow “fraudulent,” but such an assessment constitutes erroneously imposing modern attitudes and standards on the past as well as imputing motivation to their authors and those who accepted them that is almost certainly not the case. The word “apocrypha” literally means “hidden,” which is likewise manifestly not the case for many so-called works (although at various times their reading and distribution has indeed been discouraged or outright forbidden). But, in Biblical studies, “apocryphal” simply means early works that may have been at one time or by certain groups considered canonical but were ultimately and authoritatively judged not to enjoy that status. Hence Protestants’ relegating the deuterocanonical books of the Catholic Bible to “The Apocrypha.” The category is actually quite a bit wider, of course, as there are works for which Protestants and Catholics agree in judgment, e.g., The Protoevangelium of James. Nevertheless, in this cased the popular meaning of the word, that “apocryphal” means “lacking in authority,” will serve perfectly well for our purposes.

That aforementioned fourth category that is often considered to align almost coextensively with “apocrypha,” deserves a moment’s consideration on its own. Literally, pseudepigraphical means “written under a pseudonym,” usually (in the case of Scripture) meaning a later writer assuming the persona of some great personage of the past in order to lend authority to their own writing. In the modern context, by modern standards, such an action would clearly be considered deceptive and fraudulent – but one of the most necessary skills a historian must cultivate is not applying modern standards to the past he or she is studying. It was a common practice in the ancient world, in secular as well as religious writing (although that too is, to a degree, to apply a modern dichotomy where it did not apply or at least where the line would be drawn in a very different place), and was not considered “deceptive.” It was, rather, a means of invoking that earlier authority on a work that the present author considered fully in conformity with the writer whose name they appropriated. As far as we can tell today in every instance where we have a clue, it was done by devotees or students of that prior authority who adamantly believed that they represented his ideals. From later perspective the lack of authenticity does, of course, deprive the work of authority, but to attribute malicious intent where such was almost certainly not present is presumptuous and uncharitable.

Having said all that, in order to apply the foregoing terms to Star Trek source materials for my purposes I would define them more briefly as follows, paralleling the above (although not perfectly):  

Canonical – official productions to be presumed authoritative.

Deuterocanonical – official productions considered authoritative by some but not by all.

Apocryphal –materials devoid of authority by their nature, regardless of their intrinsic quality.

Pseudepigraphical – unofficial, unauthorized works of such high quality that they could well be considered authoritative.

I must also make several points clear. First, “productions” here is not necessarily limited to just the television series and movies but may include other types of material as well. Secondly and indeed corollary to that, it must always be remembered that when considering the products of an unquestionably fictional franchise where the lines between canonical, deuterocanonical, et al., are to be drawn is ultimately a matter of individual interpretation in a way that, for me as a Catholic at least, similar questions regarding the canonicity of Holy Scripture is not. Ultimately, as fans of Star Trek, we are each free to construct our own “head-canon.” Finally, my consideration of the authority to be accorded various Star Trek sources going forward will be largely, although not exclusively, oriented toward the purpose to which I intend to put them in constructing a near-future “history” from the present to the founding of the Federation.

Canonical Hierarchy of Authority in Star Trek

My personal “hierarchy of authority” applying those definitions to the Star Trek source material would therefore be as follows, as discussed below with noted exceptions:

Canonical – Live-action officially-produced episodes and movies.

Deuterocanonical – The Animated Series episodes, as well as the novelizations of the Original Series and some of the movies. Also, some of the original novels and official reference materials, I believe, deserve to be ranked as deuterocanonical.

Apocryphal – Some episodes and movies as well as most of the original novels and reference materials, for one reason or another, cannot be considered authoritative.

Pseudepigraphical Star Trek Continues. It is that good. Of course, the fans who produced STC did not put their fine work out there under the guise of it being authentic 1960s-era television Star Trek, so it is not technically “pseudonymous.” Vic Mignogna and his fellow actors and production team afixed their own names to the series. But it is as close a reproduction of the writing, the sets, the acting, and so forth, as you will ever see, and I do not know what other category it would fall in. It is an almost seamless continuation.

There are, of course, numerous problems and exceptions to the above broad categorizations. To run down them….

First, the live-action, officially-produced episodes and movies must be presumed authoritative and canonical. Like any particular one of them or not, they are what the professional creators (to whom, for better or worse in each case, the corporate owners of the franchise entrusted it) chose to do with that authority. Nevertheless, as might be expected given the sheer number of live-action episodes and movies (755 at present – and here I do include in that number the three Abramsverse movies while excluding the ten Short Treks vignettes) as well as the variety of those creators, their abilities, their knowledge of and devotion to protecting and passing on intact the body of work that came to them, there are some individual episodes and movies I cannot bring myself to include. The essence of some might be salvaged by judicious allowances and substitutions of detail. To some degree, I freely admit that it often boils down to personal taste, although I believe I can give some rationale for most that I would exclude or alter:

The three Abramsverse movies I do not include at all because they contribute nothing to this project, the stories of each being well outside its scope. Even the second, Into Darkness, linking back to the Eugenics Wars and Khan Noonien Singh, adds nothing that I can remember, except the ludicrous spectacle of a Sikh prince being portrayed by a blond, blue-eyed Englishman. They are, moreover, explicitly set in an alternate timeline which only departed from the main timeline with the appearance of Nero and his Romulans in 2233, having escaped the supernova of 2397 which destroyed Romulus. Only that destruction of Romulus and the consequent disappearance of Ambassador Spock as well into that altered timeline (appearing a few years later) have any relevance to the main, “Prime,” timeline – and all the dates are well outside of my ca. 2000-2161 scope of “near future” history. My lack of affinity for the movies has nothing to do with it (he protesteth too much!).

Of the other, mainstream, "Prime" timeline movies, despite their widely varying quality, the only one I would exclude altogether from “my” Star Trek canon would be Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. And in that I find good company. Gene Roddenberry himself (uninvolved in its production) considered it “apocryphal.” Besides which, it contributes nothing to this project.

Likewise, at least so far, Star Trek: Discovery does not contribute anything relevant to what I am trying to do – at least as far as near-future history is concerned. Where I will discuss the history and development of the Warp Drive … well, as I will doubtless repeat myself there, the “Spore Drive” is at once one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard of and irrelevant to any such discussion anyway. Moreover, the first season of Discovery is just BAD.

Star Trek: Enterprise, in common with Star Trek: Discovery, is a prequel to the Original Series. Before I discuss particulars, let me say a couple of words about such “prequels.”

I think a good argument could be made that prequels in any franchise or series are by their very definition at best “historical fiction” from the perspective of the main narrative. Consider this: Star Trek production began in the mid 1960s portraying events that would ultimately be decided were taking place three hundred years in the future, with that future time progressing more or less in step with “production time.” The major exception was Star Trek: The Motion Picture, made ten years after the end of the Original Series and yet set only three to four years after its conclusion, but then Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan brought the passage of time back into alignment by Khan’s statement that fifteen years had passed since Kirk stranded Khan and his Augments on Ceti Alpha V – the exact number of years separating “Space Seed” from The Wrath of Khan. Allowances being made for the directly sequential narrative of Star Trek II, III, and IV although two years’ production time separated each movie, the correspondence was generally maintained thereafter right up to the last appearance of the original characters in the 23rd century, at the beginning of Star Trek Generations, made in 1994 and set beginning in 2293. Of course, in 1987 with the beginning of Star Trek: The Next Generation, there had begun a second narrative era, set 377 years in the future. But the Next Generation era progressed steadily as well – once again in general sync with real-time production years – through Star Trek: Deep Space 9, Voyager, and several movies until 2002 ended with the release of Nemesis (set in 2379, 377 years in the future).

The year before the Next Generation era ended, however, Enterprise had debuted (no franchise name appeared until season three), set only 150 years in the future in 2151 and 115 years before the beginning of The Original Series in 2266. It was, of course, being produced 35 years after that Original Series, during which time the real world had, of course, changed radically. That “temporal dissonance” created all kinds of problems. The cultural sensibilities and fashions of the early 2000s were almost unrecognizably different from the late 1960s; the sexual revolution, civil rights, political upheavals, the escalation then sudden end of the Cold War; scientific knowledge had exploded; video-production techniques had advanced considerably, especially in the critical area of special effects upon which science fiction depends to create its strange, new worlds. The considerably more primitive production values of The Original Series, long considered quaint but fairly easily overlooked, in-universe, as being, yes, primitive, in comparison with the mid-late 1980s-produced Next Generation production values depicting a world a century in the Original Series’ future (and yet themselves now starting to look a bit dated), suddenly became glaringly obvious, being so much more primitive than those of early 2000s-era Enterprise which purported to be over a century in the Original Series’ future! The special effects were just the least of it. Cultural sensibilities and fashions…. It frankly amazes me that even the fan-made Star Trek Continues, with its avowed mission to recreate in lovingly meticulous period detail every aspect of The Original Series, was able to include the infamous miniskirt uniforms for female Starfleet officers and crew. I’m not complaining, mind you…. Long considered sexist – and, I believe, rightly so – these were nonetheless part of the world of the 1960s, which the fan-creators of STC embraced and made work. Yes, they balanced that with subtly modern takes on the “morality play” aspect that made Original-Series Star Trek much more than simply a “monster of the week” sci-fi adventure show, but even so, I am surprised they did it and got away with it, as far as I know, without complaints.

But the inevitably contrasequential look and sensibility evident in Enterprise are not the biggest problem I see. I do not think there has ever been a prequel that successfully and seamlessly accomplishes what, by definition, a prequel sets out to do, which is to tell a previously untold story antecedent to the story that has already been told. It might succeed in the broad sense of telling the story, but “seamlessly”? – by which I mean, without introducing contradictory, anachronous elements based on where the story is known to be headed? That last is indeed the problem – the later story has already been told, establishing facts and parameters that, for the prequel to truly succeed, have to be scrupulously adhered to – and never are. It is, quite frankly, impossible. It is a trope that appears repeatedly even in-universe in the numerous time travel episodes where the plot depends on preserving the protagonists’ own future by not changing the past: Knowing the future inevitably changes one’s actions in the past – changing that past and endangering the future. Just so, creating a story prequel to a later story is going to be informed by knowledge of that later story, and there is going to be “backflow” of ideas and story-elements from the later but earlier-told story to the earlier but later-told story. Sometimes it is simply because this or that idea is too good to take off the table just because it contradicts earlier established narrative history – for instance, the appearance of the Klingons in the very first episode of Enterprise, when previous consensus had the Federation not meeting the Klingons until a generation or so before Kirk – but what is Star Trek without Klingons? The design of the NX-01 Enterprise has been criticized since its first appearance because it bears a close resemblance to the Akira starship class that appeared in the Next Generation era rather than looking like a legitimate predecessor to Kirk’s NCC-1701 Enterprise. Canon-conscious production designer Doug Drexler reportedly wanted to go with one of the earlier designs by original Enterprise designer Matt Jeffries, perhaps with a spherical rather than a saucer-shaped primary hull or even finally bringing to the screen the “ring-ship” that has hitherto only appeared in commemorative picture, but the showrunners overruled him because they wanted the ship to look “familiar.” It did, too much so. Inevitable advances in real-world science made technologies not even imagined in the 1960s (and thus not incorporated in the mid-late 23rd-century world of The Original Series) commonplace in the early 2000s (and thus imperative in the slightly earlier 22nd century). Consider the ubiquitous rectangular data-cassettes of The Original Series (and the larger reel-to-reel data storage units) that have today been replaced by flash drives; although we do not have them yet, the holodeck and instantaneous subspace communication via the life-size holograms that abound on Star Trek: Discovery (a decade prequel to The Original Series) were apparently just too useful or “neat” to leave out – continuity be damned! Examples abound, I’m sure, but those are what come most immediately to mind.

Consider as well that any artistic form is a two-way street. Not only do the creators of a prequel work from a perspective providing them full knowledge of “the future” which influences their creation; so do the audience receive the story with full knowledge of that future, with preconceived notions and expectations. Hence my likening a prequel to “historical fiction.” The audience cannot receive it as a purported contemporary.
From that perspective, consider as well certain points regarding Enterprise. I have already mentioned the appearance of the Klingons from the very beginning of the first episode, “Broken Bow,” which has a Klingon courier crash in Oklahoma and be taken back to Qo’noS (the Klingon homeworld) in the NX-01 Enterprise’s first extrasolar mission. The Klingons are thus suddenly introduced into Star Trek history most of a century before previously understood – which, although I do not believe it was ever explicit, was widely taken to have occurred only about forty years before The Original Series. The rationalization that the disastrous first contact mentioned on at least two occasions (“The Trouble with Tribbles” and First Contact) that led to decades of war prior to that era referred to “first contact” between the Federation and the Klingons rather than between Earth and the Klingons seems to me just that – an attempt to rationalize away an obvious contradiction. A better explanation is that the Temporal Cold War which is revealed in that same premier episode has introduced a major change to the timeline, but you may have gathered already I’m not big on alternate timelines – which, incidentally, nullifies Enterprise’s status as the “prequel” it was billed to be. Moreover, consider that the NX-01 is Earth’s first Warp 5 starship – which has not yet actually attained that velocity – and the story timeline does not allow nearly enough time for Enterprise to take Klaang to Qo’noS. Trip Tucker’s “Four days there, four days back!” is discussed at some length in section 5.2.2 of the S[tar] T[rek] Cartography website page devoted to “The mission of Enterprise NX-01” [LINK], “The Qo’noS and ‘Rigel’ Issues.” To cut to the chase, there is no way the Klingon capital depicted in series placed in later centuries, when the Klingon Empire and the United Federation of Planets are both multi-system polities encompassing thousands of cubic light-years, is only four days away from Earth at Warp 5. According to the well-known traditional Warp Speed formula, where the relative velocity is the cube of the Warp Factor times the speed of light, Warp 5 is 125c … which would make four days’ travel only 1.37 light years and Qo’noS only a third of the way to the nearest star. To make matters even more ludicrous, along the way the ship is attacked and boarded, Klaang is abducted, and Enterprise makes an unplanned detour to Rigel X. The star Rigel is almost 800 light years away from Earth – a 6.2 year journey at Warp 5. And yet, the events of “Broken Bow” having begun on 16 April 2151, by three weeks later Enterprise has travelled to Rigel and another unnamed star system containing a Suliban base orbiting a gas giant, recovered Klaang, and made its way to Qo’noS – and the events of the next episode, “Fight or Flight,” have begun (06 May 2151).

(To be fair, the “Rigel problem” has long been recognized – it appeared in the very first pilot episode for The Original Series – and has a non-canonical answer that works for me. It seems that there are two “Rigels” – the “real” Rigel, the star Beta Orionis, mentioned above, and another star which from the perspective of Earth lies in close proximity to Beta Orionis, but much closer, less than 90 light years, and was named “Beta Rigel.” [LINK] That is better. Ninety light years means Enterprise could get there in only 263 days’ travel at Warp 5…. Nope, that’s still a problem.)

In any case, there is so much wrong with this episode on simple astrometric grounds that I cannot consider it canon. Whatever was Enterprise’s first extrasolar mission, I do not believe it made first contact with the Klingons, nor did it travel to Qo’noS, nor Rigel. Of course, the Klingons end up being a major presence throughout the series – am I to discount all those episodes as well? That is certainly my inclination. Or perhaps it can be preserved by speculation that the “Klingons” who appeared in Enterprise represented a smaller, much closer, off-shoot of the main Klingon Empire which would not itself be encountered for another seventy or so years.

I have not specifically decided how I would handle that with regard to the canonicity of the series, Enterprise, although I do not discount it altogether. Although I had problems with it during its initial run, I enjoyed it much better in a pick-and-choose viewing earlier this year (mainly of the “Temporal Cold War” episodes). It does, moreover, on occasion contribute historical data that I can use for my project, especially with regard to the history of the Warp Drive and the immediate run-up to the formation of the Federation in 2161.
With regard to the other live-action series, it basically boils down to individual episodes that I would exclude from canon simply because the premise is scientifically ridiculous, it employs a plot that was overused (there were several), or some other reason. Being more familiar with The Original Series overall, it’s easier for me to generate such a list basically off the top of my head than for any other series:
  • “Spock’s Brain.” “Brain? Brain? What is ‘Brain’?” Need I say more?
  • “The Wink of an Eye” is scientifically stupid. The concept does not work. The math does not work.
  • “And the Children Shall Lead.” Marvin Belli as a "friendly angel"? 
  • “The Mark of Gideon.” Kirk fooled by a duplicate Enterprise just so some aliens can harvest a pathogen benign to humans but deadly to them to use as a means of culling their own population? This makes no sense.
  • “The Empath” just creeped me out. I have not viewed it in forty or more years, and I did not then know the term "torture porn," but that's how I remember it.
  • “The Alternative Factor” was dumb and confusing.
  • “The Return of the Archons” has yet another virtual twin planet of the Earth and the over-used trope of "Kirk outsmarts a computer by his use of illogic." “Miri” was one too many duplicate Earths, but the story was interesting. Here, even though this is the first appearance of the trope, I believe, it would be reused (again and again) and would usually work better.
  • “Bread and Circuses” – duplicate Earth, down to duplicate Christianity 2300 years later. I don’t really know what was going on here. Roddenberry was pretty hostile to religion in general. The whole episode with its transparent confusion of “The Son” with “The Sun” really seems like pandering to me – and I don’t like pandering.
  • “Catspaw,” the Halloween episode, always struck me as an inferior do-over of “The Squire of Gothos” (maybe it was the castle venue). "Squire" did work for me because I imagine Trelane to be either a younger Q or Q’s younger, stupider brother. 
  • “The Way to Eden.” Hippies in space? I’ll pass. Spock rocking with hippies in space? I just threw up in my mouth.

As far as the other live-action series go, I would have to give each a great deal more thought, although, to be honest, much of Star Trek: Voyager would be skating on thin ice if it depended on my affinity for the series to qualify it for inclusion. There is none. Throwing Voyager into totally unexplored space on the other side of the Galaxy where there is no connection to the space we know just did not work for me. It removed a vital sense of connection offered by occasionally hearing of the starship travelling to stars I could go out in my backyard and see with my own eyes. I suspect, if I choose to watch it (I know I will, eventually), that the third season of Star Trek: Discovery will suffer from the same lack of connection, although it remains to be seen. Without Pike, back to essentially the first-season crew, I’m not looking forward to Voyager redux.  On the other hand, Voyager does provide several key points of near-future history for my project, especially Ares IV, the ill-fated mission to Mars in 2032. Presumably, however, most of the live-action series would make my “cut” – with similar individual “discards” as for The Original Series.

Regarding The Animated Series, I generally accept those episodes as canonical. I know that Roddenberry considered it non-canonical, but that is not the final word for me. The original actors (for the most part) voiced their characters. Writers from The Original Series wrote episodes. One of the better of the original writers oversaw The Animated Series. They managed to snare Larry Niven to write an episode. The stories may have suffered from the very short half-hour format, and their execution may have suffered in the animated format, but they were still considerably deeper than anything else on Saturday mornings – some comparing favorably with live-action episodes. As to the animated format, it did allow much freer run of the imagination in designing new planetary landscapes and creatures which could in no way be depicted in live-action before the advent of CGI, although it also came off as stiff and repetitive due to the reuse of hand-drawn layers of transparent cells which were the norm before computer animation. The canonical status of The Animated Series has inspired decades of debate. Some episodes – most notably Yesteryear – are almost universally acknowledged as canonical in its essence, providing a great deal of information about young Spock and Vulcan that would later be brought into live-action stories. Others – like some Original Series episodes – cannot be canon. Here I would submit “The Magicks of Megas-Tu.” Although the science is dodgy in the very last episode, “The Counter-Clock Incident,” I still accept it as our only insight into the first captain of NCC-1701 Enterprise, Robert T. April.

Star Trek: The Animated Series does, however, provide a prime example of what I consider to be a story or technological element that must change. The “life support belts” supplying a glowing aura allowing the crew of the Enterprise to live in any environment from the vacuum of space to deep beneath the ocean’s depths are simply not possible. I do not know why the show-runners went that way. The standard explanation, that it was easier to add the glow than to draw a full space suit, does not work for me.

With the exception of the aforementioned Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, I would accept all the live-action movies – with varying amounts of enthusiasm. If there were one I would throw in the shredder and try to forget ever existed, it would be Star Trek: Nemesis. And then they go and make it a major point of departure for the series Star Trek: Picard ….

That takes care of televised series and movies. I can sum up my stance with regard to original novels fairly simply. My head-canon includes none of them per se, with the following exceptions:
  • All of Diane Duane’s novels from The Wounded Sky to Spock’s World and her Rihanssu Cycle make the cut. Details have to be tweaked, but that’s okay.
  • Vonda McIntyre’s The Entropy Effect was, when I read it, the best Star Trek I’d ever read. I keep meaning to go back and reread it to see if it holds up.
  • Dayton Ward’s From History’s Shadow and Elusive Salvation basically inspired my latest full gainer into the deep end of the Star Trek pool. Particularly the former is a tour-de-force.
  • The post series Enterprise novels telling the real story of the “death” of Trip Tucker (and, incidentally, providing the best evidence that many of the events depicted in that series were, for whatever reason, a carefully crafted fiction from the perspective of later centuries in the Star Trek universe as was only discovered by Starfleet officer Nog Son-of-Rom and journalist Jake Sisko) through the events of the Romulan War and the founding and early years of the United Federation of Planets – how can I disregard them?
  • The Star Trek: Vanguard miniseries provides a fascinating  perspective on wider Federation events taking place during the years of Kirk’s Five-Year Mission.

Novels that I accept with certain necessary “adjustments” include:
  • Margaret Wander Bonanno’s Strangers from the Sky, telling the true story of first contact with the Vulcans. I see no reason the basic event could not have happened more or less as told there – although the historical context would be substantially different.
  • Greg Cox’s The Eugenics Wars volumes in his Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh trilogy are amazing. As audacious as his carefully crafted “secret history” keeping the Eugenics Wars in the 1990s may be, however – and it is simply brilliant – it ultimately doesn’t work for me, for reasons I detailed in my previous post. I think the Eugenics Wars have to move into the 2040s. I am, however, preserving as much of Cox’s narrative structure as possible, including the presence of Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln in at least some of the events that I do place in the 1990s. I think I have even figured out a substitute to carry on Seven’s activities in the later events of the 2040s.
  • Cox’s The Rings of Time, likewise – it actually takes very little tweaking except the timing. I’m moving it out a few years, but otherwise changing very little.

As far as other novels go, I have not read that many, and there are far too many to subject to a proper read now. According to Wikipedia, s.v. “Star Trek Novels,” “As of May 2020, more than 850 novels, short story anthologies, novelizations, and omnibus editions, have been published” [LINK]. The fact box at the side of that article currently states there to be “860 (estimate).” (I wrote these words on 09 July 2020.) Fortunately there is Memory Beta, “the non-canon Star Trek wiki” [LINK], and I consider any historical data filtered through the yearly timeline compiled there [LINK]  to be fair game, even if I have not read the story and decided on the canonicity of the book as a whole. It really is a case-by-case decision.

Likewise for information provided by the many, many, many unlicensed, fan-compiled technical manuals, blueprints, guides, overviews, and the like. I am ransacking them like a Viking (either directly when practical or indirectly via Memory Beta) for any information that can be made to fit my vision but in general consider them to be unquestionably non-canonical. But again, “head-canon” is a particularly subjective thing, being whatever the individual chooses to accept or not. And, ultimately, even the discarded episodes and movie might well be considered particularly heavily “fictionalized” versions of “real” events. For instance, even the much-maligned “Spock’s Brain” might reflect some incident that took Enterprise to Sigma Draconis VI where her crew found, inexplicably, a hitherto unknown species of highly sexually dimorphic humanoids consisting of a small population of beast-like males on the surface and a larger population of females living underground among the remnants of a technologically advanced civilization. How could such a situation arise – a mystery compounded by the fact that Sigma Draconis is within the local group of stars less than twenty light years from Earth? Considered in a larger context, the answer might well impact on wider galactic history and even have relevance to my task.

In other words, and put more bluntly, especially for my purpose there may well be found “canonical” elements hidden within otherwise “non-canonical” sources, just as – to return to the analogy of Biblical studies, even the most “apocryphal” pseudepigraphical writing can provide valuable historical data helping to shed light on the history, context, and even theology and doctrine contained in the Canon of Holy Scripture. While keeping in mind the distinction between canon and apocrypha, we ignore those non-canonical materials at our own peril and to our own impoverishment.

Conclusion and Disclaimer

Will my use of information from sources I would otherwise consign to the ash-heap of “future history” therefore be, as I noted near the beginning I do not wish it to be, “arbitrary” in its selection? Objectively, such an accusation would not be unfair. I believe, however, that just as my primary field of historical studies, the early Middle Ages, justifies by their relative scarcity a wider degree of latitude in consideration of available historical sources, incorporation of every kernel of evidence regarding the near future that can be gleaned from Star Trek sources is warranted, regardless of its origin, official or unofficial – carefully weighed and considered, of course. To reiterate what I said a few paragraphs previously, it will be a case-by-case decision.

The end product of this project, should it come to completion, will be very much my own vision, non-canonical by its very nature, but hopefully entertaining to me in the writing and anyone else who so chooses in the reading. To paraphrase the theme song for Enterprise, unique within the franchise both in style and for having lyrics, “It will be a long road, getting from here to there….” But I intend to have fun along the way.

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