Friday, July 3

Making History: Preliminary Considerations Toward Constructing a Near-Future STAR TREK Historical Narrative

See the Video here [LINK]

Little did I realize when I undertook the “Starships Comparison” project early in the 2020 COVID-19-enforced lockdown [LINK] that it would lead me into another, bigger project that will – assuming I do not lose interest, or, more likely, find some other obsession to divert my attention – probably result in a series of essays that are doubtless of no interest to anybody except myself, but which I will end up posting here and then, possibly, attempt to publish. It is no less than a complete reconsideration of the early history of human spaceflight, basically until the founding of the United Federation of Planets in 2161, including such things as the history of Earth from the present until that time, the stages in the development of the warp drive from the beginning until the late 24th century when Star Trek: The Next Generation was set, and how much the later “prequel” series Star Trek: Enterprise (set between 2151 and 2155) and Star Trek: Discovery (set in the 2250s) should be considered – dare I say it? – fictional even “within universe” from the perspective of that later date. There will probably be other things as well. This newest obsession keeps leading me down the most unexpected rabbit-holes!

A Review of the Source Material

For reference, my first task and the subject of this post is going to begin with a review of the various Star Trek series and movies and when they are set, according to the comprehensive time-line that appears at Memory Beta, the “non-canon Star Trek Wiki” [LINK]. I tend to use Memory Beta for such matters in preference to Memory Alpha, the wiki for canonical (i.e., it appeared on-screen in one of the official live-action adventures) [LINK], because a great deal of historical data appears in “non-canonical” sources, defined there as officially-licensed but peripheral publications such as novels, gaming systems, resource manuals, and so forth. (For now, at least, I will generally just sum those up as “novels.”) How reliable that data may be is ultimately an individual judgment call, however, although the same can definitely be said about such data presented in the “canonical” presentations, especially in the early years of the franchise. Ultimately, it is a far more complex question that one might think.

I present the series and movies in the order they appeared (with the settings that have become canonical) …

Years Aired or Released
Series or Movie
Star Trek: The Original Series
2254, 2265-2269
Star Trek: The Animated Series[1]
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Star Trek Generations
2293, 2371
Star Trek: Voyager
Star Trek: First Contact
Star Trek: Insurrection
[Star Trek:] Enterprise[2]
Star Trek: Nemesis
Star Trek: Discovery
2256-2258, 32nd c.
Short Treks[3]
Star Trek: Picard
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Conspicuous in their absence are, of course, the “Abrams-verse” movies Star Trek (2009), Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), and Star Trek Beyond (2016). They are set during the Original Series period, but in an alternate timeline (sometimes called the “Kelvin” timeline for reasons I’m not getting into here). The new time-line was created by events between Star Trek: Nemesis and Picard, which events do impact the latter but for the purpose of this project are of absolutely no relevance for this project. Besides, while “revile” is too harsh a word for my attitude toward these films (I think the three main actors do a generally good job portraying younger versions of the Original Series characters, the material they are given to work with is, quite frankly, crap), I do not like them and do not consider them "Star Trek."

On the other hand, as far as I am concerned, the eleven brilliant fan-made episodes of Star Trek Continues (2013-2017) [#betterthanabrams] [LINK] provide a worthy and fitting conclusion to Kirk’s First Five Year Mission incompletely recounted in TOS, so as far as I’m concerned I might insert between Nemesis and Discovery above:

Years Aired or Released
Series or Movie
Star Trek Continues

For this present discussion, however, I will not include Star Trek Continues. It really doesn’t contribute any original historical data that I recall off the top of my head.

Considering only the official, professionally produced series, one can see that over the past 54 years there have been eight series – not including the recently-announced Star Trek: Strange New Worlds[4] nor the Short Treks vignettes – comprising a total of 764 episodes, plus ten feature films, telling stories spanning 248 years, beginning with the 2151 launch of Earth’s first “Warp 5 Starship” NX-01 Enterprise in the debut episode of Enterprise to the 2399 confrontation between the Federation and the Romulans over Coppellius in the first-season finale of Picard. (Of course, there are elements of “time travel” stories set well outside those bounds, most typically – and quite coincidentally, I’m sure – set during the eras when the various shows and movies were being produced.) There are three major eras within that span: 1) The 2150s, for lack of a better term “The Archer Era” after the captain of that original Enterprise) but for my purposes “The Foundational Era”; 2) 2250s-2290s, “The Original Series Era” even though it includes Discovery and Strange New Worlds, but I prefer to call it “The Heroic Age”; and 3) 2360s-2399 and beyond, “The Next Generation Era” or, since I will attempt to view the Star Trek past from the perspective of ca. 2420 or so,[5] “The Modern Era.” The stories are presented in a non-linear fashion, with TOS and TAS and their first few associated films of the mid-late 23rd century being followed by The Next Generation’s debut skipping to the mid-late 24th century, some back-and-forth from Next Generation in the 24th century and Kirk-era movies in the 23rd until Generations formally passed the torch, so to speak, after which DS9 and Voyager along with TNG-era movies played out the 24th-century storyline, the movies slightly overlapping what came next, which was a jump back to the 22nd-century for Enterprise. It seemed that Star Trek had somewhat played itself out by that point, however, at least as a televised product, and the voyage of NX-01 Enterprise was cut short after only four seasons. For the first time in almost two decades, there was no weekly Star Trek series being aired. That’s when the idea of a reboot of the original crew was born, going back to the beginning of Kirk’s Five Year Mission, in motion picture form but, unexpectedly (at least by me), tying into the original narrative. Ultimately, that didn’t help, however. I would propose two reasons, one I consider objective, the other quite subjective. Objectively, for all the overall success of the Star Trek movies over time, I just think Star Trek is far more suited to the serialized episodic format of television than it is to essentially one-off big-budget summer blockbusters. Subjectively, well, I said enough a couple paragraphs back…. In any case, disregarding those, a dozen or so years passed for television audiences, then in 2017 CBS launched its new subscription-based streaming service “All Access” with a flagship new show, Star Trek: Discovery – another prequel, set a decade before Kirk and company in the mid 23rd century, but in what I would still consider “The Heroic Age.” Soon, it was joined by another show, set after the last Next Generation-Era movie, Nemesis (by then over a decade and a half old) with adventures of an older Jean-Luc Picard at the very end of the 24th century. And now has been announced a spinoff series from Discovery, entitled Strange New World and featuring the original captain of the very first pilot episode of the original Star Trek, Captain Christopher Pike, now portrayed to perfection by Anson Mount – commanding the original USS Enterprise NCC-1701, continuing the prequel narrative to the Original Series while Discovery jaunts off into the far future of the 32nd century. 
Strange. New. Worlds! [The Announcement [LINK]]
Includes Star Trek Continues; does not include Short Treks.

The point is, the narrative that has bounced back and forth, here, there and yonder, for over fifty years has woven a vast and complex tapestry that is hard enough to get a grasp on as an ongoing story – much less attempt to infer what its purported “in-universe” history might be. That is, of course, exactly what I had to do when I put together the “Starships Comparison” chart. As described in the post linked above, I must consider the history of Starfleet, particularly in the under-documented period before Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005), which was set more than a century before the Original Series, between the years 2151 and 2155 (or 2161 if you accept the canonicity of the series finale, “These Are the Voyages,” which I will discuss at some point but not here). Specifically, I wanted to include the “ring-ship” Enterprise that has appeared onscreen only in various historical illustrations and “ships walls.” As my project and what I wanted to include firmed up, however, I discovered another such “historical” Enterprise preceding the 2151 launch of NX-01 Enterprise, namely the recent (2013) design by NASA engineer Harold White as a test bed for Miguel Alcubierre’s 1994 theory that would allow faster-than-light travel via that would, if it does indeed prove both scientifically and technically feasible, be much like the famous “warp drive” of Star Trek fame. White’s proposed IXS-110 Enterprise is, moreover, a double-ring ship that could very well fit in with the XCV-330 Enterprise that I wanted to include. Of course, I also wanted to tag each ship with basic information – years of service on the front and a short summary on the back of the sheet – which necessitated discovering (or inferring, or inventing) the history of the enigmatic period from now (2020) to 2151.
Harold "Sonny" White's IXS-110 Enterprise

Matt Jeffries' XCV-330 Enterprise

Establishing a Time-Frame

“Enigmatic” may not be the best word for what little we know about that “near-future” (from our perspective) era of Star Trek history – but “confusing” is not strong enough. I often use the term “mess,” but that word carries a pejorative connotation that I should avoid. “Tangled” could work, but simply “contradictory” is probably best. Whichever word you might choose, the fact is that over fifty years of television shows and movies (even if you don’t count any of the licensed supporting manuals and novels, much less fan-made shows and movies and supporting manuals and fiction) have been produced by creators who were and are primarily interested in any postulated historical background only as a plot device driving whatever current story they intend to tell. Especially in the beginning, Gene Roddenberry and company had no inkling that they were in reality creating a cultural phenomenon that would endure long past the Original Series. They were just trying to get through a grueling weekly television production schedule. Roddenberry had not really thought through – somewhat intentionally, not to tie his writers and producers down early on – even such basics as when the stories of Kirk and crew where supposed to be taking place. Famously, Roddenberry’s original pitch for the series simply said it was dated “somewhere in the future. It could be 1995, or maybe even 2995” (Wikipedia s.v. “Timeline of Star Trek”). Hence there quickly emerged contradictory indications varying across most of that millennium. Episode 18, “The Squire of Gothos,” for instance, implies that it is set in the 28th century – Trelane is fixated on the late 18th-early 19th centuries, which he observed from 900 light-years away, ergo the 28th century. The very next episode, 19, “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” on the other hand, implies that it is the 22nd century – in 1969, Kirk responds to a threat by a frustrated Air Force MP, “I’m going to lock you up for two hundred years!” with a wry, “That ought to be just about right….” Ergo, 2169. In episode 24, “Space Seed,” it is stated that Khan left Earth in the mid 1990s, which is later said to be “two centuries” before his resuscitation by the Enterprise crew – ergo the last decade of the 22nd century (consistent, at least to the century, with “Tomorrow is Yesterday”). Those are all from the first season, 1966-1967. A year later, however, after the second season was aired and at the beginning of the third season, in September 1968,  The Making of Star Trek (by Stephen E. Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry) appeared, in which the time of the series was specified as being during the 23rd century. The book also explained the clearly nonsensically precise dating of “stardates” – to the first decimal place – in almost every episode basically as an expedient to obfuscate the time frame and the passage of time, complete with a supposed rationale invoking the ship’s position in space and time, its velocity, and relativity. As authoritative as Making might be considered since it purported to be by Roddenberry himself, as far as aired, narrowly-defined canon was concerned, the precise time-frame remained vague.

More than a decade later (1979), Star Trek: The Motion Picture has the (fictional –? – now, why did I feel the need to specify that?) NASA deep space probe Voyager 6 (which looks much like Voyagers 1 and 2) having been launched in the late 20th century, according to Will Decker, “more than 300 years ago.” Given that Voyagers 1 and 2 (real) were launched in 1977, Voyager 6 (fictional) could have been launched no earlier than that same year, which would mean TMP was set no earlier than 2277, or, more generally speaking, the late 23rd century. However, at almost the same time (it is often listed as 1980, but Amazon lists it as published in December 1979), the original Star Trek Spaceflight Chronology implicitly gives the dates for Kirk’s “Five Year Mission” as ca. 2210. Specifically, it dates the launch of the “Constitution II” class USS Enterprise (referring to the refit that debuted in TMP) to 2215, stating “After completing three years of its last five year mission, the much-used Enterprise was returned to Earth dry dock, where it has recently completed extensive refitting and upgrading” (p. 180). I believe Scotty says he has spent eighteen months overseeing the refit, while Decker challenges Kirk’s qualifications to supplant him as captain for the impending emergency mission because of his experience dealing with such threats by pointing out that he has more recently spent two-and-a-half years out of the center seat – pushing Enterprise’s return back to 2211-2212, hence beginning ca. 2208. The status of the Spaceflight Chronology is, however, dubious at best – even though it was published by licensee Pocket Books during the period before they were contractually allowed to take up publication of novels (which did not happen until 1983 when Bantam Books was still playing out its apparent allowance of twelve novels[6]), and a number of the early Pocket Books novels would cite dates and even events that first appeared there (most immediately coming to mind being the 1987 novel by Margaret Wander Bonanno, Strangers from the Sky). Roddenberry and company pretty much ignored it, however, and the fact is that most of its speculative history has been superseded by later information, again, both canonical and otherwise. Nevertheless, I found the book fascinating when it first came out, and I enjoyed poring over it immensely although I cared less for Rick Sternbach’s ship designs, which lacked any kind of coherent theme, than for the “future history.” I would like to preserve as much of that future history as possible – which is, honestly, very little.  Anyway, my point is, the dates were still very much up in the air ca. 1980.

The specific time-frame of the Original Series  would, ironically enough, not really be locked into the mid-late 23rd century until early in the Star Trek: The Next Generation era, specifically, at the very end of the first season, Episode 26 “The Neutral Zone” (aired 1988), in which the current Earth year is specified as 2364. As the continuity notes at Memory Alpha state, “This year served as the fixed reference around which subsequent timeline dates were placed.” Promotional materials for the new series had specified that it would take place 78 years after Kirk’s era, but I don’t think they specified whether that meant after the Original Series or after the then-most recent movies, The Wrath of Khan to The Voyage Home (ST2 – ST4), which took place least a decade and a half after the end of the Five Year Mission. But, in the very first episode, “Encounter at Farpoint,” the age of a frail Dr. McCoy had been revealed to be 137, which, given the general assumption that he was about ten years older than early-thirty-something Captain Kirk during the Five Year Mission – so, estimate 43-45 – makes it a matter of some very straightforward assumptions and easy math:
  • TNG is set (or begins) 78 years after Kirk’s era (TNG promotional materials)
  • McCoy is 137 at the beginning of TNG (stated in dialogue)
  • McCoy is 10 years older than Kirk (assumption).
  • Kirk was about 34 at the beginning of TOS (assumption).
  • McCoy was about 44 at the beginning of TOS (assumption).
  • TNG is set (about a year or so into the series, since this is the last episode of the first season) in 2364 (stated in dialogue), so let’s say it began in 2363.
  • 2363 minus 137 gives McCoy’s birth year about 2226.
  • 2363 minus 78 gives “Kirk’s era” as about 2285.
  • 2285 minus 2226 gives McCoy’s age in “Kirk’s era” as about 59.
  • Kirk’s age during “Kirk’s Era” would be about 49
  • “Kirk’s Era” must therefore be the era of ST2 – ST4
  • TOS must therefore be set about 2270.

That was not, however, set in stone even a few months before. In that same first episode of TNG, Data also stated that he was from the “class of ’78,” and in the 13th episode, “Datalore,” it was revealed that he was found and activated on planet Omicron Theta 26 years prior, implying that, assuming he was almost immediately allowed to enter Starfleet Academy and matriculated in four years, he was found in (implicitly) 2274 and that the first season of TNG took place in 2300. Nonetheless, the firm statement of “2364” in “The Neutral Zone” immediately became canon, with all the implications detailed above. True, almost every number presented or calculated above would later be tweaked up to a few years one way or another, but the general time frame was pretty firmly "set in stone" at this point.

Much of the “tweaking” would come about five years into TNG, when the first edition (1993) of the Star Trek Chronology: A History of the Future, by Michael and Denise Okuda, production designers on the Star Trek series and movies, pretty much nailed down an overall timeline for the franchise. Exact dates are set down for virtually every datable event that had been depicted in the series and movies to that point – usually by what I consider too-specific inference from verbally-stated information, such as that “such and such happened two hundred years ago” making such and such event having happened exactly two hundred years before. For that and other reasons, the Chronology has been superseded in many of its specifics as nearly three decades since it appeared. Those “refinements” probably appeared in in the 1996 revision (I am aware of no other), although I do not have it and would not know. But, as just one example, the date of Zefram Cochrane’s first warp flight appears as 2061 in the original Chronology; a few years later, Star Trek: First Contact would establish the date as 05 April 2063. My point is, the first Chronology’s specific date is incorrect, but I think the general information is pretty close. Even the dating of those Original Series episodes can be interpolated with fair confidence that they are placed within a year or so of when they actually “happened.”[7]

 With necessary “tweaks,” the Chronology timeline – often called the “Okuda timeline” – would dominate subsequent productions. It became the basis for what appears on the above-cited reference sites Memory Alpha and Memory Beta. And “real-world” dates would appear with increasing frequency until the prequel series, Star Trek: Enterprise would be set before the invention of stardates and have Captain Archer’s “starlog” use dates according to the standard Earth calendar, making the placement of such things as, e.g., that Enterprise returned to Earth to attend the momentous launching of her first sister ship, NX-02 Columbia on 27 November 2154, absolutely unambiguous (fourth season episode 15, “Affliction”).

Since the mid-1990s, therefore, a reasonably cohesive overall chronology for Star Trek has existed, gradually being expanded both forward – as the TNG era progressed through DS9 and Voyager, ultimately to Picard, and back with the addition of Star Trek: Enterprise. Although there are gaps, the history from ca. 2151 when the NX-01 Enterprise launched to the events of the “Synth Crisis” of 2399 can be traced in some detail. But what about before 2151?

The Perils of Prognostication

Over the past few weeks, I have been making a pretty intensive study and collation of what data exists for “Star Trek history” before 2151, based on both the canonical sources listed above and every other source regardless of canonicity or authority (while keeping the varying reliability of any and all of that in mind), with much of it being filtered through the sites mentioned at the top of this essay, especially Memory Beta, toward constructing a comprehensive historical narrative bringing it all together spanning our current present, 2020, and 2151.[8] And it is, quite predictably, a mess. I am not going to detail here all of the contradictions and sheer impossibilities I have catalogued so far. That is the raw material I am hoping to refine over the next few weeks or even months.

The one date that would seem indisputably fixed in canon – given that the entire plot of First Contact revolves around it – is 05 April 2063, when Zefram Cochrane accomplished humanity’s first warp flight and attracted the attention of a passing Vulcan ship, which then initiated what would at least be regarded as the first official contact between humans and Vulcans, changing the course of human and ultimately galactic history. There are, however, many other dates which have been thrown out for the intervening period between “the present,” whether that be the 1960s when the Original Series appeared to the production dates of all the subsequent series and movies up to just a few months ago when the latest episodes of Picard appeared, and whatever specific era was being depicted.

The problem is glaringly obvious. Once established, definitely for the past 25 or so years, the dates for the events depicted or referenced in the various Star Trek episodes and movies have been immutable. Real-world time, on the other hand, has marched relentlessly onward for fifty-four years since the first episode of Star Trek was aired in September 1966, bringing those future “immutable” dates that same number of years closer. Specifically, with 2063 and First Contact being fixed by the appearance of the movie of that name in 1996, even that date has gone from being 67 years in the future to a mere 43 years. If, as I fully expect even if there are occasional gaps of one kind or another as there have been in the past (most notably, for live-action media, between 2005 and 2017[9]), the Star Trek franchise endures just another 43 years, that first epochal date will have been surpassed. I would not bet against that happening.

Time has, moreover, surpassed some of the earliest dated events of the near future as established in the Original Series. As far as I can tell, the first really significant near-future dates were implied in the aforementioned first-season Original Series episode, “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” which had the Enterprise thrown back in time to the eve of the first manned moon landing, stated to be on a Wednesday. The episode appeared in early 1967 (26 January). The launch of the Apollo 11 would not be for another year and a half, 16 July 1969 … which was indeed a Wednesday. The year 1969 is not specified, however, although Kirk does remember the launch took place in the late 1960s. We can assume the Enterprise appeared over the skies of Omaha, Nebraska, early in the week of 13 July 1969, two and a half years in the future of its airing. But the date of Apollo 11 is not the prediction I am focusing on. Inadvertently having to beam aboard a USAF jet pilot, Captain John Christopher, Enterprise’s presence in the past creates a conundrum. Christopher has seen the future. Allowing him to return could change history. Spock’s first cursory research finds that Capt. John Christopher made no substantial contribution to history, therefore his disappearance itself should not be disruptive to the timeline; but deeper investigation reveals that Christopher’s son, Colonel Shaun Geoffrey Christopher would command the first mission to Saturn. John Christopher has no son … “Yet,” interjects McCoy … so now the pilot must be returned, or the timeline will be disrupted.

We therefore learned that sometime within a human lifetime after Apollo 11, there will be a manned mission to Saturn. I do not believe the precise date was specified, but its commander has not been born as of July 1969. According to Wikipedia, NASA astronaut candidates have ranged between ages 26 and 46, with an average age of 34. Assuming “astronaut candidates” simply means acceptance to the astronaut program, at present (not counting John Glenn’s flight at age 77 in 1998) the oldest active astronaut has been Story Musgrave at age 61 in 1996. I think it’s safe to say that, if he were born in 1970, the very latest Shaun Geoffrey Christopher could reasonably be depicted as commanding a mission to Saturn would be 2030. Push the date of his birth out a decade and what I would consider the very latest reasonable date would be 2040. Through the years, the dates for this mission as envisioned by various Star Trek chronologies have varied back and forth: 2020 per the 1980 Spaceflight Chronology; 2009 in the 1993 Star Trek Chronology; back to 2020 in Greg Cox’s 2012 novel, The Rings of Time – with that latter book making the surprisingly early date for such a mission part of the plot. Memory Alpha currently waffles on the point, with Memory Beta citing 2020 per Cox.

Just two episodes after “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” however, would come a motherlode of “future history.” On 16 February 1967 aired one of the most important episodes of all, especially as it spawned a direct sequel in the move that, as far as I’m concerned, saved the Star Trek franchise after the lukewarm reaction garnered by Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan continued the story begun in “Space Seed,” which introduced Khan Noonian Singh and the Eugenics Wars, Earth’s third world war … in the 1990s. Other dates were set forth as well.

At the beginning of the episode, the Enterprise encounters a derelict DY-100 class Earth ship which is identified as being built in the 1990s, an era from which records are fragmentary because of the Eugenics Wars, a “strange and violent period in [Earth] history,” as Spock puts it. Beaming aboard the ship, the Enterprise crew finds it to be a sleeper ship dependent on old style atomic power and transistor-based computers. We learn that sleeper ships were designed for long interplanetary trips but were rendered obsolete by advances in space travel technology in the year 2018. The Eugenics Wars are later elaborated as having lasted from 1992 to 1996, during which time Khan was absolute ruler of one quarter of the Earth, from Asia to the Middle East.

Of course, from the viewpoint of the 1960s, even the 1990s seemed deep in the “undiscover’d country” of the future – hence reference to pivotal events in the history of the Star Trek characters’ world that we now know, from the perspective of 2020, did not happen There was no World War III and/or Eugenics Wars in the 1990s, notwithstanding Greg Cox’s valiant and quite frankly excellent effort to cast those as a “secret war” that did indeed happen under our very noses in his first two novels on “The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh” (2001-2002). Similarly, it is now 2020 and I have heard no word of a manned mission to Saturn as Cox details it in the 2012 novel, The Rings of Time – carried out not in secret, but publicly with publicity tours and the like. Supposedly the Lewis & Clark launched on 28 June 2020 (by pure coincidence, the day I began reading the book) … but all the news media seems to focus on these days is the COVID-19 Pandemic …).

Many other such “near-future” dates have come and gone – and will continue to come and go. As I have started to speculate on how to extrapolate from the current world of mid 2020 to the future of Star Trek, a couple of near-term developments I initially considered easily co-optable to that purpose have played themselves out in ways that render my prognostications invalid. For instance, according to the Deep Space 9 episodes “Past Tense” parts one and two, the year 2024 will have so-called “Sanctuary Districts” in many US cities. With the establishment of the Seattle Capitol Hill Autonomous- Zone which became the Capitol Hill Occupation Protest in early June as part of the widespread protests following the police murder of George Floyd, I considered it very possible such could evolve into the DS9 Sanctuary Districts … except that on 01 July the CHOP was forcibly cleared. I can therefore propose no direct continuity, at the very least. As fundamental a question as who will win the US Presidential election this coming November – and what potential effects that could have on the US space program which at least seems to have new direction in the past few years – cannot be answered right now (and obviously, different readers will have radically different opinions on what would be best, and what would be the results). So at some point, sooner rather than later, especially as I plan to “make history” literally from some defined point in the very near future to the chartering of the United Federation of Planets in 2161, whatever I establish will almost immediately be rendered invalid unless I am far more vague on the near-term than I want to be – and all that would gain is a few years.

It is, of course, a “problem” that could be avoided. Even the vast scope of Star Trek history starting from 1966 to the latest-depicted events could simply be considered an alternate timeline, diverging more and more radically from our own. There is a certain appeal to this, especially considering that it would necessitate the lamentable abandonment of manned missions to the Moon after Apollo 17 in 1972 not to have happened, that larger interplanetary craft such as the DY-100 were being flown in the 1990s, and so forth. Of course, “so forth” means we would have lived through the trauma of the Eugenics Wars and World War III in the 1990s. That has been the route taken by some attempting to imagine the Star Trek future who want (even more so than myself) to preserve intact the Spaceflight Chronology, which informed highly-influential 1980s Star Trek role-playing games produced under license by a company called FASA and which appear to still have many devotees. But those have been losing ground, I gather, and the Okuda timeline seems almost universally accepted at this point. Nor has some other the “easy” “alternate history” route been taken, thus far at least, by official Star Trek productions and licensed materials. Greg Cox’s novels about the Eugenics Wars provide one solution, purporting that the Star Trek history of the 1990s is indeed our own unperceived 1990s. As clever as his presentation was – and I mean that; I thoroughly enjoyed those novels although I disagree with some of the particular choices he pretty much had to make in order for his story to “work” – it is not a solution I can ultimately accept. How in the world would you go from the Eugenics Wars being completely unknown in 2020 to them being common knowledge in the 22nd century – despite Spock’s contention that records for that time are “fragmentary”? Another solution is what that same author did for the mission to Saturn, pushing it out from the Okuda timeline placement of 2009 (which was already in the past in 2012 when he wrote The Rings of Time) to a date still in the future (while apparently recognizing the necessity for it to happen when Shaun Geoffrey Christopher would be realistically aged about fifty. Of course, time has inevitably rendered 2020 – frankly unlikely in 2012 – impossible for the first manned mission to Saturn. Tempus fugit. Inevitably, I’m sure, another date will be proposed. I myself am going to do so. And, just as inevitably, that date will be surpassed.

Another possibility – probability, in fact – is that what I am attempting to do is by definition impossible, for none of the reasons I have so far identified although I have hinted at it. From the very beginning, even before “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” Enterprise travelled  through time. In episode 06, “The Naked Time,” a cold warp engine start to escape the gravitational flux accompanying an imploding planet kicked Enterprise 71 hours into the past; in “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” an accidental impingement on the high gravitational field of a “black star” at warp speed flung Enterprise 198 years into the past (and into very low Earth orbit); an intricate high-warp “slingshot” maneuver around Earth’s sun first sent them back in time a few days, then forward eventually back to the time whence they had travelled after striking the “black star.” In episode 28 – one of the most famous and heart-breaking episodes of the entire franchise – a sentient ancient monument on a dead world provides a gateway into the past, where Kirk must prevent McCoy from changing history by saving the life of the woman Kirk has come to love deeply.  A year later, in the second season episode 26, “Assignment: Earth,” has Enterprise quite cavalierly repeating in reverse the “slingshot” maneuver by which they had returned from the past in “Tomorrow is Yesterday”  to return to 1968 “for historical research” – during which they almost cause a nuclear war. Consider how much time travel has occurred in Star Trek since then. Every series – and more than one of the movies – has had time travel as part of its storytelling. Of course, the major problem identified in “Tomorrow is Yesterday” is a great plot device. How easy – I would say inevitable – it would be to change the past and hence the past’s future which is your own present. Inevitable? According to the “observer effect” theory, the mere observation of a phenomenon changes that phenomenon. If that is true – and, as I understand it, quantum mechanics says it is – then how much more certain it must be that the mere presence of a future object in the past has already irreparably changed that past. Every time Enterprise or her crew went to the past, they created a different future that might be so subtly different from their own that they could not even perceive the difference. Which means there can be no single timeline to contend with. There is rather a multiplicity of timelines as hinted in the following infographic:
Higher resolution: LINK
(This image is credited to Because I cannot find
it there, I am temporarily hosting it here and do not claim it to be my own work.)
The "Star Trek Timeline Reconciliation" only recognizes part of the problem in its teaser, “Consider the following when thinking of all the Star Trek films that take place after ‘First Contact,’ as well as every series produced since ‘Voyager’ – those taking place before ‘The Original Series.’ These stories may NOT take place in the original ‘Canon’ universe or timeline.” This idea (a staple of science fiction) provides the connection between the original “real” Star Trek timeline – often called “Prime” – and the Abramsverse “Kelvin” timeline, with “alternate timelines” being discussed onscreen. But it has much more extensive implications … that I am going to pretty much ignore. Otherwise, there is no point to what I am attempting.

In the end, working out a prospective Star Trek timeline extrapolated from our own through what seems to be the history underlying a narrative thread running from 2151 to 2399, as the official productions and licensed works continue to do, is more attractive than any other alternative. It is hard to explain – and undoubtedly completely nerdish even to be concerned with it – but the Star Trek future is ultimately an appealing future. Utterly unrealistic in many respects – especially many of its premises that prevailed whenever Roddenberry himself was at the helm but which seemed to be quietly forgotten once he was not, such as the idea that the Star Trek universe was one in which there was no such thing as money and everyone had pretty much unfettered freedom to pursue their own potential. As pontificated by Jean-Luc Picard in the aforementioned episode, “The Neutral Zone,” “A lot has changed in the past three hundred years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We've eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We've grown out of our infancy.” Right. That is as fanciful, in its own way, as any of the Star Wars movies. The number of counter-examples from any and all of the Star Trek series and movies beggars the mind. “The Neutral Zone” was the last episode of the first season of The Next Generation – the only season Roddenberry was directly involved in production. Declining health forced him out of the captain’s chair, although he continued as a consultant until he ultimately passed away early in the fifth season (October 1991).

Frankly, attractive or not, Roddenberry’s vision of the future is a fairy-tale idealization that will never exist.  But even the more “realistic” vision that has ultimately prevailed – with all the trauma and tragedy that it depicts between “the present” and “the future” – remains an appealing vision. It is not perfect, by any means. It is deeply agnostic humanist, seldom if ever presenting religion in a positive light, and when it does it is something akin to what has been called "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" [LINK]. It thus ignores, even belittles, a basic human impulse, our instinct to acknowledge and aspire to the divine -- or, more accurately, it arrogates to itself many of the ideas, terminology, and tropes of religion into a world view that purports to be beyond such superstition. But that discussion is for another day, because having said all that, I do find the material aspects of the world depicted in Star Trek attractive. If I am going to create a “future history” from now to then, I am not going to invalidate its connection with our own world from the very moment I create it by having it already divergent from our reality. That divergence will come soon enough, I know. Time does not need my help.

Whatever, I intend to have fun “making history,” and hopefully readers will have fun reading it.

Live Long and Prosper!

[1]The “canonical” status of this, the first post-original, series is often questioned. Gene Roddenberry himself later rejected its status as canon. Nevertheless, although production values were in most ways typical of early-1970s television animation, not only were the stories far superior to anything else on Saturday morning, most of them being in fact written by established TOS writers or even established science fiction writers who had not written for TOS, but the main characters’ voices were provided by the original actors (albeit each reading individually in a separate audio recording room, rendering their performances somewhat lifeless). Then, very soon, established science fiction (and super-adaptoid) author Alan Dean Foster expanded the very short stories into novella-length, richly detailed prose adventures in the wonderful Star Trek Log series between 1974 and 1978 (Del Rey Books). For what it is worth, to me, TAS is definitely canon – and in the form written by Foster.
[2] During its first two seasons, the show was aired without the “Star Trek:” primary title. They thought better of it however as ratings sagged, however the attempted rebranding back to the franchise name did not save the show.
[3] These are short, typically character-driven, vignettes. Some are live-action, some are animated.
[4] Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou…!
[5] There is a reason for that choice.
[6] I am assuming the Bantam novels published from 1976-1981 to result from a separate contract from that under which James Blish, the adaptor of the Original Series episodes into short story format and published by Bantam between 1967 and 1978, wrote his own standalone, original novel, Spock Must Die!, several years earlier (1970).
[7] In searching for more on this development of the Okuda Chronology timeline, I found this post which is very worthy of quotation:
“The introduction to the 1993 edition of Star Trek Chronology: The History of the Future, Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda page v, says:
‘Basic assumptions: This chronology is built on a number of basic assumptions. The first is that the original Star Trek series was set 300 years in the future of the first airings of the episodes, meaning that the first seasons was set in 2266-67. Although a few references exist suggesting the producers of that show vacillated between 200 to 800 years, the 300 year figure seems to be the most internally consistent...The second basic assumption is that the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation was set in 2364, as established in "The Neutral Zone". These dates have been used by the producers of Star Trek: The Next Generation and some of the writers of the Star Trek features, so many ages and dates mentioned in the show have been consistent with these assumptions. Most of the dates set forth in this chronology were derived from these two basic assumptions.’
“And on page iv, discussing Michael Okuda's first efforts at forming a chronology for the use of Star Trek writers: ‘Former Star Trek research consultant Richard Arnold proved to be a tremendous help at this stage, providing for us (as he had for some of Star Trek: The Next Generation's writers) many of the basic assumptions that form the framework on which this chronology is built.’
“Thus I deduce that Richard Arnold and Gene Roddenberry decided on many of the basic assumptions which were used by the Okudas in their official chronology, and very probably arbitrarily decided that TOS episodes happened 300 years after being aired, and that TNG's first season would be 400 years after production began on The Cage. By arbitrarily deciding on those dates Roddenberry and Arnold chose not to support the earliest publish Star Trek chronology from Star Trek: An Analysis of a Phenomenon in Science Fiction (1968), nor the chronology in Star Trek technical fandom, nor the chronology in Star Trek Spaceflight Chronology, nor any other previous chronology. By arbitrarily deciding on those dates Roddenberry and Arnold and the Okudas omitted checking to see if their dates were possible, and so chose dates which can be shown to be impossible according to evidence from previous Star Trek productions.” (M. A. Golding, answering the question, “How was the Star Trek timeline officially established?“ at StackExchange (06:24 on 29 July 2015) [LINK])
Impossible? Well…. Let’s not get into that! Inconsistent with previous Star Trek productions? Definitely.
[8] With Star Trek: Enterprise and several subsequent novels that I choose to consider fully canonical, the decade between the launch of NX-01 Enterprise and the chartering of the Federation is pretty well mapped out for me.
[9] From the beginning to the present, new canonical Star Trek material (TV episodes or films, as I define it to include the Animated Series but exclude the Abramsverse films) has appeared in the following years: 1966-1969, 1973-1975, 1966-1969, 1973-1974, 1979, 1982, 1984, 1986-2005, and 2017-present; in other words in the last 55 years inclusive, 1966-2020, only 22 years (1970-1972, 1975-1978, 1980-1981, 1983, 1985, and 2006-2016) have seen no new canonical material – and the 2006-2016 gap did have the three Abramsverse films (2009, 2013, and 2016) as well as Star Trek Continues (2013-2017). Include the “semicanonical” licensed novels or collections of original stories (which are a mixed bag, to be sure), and at least new materials of some sort were published in 1970 (James Blish, Spock Must Die!), 1976-1981 (a dozen original novels pubished by Bantam Books), and 1981-present (hundreds of original novels published by Pocket Books or other Simon & Shuster imprints). In other words, since 1966, only in 1971 and 1972 has there been absolutely no new Star Trek fiction of one form or another.

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