Though I’m generally reading these books in publication order, for the next book in our Trek journey, we need to step back in time about a year. Today’s book is the second non-fiction Trek book we’re looking at, David Gerrold’s The World of Star Trek, published April 12, 1973.
The prologue describes the approximate outline of the book:
Actually, there are three worlds of STAR TREK. First, there’s the STAR TREK that Gene Roddenberry conceived–the original dream of a television series about an interstellar starship. Then there’s the STAR TREK behind the scenes, how the cast and crew made Gene Roddenberry’s ideas come true, how they were realized and sometimes altered in the realization. And finally, there’s the STAR TREK Phenomenon, the world that the fans of the show created, the reality that they built in response.
All three of these worlds are fascinating, and all three of them are dealt with in this book. Each of the worlds of STAR TREK created the next; and like interlocking rings, each had its effects on the others. The show created the stars, the stars engendered a fandom, and the fans kept the show on the air.
This book would seem to be in the vein of Whitfield’s 1968 book, The Making of Star Trek, though its focus is somewhat different. As Gerrold himself notes, Whitfield’s book more than adequately covers the details of the production of the series, so Gerrold does not spend too many words repeating these details. The book’s opening (“Part One: The First World of Star Trek–Gene Roddenberry’s Dream”) repeats the familiar details from The Star Trek Guide and the original series format, much like Whitfield’s. But where The Making of Star Trek examines how the series’s premise works to make a show that could be produced within the constraints of a television budget, The World of Star Trek considers how it enables interesting stories:
[Kirk] would be explorer, ambassador, soldier, and peacekeeper. He would be the sole arbiter of Federation law wherever he traveled–he would be a law unto himself.
The implication here is that there are no other channels of intersteller communication. At least, none as fast as the Enterprise.
If Kirk could check back with Starfleet Command every time he was in trouble, he would never have any conflicts at all. He would simply be a crewman following orders. He wouldn’t be an explorer or an ambassador–just the Captain of the local gunboat on the scene.
Gerrold has some definite ideas about the way stories ought to be told. For example:
The single dramatic element which provokes excitement in a play is this: your identity is in danger. All others are merely variations: your life is in danger, your country is in danger, your girl friend might leave you, your wife might find out, your brother might die, the police might catch you. Something threatens to prevent you from being the person you already are or want to be.
But if you endanger the hero’s identity week after week, not only do you run the risk of melodrama–you also run the risk of falling into a formula kind of storytelling. This week Kirk is menaced by the jello monster, he kills it by freezing it to death; next week Kirk is menaced by the slime monster and kills it by drying it out; the week after that he is threatened by the mud monster and defeats it by watering it down; the following week Kirk meets the mucous monster . . . Again, the ho hum reaction. Or even the ha ha reaction.
The second part of the book (“The Star Trek Family–The People Who Made The Enterprise Fly) generally avoids focusing on the production aspects of the show, considering them adequately covered by Whitfield’s book. Instead, the bulk of the text is made up of extended excerpts from interviews with some of the principal figures in Trek: Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, George Takei, and Nichelle Nichols; also included is an interview with William Campbell, who played Trelane in “The Squire of Gothos”.
The interviews are very interesting, giving a look at how the actors felt about the show and the characters they played. Since these interviews were conducted at a distance of a few years from the show, they make a nice complement to the interviews in The Making of Star Trek, which was published while the show was still in production.
Following the interviews is a complete listing of each Star Trek episode, its writers, and its guest stars. A handy reference, in the days before the internet!
The third part of the book (“The Star Trek Phenomenon”) discusses the well-known letter-writing campaign to save Star Trek, organized by Bjo Trimble, then discusses the fandom more generally, touching on fanzines, conventions, and other details. A very interesting look at how scifi fandom–and especially Trek fandom–was organized at the time, and how it was viewed.
In fourth part of the book (“Star Trek Analyzed–The Unfulfilled Potential”), Gerrold examines some of the specific elements that make up Trek episodes, both good and bad. For example, he criticizes Kirk and Spock always going out on dangerous away missions:
…this is the most deadly of all criticisms that have ever been leveled against STAR TREK:
A Captain, whether he be the Captain of a starship or an aircraft carrier, simply does not place himself in danger. Ever.
This is one major problem in the STAR TREK format, the one difficulty that forces the show into a set of formula situations week after week–the focusing of attention on two characters who should not logically be placing themselves in physical danger, but must do so regularly.
Gerrold suggests a specially trained “Contact Team” should be sent on away missions instead. Actually, his idea is a good one, and was vindicated in The Next Generation, years later: Riker was not at all interested in allowing Picard to go out on dangerous away missions, and when Riker was himself in command of the ship he too was reminded by the crew that he was too important to be risked in that way. Better late than never, eh?
The final section of the book (“The return of Star Trek…?”) looks at the possibility of the show’s return, and gives details on some of Gene Roddenberry’s then-upcoming projects: “Spectre”, “Questor”, “The Tribunes”, and “Genesis II”. And finally:
Oh, yes. One more thing. What if STAR TREK doesn’t come back . . . ?
“Well,” says Gene. “I have a lot of notes on a new concept, a planet-travel show. Not for this season, but for the next one. I’m going to start putting it together . . . ”
You see, the fans are right. STAR TREK lives!
I think that the foregoing excerpts give evidence enough that, even if you don’t entirely agree with Gerrold’s ideas about drama, he has plenty of insightful things to say about Star Trek. And besides being informative, the book is entertaining. The excellent little parody of bad Star Trek plots, “Green Priestesses of the Cosmic Computer”, is not to be missed. I know that I gave a pretty strong recommendation of Whitfield’s book before, but if you are more interested in the stories of Trek than the production of TV episodes, you might prefer to give that one a miss and read The World of Star Trek instead.
David Gerrold is the author of the TOS episode “The Trouble with Tribbles” and its sequel, the TAS episode “More Tribbles, More Troubles”, among other Trek-related work, plus a number of original novels. Published simultaneously with this book was another by Gerrold, The Trouble With Tribbles: The Birth, Sale and Final Production of One Episode.