Pocket Books has just release Star Trek 101: A Practical Guide to Who, What, Where, and Why, which is different than past ‘companion’ books and more of an ‘Idiots Guide to Star Trek.’ The question is, who is this book for. See our review below to find out.
The 101 on Star Trek 101
It has been more than five years since the last Star Trek episode guide from Pocket Books, Paul Ruditis’ Star Trek Voyager Companion. Without a new show and the unfortunate cancellation of Enterprise, it seemed unlikely new episode guide books would be forthcoming. However, venerable behind-the-scenes authors Terry J. Erdmann and Paula M. Block have written Star Trek 101: A Practical Guide to Who, What, Where, and Why.
A big caveat for this review is that "Star Trek 101" was originally written to coincide with the release of the JJ Abrams Star Trek film. It was to take advantage of the increased interest in Trek and help new and casual fans make sense of the sometimes daunting 42 years continuity and history of Star Trek.
With the feature film’s release date moved to May 2009, the book could be labeled a text in need of an audience. That is the challenge faced by Pocket Books with this guide. It doesn’t have the kind of in-depth analysis or trivia of other guidebooks because that would confuse the new fan. Yet, because it lacks that, does it have anything to offer fans already familiar with the show? With this audience issue in mind, to write a review of Star Trek 101, it is really necessary for this reviewer (and professor of Sociology) to adopt a bit of what scientist Max Weber labeled "sociological verstehen." Verstehen means to understand, to appreciate the feelings and experiences of others (it is the real world application of IDIC). I’ll need to look at the book imagining I am from different audiences to really understand its value.
Possible Audience #1: The New Fan
If the audience here is new fans, this is an excellent book. It is amazing that Erdmann and Block could condense more than 700 episodes and movies into a text that is accessible and fun to read. Anyone unfamiliar with Star Trek would indeed get an education as the name of the book suggests. Most helpful to the new fan is the structure of the book and the way it is organized. Each of the six television versions and all ten feature films are detailed, each given its own chapter. The television show chapters include the following sections:
- Series Premise: a nice summary of the main themes of the show
- The Ship (or in the case of DS9, The Station): a nice look at the starships and its crew with biographical summary of the main crews
- Major Aliens: a discussion of the alien governments and characters important to the specific show
- The Menagerie: a discussion of the various minor alien species featured
- Ten Essential Episodes: this is a helpful section for those who wish to sample various shows before deciding if they wish to watch the entirety of the many seasons
- What It Is…: a dictionary of important technology or other Trek argot
- Episode Synopses: each episode summarized with narrative details
These sections are very helpful to the new fan as they navigate the world of Star Trek. In this way," Star Trek 101" is reminiscent of the 1979 book "Star Trek Catalog" edited by Gerry Turnbull which was timed with the release of Star Trek The Motion Picture and was meant to help fans learn about the actors and the episodes of TOS. Practicing verstehen, and thinking back to when I was a newbie to Trek, the Catalog was a true gift because it helped me learn about this wild world I had suddenly become passionate about, and "Star Trek 101" has the same potential to help those fans who are now finally seeing the light and the greatness of Star Trek in 2008.
The book is also very helpful to those fans who wish to share their passion with their girlfriends, boyfriends, family, or friends who just don’t get their love of Trek. For example, my wife loves Star Trek and she loves gymnastics. As her husband, I would appreciate a guide to gymnastics because I could better understand the jargon and ideas she tries to communicate to me. There may be audience then for this book for those girlfriends and boyfriends who are trying to practice their own kind of verstehen, understanding their significant others’ passion for Star Trek. Again, for this audience Star Trek 101 is perfect.
For the new fan (including the loved ones of committed fans), this is a VERY recommended title.
Possible Audience #2: The Casual Fan
There is much to like here for the casual fan, too. "The Ten Essential Episodes" sections have good commentary to help fans appreciate why these episodes are important to the themes of Star Trek, and there are many, many sidebars that include factoids and humorous asides that would be appreciated by casual fans. The book is also helpful for those who are fans of one version of Star Trek thinking of starting to sample other Trek shows. Although they do decide to dive deep into a new show, it would be recommended to eventually get the full ‘companion’ book for that series (except in the case of ENT, where 101 is all there is).
Possible Audience #3: The Committed Fan
Committed fans are the one problem audience for this book, which is indeed a problem because it is the committed fan who is most likely to buy a Trek book in the first place. Is there anything here for fans who already are very familiar with Star Trek? Yes, fellow Committed Fans, there is a Santa Claus.
There are several things about Star Trek 101 that give it value for serious fans. First, thank you to Pocket Books for FINALLY giving fans of Enterprise some kind of episode guide. While I will not stop in my tireless, although probably futile, endeavor to get Pocket Books to publish a proper companion to Enterprise (um, Pocket Books, even the Dukes of Hazzard has a companion book released 20 years after the show was canceled), at least Archer’s trek gets some respect here.
The book makes for a useful and handy encyclopedia and reference text. While there are online guides, I tend to agree with Samuel T. Cogley that there is something irreplaceable about books. This text is perfect for sitting next to the DVDs, and could be useful to even the most serious fan. There is also a great deal of humor in the book that serious fans could appreciate.
Star Trek 101 may have lost its intended purpose, but with verstehen, it is easy to see that the book has utility. While it is best suited for new fans, there is much to appreciate for all kinds of audiences. This isn’t to say there are not problems with the text. Except for the Enterprise photos, most of the pictures in the book for example are often seen. It would have been good to utilize this occasion to include some really unique or unusual photos from the history of Star Trek. Also, the section on the feature films could utilize some improvement with more details. However, "Star Trek 101" is a good holiday gift for a variety of Star Trek fans, or perhaps even their family and friends who wish to learn more about Star Trek.
Star Trek 101, class dismissed.