5 Key Books for Your Star Trek Discovery

5 Key Books for Your Star Trek Discovery

There’s been lots of chatter about the production problems and delays affecting Star Trek: Discovery. But the latest series in the franchise is no different than its predecessors. What’s new is the existence of social media.

Star Trek productions have always been fraught with challenges to varying degrees over the past fifty years. Reading about the development and filming of the various series is part of the fun of being a fan. I discovered Star Trek more than 30 years ago when I was not even a teenager, and I’m still learning new things about the franchise.

Discovery is no doubt going to prompt new fans to investigate the series that began it all and the ones that followed it. There’s no shortage of books chronicling the voyages of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future, but there are several that stand out in terms of detail and thoroughness that should be at the top of anyone’s list.

These Are The Voyages

Star Trek: These Are The Voyages
Marc Cushman’s These Are Voyages provides an incredibly balanced view of the original Star Trek while shattering many myths about the series.

In fact, there is a book for each of the original Star Trek’s three seasons for a total of nearly 2,000 pages. They are the best proof that Discovery is not unique when it comes to growing pains. Social media would have had a field day with the tumultuous production of the series in 1960s.

Authored by Marc Cushman, These Are The Voyages pull together detailed production documents, memos and interviews that actor Walter Koenig has described has the definitive story of the making of the original Star Trek. In provides an incredibly balanced view of the first incarnation while shattering many myths about the series.

For fans of classic Trek, These Are The Voyages are a must-read, and those interested in TV production would find them fascinating as well.

The Making of Star Trek

This book is often mentioned by fans and writers of later Trek series as being a treasure trove of information and insight. It’s hard to come by now, and for some reason I let myself part with my copy, but if you can find it, hold on to it. It’s considered the first of its kind in terms of Star Trek reference books thanks to the multiple points of view from a wide range of contributors, everyone from studio executives to fans.

Inside Star Trek: The Real Story

Inside Star Trek: The Real Story
Inside Star Trek: The Real Story debunks many of the myths that had arisen about Star Trek over the previous 30 years.

Written by Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman, both executives who worked on the series, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story is the first book I read that didn’t sanitize the making of the original series the way most official reference books published at the time.

It’s a fascinating book from two insiders that complements Cushman’s series and is full of production art and behind-the-scenes photographs, primarily from Justman’s personal collection. And like These Are the Voyages, the book also debunks many of the myths that had arisen about Star Trek over the previous 30 years.

Star Trek: The Fifty-Year Mission

The Fifty-Year Mission
The Fifty-Year Mission is described as an “oral history” of the Star Trek franchise.

Like These Are the Voyages, The Fifty-Year Mission is more than one book. Authors Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman split 50 years of Star Trek history in two. The first volume is dedicated to the original series through to its feature film era, and the second covers the subsequent series and the J.J. Abrams films.

Described as an “oral history” of the franchise, it pulls together decades of interviews by Gross and Altman, who as journalists wrote about Star Trek for more than 30 years for publications such as Starlog. It’s a no holds barred look at 50 years of the franchise from the many cast, crew and writers involved in its many incarnations.

The Star Trek Encyclopedia

When it comes to books that pull together everything about the Star Trek universe, there’s no better tome than Mike Okuda’s Star Trek Encyclopedia, updated and re-released for the franchise’s 50th year.

Make no mistake, this is an encyclopedia in the truest sense, split into two heavy hardbound volumes, assembled by someone who worked on four of the series and continues be a steward of Star Trek continuity, most recently with his wife Denise on the Star Trek: The Next Generation BluRay remastering and documentaries.

It’s not something you can carry to the beach with you, that’s for darn sure.

Star Trek Lives!
Star Trek Lives! Tells the story of how a canceled TV series became a cult classic in the 1970s

They are many more books that are well-worth reading. Allan Asherman’s Star Trek Compendium is a great companion while watching episodes of the original series. Larry Nemecek’s Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion does the same. Writer David Gerrold dives into the making of his well-loved “The Trouble with Tribbles,” in a single book, and takes a broader look at the original show with The World of Star Trek.

Star Trek Lives! tells the story of how a canceled TV series became a cult classic in the 1970s and the rise of Star Trek conventions, while many of the biographies and autobiographies of cast members over the years provide differing perspectives. The relatively recent Star Trek: The Complete Unauthorized History by Robert Greenberger is a great visual and chronological overview of the franchise.

Star Trek: Discovery will both enjoy and endure a great deal of scrutiny in real-time thanks to the Internet, but eventually it too will be the subject of many books that dive deeper into its production, and hopefully its longevity and success.

HalCon 2016 Highlights

HalCon 2016 is the last sizeable convention of the year for me. I normally don’t travel too far for a con, but I have a friend gracious enough to host me for an extended weekend.

It’s the second year I have attended. Size-wise, it’s smaller than Toronto ComiCon held in March and Ottawa ComiCon in May, and on par with London ComiCon held in September.

img_0029For me, who’s attending the con is always a factor for me, and this year’s draw was Gates McFadden, otherwise known as Dr. Beverly Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation. At her booth, I asked her why she chose Halifax among all of the other conventions being held during Star Trek’s 50th anniversary. Her answer was the same as LeVar Burton’s when I met him in London, Ontario in September: “I’ve never been here before.”

I enjoyed her Q+A panel for the most part, although I waited in line to ask a question the entire session only for it to run out of time. McFadden said it’s only been in recent years she’s been able to really begin to enjoy conventions, having had a stalker years ago while teaching at a university.

Highlights of her chat included how she actually saw herself as a pretty hilarious prankster on the set of TNG, even if cast mates didn’t: Brent Spiner didn’t appreciate her putting Hello Kitty stickers all over his dressing room / trailer, for example. McFadden spoke highly of both David Bowie and Jim Henson while working on Labyrinth as well.

jeremy-bulloch-autograph-1The other guest I was looking forward to was Jeremy Bulloch, who played the original Boba Fett in Star Wars. A well spoken and funny gentleman, he brought up some fans on stage during his panel and even recruited one to help perform Hamlet. Bulloch also appeared in two different Doctor Who stories. His second one, The Time Warrior, marked the first appearance of the Sarah Jane Smith, played by the late Elizabeth Sladen, who was a fan favourite.

One thing I’ve found after attending conventions regularly over the last couple of years is that there’s always a guest I didn’t plan to meet who turns out to be a new favourite. Natalia Tena, who played Tonks in the Harry Potter series of films, was very funny. And she’s in a band, too.

img_0062Another pleasant surprise was meeting Jenny Frison, a comic book cover artist and illustrator. I did not realize how many covers of hers I actually owned, but recognized her work immediately. I ended up buying three large prints from her, as well as some of small books showcasing her covers over the years. Frison only does covers, and sees interior art as a different mindset, nothing that some covers by comic book artists that do interior art often end up looking like interior splash pages.

She also talked me into picking up the first collected edition of Revival, written by her brother-her-law, Tim Seeley. I had planned on meeting him so he could sign my first issue of the short-lived yet clever Effigy. Rounding out the trio was Revival artist Mike Norton. They all hail from the Chicago area.

img_0063Another writer I’ve always wanted to meet is Charles de Lint, who hails from Ottawa. Over the years he’s even set some of urban fantasy stories in the nation’s capital. I bought a couple of books from him and chatted with him and wife. Canadian writer Julie Czernada was also on hand. I’ve never read her work, but she’s been on my to read list for a while. I had her sign one of her novels I picked up at the Word of the Street festival in September.

img_0061The floor space for vendors and exhibitors is a pretty decent size. For me, it’s a nice change as there are vendors who don’t make it to Ontario. I bought some Doctor Who, Star Wars, Harry Potter and Star Trek fridge magnets from two different local artists, who are friends and have their own art styles. Meanwhile, I did see two Toronto-area artists who I’ve supported in the past and made the trip out to Halifax.

248271a8-d20d-4f2f-b152-b03adec7fc26Cosplay, of course, has become a big part of conventions, and last year was the first time I saw cosplayers as invited guests. Toronto-area cons have since followed suit. However, this year, there weren’t many cosplay booths although there so great costumes, including the return of the Incredibles family, and a great Hawk-family.

HalCon is not a great show for comic books, so while I did manage to get handful of back issues at the convention, I fared better at the local shops, as my friend was also willing to trundle me around. There are six comic book stories in the greater Halifax area, and I was able to hit three. Lower Sackville is home to Cape and Cowl, one of the nicest shops I’ve been to anywhere. It’s struggling, however. I spent a little more than I normally would because I wanted to support the owner. The shop is well-laid out, has a good mix of new and older back issues, as well as toys and collectibles. It also has safe space for the LGBTQ community.

This was the sixth and last sizeable convention of the year for me. There are a couple of one-day comic day shows between now and Christmas here in Toronto, but the next convention for me will be Toronto ComiCon in March. Next year, HalCon will be in late September and in a large facility as the new convention centre in Halifax will be complete, so the show will be a lot different.

The Best of All Cliffhangers

“I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile. Your life, as it has been, is over. From this time forward you will service us.”

“Mr. Worf: Fire.”

bobwSeason-ending cliffhangers are now standard practice on both network and cable TV series, but in 1990, they weren’t so common, and the season finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation made jaws drop.

The first part of “The Best of Both Worlds” had Star Trek fans and casual viewers wondering all summer if Captain Jean-Luc Picard would survive his assimilation by the relentless Borg, while TV critics were comparing the cliffhanger to the infamous season ender of Dallas in 1980: the mystery of “Who shot J.R.” was the most watched program in television history for its day.

TNG’s “Best of Both Worlds” remains one of the most effective season finales of any Star Trek series – arguably of any series – because it looks like there is no way out: Picard is lost; Riker will soldier on as captain of the Enterprise with ambitious newcomer Commander Shelby as his first officer.

I spent that summer wondering if Picard would return in season four. It was hard to contemplate Star Trek: The Next Generation without Patrick Stewart, especially since the series had found its creative footing in season three. The return of Gates McFadden as Dr. Crusher coupled with some great storytelling begged the question: If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Even without the ubiquitous Internet and social media, there was chatter that Patrick Stewart was leaving the show, apparently unhappy with the series’ scripts – these rumors could be traced back to an uneven second season that was cut short by a writer’s strike. I vaguely recall reading a brief news item in Starlog magazine that fueled the fire; it also reported Wil Wheaton was leaving the series, something that did come to pass.

The late Michael Piller, who scripted the episode, made use of his own inner turmoil to drive the story as he debated whether to continue on as head of the show’s writing team; the episode became a Riker-centric story that reflected Piller’s own dilemma. (He would ultimately stay on through the end of the series, co-create Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager and write the screenplay for Star Trek: Insurrection).

Riker’s struggle with the prospect of promotion rings true given that he’s already turned down command twice, and it adds to the overall sense that things will inevitably change aboard the Enterprise, especially since Shelby is convinced she’s going to land the first officer’s gig.

But what really made “The Best of Both Worlds” cliffhanger so compelling was that Piller had in fact painted himself into a corner. He didn’t think he’d have to worry about solving a seemingly unsolvable problem: how to save Picard and defeat the Borg. When “To Be Continued” appears on the screen backed up by Ron Jones’ chilling music, it’s hard to imagine how the rest of the story will unfold.

Nearly 23 years later, it’s still an amazing hour of television. A feeling of foreboding hangs over the scene where Picard and Guinan discuss the tradition of a captain touring his ship on the eve of a hopeless battle and how Nelson never returned from Trafalgar, even though the battle was won.

And it even holds up well on the big screen. Last week the combined two-part “Best of Both Worlds” was shown in theatres across North America, and while the second half struggles to live up to the first (most second parts in the Star Trek universe do), as a feature film it compares well to the actual Star Trek movies. The special effects are still convincing, especially considering they were produced on a television budget with older technology, and the story slowly builds tension throughout the first half with a seamless transition into a faster paced second half.

The big screen debut of “The Best of Both Worlds” serves as a reminder that Star Trek works better on television when the characters are allowed to develop and the story lines are allowed to evolve over time. Viewed on television it is Star Trek at its finest and holds its own against big screen lens flare.

Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based freelance writer, editor and content strategist storyteller. “The Best of Both Worlds” Parts I & II is available today on BluRay as a feature-length film as is the entire third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Star Trek: The Wrath of Gary

Gary Mitchell RebootedThe Interwebs are all abuzz about Star Trek Into Darkness with the online release of a short teaser trailer and a nine-minute preview set to debut in theaters ahead of The Hobbit next week. The biggest point of discussion: What iconic Trek villain is being portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch?

Over at io9, Charlie Jane Anders has dissected the trailer looking for clues as to the identity of the Cumberbatch character as well as other hints that might reveal the movie’s plot.

Speculation was rampant that genetically-modified superman Khan would return ever since the movie went into production. But given what’s been shown in the limited clips and stills released so far, it’s unlikely.

And that’s a good thing, otherwise this Trekker would be forced to boycott this film. While I was pleasantly surprised by J.J Abrahm’s rebooted Star Trek, it was more style than substance, and every time I rewatch it, I find another element that irritates me. I will concede it’s a good start, but I have high expectations for its sequel. I want some depth and some compelling ideas, two ingredients that are essential to a great Star Trek story.

I also think the whole point of rebooting the Star Trek franchise is to tell new stories, and no matter what spin is put on a Khan-centric story, it will inevitably be compared to The Wrath Khan, arguably the best Star Trek film.

It’s been reported that the villain in Into Darkness is a character Star Trek fans will be familiar with, and based on what I’ve seen, Gary Mitchell, seen in the second original series pilot “Where No Man Has Gone Before” is the best bet, given that Cumberbatch is seen wearing a Starfleet uniform. While Garth of Izar from the original third season episode “Whom Gods Destroy” has also been mentioned as a possibility, I think he’s a little obscure. Considering Alice Eve‘s unnamed Into Darkness character looks a lot like Sally Kellerman‘s character Elizabeth Dehner from “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, the Mitchell theory has a lot of legs.

And I’m okay with that. For one thing, it’s plausible he would have exist in the rebooted timeline and have crossed paths with Kirk during their Starfleet Academy days. That doesn’t mean he has to become the silver-eyed God as he did the original series: he could be driven off the deep end by a different set of circumstances, hopefully something with emotional resonance rather than by some abstract alien force.

As for the trailer, it was full of sound and fury, but there wasn’t much to distinguish it from any other action/sci-fi movie. Abrahms has said he wants to bring a Star Wars sensibility to Star Trek and this worries me as much as the possibility of Khan popping up. The whole point of Star Trek is that it’s not Star Wars.

While I may be completely off-base with my predictions and concerns, one thing is for sure: There will be lots of lens flare.

Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based writer and content strategist. He also does a mean fox trot.

Normal Again [TV Review]

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a lot more complex than the title of the show suggests, and after six years, the heroine of this series has collected a lot of baggage, emotional and otherwise.

No wonder she’s hallucinating.

But while many of us create fantasies to deal with stress in our day to day lives, Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) has been living in a fantasy world with some harsh realities – a soul mate who can’t be with her for fear of losing his soul and becoming an evil demon; the death of her mother at the hands of an aneurism, not monsters she can fight; and a destiny that will see her never have a normal life because she’s The Chosen One and lives on a hellmouth.

Or could she have a normal life? And what is normal?

In “Normal Again,” a run-in with a demon has Buffy jumping from two frames of mind thanks to the creature’s nasty venom. In her hallucination, she’s in a mental institution, and she’s been there for six years. Her parents are still together, and Buffy’s having a moment of lucidity, according to the Doctor. There is a chance, he says, that she could make a full recovery from her multi-layered schizophrenia.

Meanwhile, back in Sunnydale, Buffy’s in and out and her friends take it upon themselves to capture the demon in question and harness the antidote. All in all, it turns out to be a simple task, even if Willow can’t make use of magic do cook up the cure.

The question is, does Buffy really want to get well?

Her moments of lucidity at the institution are becoming more prolonged, and in Sunnydale, Buffy dumps the antidote in the garbage, and no one’s the wiser.

The Doctor tells Buffy that she must take apart the traps that keep her in imaginary world. Those traps are her friends, which she thinks are sacred, says the Doctor, but she must give them up.

Buffy wants to be healthy, she tells her parents. What does she have to do?

Back in Sunnydale, Buffy is systematically dealing with Willow, Xander and her sister Dawn. She captures and assembles them in the basement with the nasty monster that started this mental roller coaster in the first place.

At this point, all bets are off – Buffy’s parents are encouraging her to shut down her imaginary world, and that means setting the demon loose on her friends, who are still tied up. Buffy’s almost catatonic as the monster pummels them.

In the institution, it’s clear Buffy’s struggling to destroy her life in Sunnydale, despite the desperate pleas of her friends, and by now, it starts to become conceivable that Buffy’s life for the past six years could very well be a sham, but as the episode counts down to its closing moments, Tara rushes in and turns the tide in favour of the Sunnydale Scooby gang.

It’s also enough to snap Buffy back to reality and kick some demon ass, albeit after a tearful goodbye to her parents at the institution. All’s well that ends well, right?

Nope.

As much as Buffy has chosen to stay in Sunnydale and admitted to her friends that she did not take the antidote, it’s unclear why she made the choice she did.

Did Buffy choose Sunnydale because she knew it was reality? Or is she giving into the fantasy? Was she willing to believe that the institution would better than her life as the Slayer?

The final scene of the episode does nothing to clarify this, and one could dismiss it as being hoaky, or take it for a telling sign of things to come. Utlimately, Buffy’s life is one big irony: While many of us yearn to live in a world of black and white where heroes triumph over villains, there’s part of her that would rather deal with the cold hard reality of medicinal drugs and rubber walls at the institution, even if it means giving up the wonderful things in her dangerous world, including her friends.

Given the ambiguity of the ending of “Normal Again,” one could wonder if anyone really has a solid grip on reality, or just thinks they do.

Gary Hilson is a writer, editor and digital media specialist for hire. He lives in Toronto.

X-Men film debut rivals Burton’s Batman

I stayed up late enough last night to catch Roger Ebert’s review of the new X-Men movie and it reminded me why I never listen to movie reviewers most of the time: they have no idea how to review a genre film.

It’s not that I begrudge Ebert’s right to give a thumbs down, but why is it that the X-Men only received a minute of discussion when most movies on the show receive a lot more? I’ll tell you why: because it’s a comic book movie and people like Ebert are just too erudite to review these kinds of movies. In Ebert’s case, senility must also be a factor. He found the movie hard to follow. Better count your brain cells, Roger. He also complained there was too much focus on character development. Usually these anal retentive reviewers are complaining that there’s not enough character development and too much action.

Right now you’re probably thinking that I’m a rabid X-Men fan who will stand by his favorite mutants no matter how bad the movie may be. Wrong. I’ve never read an X-Men comic. I was a DC fan when I was younger. Green Lantern. Legion of Superheroes. Hawkman. Not X-Men. But while Ebert says the uninitiated would have problems following the movie, I had no problem at all. The X-Men is probably the best comic book movie since the first Batman, and I would hazard to say even better. This isn’t a bunch of guys in costumes taking each other on and trading one line zingers. This movie actually has depth, much more than any other comic book movie that’s been made. Not only should it be lauded for the effort of making its characters three-dimensional, it should be lauded for succeeding, with some minor exceptions.

The story is primarily told from the eyes of a teenage girl named Marie (aka Rogue), played by Anna Paquin, and Logan (aka Wolverine), played by Hugh Jackman. Rogue discovers early in the movie that she will drain the lifeforce out of anyone she touches and heads north, where she runs into Logan. Logan has the ability to heal very quickly from any wounds and has also been implanted with an indestructible metal, providing him with razor sharp claws. They are just two of many mutants in the world who are feared by the general public. A US senator (Bruce Davison) is leading the push to pass a bill that would force mutants to register. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) has hope that humanity will learn to accept mutants, but his old friend and now nemesis, Eric Lencher (aka Magneto), played by Ian McKellen, believes that the only recourse is to make sure mutants end up on top no matter what the cost. His mutants attack Wolverine and Rogue, but they are rescued by Xavier’s own X-Men, Storm (Halle Berry) and Cyclops (James Marsden).

Xavier runs a school for gifted youngsters, also a haven for mutants. He promises to help Wolverine unravel his past. The difference between mutants and superheroes is that mutants are persecuted, and in some cases a danger to themselves as well as others, whereas superheroes such as Superman were instantly idolized for their heroic abilities. The movie deals with this aspect in a thoughtful manner and the issue of racism, albeit on a simplistic level. Magneto as the villain is not just some guy who’s gone wacko like the villains in the Batman films. His motivations are very human. Unfortunately the mutants that have sided with him lack depth: the shape changing Mystique (Rebecca Romjin-Stamos), Toad (the Phantom Menace’s Ray Park) and Sabretooth (Tyler Mane) are all just two-dimensional baddies.

The X-Men is a very entertaining movie that’s well cast and well-plotted, balancing the character development and the action scenes. Don’t listen to the stuck up reviewers: they just don’t get it. And any die hard X-men fan I’ve spoken to has loved the movie and says it’s true to the original comic book legacy that inspired it. This X-Men virgin thinks it’s the best movie of the summer.

Gary Hilson is a writer, editor and digital media specialist for hire. He lives in Toronto.

Something Wicca This Way Comes [TV Review]

I never thought I’d ever enjoy a television show with Aaron Spelling’s name attached to it, but I decided to give Charmed a chance.

Produced by Spelling and airing on the WB Network in the U.S., the series revolves around three women played by Shannen Doherty, Holly Marie Combs and Alyssa Milano, who discover they are witches – good witches, but witches nonetheless. Each has her own special powers: Prue (Doherty) can move objects through telekinesis, Piper (Combs) can freeze time, and Phoebe (Milano) can see into the future. In addition, they have other spells at their disposable, thanks to a book Phoebe digs up in the attic of the family house the sisters inherited.

Prue and Piper also have Phoebe to thank for the magical powers. By reading a passage from the book, she activates their powers. They soon discover their grandmother, who recently passed away, was a witch. When she died, her powers her came up for grabs. Unfortunately, an evil warlock, who has been stalking and killing other witches in San Francisco to take their powers, has been waiting for the sisters to realize these powers.

The first episode has a very simple plot, as the sisters have to use their combined talents to defeat the warlock. In the midst of all this they face job woes and sibling infighting, while one of the detectives investigating the murders, an old acquaintance of Prue’s, knows not everything is what it seems.

With some good writers, Charmed could be more than just a ‘evil creature that must be defeated by the sisters’ show. Buffy The Vampire Slayer has proven it is about more than just a teenage girl killing vampires every week.

Charmed has all the right ingredients to become another cult hit for the WB.

Gary Hilson is a writer, editor and digital media specialist for hire. He lives in Toronto.

Once More Unto the Breach [TV Review]

Since its debut, I’ve always tried to like Star Trek: Voyager. It’s not as if I don’t like the show, but for the most part, I’ve been disappointed in it.

Every year I sit down to watch the season premiere and hope that the show will improve. I usually start the season optimistic, depending on the season finale from the year before. Last season, Voyager finished with a ho hum episode, so I wasn’t overly excited about year five.

I have mixed feelings about “‘Night”, the season premiere. It had an interesting premise and some good character development, but still lacked many elements, elements that have made Deep Space Nine my preferred Star Trek sequel series.

While the writers finally to a leap and made Paris and Torres a couple, the relationship has simply gone nowhere. In ‘Night’, they’re reduced to unconvincing squabbling to further demonstrate the frustration the crew is feeling while traveling an expanse of lifeless, starless space.

Admittedly, the story wasn’t horrible and there were some nifty special effects, but it is an obvious example of what is wrong with Voyager: In the Delta Quadrant, everything seems to happen in a bottle. Yes, there have been sequels to previous episodes, but rarely are the consequences of actions carried over from one episode to another. “Year of Hell” was a great episode until it turns out it never happened at all.

It’s not that I’m unwilling to give Voyager a chance. I’ve given it plenty of chances. But after fours seasons, I don’t feel this crew has developed much in terms of characterization and I’ve yet to see an episode that truly wowed or surprised.

Deep Space Nine has given me a reason to come back every episode because of its continuing storyline. Right now, I can take or leave Voyager.

Gary Hilson is a writer, editor and digital media specialist for hire. He lives in Toronto.