Tuesday, December 28, 2010

No Longer Indispensible, The Star Trek Compendium Is Only Revised To A Point.

The Good: Interesting behind-the-scenes information, Adequate plot and production descriptions
The Bad: Like most reference materials, tends to need updates
The Basics: A thoroughly-researched, canon history of the original Star Trek, Allan Asherman's The Star Trek Compendium is now out of date.

I feel sorry for Allan Asherman. Actually, I feel worse for Mike Okuda, but today I'll focus mostly on Allan Asherman. I feel bad for Mike Okuda because he wrote a masterful Star Trek reference work The Star Trek Chronology, which was a complete and accurate timeline (in universe) of the Star Trek franchise. It has been a long time since The Star Trek Chronology has been updated and one suspects that it is now a virtually impossible task because of the way Star Trek: Enterprise gutted the canon timeline of the franchise.

But then, there's Allan Asherman. Asherman wrote the various incarnations and revisions of The Star Trek Compendium, which is designed to be the authoritative reference book on the original Star Trek. And its latest incarnation - revised in 1993 following the release of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country - has remained stable, stagnant and thorough for over a decade and a half. But with the release of the film Star Trek (reviewed here!), designed to regut, er, reboot the franchise, Asherman's indispensable work on the series is once more incomplete. It is only now as I am reviewing it that I realize it has been incomplete for years.

A reference book, The Star Trek Compendium is a careful collection of everything pertaining to the original Star Trek series and the adventures of Captain James T. Kirk and the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701 (and later NCC-1701-A). As such, it includes in it thorough information on:
Star Trek (all 79 episodes)
Star Trek: The Animated Series (all 22 episodes)
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 V: The Final Frontier
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

The Star Trek Compendium is an oversized book, standing twice as tall as the usual Star Trek paperbacks and even an inch or two taller than the average encyclopedia. In its 192 pages, Allan Asherman discusses the history and impact of the development of Star Trek, provides an episode synopsis of each episode, discusses the failed Star Trek Phase II and details each of the films. What makes this book at all interesting or useful, though are the stories, the details beyond the simple plot synopses.

Allan Asherman provides detailed behind-the-scenes information about each and every episode and movie that is Star Trek (the original series). So, for example, he discusses the script changes that had to be made in "Tomorrow Is Yesterday" when it was moved from being a second part of "The Naked Time." He talks about the off-screen life of Melvin Belli (who was a judge) when writing about "And The Children Shall Lead" as well as hundreds of other stories. Asherman is thorough, like when he describes little details like how the producers got around the censors with a heavily implied sex scene in "Wink Of An Eye."

And Asherman is quite thorough and articulate on his exploration of the behind-the-scenes information pertaining to the writing campaigns that saved Star Trek, the development of the "Animated Series" and the film franchise and the effect certain episodes have had on popular culture.

When I was teaching business English, one of the lessons that I tried to nail home with my students was the importance of authoritative sources. Anyone, for example, can start their own website and post their views as "facts." Books, at least most published books, fall under a different set of criteria. They are vetted, fact-checked and sent through the legal department to insure accuracy. Allan Asherman's The Star Trek Compendium is arguably the most unimpeachable source of behind-the-scenes Star Trek information. For sure, there might be other people who have had access to more authoritative sources or stories not in The Star Trek Compendium (some of whom are not allowed to legally write behind-the-scenes books) but for the stamped, approved, accurate history of Star Trek, The Star Trek Compendium is THE source.

Allan Asherman was thorough and he thanks a pretty long list of contributors in his acknowledgments. He culled many of his behind-the-scenes stories from interviews with Gene Roddenberry, episode directors, staff writers, and actors, making this an authoritative tome on the history of Star Trek (not in-universe). As well, Asherman and Roddenberry selected over one hundred twenty-five photographs which are printed in this book. They are printed in black and white and some of them are early promotional photographs, but there are some interesting ones that are not overly reprinted in other sources.

The fundamental difference between The Star Trek Compendium and the Star Trek Omnepedia - other than the former being a book and the latter being an oft-revised digital presentation - is that this reference book focuses much more on the behind-the-scenes details. Asherman describes in depth the original pitch for Star Trek and the development process of "The Cage" and getting the second pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before" to try again. While both include plot summaries, stardates and air dates, the "Omnepedia" makes the connections between the episodes and attempts to make the definitive in-universe reference for the Star Trek franchise. The Star Trek Compendium views Star Trek as just a television show, though one of significant social and historical value.

Asherman is predominantly concerned with presenting a history of Star Trek that is unbiased by the different political elements that still surround the series today. Believe it or not, there are camps of people who fight over details about why certain things in the making of Star Trek happened as they did; The Star Trek Compendium is the most legally authoritative document on Star Trek to date and is likely to remain that way as more of the people who were present during the creation of Star Trek continue to die.

I mentioned before that The Star Trek Compendium is out of date. As an authoritative document on the history of Star Trek, it has actually been out of date for a few years, despite there being no new Star Trek movies (until last summer's installment). A few years ago, part of the new cabal in charge of the Star Trek franchise began softening the fans of the franchise up for the reboot by attempting to sell Star Trek redressed. A "Remastered" version of Star Trek has been produced where each of the episodes has been meticulously reworked so that valuable plot elements have been edited out in favor of updating the special effects. If that sounds snarky, it is; I saw little reason for the exercise and many episodes suffer as a result of the meddling. So, for example, in order to accommodate new computer generated special effects, and current syndication timelimits, "The Paradise Syndrome" now lacks the entire plotline involving Kirok getting Miramanee pregnant!

Regardless of how I feel about the special effects overhaul, the remastering phase is a portion of Star Trek history that deserves to be documented, explored and set down authoritatively (as opposed to just on Wikipedia). And this makes The Star Trek Compendium, like most reference books, subject to falling out of date (as it is now) and in need of further revision.

Still, what is here is valuable for both Star Trek fans and television scholars.

For other Star Trek books, please check out my reviews of:
The Klingon Dictionary
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (the novel)
Spock: Reflections


For other book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts.  May not be reprinted without permission.
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