Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Before It All Went So Very Bad, The Star Trek Encyclopedia Was Essential!

The Good: A useful reference tool, Thoroughly researched, Nice pictures
The Bad: Incomplete (obviously)
The Basics: Ten years out of date, fans of Star Trek are urged to use the online reference materials at "Startrek.com" to get the authoritative material The Star Trek Encyclopedia once had.

In the tradition of Star Trek reference books like the Star Trek Compendium (reviewed here!), Simon & Schuster published The Star Trek Encyclopedia, which was designed to be the ultimate Star Trek reference work. Many, many die-hard Star Trek fans wondered why (not because we have it all memorized, either!) when Simon & Schuster was the publisher of the electronic resource The Star Trek Omnipedia. The "Omnipedia" was a clever resource designed to bridge the gap between the readers of Star Trek materials and the growing computer savvy fans who wanted a more multimedia experience. The idea was clever and one suspects that it was only the failure to continue updating it properly that led that product to eventually fail.

At least with the The Star Trek Encyclopedia, Simon & Schuster gave the concept a fair shot, picking up with a print version of what the "Omnipedia" had been. Of course, the "Omnipedia" had been designed as a multimedia tool with visual clips and pictures for virtually every entry as well as arrangements that were alphabetical and chronological (for in-universe events). The The Star Trek Encyclopedia seems pedestrian by comparison and, like all outdated reference materials, now sits on the shelves of many a Trekker getting dusty. Given the way that Star Trek: Enterprise gutted the timeline of the Star Trek universe and the feature film Star Trek rewrote it, the The Star Trek Encyclopedia is arguably impossible to update (though the Star Trek Chronology actually would be, given the in-universe contradictions).

As its title suggests, the Star Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide To The Future is intended to be a reference book for all things in the Star Trek universe. The authoritative guide to what is considered canon and what is not, the The Star Trek Encyclopedia was compiled by Star Trek archivists and uber-Alpha Geeks Michael and Denise Okuda whose expertise is unparalleled in matters Star Trek. While there are other archivists, like Richard Arnold, who might know behind-the-scenes stories better than anyone else still alive, the Okudas have gone over every minute of every episode of everything in the Star Trek franchise that they are more-or-less considered the experts on what appeared on screen and how it all works in the Star Trek universe.

Unfortunately, as suggested earlier, the The Star Trek Encyclopedia is now a decade out of date! As a result, this has articles on everything in the Star Trek Universe up to 1999, which means it includes everything from:
Star Trek
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Star Trek: Voyager through Season 5
and the Star Trek Motion Pictures through Insurrection

This is organized as a standard encyclopedia would be . . . alphabetically. From A to Z, the Star Trek universe is categorized and it is almost all in-universe. What that means is, topics are treated as if they were real, true events and people with as much information that was ever spoken about or shown about Klingons, Benjamin Lafayette Sisko and the Wormhole aliens (among others!). As a result, information on the actors and behind-the-scenes information that was included in works like The Star Trek Compendium are lacking from this reference tool.

The only real "out of universe" concept needed to make the The Star Trek Encyclopedia work that was included in this volume was the articles on each episode. With episode and movie titles integrated into the text, alongside fictional concepts like phasers and warp theory, the book is necessarily pulled out of its own reality slightly. Still, for Star Trek enthusiasts this is the ultimate resource . . .or it was until it became terribly out of date.

Articles are written simply and directly and feature the inarguable canon of Star Trek, meaning just what appeared on screen in the various series' and movies. The only exception to this are a few computer-generated shots of starships whose classes were mentioned in various programs but were never shown on screen. These conceptual works expanded the universe slightly and are generally considered "safe" extrapolations to the Star Trek universe because no one has ever bothered to create anything that has made it onscreen to contradict these little aside works. However, none of the non-canon novels, comics, commentaries or even the "Animated Series" (which is in dispute among the fans) are included in this volume.

As stated, the articles are easy-to-read, general summaries of each topic. Articles are longer for those subjects that had more airtime. So, for example, the article on Worf is several times the length of the summary of the Greek God Apollo. Episodes are generally reduced to about two paragraphs worth of information, though the most significant ones have a bit more space dedicated to them.

The final update of the The Star Trek Encyclopedia, printed in 1999 was a last-ditch attempt to save the Star Trek reference books. Oversized books like this that explored the technical aspects or "nonfiction" aspects of the Star Trek universe were selling slowly and this final update was not a huge seller at the time, whatwith many fans simply opting to wait until Star Trek: Voyager ended and get the update they presumed would be forthcoming then. The detraction to this final edition, though, comes in the form of Simon & Schuster's cheapness. While the book looks wonderful with its glossy pages and full color thumbnail pictures accompanying every major topic in the encyclopedia, the final update was done as an appendix. Thus, the final topics for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager and the film Star Trek: Insurrection were not actually integrated into the text, they appear in an appendix instead, rather problematically for those who do not know WHEN certain events happened. This was done to save money, but it looks tacky in retrospect now and robs the final product of the usefulness for more casual fans.

Finally, the The Star Trek Encyclopedia has served its purpose; while Star Trek was at its peak with two different series' on the air, it provided a reference tool for making allusions that prevented writers and producers from having to go back to rewatch entire episodes. But now, the franchise is so plagued with contradictions that to update it would be impossible and if Simon and Schuster could not be bothered updating it properly when the series was at the peak of its popularity, it is hard to imagine them doing it now much better.

A good idea, well executed but poorly updated, the The Star Trek Encyclopedia is now a glossy paperweight for a universe that was once cleverly conceived and constructed.

For other Star Trek or fictional universe reference materials, please check out my reviews of:
The Klingon Dictionary
Where No Man Has Gone Before: A History In Pictures
The Essential Wonder Woman Encyclopedia


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

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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