People in this world get awfully touchy about some truly odd things. Tell someone you don’t know what “42″ means, have utterly no idea about retconning, or simply couldn’t care about the significance of the character Bane in the Batman universe and they’re liable to go apoplectic (perhaps giving you a demonstration of a memorable moment between Bane and The Dark Knight).
While people are hugely protective of their various fields of study and hobbies, perhaps no where is this protectiveness seen quite so much as in science fiction. Look at Trekkie or Trekker (and don’t even get started on what the difference is, just be aware that there is one) and tell them that Luke Skywalker is head and shoulders better than Captain Kirk and you could wind up in the hospital. Tell a Star Wars fanboy (a term I use with nothing but the utmost love and affection) that Lando Calrissian isn’t fit to shine Wesley Crusher’s boots and you may bypass the hospital and head directly to the morgue.
That is where Matt Forbeck’s new book comes in. Forbeck has written a tome entitled Star Wars vs. Star Trek: Could the Empire Kick the Federation’s Ass? And Other Galaxy-Shaking Enigmas. As the title suggests, Forbeck’s intent with the book is to pit the two universes against each other and try to decide—not once and for all because the losing side would never accept defeat—which is better. While he is clearly incredibly knowledgeable about both universes, the book itself falls terribly flat.
There is a serious, almost scholarly, way that this question could be answered while still maintaining all the fun and enjoyment that devotees of each franchise expect. There is a way that the book could pick apart Star Wars and Star Trek piece by piece, matching up similar and different themes, characters, plots, devices, technology, etc. Once matched up, these various areas could be dissected in so that disciples of both universes could see where the other is coming from, learn something, and then see a logical conclusion drawn via the comparison.
Forbeck opts not to do this. Instead, he finds those overlapping segments (aliens, bad guys, weapons, culture, religion, government, etc.) and, after an all too brief factual account of each universe’s take, pits the two franchises against each other in a fictionalized—and generally all too silly—battle.
As an example, in chapter three’s look at aliens, Forbeck has Admiral Ackbar fight Locutus of Borg. Both characters are given a couple of short paragraphs describing their history/appearance in their various universes and then the battle takes place. In this case, Admiral Ackbar picks up a distress signal but before he can respond, a Borg cube carrying Locutus appears and… well, you’re going to have to read the book yourself, but I promise you that Locutus gets to say “resistance is futile” and Ackbar gets to yell “it’s a trap!”
After each battle a winner and a loser is declared and the book keeps track of which side has won how many battles in order to help determine the overall winning franchise. Of course, as Forbeck has set the ground rules for the battles, chosen their time, their place, and at what point in their history each character is, he has been able to have the entire thing tilt in whatever direction he desires. Beyond that, while the characters’ actions may fit their overall personalities during the battles, any fan of a losing character will easily be able to pick apart every single element of the fight to show why it never would never happen they way Forbeck wrote it.
Some of what occurs in the book feels like little more than pandering to the various fanbases (we’re reminded that Han shot first, Wesley Crusher states Wheaton’s Law, etc.), but that isn’t why this book fails to be as compelling as it ought to be. Forbeck knows his stuff, but rather than constructing a real argument and reaching an actual conclusion, opts to provide a few salient points here and there, often in paragraphs at the end of chapters, but would rather spend time conceiving of these mock fights. Unfortunately, it is not the battles he stages for characters which are of interest here, it is his vast knowledge about the characters which allows him to put them into such battles, but that knowledge takes a backseat all too regularly.
Chapter 18, “Fortune and Glory: What all Adventurers Seek” is really probably much more like what the book as a whole should have been. Here Forbeck delves into box office take, critical acclaim, videogames, societal influence, and fans. He manages to keep the same format going, but rather than creating fake battles examines the areas head to head in a non-fictionalized way. This chapter makes for a fantastic read and is the start of a book I with which I would love to spend a whole lot more time.
I am not really suggesting that Forbeck’s book ought to be ignored by everyone, just that it veers too closely to fan fiction but still feels as though it is trying to be more of an analytical piece. No one should head into Star Wars vs. Star Trek expecting to find a serious (or even semi-serious) examination of the topic, instead it is more a series of short-story crossovers. People who have always wanted to see Star Wars and Star Trek characters interact will probably find a whole lot to like here, but unless you’re a true devotee of both franchises the book will not prove all that enjoyable.