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Book Review: Star Trek FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the First Voyages of the Starship Enterprise by Mark Clark

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Just for kicks, I typed in “Star Trek” on Amazon Books, and came up with an astonishing 18,061 titles. The cultural impact of Trek is unprecedented, and just continues to grow. So when I picked up the new Star Trek FAQ by Mark Clark, I wondered just what he could possibly add to the massive amount of literature already available on the subject. As it turns out, turning up hitherto bits of minutiae for the edification of “Those who go to the grocery store wearing Vulcan ears and a Starfleet uniform” was not his goal. The Star Trek FAQ is meant for the rest of us.

As Clark explains in his Introduction, the book is “Primarily a historical account, with some analysis and criticism to provide perspective.” As such, he has done an excellent job of condensing many of the various elements of the original Star Trek series into one easily digested volume.

Just to be clear, the Star Trek FAQ concentrates solely on the first series, which ran for three seasons on the NBC network from 1966 to 1969. As even the most casual Trek fan knows, (Clark studiously avoids the terms “Trekkie” or “Trekker”), the show did not fare well during its original prime time run. Where it really caught on was in syndication during the ’70s. But this was just one of the many “second chances” Star Trek was blessed with.

The pilot episode was “The Cage,” and featured (with two exceptions) a completely different cast. The Enterprise was helmed by Captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter), and the first officer was “Number One,” a female, portrayed by Majel Barrett. The Vulcan Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is present as second lieutenant, but his role is vastly diminished in comparison to what would follow. NBC initially passed, but creator Gene Roddenberry–“The Great Bird of the Galaxy” as Clark refers to him–was so persuasive that the network green-lit an unprecedented second pilot. Out of a pile of possible scripts, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” was selected, and the brass were pleased enough with the results to give the go-ahead to the series.

The rest might be history, but there were trials and “tribble-ations” aplenty ahead for the cast and crew. For all the peace, love, and understanding that the Star Trek world of the future was meant to represent, there was a lot of strife on the set. Apparently Captain Kirk (William Shatner) was none too popular with any of the cast, and there was a great deal of network interference with the series. It seems that the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself was the main offender in regards to rewriting scripts, however. One piece of the Star Trek puzzle that I had never previously considered, but makes perfect sense in retrospect, was how influential Majel Barrett was. She was Roddenberry’s closest confidant (they wed in 1969), and apparently had an enormous amount of impact on the show.

“History” is indeed the watchword here, as the author delves into the pre-Trek careers of all of the major players. Having read a number of the books in the FAQ series, one aspect of them that I particularly enjoy is the format. The design of the books almost encourages the reader to skip around to various topics of interest. For example, who could resist the chapter titled “Private Little Wars: Rivalries and Feuds,” or “Operation Annihilate!: Shows That Beat Star Trek in the Nielsen Ratings”?

The shows that did beat Trek? Get ready to laugh (or cry). In the first season (1966-67) Star Trek regularly lost out to My Three Sons and Bewitched. During the second season (1967-68) audiences preferred the shenanigans of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. to those of James T. Kirk. And in the third and final season (1968-69), a program called Judd for the Defense won out.

My personal favorite section of the book is “That Which Survives: Star Trek in the 1970s.” In this portion, Clark discusses the amazing success of the show as a syndicated property. He also details the life of the little-known animated series, which produced 22 half-hour programs and ran for two seasons, from 1973 to 1974. The chapter “Five Year Mission: The Long Voyage Back, 1975-79” is not to be missed either.

Rounding out this 414-page compendium of Trek FAQ’s are brief descriptions of all 79 original episodes, famous Star Trek quotes, discussions of memorable guest stars and parodies, and much more. For the casual fan, this Star Trek FAQ hits the mark as a distillation of the vast amount of information available regarding the original series. The book concludes in 1978, with the announcement of the first feature film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In the Introduction, the author informs us that the sequel Star Trek FAQ 2.0 will be coming in 2013. In it, he will explore the films and television shows such as The Next Generation which followed the original.

I am looking forward to it, but am quite happy for now to learn all about the early years of this most “fascinating” (to use Spock’s favorite term) television series.

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