Monday, 25 April 2016

Explaining the Universe in The Star Trek Book

DK Books' last Star Trek offering was the much thinner and much more high level overview of the Visual Dictionary.   

I have to admit that I waited a long time to get hold of this time because it was aimed at a younger audience with a more introductory nature into the Star Trek universe. I did eventually renege when I snapped a copy up in The Works for a couple of quid about 18 months ago which I did feel was more than value for money. So as you can immediately tell my expectation for this was set fairly low because I 'assumed' that DK would be, again, dumbing down the franchise but the arrival of The Star Trek Book a full month and a half ahead of its release date (thank you DK!!!) shocked me.   

Gone are the over-simplistically annotated pictures of crew, ships, equipment and aliens, gone is the childrens'-section-in-Waterstones A4 page size and budget large font text cut around even larger unnecessary images. OK, a bit harsh as it was more than likely aimed at very young fans however here we have a much more well thought out production that runs to - gasp - over 300 pages (about 260 pages more than the Visual Dictionary and shines a light on many more aspects of in-universe Star Trek from both the Prime and JJ timelines. This is a big step up and I think treats kids who are interested in Star Trek with a lot more respect. It's a proper book rather than a set of pictures.

Hardbacked with a command yellow shirt cover (JJ timeline since it has the ickle delta shields), even the presentation of this book from the outset is a huge step up from Paul Ruditis' Visual Dictionary. Split into distinctive sections of Starfleet, Federation Allies and Enemies, Science and Technology and New Life and Civilisations, Ruditis plus author Sandford Galden-Stone and Consultant Editor Simon Hugo have examined the key elements of the franchise to provide a reference manual that keeps the information simple and straight forward. It's not a technical manual, there's no technobabble and for any fan of any age this is actually a very cool, concise guide to the show. My only concern for it is that we will be seeing the revised, updated and significantly more in depth Encyclopedia hitting the shelves just four months later although it will be carrying a price that is over four times the cost of Ruditis and co's work and will probably have a very different target market.

So to the book itself and how it reads. For the most part it relies purely on televised material, relating back episodes and incidents from the franchise through the four main headlings. Each of the main cast from the five shows receives their own double page overview, each main ship gets the same and all of the major races have likewise. Be aware though that if you are looking for episode minutae and perhaps some more detail on The Masterpiece Society for example then you'll be very disappointed. The Star Trek Book is still top level on information although the amount provided is a full 75,000 light years ahead of it's thin predecessor.

What makes this stand out content wise is the choice to include quotes from the series as well as a key facts block to the left of each entry labelled as a Captain's Log. There are also new diagrams and timelines within each section to help align aspects of the show with their position in the universe relative to other series and people. I did have a minor shudder at a couple of bits though. Using a quarter of a page to show Mr Scott's way of estimating repairs did seem a waste of space and whoever proof read certainly missed the use of Morning Glory as a subtitle on one page. I guess some things translate a little differently this side of the Atlantic(?!).

Those new, bold infographics are probably The Star Trek Book's standout feature in that it remains in universe for the duration. Maybe the only thing I can note about the writing style is the choice to write each article as if events circa the end of Nemesis are current. It can get a little confusing as to exactly "where" the present tense should be starting.

Once you head past the character info and basics there is actually a great section hidden right at the back beyond the alien races, friends and foes and fairly well-known details on tech such as transports, phasers and tricorders. In the New Life and Civilisations section we have almost a second part to the history section that opens the book, offering some useful information on key events from the Star Trek timeline including the never-seen Romulan War, the first Borg encounter at Wolf 359 and the later Dominion War. Providing these elements is a cool way of pointing fans in the direction of significant points in the 50 year history that might well hook them in more or remind of important storylines (one of which there never happened on screen).

It is a much simpler way of looking at Star Trek and perhaps suited more to younger or inexperienced fans although for more knowledgeable it does fit into a nice "quick reference" area. Trouble is this does retread a lot of material that is already easily available elsewhere and with this being the 50th anniversary year it is going to be a very full market when it comes to literature on the subject.

Certainly the inclusion of the JJ or Kelvin Timeline as it's called here is a strong move to influence fans of the reboot movies to check out this new book. Some fans do still debate whether it's canon but adding the events from the 2009 and Into Darkness into the narrative are important and could help expose fans of those films to the wider - and arguably better - shows and movies.

I find myself at a bit of a crossroads with The Star Trek Book because even though I know a lot of the content and it's ingrained into my brain this is still a flippin' good book that is well presented, well written and has a good range of various different visual aids to help back up the text. My only fear is that we are walking a very familiar path once more and more annoyingly it will be out of date as soon as July 2016 comes along and Star Trek Beyond.

I do recommend this one but more for younger fans and newcomers to the series because of the top level information it provides. There are one or two small pointers to events that we never saw or have been eluded to over the years such as the Romulan War or the events that saw Khan escape Earth in 1996 but this does help keep the book confined to the "real" Star Trek universe and be an easy to access reference guide.

I came away from reading through The Star Trek Book  with a real mixed sense. It is well presented, well written and well researched however, for me as a more "seasoned" fan I was gagging for more depth and a lot more meat on the proverbial bone. My son (who is four) absolutely loved looking through it and having me read it to him and asked lots of questions about the content, who was who, which ship was that and could link bits together. He recognises Spock, Picard, the Enterprise (original, A, B, C, D or E actually) and lots more. For him as he grows up this will be a great book to get him into the series and help him understand what is going on. I wish there had been a book like this when I had been his age and perhaps a bit older!

The Star Trek Book is released in the UK on June 1 with its US release one week later. You can pre-order now.

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