Sunday, June 26, 2016

Book Review: The Fifty-Year Mission: The First 25 Years

The publishers sent me an ARC of this book in exchange for a fair review.

I've read pretty much everything that's ever been published about the making of Star Trek and I've been to many conventions and heard all the stories a hundred times so I was skeptical that this book would reveal anything new. I'm so glad I read it!

I expected a straightforward, narrative history of the franchise because I missed the words "Oral History" in the subtitle. After some brief introductions by the authors and Seth MacFarlane, this book is laid out in brief statements by those involved in the history of Star Trek. Innumerable interviews with cast, crew and critics come together to form a unique and wonderful history of the franchise.

At first, the format threw me off but I quickly became engaged in the story. Each segment is thoughtfully chosen to add a new piece to the puzzle. After a few pages I found it nearly impossible to put down and I spent the entire day with the book until I had finished it.  It left me wanting more and gave me a keen desire to pop in some Trek movies on Blu-ray!

It's true that I didn't learn much of anything new about the original series -- but there were some tidbits! Interviews with Gene L. Coon's secretary were especially revealing.  For me, where the history became really interesting was in the 1970s. This book does a great job of uncovering the history of the early Star Trek conventions and fanzines. It also provides a cohesive and logical account of the confusing period leading to The Motion Picture.

The latter half of the 1970s and the road through Phase II to TMP have always been sort of muddled but Altman and Gross do a wonderful job of clearing up the timeline and making clear the motivations of Paramount in bring Star Trek back.

From there, the journey through the remaining TOS films is fairly quick but you get a very solid picture of the events and the major players involved.  We read quite a bit from Walter Koenig and a bit from James Doohan but very little from George Takei and Nichelle Nichols. Perhaps this is because Nichols and Takei have already told their own stories fairly comprehensively in their own memoirs.

The book doesn't really tell the whole story of the first 25 years of Trek. The Next Generation is barely mentioned in passing. Instead, the authors have devoted this first volume to the original series and its films. I expect the second volume will tackle TNG from the beginning.

I recommend this book highly and cannot wait to read the second volume!  I expect this will become the definitive account of Trek's history. It should be required reading for those who are interested in in the production history of the franchise.

This first volume is available for sale on Tuesday and the second will be released in the Fall.

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