In the latest print issue of Geek we excerpted an amazing new book about the original Star Trek series, and in fact printed so many Star Trek reviews and features that our publisher put us in Star Trek jail for 2014.
But as we all know, the web is a wild and lawless frontier where all men live free and by their own personal code, so I can still review all the Star Trek crap here if I want!
Jacobs-Brown previewed this book at the Vegas Convention last August before releasing volume one, which covers the creation of Gene Roddenberry’s original series and its entire first season in painstaking, fascinating detail, episode by episode. These Are the Voyages quickly became one of the most buzzed-about – and instantly controversial – Star Trek-related book since Leonard Nimoy’s I Am Not Spock. The buzz was understandable, as no book has ever gone into this much detail about the original series before, with Marc Cushman tracking down seemingly every memo, interview, article and incident accumulated over the past four decades and using them to weave a gripping narrative with Roddenberry at dead center.
The insight into how each first season story came into being is remarkable, and the book is particularly revelatory in the way it both examines Trek’s “Great Bird of the Galaxy,” Roddenberry, as both a highly fallible, sometimes infuriating human being, while rehabilitating his often battered reputation as the brains behind Kirk, Spock, the Enterprise and the universe of Star Trek. Cushman makes it clear that it was Roddenberry’s rewrites that both drove his fellow producers and writers on the series crazy, and at the same time salvaged what might have simply been a well-done anthology series by reinforcing the show’s indelible characters in those vital first handful of year one episodes, in effect creating Kirk, Spock and McCoy from the ground up.
Cushman also explodes the myth that Star Trek was a ratings disaster by examining never-before-publicized Neilsen ratings from 1966 and 1967, proving that Star Trek was in fact a solid ratings hit, and only Roddenberry’s ongoing feuds with NBC eventually led to the show’s cancellation.
As for the controversy, that stems from the publisher’s use of tons of behind the scenes photos obtained from film trims that were originally sold by Majel Barrett Roddenberry’s Lincoln Enterprises. These outtakes aren’t owned by Paramount and various fans have collected them, studied them and in recent cases used computer software to scan and restore them to their original color and detail. One such collector, who is credited on most of the images, but apparently there are other collectors laying claim to the restoration work in a number of the images, and the result has been some hard-boiled vitriol and recriminations. It’s unfortunate, because the value of Cushman’s reporting is obvious and These Are the Voyages should not have been anything but a huge gift to fans hungry to learn the secrets of the series that established the entire Star Trek franchise.
There’s also been kvetching about typos and errors in the first edition of the book, some of which were attributable to a couple of factors. One was that Cushman, undergoing some serious health problems, worked with his publisher to get the first volume of the book out in record time after six years worth of fact-gathering. That meant bypassing working with Pocket Books, Trek’s official publishing house, and even foregoing work with another publisher that wasn’t moving fast enough for Cushman’s purposes. Jacobs-Brown is quite a modest imprint, and there’s even talk on Trek bulletin boards that the book is self-published. I don’t know if that’s the case, but if it is, Cushman has poured an unbelievable amount of money into getting this work into the fans of hands. As a money-MAKING scheme goes, he’s no Bernie Madoff.
Now Jacobs-Brown has produced a revised edition and that has kicked up even more dust. Collectors hate double dipping, and some fans are outraged that they have to re-purchase the book to get the 80-pages plus of new material so soon after the original’s release, including a new interview with Leonard Nimoy (who contacted Cushman after reading These Are the Voyages himself to offer his time, one of the things that kicked off the revised edition). My understanding is that Jacobs-Brown is offering a make good to anyone who bought the original edition.
I actually spent three hours with Cushman early last year (I’ve also had several conversations with J.J. Abrams, so Trekkies, I’m your worst nightmare apparently), and my impression is that this book series is nothing less than a labor of love and in fact the guy’s life’s work in a way. Were rules bent and fans screwed over to put out these books? I don’t know and I don’t care. This is one weird case where I will happily declare that the ends justify the means and if Cushman had to personally rob my house to get what he needed for These Are the Voyages, I’d still be happy with the result.
I’ve already learned more about Star Trek from volume one than I did from all the previous books on the series I’ve read combined. And yes, the new edition does still have a few errors in it, although overall it reads much cleaner than the first edition. Cushman has wrangled such a mind-boggling total tonnage of information here that I can easily dismiss some of the obvious glitches and move on to the rewards.
Obviously if you’re interested in the book, seek out the revised edition, although the original may become a collector’s item some day. “Trekker” lore has never been more fascinating.
Images: Paramount, NBC, Jacobs-Brown