Review–Heavy reading: “Star Trek The Next Generation 365”

Review by C.J. Bunce

In the brilliant photographic spectacular Earth from Above: 365 Daysfirst published in 2001, readers were introduced to a new book format, the five pound, strangely formatted 6.5 x 9.7 x 2.1 inch door stop/exercise weight/blunt weapon-capable book, which, at nearly 800 pages was packed full of highly quality images of the Earth.  And the key to the “365” in the title was that it followed events around the Earth through photographs by author/photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand, for a full year.  Harry Abrams publishing has since latched onto the concept with gusto and published an endless volume of books in the oblong and thick format, and, inexplicably, they usually don’t cover 365 days of anything.  Why?  Who can tell?  Examples are subject matter surveys that span multiple years of coverage, despite the 365 in the title, such as The Rolling Stones: 365 Days, World War II: 365 Days, The Wild West: 365 Days, Golf Courses of the World: 365 Days, even Wisdom: 365 Thoughts from Indian Masters, Grateful Dead: 365, and how about Punk 365 and Graffiti 365So you have to put aside any thoughts you may have of a “page a day for a year calendar book” and either like–or not–the format of the coffee table book that may just break your coffee table.

In 2010 Paula M. Block and D.C. Fontana brought us Star Trek: The Original Series 365, and this week Abrams released the follow-up edition, Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, this time by Block with Terry J. Erdmann.  Both Block and husband Erdmann have put out some quality Star Trek non-fiction before, including Star Trek Deep Space Nine Companion and The Secrets of Star Trek: Insurrection.  Will diehard Star Trek fans go for this new work?

First of all, this is a fun book and if you don’t have access to past Star Trek books published this may meet your need as a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Some parts of the book are exactly what you do want–many comments and anecdotes from Star Trek’s writing department and key art and design team, including Ira Steven Behr, Brannon Braga, Dan Curry, Rene Echevarria, Ronald D. Moore, Mike Okuda, Michael Piller, Andrew Probert, Rick Sternbach and some of the cast members.  Block and Erdmann really give insight into the conflicts the writers had with each other and the rest of the production, and so much of this is included in the text snippets that they could almost make their own separate book or soap opera.

Other bits I found fun for my own personal interests.  The highlights of the book for me are:

  • a reference photo from an alternate ending to the episode “The Perfect Mate” where Picard rescues Kamala at the end
  • a photo of the original actor who played Kivas Fajo but never finished filming (David Rappaport), in full costume and make-up from the episode “The Most Toys” (something I have searched for for years)
  • comments from Jonathan Frakes about working his way up to becoming a director
  • images of original Robert Blackman costume concept sketches, including Deanna Troi’s signature cranberry outfit
  • a story about designer Mike Okuda almost being selected as Data’s creator, Dr. Soong
  • all of the discussions about Michael Piller–one of the best TV writer/producers in the history of TV
  • the fact that so many show writers hated the Romulan costumes–the species in Next Generation with probably the most stylish uniforms
  • a hilarious and embarrassing story about Gene Roddenberry meeting B’Etor, one of the Klingon Duras sisters (Gwyneth Walsh)
  • Ira Steven Behr kept the actual Tox Uthat from “Captain’s Holiday” and Michael Piller took home the Roger Maris baseball card from “The Most Toys”

I just wish there was more in the book like the above items.

The faults in this book probably rest with the publication design process and shouldn’t be attributed to the writer/editors.  This book is marketed as “the definitive guide to all 178 episodes,” which is just untrue.  While working for Trek licensing Block helped get such a book on the shelves and this new work is not what a typical reader would expect for an episode guide.  There have been definitive episode guides released previously and they do exactly what a definitive episode guide should do–detail every episode, include on-air dates, discuss each guest actor and character, among other things.  We’ve previously recommended prior Star Trek: The Next Generation non-fiction works here that surpass this new work.  The Star Trek The Next Generation Companion: Revised Edition, by Larry Nemecek is the only comprehensive look at all Star Trek: The Next Generation seasons and movies through Star Trek: Nemesis.  The other source for all things Star Trek: The Next Generation is The Continuing Mission, by another husband and wife Trek writing team, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens.  It really is THE best sourcebook for all things Next Generation.  That said, if that “definitive guide” marketing phrase hadn’t been used, readers would have no expectation of “the” definitive episode guide, and it could be reviewed for what it is.  It’s an marketing error that may mislead readers.

Photo from Star Trek The Next Generation 365 from CBS and Abrams books.

Is the content rare and new?  Diehard Trek fans, whether they go by Trekker or Trekkie or plain Trek fanatic, probably have seen most of Star Trek: The Next Generation 365 before.  So this may appeal to more of the passing Trek fan, or someone new to Next Generation who cannot get access to all the great out of print Trek reference books on the market.  The greatest fault of this book is the heavy reliance on low quality screenshots for episodes of Next Generation that did not happen to have a photographer on-hand during filming of the scenes the authors wanted to emphasize.  Most Trek fans know about, where you can view at no cost and at any time, every scene of every Star Trek franchise series episode and movie, many in high definition.  It’s that photo quality that is missing in Star Trek: The Next Generation 365 and makes this book just a bit frustrating.  Where the book uses images from its photo files, they have clearly had to increase the size of probably physical prints from perhaps 4X6 format to this 6.3 X 9.2 inch format.  The result is many blurred images and in a world where we can do so much better with quality printing–when these are exactly the kind of images diehard fans want to gawk at for details in the background–the miss here is pretty big.  Clearer photos in the book come from sources like the Christie’s Star Trek auction from 2006, including a copy of the image from that catalog of the famous $40,000 (non-playable) Ressikan flute, but again, the diehard fan already has that resource on his/her bookshelf.

So along with the photo image quality issues, the format itself doesn’t really help.  Each of the numbers 1 through 365 get a double-page spread, with text on the left page and a full edge-bleed photo or collage of photos on the right page.  The two above-referenced earlier Next Generation works were in a standard book format, which allowed for multiple images per page as well as room for more fleshed-out text.  On some of the episode reviews we get hardly any summary and much unused black space.  In coverage of other episodes we see multiple double-page spreads.  When there is a photo on the left-side page, it is often near the spine crease and is about 1.5 X 2 inches–too small to be able to appreciate and hard to see unless you bend the book backward.  I also think the choice of photos is often redundant–too many photos of the episode’s scene being filmed with a camera man hanging nearby.  Yes, this is probably a rare photo and yes it is behind the scenes, but how about more photos of props?  And not enough candid or close-up photos of aliens of the week and guest stars are included.  Readers of Star Trek’s monthly magazine see better photos there from the same source of photos, unique shots in each new issue’s behind the scenes section.  You might find yourself asking: Is this really all that was available for the book?

Stewart and Sirtis in STTNG 365 from CBS and Abrams

So the key dilemma with Star Trek: The Next Generation 365 is just missed opportunity.  It’s not often Star Trek non-fiction reference works are published (it’s been 15 years since the last Next Generation non-fiction book, for example), so when they are published you want to see something new and this volume is so great in size and potential it could have been chock full of so much more.  There is some new content here, no doubt, and most of it interesting.  But you have to wonder if someone is either holding back photos and materials, or we really now have seen the last of the new.  As Next Generation reference works go, I bet this is the last we see for a while, so fans just must savor what bits they can get.  The authors’ Facebook page for the book actually has some good additions, like good photos that did not make the cut, so maybe that is the Trek fans’ next source for undiscovered Trek materials.  I’m still hoping that the powers that be put together a Star Trek Enterprise TV series reference work next–something that has yet to be done, unlike with all the other Trek series.

If you’re a fan of the 365-series, four to five-pound brick book format, there’s more coming soon for sci-fi fans.  Check out Creating the Worlds of Star Wars: 365 Days, coming November 1, 2012.

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