#72 = Volume 24, Part 2 = July 1997
Introducing Star Trek
There is a scene in Arthur C. Clarke's most recent novel, 3001: The Final Odyssey
(NY: Ballantine, 1997), in which a character resuscitated after one thousand years of
virtual death is eased into his new world, in part, by watching episodes from the various Star
Trek series. Later, one of the characters from the third millennium, explaining a
mode of apparently impossible travel, jokingly adds: "No--we don't have a Star
Trek transporter yet--though I believe they're still working on it!" (59). Will
people still be familiar enough with Star Trek to make jokes about it a thousand
years from now? And would this be a good thing or a bad thing? It's a sure thing that just
about every single one of Clarke's readers in the present will get his affectionate
references to this extraordinarily popular and long-lived science-fictional phenomenon
(really, it's hard to know how to refer to it by now).
The multiplexity of what Star Trek has become is suggested in the range of
topics covered in the four essays and three reviews (and one note) which we include in
this issue of SFS (although we don't make any claims to exhausting the wide range of
possibilities for critical debate on the subject[s]). While we've published occasional
individual articles on Star Trek over the years, this is the first time, thanks
to our contributors, that we've had the opportunity to look at it in some detail. After
thirty years of being "on," Star Trek and its various reincarnations
now dominate the popular imagination of science fiction; even more significantly, it's
probable that Star Trek dominates most popular Western versions of the future
itself. This being so, it's worth asking how the original series and its three spin-off
series, eight films (with a ninth in pre-production), innumerable "original"
novelizations, toys, fan conventions, etc., etc., have attracted such public allegiance.
And it would be foolish to assume, after three decades, that Star Trek hasn't
earned this allegiance. The essays published here suggest, in the attention they feel is
due to the Star Trek universe, that that universe is too complex to be dismissed
as simply a dumbed-down sci-fi version of the future. The utopian nature of the Star
Trek enterprise has often been recognized, as has its willingness to take on, in the
guise of space-opera adventure, complex issues of race, gender, and other identity
politics. The fact that more often than not Star Trek fails to live up to its
utopian potential is an inevitable result of its status as commercial commodity. But its
failures are usually interesting ones, and they help us to understand something of the
contemporary future-oriented utopian imagination within the framework of late capitalism.
This is why Star Trek is both sf and sci-fi. In the following pages, Daniel
Bernardi looks at the some of the ways in which issues of race are treated in the original
Star Trek series. His analysis develops within the context of the
liberal-humanist agenda of the series' producers, and in particular, the series' attempts
to enact what creator Gene Roddenberry called "infinite diversity in infinite
combinations." Lee Heller's (re)reading of some patterns of romantic heterosexual
desire and its ongoing frustrations in Star Trek: The Next Generation includes a
close look at several paradigmatic episodes for the ways in which perceived gender
differences are constructed as insurmountable. Heller situates her essay within two
conceptual frameworks: current popular discourses on romantic love and the back-to-
basic-gender-roles pressures of a neo-con post-feminist present. Our third essay is by
Anne Cranny-Francis, who demonstrates one productive way to map an area of the Star
Trek universe--the "original" novelization--which has usually been passed
over in critical silence. She reads several of Jean Lorrah's popular Star Trek
novels from the perspective of the development of fan writing into commercial writing;
Lorrah's novels, she argues, contain their own challenge to mainstream notions about
personal and family dynamics and relationships.
We hope that you enjoy these critical excursions into the Star Trek universe.
And, of course, that you live long and prosper. Make it so.
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