Science Fiction Studies

#72 = Volume 24, Part 2 = July 1997

Veronica Hollinger

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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