Science Fiction Studies


#72 = Volume 24, Part 2 = July 1997

Forgotten Zones.

Taylor Harrison, Sarah Projansky, Kent A. Ono, and Elyce Rae Helford, eds. Enterprise Zones: Critical Positions on Star Trek. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996. 313pp. $69.00 cloth, $16.50 paper.

The original Star Trek (ST) lasted only three seasons (1967-1969) but, like the real space-time big bang, spawned an ever-expanding fiction-time of texts and intertexts. Not only did ST live long and prosper in syndication, but it begot a cartoon series and three prime-time spin-offs: The Next Generation (TNG), which rated among the top syndicated programs for most of its seven- year run, Deep Space Nine (DS9), now in its fifth season, and Voyager (VOY), now in its third. There have been eight feature films to date, six with the original cast and two with the cast of TNG. This bold expansion knows no boundaries, as there seems to be an endless array of Star Trek toys, comic books, novelizations, compendiums, biographies, autobiographies, and fanzines, to name only a few of the cultural commodities available on the market today. One of the reasons for this sweeping proliferation is that Star Trek has, with varying degrees of success and self-consciousness, consistently engaged contemporaneous issues such as the Cold War, racism, and gender politics in constructing a universe of strange yet familiar aliens which American audiences can understand and with whom they can identify. The editors of Enterprise Zones: Critical Positions on Star Trek aptly see this otherwise conscientious trek as an important, indeed critical, "text" of American popular culture. Their goal: "to critically address the complex representational nature and emblematic status of Star Trek in order to interrogate and challenge the ethical system Star Trek produces" (2).

The most successful aspect of this first critical anthology on Star Trek is its critique of how the science-fiction series "promises so much to so many" (1). Analyzing and challenging such diverse features of the series as Starfleet Command and the Prime Directive, the Vulcan mind meld and Klingon discommendation, not to mention General Chang and his little ponytail, the contributors to Enterprise Zones offer telling insights into the ways in which Star Trek represents masculinity and femininity, colonialism and miscegenation, desire and homoeroticism. In the process, they deal with the ideology of biological determinism, the politics of assimilation, the hegemony of the Trilateral Commission, the sexuality of characters, and the metaphor of species.

In particular, Rhonda Wilcox's contribution, "Dating Data: Miscegenation in Star Trek: The Next Generation," offers a compelling argument, marshaled with a solid understanding of the spin-off series, about how the representation of Data, the "whiter than white" android who wishes he were human, speaks to the experience of the Other in general and African-Americans in particular. Also of note is Sarah Projansky's contribution, "When the Body Speaks: Deanna Troi's Tenuous Authority and the Rationalization of Federation Superiority in Star Trek: The Next Generation Rape Narratives," which argues that rape narratives in the spin-off (and there are many) provide "an opportunity to articulate support for feminist ideals like `consent' and `choice' while simultaneously separating those ideals from women per se and using them as marks of human(oid) fights that often justify government intervention" (460). Whether addressing race or gender, geopolitics or sexuality, this anthology offers the reader a compelling critique of Star Trek's often contradictory attempts to offer something to everyone.

There are several oversights that distract from Enterprise Zones' contribution to the study of Star Trek, however, including the fact that it is more about TNG than the entirety of the Star Trek "enterprise," as the book's title seems to suggest. Indeed, of the twelve articles included in the anthology, only two deal with ST, one of which also analyzes the first six films, and another one that deals with the 1991 film, The Undiscovered Country. And these three articles each tend to focus on masculine sexuality, leaving the anthology without a critique of other important and often troubling aspects of these complex and polysemic texts. Thus, not only is the multifaceted nature of both ST and the feature films undeveloped, but there is no discussion of the cartoon series, DS9, the hundreds of comics and novels, other spin-off commodities like toys, or, for that matter, fanzines. The editors account for the anthology's focus on TNG when they write: "One could argue that much of the material collected here represents the first attempts at mature commentary on TNG, the most recent part of Star Trek to move from regular, frequent production to the realm of popular, which is to say, fannish memory" (3). Yet this acknowledgment is problematic, in that it sidesteps the dialogical relationship fans have with the series as a whole (besides, VOY, DS9, and many of the films are more recent productions that have moved into "fannish memory"). Which is to say that, while TNG is popular, fans jump from series to series, from television episode to film to novelization to television episode in expressing their criticisms and participating in the significance of the various storylines. Indeed, "fannish memory," a nebulous concept which I nonetheless take to be reflected in fan activity, can best be described as "cross-over," or as Henry Jenkins describes it in Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture (NY: Routledge, 1992), "nomadic" (36-44). In short, the anthology's overwhelming emphasis on TNG, and thus its lack of interest in other aspects of Star Trek, cannot be justified by the popularity of the series, recent though it may be, among the fans.

Enterprise Zones also fails to address key aspects of the production and reception of Star Trek. To begin with, there is not one meaningful contribution that rigorously addresses the political economy of the science-fiction series. As such, there is little or no discussion of the production history of TNG, the process and impact of its syndication contracts, how it was marketed, how it was positioned in the programming schedule, the commercials that it sponsored, or the authorial and institutional ideologies informing its making. Moreover, while the editors write in their introduction that they're "interested in the connections between audiences and texts" (5, editors' emphasis), not one contribution actually analyzes a Star Trek audience (unless you count the articles that employ psychoanalysis to theorize the spectator/text relationship). In terms of fandom, clearly one of the most interesting "zones" of Star Trek, readers will have to rely on an addendum interview with Henry Jenkins that is more a defense of his method than anything else. While these oversights are perhaps due to the lack of interest among critical studies scholars in working out such problems, they undermine an anthology that advertises itself as addressing the "enterprise zones" of Star Trek.

A final concern that is perhaps also explained by the trends and interests (or lack thereof) of critical studies scholarship is that many of the contributors spend more time proving and rehearsing theory, particularly psychoanalysis and postmodernism, than uncovering and deconstructing texts. At times these rehearsals seem almost trite, such as when Ilsa Bick, in "Boys in Space: Star Trek, Latency, and the Neverending Story," writes about the U.S. Enterprise and its crew: "Wandering the cosmos, a great black void, can be metaphorically taken as synonymous with the wanderings in the womb" (196). At other times the reader must wade through seemingly obsessive diatribes on critical theory before getting to an analysis of the texts in question. This is particularly the case with Evan Haffner's piece, "Enjoyment (in) Between Father: General Chang as Homoerotic Enablement in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country," which, despite eventually offering an interesting read of the sixth feature film, spends too long on the limitations of "master narratives" and, ironically, the importance of postmodern theory. As I noted above, this last criticism applies as much to trends in critical studies as it does to Haffner's contribution or to the anthology as a whole, but, nonetheless, I for one am bored with the same old approach in article and book after article and book that tells us about what we're supposed to do and how we're supposed to do it, rather than simply going ahead and doing it.

In sum, Enterprise Zones offers compelling insights into the complex and contradictory articulations of race, gender, and sexuality in TNG. However, the anthology falls short of addressing the complexity of the Star Trek enterprise as a whole or, for that matter, the multifaceted processes involved in the making and reception of TNG. While the book offers us many specific and detailed criticisms into this ever-expanding American text, readers who are interested in a more comprehensive and well-rounded study of Star Trek will have to go elsewhere. Fortunately, while there is still much cultural-studies work to be done on Star Trek, the editors have included a useful bibliography.

--Daniel Bernardi, UCLA.

The Music of the Star Trek Spheres.

Jeff Berkwits, publisher and editor. Asterism: The Journal of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Space Music #6 (Winter 1997). P.O. Box 6210, Evanston, IL 60204. <> 28pp. $2.00.

Our November 1996 issue (SFS #70) drew attention to a new fanzine devoted to fantastic music. The latest issue of Asterism focuses on Trek-related matters and might be of interest to readers of this particular issue of SFS. In his editorial introduction to this special issue, Berkwits suggests that, just as Star Trek has influenced our visions of the future, so "the music that has accompanied each incarnation has also affected how we hear the future" (1). The key feature in this special issue is a series of interviews with Alexander Courage, Dennis McCarthy, Jay Chattaway, and Ron Jones, the composers who are collectively responsible for the soundtracks to over 350 various Star Trek episodes. The interview with Chattaway, who wrote most of the scores for Star Trek: Voyager, fills us in on the many and varied cultural influences which have colored his music. Alexander Courage is the composer responsible for the by-now very familiar theme music to the original TV series: "I wanted the musical equivalent of going out, out, out into space" (6). Like Chattaway, Courage has worked on a range of television series, including Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, and Land of the Giants. Ron Jones's interview calls attention to the conservative tendencies of television producers. As he puts it, "like fighting the Borg, resistance was futile. For me the Borg really became an analogy for Paramount" (16). Jones's latest project is Emotif University, an Internet-based school that teaches film-scoring techniques. Like Jones, Dennis McCarthy discusses the reluctance of the Star Trek producers to try much innovation in their program scores. McCarthy wrote the original opening theme for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, as well as the later arrangement introduced in the show's fourth season.

In addition to these interviews, Asterism #6 also contains reviews of The Best of Star Trek: 30th Anniversary Special CD; Jerry and Joel Goldsmith's soundtrack to Star Trek: First Contact; Mark Snow's The Truth and the Light: Music From The X-Files; Tangerine Dream's latest offering, Goblin's Club; the soundtrack to The Island of Dr. Moreau; and a collection of soundtrack selections from cult TV shows appropriately titled The Cult Files. There are also notes and references to a wide range of off-beat and unexpected musical (and related) material, such as Ursula K. Le Guin and Elinor Armer's Uses of Music in Uttermost Parts; Entropia's cyber-rock opera, Beyond the Shadowline; and Yvonne Navarro's novel, Aliens: Music of the Spears.

Asterism is the only game of its kind in town. You'll know if it's for you.


The Klingon Language.  

Captain Krankor. The Grammarian's Desk. Klingon Language Institute (P.O. Box 634, Flourtown, PA 19031), 1996. 91pp. Paper, $11.00 + $1,00 S&H.

A few years ago a New Yorker cartoon showed simply a picture of an ashtray, with that humble ceramic object bearing the title "Star Trek: The Ashtray." Although the cartoon pokes fun at the world of spin-offs, these ancillaries illustrate something more than the enormous range of human interest or gullibility. Many of the secondary products are simply attempts to make a dollar while a craze lasts, and hopeful merchandisers each year prepare the hats, the lunch-pails, and the T-shirts with that hope. That some of these products have attempted to mine the Star Trek lode is evidenced by everything from the movies to the conventions to the Star Trek Technical Manual to the Star Trek computer keyboard, mouse, and cup-holder. It is one thing to collect objects that already exist, be they Barbie dolls or Elvis plates, but when you have to first create the stuff you want to collect, that effort shows a dedication that takes the enterprise out of the realm of the commercial and into the realm of, well, passion.

The Grammarian's Desk, a labor of love for those fascinated by the Klingon language, is on this more rarified plane. To explain exactly what it is, we have to begin with the Klingon Language Institute, a fan organization begun in 1992 and chartered as a nonprofit corporation in the state of Pennsylvania in 1993. Its purpose was to promote the study of the Klingon language and to provide some central location for people with the same passion to share their work; its present director is Dr Lawrence M. Schoen, to whom Captain Krankor dedicates The Grammarian's Desk. The founding members (who seem like persons with academic interests whatever their real-world occupations) started a quarterly journal, HolQeD, to provide a home for writing on, about, and in Klingon. HolQeD is not a newsletter but a journal with the full range of academic machinery--it has peer review of submissions, and its contents are indexed by the Modern Language Association. One of its regular features is a column dealing with the complexities of the language, and The Grammarian's Desk is a compilation of those columns.

Someone interested in learning how to speak Klingon will not begin with The Grammarian's Desk: it is not a step-by-step introduction to the language, but instead has fourteen sections, each dealing with a particular topics. Most of them discuss points of grammar, such as sentence negation in Klingon, but one of the columns recounts events from the first convention of those interested in learning and speaking the language, and two others discuss a book (listed below) by Marc Okrand, the principal inventor of Klingon. No, The Grammarian's Desk is more for the adept, who can appreciate the problems raised and sometimes solved in its pages.

The serious student of the warrior's tongue will want to start with the webpage maintained by Schoen as part of the KLI: Listed there is an astonishing variety of material on (and in) the fictional tongue, beginning with Okran's The Klingon Dictionary: The One True Way to Study Klingon, also available from the publisher, Simon & Schuster (ISBN 0-671- 74559-X). Okrand followed his dictionary with The Klingon Way: A Warrior's Guide (ISBN: 0-671-53755-5), according to KLI, sometimes called "The Klingon Book of Virtue.... A very useful book for someone who wants to be current with Klingon sayings."

With the dictionary at hand, you may want to register for the Institute's eleven-lesson course by mail, or if you think that the language lab is the better way to learn Klingon, KLI can help with three audio tapes, Conversational Klingon, Power Klingon, and The Klingon Way. If you'd care to spend a bit more, around $50, you can purchase the Star Trek Klingon CD-ROM from Simon & Schuster Interactive. On the CD you can not only hear Klingon spoken, but with voice-recognition software built in, you can practice and improve your pronunciation (assuming you have the appropriate hardware).

By this time you should be ready to take part in the discussions of the Institute yourself, perhaps to contribute some Klingon poetry or fiction to their occasional journal jatney, the second volume of which appeared in Winter 1996. Or if you've really become adept, to volunteer to help with one of their ongoing projects--for example, the translation of the Bible and the works of Shakespeare into Klingon (Hamlet is already done, Much Ado about Nothing and Macbeth are next).

To the aficionado, material like this is the breath of life, no matter how strange a pursuit it may seem to the outsider. Just as the popular interest in Elvish demonstrates the depth of verisimilitude provided by Tolkien's fantasies, this flowering of interest in Klingon shows the attraction of Star Trek's fictional universe. Although the plots, times, emphases, and actors have changed through the years and the different series, that secondary world has remained consistent: the place out there where you have to boldly go may well be the center of the true fan's delight and wonder. From the very first, the Klingons have been a large part of that universe, and their language is no less worthy an object of study than any other realm of the story-teller's art.

--Walter E. Meyers, NCSU Raleigh.

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