Star Trek: The Complete Unauthorized History review: Boldly dishing the dirt
Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was a borderline alcoholic, a serial adulterer, a passive-aggressive control freak and a credit-hogger who exploited his co-workers. Those are just a few of the assertions casually made in the course of this concise history of the franchise.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, author Robert Greenberger takes full advantage of the fact that this is an unauthorised book. Whereas official histories will smooth away the rough edges, he actively goes sniffing around for conflict. Watch a Next Gen season one Blu-ray documentary and you might hear quiet rumblings of behind-the-scenes discontent; Greenberger, meanwhile, details exactly which people were complaining to the Writers Guild, and concludes that the series was, in its first year, widely known to be a “toxic production”.
Not that this is some scurrilous tabloid hack job. It’s well-researched and well-informed (Greenberger has written numerous Star Trek novels, and in the '80s edited DC’s Trek comics) – although it is very reliant on previously published material (the only newly conducted interview appears to be one with Enterprise showrunner Manny Coto). It’s just that the author tends to seek out the more colourful or hidden facts. Sometimes that means geeky trivia; sometime it means juicy gossip - and he isn’t under any pressure from above not to tarnish The Great Bird Of The Galaxy’s halo. He’s also more interested than an “official” historian might be in fandom – as you might expect, given that he was there at the very first Star Trek convention in 1972.
Sadly, while the book’s unofficial status makes it unusually spicy and opinionated, it’s also the cause of its Achilles heel: imagery. Unable to make use of Paramount publicity shots, it resorts to cheesy press poses, blurry convention snaps and, most of all, photos of merchandise. A few of these images – like Letraset transfers, filk song lyric sheets, or a bizarre Thanksgiving Parade photo of William Shatner inside a giant cup – have a certain quirky charm, but a great many seem to have been randomly scattered about the pages by a designer you can only presume has no affinity with the subject matter (What, exactly, does a photo of a Star Trek spork have to do with the making of pilot episode “The Cage”?). When you have to keep illustrating your text with action figures of the characters under discussion, it looks a little pathetic. Plus, after a while, the repeated two-page spreads of t-shirt designs, bumper stickers and CD designs start to seem like pointless padding.
As a cheaper book with perhaps a few pages of plates, this would have deserved a high rating. Sadly, the decision to publish a glossy, all-colour hardback without the imagery necessary to back it up was a fatal error.
Ian Berriman twitter.com/ianberriman