From the publisher: Unlike works that focus on a limited number of stories/media in this franchise or only offer one expert’s or discipline’s insights, this accessible and multidisciplinary anthology includes analyses from a wide range of scholars and explores ‘Star Trek’ from its debut in 1966 to its current incarnations, considers its implications for and collaborations with fandom, and trace its ideas and meanings across series, media, and time. ‘Star Trek: Essays Exploring the Final Frontier’ will undoubtedly speak to academics in the field, students in the classroom, and informed lay readers and fans.
In my office I have a couple of shelves of Star Trek reference books that I call my Trek reference library. Over the last few years the academic books in that collection have grown, with at least two new additions this year alone. The first is Star Trek: Essays Exploring the Final Frontier, edited by Amy H. Sturgis and Emily Strand, from Vernon Press.
The book collects ten essays from different perspectives, covering topics as diverse as depictions of ancient Greece and Rome in TOS to Seven of Nine’s representation of queer, posthuman parenthood from Voyager through Season 1 of Picard.
The book starts with a foreword by Trek novelist Una McCormack, who interweaves her own experience coming to appreciate Star Trek with the importance of the kind of work featured in the book: “This is the purpose of Star Trek scholarship, and of a book like this: to further our understanding of those stories that are most meaningful to us, that draw us to them again and again, that represent some of our most profoundly felt wishes for how the world around us might be.”
Another Star Trek fiction writer, John Jackson Miller, closes out the collection with a fascinating look at the history of Star Trek tie-in material and how the role of licensed storytelling has evolved from the James Blish TOS books to the fallow period between Enterprise and Star Trek (2009), when writers worked together to flesh out the Trek universe like never before; to the current age of streaming Trek and its limited room for serial continuity storylines.
In between, a few essays really impressed me by taking approaches to Star Trek I’d never heard or thought of before. The biggest standout for me was “The Future Burning Brightly: The Dual Impact of Energy in Star Trek’s Post-Scarcity Universe” by Martine Gjermundsen Ræstad. Ræstad takes an energy humanities perspective to analyze how Trek’s future of seemingly limitless energy and resources (courtesy of dilithium and the replicators it powers) takes us further from the environmental messages that our society needs today.
Another notable chapter was: “Beyond the Wilds and Waves: Reevaluating Archer, the Armory and Enterprise” by Amy H. Sturgis. Sturgis builds on Stefan Rabitsch’s idea of Trek’s “transatlantic double consciousness”: the way the show has been inspired by and manifests concepts of American frontier exploration as well as British naval adventure. Looking specifically at the characters of Archer and Reed in Enterprise, Sturgis considers how the two embody these narratives and also challenge them through the way their characters change over the course of the series. Sturgis invites readers to join her in critical reflection on the ethical issues linked to both sides of the “transatlantic double consciousness,” which the storylines of Archer and Reed can help to expose.
Equally thought-provoking was Kristina Šekrst’s essay on the TNG episode “Darmok.” Šekrst looks at how the TNG writers brought in then-cutting edge linguistic theory in crafting “Darmok,” and how we can unpack the episode today using the latest linguistic, philosophical and cultural studies research.
The aforementioned essay about Seven, by Erin Bell, was also a really great read, and really the only part of the book that dealt with the kind of themes like queerness and feminism that we look at on Women at Warp.
A couple of the essays lean more heavily into academic theory than others, and the formatting decision to repeat works cited in footnotes in the end notes felt a bit clunky to me. Nevertheless, the majority of the essays strike a balance between accessibility and scholarly rigor, making the book approachable to both academic readers and non-academic Treksperts alike.
Star Trek: Essays Exploring the Final Frontier is a great addition to Trek scholarship. Amy H. Sturgis and Emily Strand have curated a collection that showcases the enduring relevance of Star Trek as a platform for critical analysis and exploration.
Star Trek: Essays Exploring the Final Frontier was published in April 2023 in hardcover. It is available online or at your local retailer.
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