Book Review: The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years: From the Next Generation to J.J. Abrams by Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross

The first book in this two-book series, which told about the original series of Star Trek and the movies based on the original series, was highly entertaining and difficult to put down, at least to a long-time Star Trek enthusiast like me. I hesitate to call myself a fan, a Trekkie, because I have never acted on my enthusiasm other than watching the shows. I don’t dress up like a Federation officer, I haven’t learned Klingon, and I wouldn’t go nuts if I encountered one of the star actors or writers of the series or movies. I have had indirect association with people who have written for Star Trek. Harlan Ellison, the writer of “The City on the Edge of Forever,” which many people consider the greatest Star Trek episode of all time, was one of my Clarion West teachers long, long ago, and the writer of the animated series episode that won an Emmy award was one of my classmates. And I do enjoy watching the various TV series and movies.

The first book, which I thought a rather weighty tome, was about 500 pages long. This follow-up book is 840 pages, and the print is smaller and more compact on the pages. There’s a lot of information in all those words. Similar to the previous volume, the history is told in spliced-together interviews of many of the people involved in production, and also similar to the first one, it is fascinating and full of strange but true stories of which I was unaware.

It kicks off with the history of the birth and seven-year run of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and it is full of horror stories of misused and unappreciated personnel. The production of any series that involves shooting twenty-six episodes in a single season is bound to be problematic, but the problems with The Next Generation concerned ripping off the work of other writers and then not giving them sufficient pay or credit for it, arbitrarily imposing restrictions on what writers could write about, creative sabotage, and other nefarious deeds.

By the time The Next Generation was going into its final seasons and the Next Generation movies were being produced, Deep Space Nine began, and at the same time Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek and a powerful force behind what creative direction it was allowed to take, died. This set DS9 free to embark upon multi-episode story arcs, which previously were forbidden, and to take a darker approach to its material. Then, during the final years of DS9‘s run, came Star Trek: Voyager, and near the end of Voyager‘s run, the prequel series Enterprise premiered. After that, there was a Star Trek production void until 2009 when J.J. Abrams revived the franchise with his new movies.

The book goes into detail on the creation of each of these series and films. It begins with the initial ideas for each, how the creators planned for the new productions to fit into the overall Star Trek universe, the hiring of producers, writers, and cast, and how each series evolved in response to ratings, the visions of their writers, and reactions of fans and producers.

I doubt that these books find much readership among those who are not already Star Trek fans. There are too many details, too much trivia. It’s a shame, in a way, because they offer a lot of insight in how the creative process works, both in TV series and in feature films. I would recommend them to people interested in a career in television or film writing – and also, of course, to those who have grown up appreciating the cultural phenomenon that is the Star Trek universe.

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