Future Perfect: How Star Trek Conquered Planet Earth, Jeff Greenwald

Viking, 1998, 273 pages, C$33.99 hc, ISBN 0-670-87399-3

I used to be a fanatic Star Trek fan. Raised on “Star Trek” reruns and fascinated by “The Next Generation” as a teen, my interest in the show ended at around the same time than I discovered the Internet and -maybe less strangely- as I discovered the really good (written) SF stuff. Since then, I have followed the series with only the sketchiest attention, as the newer series like DS9 and Voyager have failed to grab my attention.

As a result, I know Star Trek but can’t really attach any deep non-nostalgic emotion to it. You will not catch me learning Klingon, dressing up in a purple skin-tight uniform or even reading *.startrek.* newsgroups. Though I did pay good money for three of the last four Trek movies and a few used Trek novels by good SF authors, (plus one Canadian dollar for a used copy of the English/Klingon dictionary, just for kicks) that’s pretty much the extent of my financial investment in the Trek Franchise. It’s a TV show, not a way of life.

Not everyone sees it that way. All around the globe, fans are watching the show religiously and integrating its philosophy in their lives. Jeff Greenwald is, for lack of a better term, what we could call an intelligent fan of the series. “Not a rabid fan” he warns us “never one to squeeze my guts into a spandex uniform, but a fan nonetheless.” [P.3] Future Perfect is an attempt to find out why people are so fascinated with this long-running series.

Future Perfect has a three-part entwined structure. The first is what you would expect from a standard examination of “Star Trek”: interviews with the actors, description of such oddities as the Klingon Language Institute, portraits of JPL engineers fascinated with the show, etc…

The second is unusual for a book self-described as “not prepared, approved, licensed or endorsed by any entity involved in creating or producing the Star Trek television series or films.”: Greenwald managed to be granted access to several crucial steps in the creation of Star Trek: First Contact, which opened in theatres in 1996 to both popular and critical acclaim. From last-minute script revisions to opening night, Greenwald is there, like a fly on the wall.

The third part of Future Perfect is the one that earns the book its subtitle. Greenwald goes around the globe to find out why exactly Star Trek is such a world-wide phenomenon. From Klingon marriages in Germany to a delightful interview with the Dalai Lama, we truly get, for what is possibly the first time, an image of Star Trek across the planet.

Greenwald doesn’t always succeed in his self-imposed task, but always remains interesting. His interview with Kurt Vonnegut has few relevance to Star Trek, but remains thought-provoking. If some of his stops on his world-wide Star Trek tour are disappointing in term of Trek, he never misses the chance to make us visit wonderful places. (viz; “The Wired Raj”)

Future Perfect hasn’t managed to make me fall in love with “Star Trek” all over again, but it has certainly restored my respect in the series, and I can only be grateful to Greenwald for that. (I even took the time, midway through the book, to watch a Voyager episode. Though the story -“11:59”- wasn’t exactly good by most standards, it did mesh perfectly with Greenwald’s theories about Star Trek.) One might quibble with the limitations, the methods or the individuals that make up Star Trek (I came away from the book with even less respect for Brannon Braga, which is quite an accomplishment), but it’s essential to realize that for all its fault, the ideals of “Star Trek” are the same that drives more serious science-fiction. If more people can be inspired by those, great.

Jeff Greenwald has written a book that is simultaneously about, and well beyond “Star Trek”. His writing style is almost worth the price of the book in itself. No boring interviews, but wonderfully crunchy encounters (drinking vodka with Kate Mulgrew, being gruffly treated by Patrick Steward, cruising chicks with Brannon Braga…) with the all-too-human beings that took millions among the stars. No ordinary Trek book, but a darn good, non-fiction account of human determination. Not bad for a TV show!

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