Geek Deep Dive: Writing the 'Star Trek' history book, 'Federation: The First 150 Years'


Image Credit: CBS Studios

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The most common problem Goodman encountered was attempting to justify a specific episode’s wild plotline.

There was a lot of stuff like that where an [episode] writer does something, and it worked for the drama of a one-hour television show. Nobody’s going to ask a question about it. But you try to make it make sense as part of a history book, and you can’t. It just won’t.

There’s a section in the book that deals with this famine on a planet that’s referencing an old series episode [“The Conscience of the King”]. And I thought, oh, this’ll be an interesting piece of history. Then I examined the specifics about what they say in that episode, and it makes no sense at all. They’re talking about this guy who’s the governor of a planet, and only nine people know what he looks like, because in that episode, it had to be a mystery, and those nine people have all been killed.

So now there’s two people left who know what he looks like. But he was governor of the planet. How is it that only nine people knew what he looked like? But it was like you had this writer back in 1967, this freelance writer, who’s building his mystery, and he throws in this sort of Hitler backstory. He doesn’t have to worry about the fact that I got to write this book now [laughs], and make that make sense from a historical perspective.

One of the biggest continuity problems in the entire Trek mythology are the “Eugenics Wars,” in which a race of genetically engineered supermen — including iconic Trek villain Khan Noonien Singh — take over the world and perpetrate World War III. The whole mess, however, was supposed to have started roughly 20 years ago, in 1992. Hence the conundrum.

It’s a mess. There’s no consistency to what World War III is [in Trek mythology]. I lived through the 1990s. I know that Khan did not rule a quarter of the world in the 1990s. I was going to ignore it actually, and CBS said, absolutely not. You’ve got to talk about Khan ruling the world in the 1990s. And that to me made the book completely not real, ‘cause we all lived through [that time period]. So how do I cover that? I covered it with a footnote, which I am so proud of. It’s my favorite thing in the book. [Ed. note: Hint: It involves time travel.]

Another strange bit of Trek lore was in a way introduced in the first, unaired pilot for Star Trek: “The Cage.” It was set on Talos IV, home to a race of telepaths so powerful, they could manipulate a captive mind to see and experience anything they wanted. The episode was repurposed in the two-part original series Star Trek episode “The Menagerie.”

The thing about “The Menagerie” is that they introduce this idea that there’s a death penalty for going to this planet. It’s the only death penalty left on [the Federation’s] books. You think about the Federation, this pinnacle of civilization, and this is the one death penalty? Going to this planet? And again, it’s the kind of thing that the writer writing the episode wants to create drama for the moment of like, oh, we can’t go there, we’ll get the death penalty.

But then you step back from the history of Star Trek, it’s ridiculous that there’s a death penalty for going to this planet. There has to be other ways to keep anyone from going to the planet, other than saying, “We will kill you.” I had a lot of trouble with that. I had to figure out a way to justify it. How you actually had to move that through the Federation Council? That was probably the hardest part of the book, figuring out a narrative that sounded like it made sense.

Speaking of time-travel, because J.J. Abrams 2009 franchise reboot Star Trek trucked in an alternative timeline, Goodman steered clear of referencing its events. But he did take at least one element from it.

As a Star Trek fan, all Star Trek film is canon. You got to make all that make sense. J.J.’s alternate universe is not the universe of this book, except the opening. Before the Romulans come through that wormhole, the fact that Kirk’s parents are serving on the U.S.S. Kelvin, to me, that’s fact.

So that’s in this book. There would be some arguments about, “Was Kirk born in Iowa? Or is he from Iowa.” It’s never said anywhere in canon that he was born in Iowa. He says in Star Trek IV, “I’m from Iowa.” I’m from Los Angeles, but I wasn’t born here. You could tie yourself into knots and say, well, without the wormhole, [Kirk’s mother] was pregnant, and they got home to Earth, and she delivered the baby in Iowa. You could do that, but I feel like I don’t know why I need to tie myself up in knots. I like the idea that both his parents were on the Kelvin, he was born on the Kelvin, and then he was raised in Iowa. I think that’s better. It’s smoother. It’s simpler. And again, J.J. is the shepherd of Star Trek now. He said [Kirk was born in space], and I’m like, I’m all for it.

NEXT PAGE: Goodman’s favorite Trek episodes ever. PLUS: A painting from the book of all the different Enterprises that existed in the first 150 years of the Federation


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