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

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Image Credit: CBS Studios

In my half-dozen years at Entertainment Weekly, I have never received an object as deliciously deep-dish geeky as David A. Goodman’s Federation: The First 150 Years. (Sorry, two-volume, 12 pound graphic novelization of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. You had a really good run there.)

As any Trekkie has likely ascertained already, Federation (out now) is a history of Star Trek‘s United Federation of Planets — the grand interstellar organization at the heart of Gene Roddenberry’s wagon train to the stars — written as if it really happened, from life on a war-ravaged Earth in the 1990s through the death of James T. Kirk. The book comes with translated historical documents, rare archival artifacts, and a light-up pedestal that features the voice of George Takei as Admiral Hikaru Sulu, commander-and-chief of Starfleet, introducing the reader to the tome before them.

Like I said: Deep. Dish. Geeky.

So who better to write it than a deep-dish geek? Yet at first, Goodman doesn’t quite seem like he’d fit that description. True, he was on the writing staff of Star Trek: Enterprise for two seasons, and scripted four episodes of the show. But he’s been working in TV comedy much longer, from his first stint writing on The Golden Girls in 1989, to penning episodes of comedies like Wings, Dream On, and Futurama. Most recently, he’s been living on Planet MacFarlane as an exec producer for over 100 episodes of Family Guy; his new series, the animated Murder Police, just got a 13-episode order from Fox. In fact, meeting him in person, if Goodman embodies any stereotype, it’s that of an overworked showrunner who’s spent too much time trapped in the writers room: Perpetual stubble, weary countenance, but always ready with a genuinely funny quip.

He’s the first to admit that he’s never written anything close to what he had to pull together for Federation: The First 150 Years. “Honestly, I don’t know why I got the job,” he says. “I mean, I was thrilled to get the call. But all the way through, I’m like, ‘You guys know I’ve never written a book, right?’ I’ve never actually written anything that didn’t start with, ‘Fade in.’ Mostly, I write fart jokes.”

After Goodman was approached last year by CBS Studios to put together a history of the Federation — they specifically wanted a TV writer, someone who could easily shift between the different voices needed to make the book work — he had just three months to pull it all together. “My wife is not a fan of this book, because it ruined a couple vacations,” he chuckles.

So how was he able to marshall all the necessary research of old Star Trek episodes to get the book done on time?

“I had to do almost no research to write this book,” he says, with only a slight sheepish grin. “I’ve been doing research for this book since junior high school. I cannot stop watching Star Trek. I watch all the series. I watch them over and over.”

Aha. Suddenly, hiring Goodman sounds highly logical.

That isn’t to say the job wasn’t a challenge. If anything, says Goodman, Federation: The First 150 Years could have been even geekier. “There’s stuff that I discarded, ‘cause I couldn’t make it work with the narrative,” he says. It turns out, the Federation was a wild and wooly place in its first sesquicentenary. Here’s how Goodman, in his own words, was able to bring it all together.

NEXT PAGE: Justifying the Eugenics Wars, how J.J. Abrams helped decide where James T. Kirk was born

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