Saturday, December 1, 2012

December 2012: "Federation: The First 150 Years"

Assembled for special exhibit on Memory Alpha, Federation: The First 150 Years celebrates the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the United Federation of Planets.

This unprecedented illustrated volume chronicles the pivotal era leading up to Humankind's First Contact with Vulcan in 2063, the Romulan War in 2156, the creation of the Federation in 2161, and the first 150 years of the intergalactic democracy up until the year 2311. Meticulously researched, this account covers a multitude of alien species, decisive battles, and the technology that made the Age of Exploration possible. It includes field sketches, illustrations, and reproductions of historic pieces of art from across the Galaxy, along with over fifty excerpts from key Federation documents and correspondence, Starfleet records, and intergalactic intelligence.

Housed in a pedestal display, complete with lights and a push-button audio introduction by Admiral Hikaru Sulu, this deluxe edition also features five removable documents from the Federation Archives, including Zefram Cochrane's early sketch of the warp-drive engine, a handwritten letter from young Jim Kirk, and the first-known diagram of a Trill symbiont.

Federation: The First 150 Years truly uncovers the quest for man to boldly go. 

“Federation: The First 150 Years”
Written by David A. Goodman
Illustrated by Mark McHaley, Cat Staggs, Joe Corroney, and Jeff Carlisle 
Hardcover – (page count) (Full Color)
47North – December 2012 - $99.99

Chronicling the Future
A clear inspiration for Goodman.
It’s a topic that many Star Trek fans have probably wondered about: Just how did the Federation evolve into the entity we see in the filmed incarnations of our favorite show? Attempts have been made to explain the Federation’s genesis and development. Some of these efforts have been official, while others have been fan-driven. The previous high-water mark in attempting to chronicle the Federation’s origins is arguably the “Star Trek Spaceflight Chronology”, a product of Stan and Fred Goldstein (illustrated by Rick Sternbach); a work that influenced RPG manufacturer FASA’s Star Trek role playing games, as well as other authorized publications, such as “Mr. Scott’s Guide to the Enterprise”.

With the rise of Star Trek: The Next Generation, it quickly became clear that the previous chronological assumptions were being tossed out the window, and a new standard bearer, Michael and Denise Okuda’s “Star Trek Chronology”, were developed to be the definitive, canonical history of the Star Trek universe. For all their research, however, the Okudas, out of necessity, generally included only extrapolations of key points in Federation history based on on-screen dialogue. Much has occurred in the Star Trek universe since the final revision of the “Star Trek Chronology” in 1996. Dates have been tweaked, and an entire prequel series, Enterprise, has messed with assumptions made back during the halcyon days of TNG’s run.

Enter David A. Goodman, and “Federation: The First 150 Years”.

A handsome presentation.
Opening the Box

“Federation: The First 150 Years” is supposed to be an experience. An impressive box is provided to present the entire package. Upon opening the box you are presented with a grey plastic stand with TNG style LCARS panels that do backlight, and a book sitting smack dab in the middle of the stand. This stand, while attractive, is really trivial to the book, adding little value save for the charm.

Inside the back cover of the book, you find a pouch with several additional documents, ostensibly developed for the ‘seventh-fifth anniversary’ of the book. With only a very few exceptions where necessary to project a real-life copyright, or to offer real life-acknowledgements, the book stays entirely ‘in character’ throughout. This is a book, written in the early 24th century, to document the history of the Federation’s first 150 years.

The book is good... the inserts, not so much so.
The Main Event

The true focal point of the “Federation” experience is the book itself. Printed on thick, high quality paper, it reminds me significantly in its construction of a coffee table book that was around my house growing up that covered the first 75 years of the history of General Motors. The book is sturdy and well constructed, with an understated, yet noble, cover. A subtle sparkly sheen highlights the reflective UFP seal, and the weight of the book immediately lends a measure of credibility to the presentation that previous paperback chronologies have lacked.

Amazing artwork.
Breaking open the cover and flipping through the book, the first eye-catching element is the artwork. Only one straight photograph is used in the entire book, one of Captain Archer on a Klingon ‘wanted’ poster. The remaining artwork, which is extensive, is presented in a wide array of styles. Illustrative crew Joe Corroney, Mark McHaley, Cat Staggs, and Jeff Carlisle present works that immediately draw the eye and mind into the historical experience. The art itself has the look of something that would be commissioned for a museum exhibit.

After the artwork, full page and facing page spreads next bring in the reader’s attention; spreads that exhibit significant documents from Federation and other sources, as well as translations into English. These documents cover a wide array of history, from planetary mining rights on Capella to High Council reports on humanity in the wake of the Broken Bow incident. While illustrative of various points fleshed out in the historical narrative developed by David A. Goodman for the book, it is the actual historical narrative itself that stands out for either adulation or scorn.
Interesting documents are shared throughout the book.
Setting down to read the text itself, one immediately feels that they are reading a middle school or high school level history text book. In particular, the experience reminded me of reading about the growth and development of the British Empire in my middle school world history book. Broad strokes are drawn, with pivotal events, figures, and concepts being covered in each section. Just like a contemporary history book, there are clearly defined eras of evolution and ethic demonstrated throughout the Federation’s first 150 years.

While “Federation” owes a debt of gratitude to the “Star Trek Spaceflight Chronology”, it surpasses its older cousin in the realm of information conveyance. While the “Spaceflight Chronology” was a collection of snippets used to demonstrate the ongoing changes in the life of Earth and the Federation, Goodman’s work is a genuine telling of the Federation’s story which is helpfully illustrated with snippets. This immediately gives the current tome a significantly higher level of believability than the “Spaceflight Chronology”, and makes for a smoother reading experience.

The details of the new chronology, however, are ultimately going to be up to the individual reader to evaluate. Each reader will bring their own personal canon – based on their on-screen, tie-in, and fan-generated reference points – to the reading of “Federation”… some will enjoy it, others will be disappointed, and others will be outright enraged.

Cox's creative spin on Khan is not employed.
Goodman definitely takes different roads to achieve his chronological accounting. He does not employ a Greg Cox-ian revision of the Eugenics Wars, instead choosing to keep his setting clear and consistent with the TOS dates for the conflict, associating it with World War III as established in TNG, and developing what fans will consider either a creative solution or a ridiculous cop out when addressing the fact that our history has never heard of the Eugenics Wars or a genetically-enhanced ruler named Kahn Noonien Singh.

The most significant disappointment of the historical narrative, at least for this reviewer, is the fact that Goodman’s Federation and Starfleet feel ineffectively small. Major battles in the Romulan War, the face-off at Organia… both feature a miniscule number of ships compared to what you would expect. It is hard to get a sense of institutional establishment (for Starfleet) or genuine peril (for Earth and the Federation) when the battles as described bear more resemblance to a small skirmish than to a genuine fleet action. Admittedly, with a history in Trek Tech, particularly fan-generated technical works of the 1980’s and 90’s, my perspective may be skewed, so each reader’s mileage may vary; but these elements of the narrative simply weren’t believable to me when dealing with an interstellar war.

Fortunately, during the period outlined between the founding of the Federation and the development of the Constitution-class starship, a pretty wide variety of history is conveyed; but once Robert April begins work on the ships that would become Starfleet’s standard bearer, the story becomes, in essence, a gloss of The Original Series and the TOS movies. The overview is presented convincingly enough, but it brings to the fore few additional details to tantalize the fan who thought they ‘knew it all’.

Pricing and Canonicity an Issue

“Federation: The First 150 Years” is certainly an interesting book. It is an attractive package. Though price pointed at $99.99, online retailers have dropped the price. As of this writing, it is down into the $50’s online through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The lower price-point makes more sense, because the value is in genuinely in the book itself. One might hope that the book itself may be released without the stand or the inserts, as they add no significant value to the book itself.  

In a recent TrekMovie interview, “Federation” author Goodman acknowledges that this is prime universe ‘canon’ only in the sense that it can stand until someone decides to contradict it. In this respect, Goodman’s work is immediately diminished in importance, because all it takes is one authorized and canonical program to gut portions of the book. That’s a risky way to get this book out there… and, at least in this writer’s opinion, it diminishes the appeal of the book significantly. As opposed to the definitive history of the Prime Universe, we have a way that we got to where the original 60’s TV series took place…  not the certain way.

Star Trek's return to television may well be
the best measuring of this book's success.
Ultimate Conclusions

“Federation: The First 150 Years” is a beautiful product with great artwork, a consistent, in-universe feel, and a far more historical bent than any previous reference work set in  the Star Trek (prime) universe. It can (and will!) be handsomely displayed in the households of many Star Trek fans this holiday season. It will not arrive without controversy among fans, nor without at least some folks being disappointed. However, its ability to stand the test of time will probably best be judged a decade or more from now, at some point after Star Trek has returned to the small screen, the prime universe, or both.

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