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The burden of backstory

Hearts and Minds (Star Trek: The Next Generation) - Dayton Ward

When I was a kid the original Star Trek series was among my favorite shows. Though dated today in many respects (I'm sure somewhere on the Internet there's an essay about those minidresses that the female crewmembers wore), it was an exciting and fun series that offered an optimistic picture of the future. That was not easy to envisage in the Cold War-dominated 1960s, and the show reflected this with episodes that referenced the nuclear tensions of the late-20th century and even the ominous-sounding "Eugenics Wars" of the then-futuristic 1990s.

 

As it turned out, the show went on and the Cold War didn't. As the Star Trek franchise spawned movies and additional TV shows, the canon on which it was all based looked increasingly outdated. The problem was that was impossible to ignore it. After all, how can you dismiss the "Eugenics Wars of the 1990s," which it was the basis of not just one of the best episodes of the original series, but the best movie of the entire franchise? So the solution was to construct an ever-more-elaborate backstory that connected it all together, one that, had to evolve to take into account additions made by subsequent shows and even novels.

 

This effort is at the heart of Dayton Ward's book. In it the Enterprise-E is on a mission in unexplored space that brings it into contact with an alien species still recovering from a nuclear war that took place centuries before. The war was tied to an exploration effort the species undertook three hundred years before one that brought it into contact with early 21st century Earth. Through this premise Ward connects events in the 24th century to characters and plot strands from three different "Star Trek" series, as well as novels written by other authors. It's really an impressive exercise from a writing standpoint, though one that is hobbled by two problems. The first is the underlying plot, which staggers out the development of the backstory to cover for the fact that the story involving Picard and company just isn't all that substantial. The other is Ward's apparent need to incorporate nearly every possible character from the franchise's take on 21st century Earth history. It's an impressive effort in some respects, but it also left me thinking that Ward was more interested in creating a Grand Unified History of the Star Trek universe than he was in telling a good story. It makes for a frustrating read, yet one that should be enjoyed by fans looking to fill in some of the gaps in the Star Trek universe at least until another series or movie introduces new elements that renders it all contradictory or irrelevant.