TREKLAND, EXTRA #16 Reality Check: What Star Trek: Stellar Cartography Truly Means
By Larry Nemecek - October 22, 2013
Just about the time I get a little too comfy in my Star Trek rut … here comes the franchise and the fandom to shake me out of it, and I learn something new. What’s doubly great is when that wake-up call arrives from working on a cool project!
See, “Star Trek: Stellar Cartography”—now on pre-order at amazon.com (click HERE) from 47North, before its Dec. 3 release everywhere—has been a thrill for this ol’ background fan to work on. Truth be told, this maps/book project is my fifth visit to the universe of Star Trek mapmaking…yes, fifth… and a virtual time-machine back to my kid days when making sense of the loose stars and alien cultures of Gene’s creation was my biggest fan passion.
Now, listen up you canonistas, gamers, and alien role-players. I know you especially would simply love having an update to Geoff Mandel’s 2003 “Star Trek Star Charts” book, in a form you can actually spread out and use! And I can’t wait to hear how many of you slap your peeps’ historic star charts on the wall, in an appropriate frame of targ-skin or jevonite. (Klingons, Cardies, Vulcans and Romulans, I’m lookin’ at you).
Ten 2x3 maps of various eras, cultures, and design styles—one of them even a fine art painting and another not even translated? Hand it to CBS and to Becker-Mayer, the book packagers who deal with Amazon/47North to plan the parameters with a creative flair that goes well outside the box for what they put inside the box. (Did you see David Goodman’s “Federation: The First 150 Years” history book and pedestal last year?) My editor Dana Youlin, art director Rosanna Brockley and their team had already worked out a conceit: the top maps requested by the public at Memory Alpha museum, alien and Feds alike, with an in-depth guidebook section for each.
Given that framework, I was roaring to come in with e details. And what a great chance to update what Geoff had done, with some add-on helpers like me, in his 2003 book. There was really no need to reinvent the wheel: his evolved layout concept many fans had started to use, based on Mike Okuda’s original galaxy placement for TNG’s “The Price” back in 1989 and used onscreen ever since, was already the grid for Star Trek Online (plus 50 years). For STSC, we merely needed some tweaks, fixes, and updating for the end of Enterprise (the Delphic Expanse is 2,000 light-years long and had to fit where?) and the “Prime” subspace supernova of Star Trek (2009). We did flesh out the Romulan War based on David’s book narrative, but it was a hoot to find out that real science actually matched up his scenario for the Battle of Sol and (and helped the artist as well). Finally, there’s a lot of TOS tales that were omitted in 2003, like the doomsday machine and space-going amoeba encounters, that now have a “home.” (Oh, and the busy Geoff does return to pull off what I call the “National Geographic” map of the set, a jam-packed catchall of fun history that should be hanging in every Federation family home.)
So, selfish me: here I was just happy to not only make that update, and the choices behind it, but also fix what I saw as some long-term needs as well. For instance, no one—not Geoff, not even the art staffs on DS9—had ever really pinned down the real logistics of the Dominion War, nor explained how the homeworlds like Earth, Vulcan and Risa could be threatened so often while the battlefront always seemed to be around Bajor, the wormhole and Cardassian space.
But now with all of Stellar Cartography, I’m most proud of what I feel is my biggest contribution: finally choreographing the Dominion War—and having it make sense. (We even got the Valiant cadets situated as well—and AR-558 finally in its rightful, and singular, home). I also tackle the old confusing term “Alpha Quadrant powers,” too—in light of the Klingons and Romulans and half the Federation occupying the Beta. You guys who have read my "Fistful of Data" column in Star Trek Magazine since 1998 know I feel that most all canon hiccups can usually be solved—and, usually, with not much fuss. This is one of those times: when merely saying the writers didn’t want to confuse their audience with too much detail is simply not good enough. Take a look; I bet you’ll appreciate my simple fix.
But how out of touch was I not to realize that fans are excited about this for more than an update? That there’s been a whole new generation of the faithful who don’t even have anything to update—who’ve never seen a copy of Geoff’s Maps book and couldn’t get one even if they tried? Who would be happy just to be able to rip out the pullout map sections from the back, piece them together, and try to scan or frame an all-in-one chart?
And that’s when the real “aha! moment” hit me: It was time to move along, Larry. Seriously. After 20 years of protecting the sacred aired text of canon in books and magazines, events and consulting, there is indeed an upside to having no weekly TV Trek in Prime: the freedom to go back to “gap filling.”
I actually had to unhinge my brain’s canon clench and give myself permission —heaven knows CBS already had—to consult, and research, and “Best guess, Mr. Sulu!” when it came to filling in a lot of the details we need but simply don’t have in aired episodes.
It was time be a kid again!
And that’s the second aha! that Stellar Cartography navigated me to: the upside to a non-TV era of Star Trek. We only enjoyed and piled up the blueprints and tech manuals in the ‘70s and ‘80s, when—like today—we thought there wouldn’t be any more “official” filmed background…or trickles of it, at most. Then came TNG, hours of canon from not one but four Treks eventually—and thankfully Gene Roddenberry’s decision to have Mike Okuda and Rick Sternbach, for starters, not only collect but plan for all those details as tech advisors. Trek non-fiction reference shifted from creating background to simply keeping up with what we saw on screen… for 20-some years.
Now, just as the novel authors have enjoyed in recent years, we too have the freedom to gap-fill.
We have the freedom to turn artists Ali Ries and Ian Fullwood loose to help take it from there—Ali, with the five historical alien maps and the accurate yet “fine art” known-space print, and Ian with the four modern and historic Starfleet charts.
I am so proud to have my name on this set, and for everyone who worked on it. The only bummer is that Dec. 3 release date—still plenty of time for holiday gift-giving, yet so far off! But hey—if you have not pre-ordered yet, please do so. There’s no payment due til it ships, and meantime you’ve added to a tally that sends a signal to CBS and Amazon, etc., that we want more of these back-to-the-future background projects, as cool as those of youth.
Star Trek non-fiction is back, baby!
Larry Nemecek, author of Stellar Cartography and The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, Star Trek Magazine columnist and longtime editor of Star Trek Communicator, is currently producing The Con of Wrath, a documentary about the most “glorious failure” convention ever, and the TREKLAND: ON CD audio series from his interview archives. He will also host the 2014 return of the “Hollywood to Vegas: Trek Film Sites” tour for Geek Nation Tours; click HERE for details. Larry shares his years as Star Trek author, historian, consultant, actor and insider at conventions and on larrynemecek.com. His posts and original video chats with all your favorites are at Treklandblog.com, plus @larrynemecek on Twitter and Larry Nemecek’s Trekland on Facebook.
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