Thursday, 19 January 2017

Outside In Boldly Goes Reviews

A couple of reviews of Outside In: Boldly Goes, which I contributed an article to...

We Are Cult
Reviewer: Don Klees
November 10, 2016

Star Trekkin’: Outside In Boldly Goes reviewed

One of the wonderful things about Star Trek is that for all its broader cultural familiarity there’s relatively little consensus on what it really is. Outside of certain obvious characters, iconography and tropes, the essence and content of the show is a bit more inscrutable. Is Star Trek a cerebral science-fiction drama or a swashbuckling space-opera? Could it be an allegory on broader cultural concerns or perhaps a self-referential reflection on its own fictional universe? The answer is, of course, all of the above – a point nicely articulated by ATB Publishing’s recently released anthology Outside In Boldly Goes.

As the promotional copy for the book observes, if you put ten Star Trek fans in a room, you’ll end up with eleven opinions. Not content with such low-key discussion, Outside In Boldly Goes collects 117 essays covering the entirety of The Original Series (TOS) and any TV or movie production that could reasonably be considered “Kirk era” from The Cage through Star Trek Beyond. Matching that broad range of topics is an equally broad range of writers mixing well-known figures in science-fiction fandom with individual – but no less insightful – fans.

The sheer diversity of approaches is on display in the first few pieces alone. Novelist Jonathan Blum’s discussion of the ahead-of-its-time drama series Star Trek could have been if The Cage had become the show’s template instead of just a fascinating first effort is followed by a riff on Poe’s The Raven recounting a viewing of The Man Trap. That in turn gives way to a spotlight on how key Grace Lee Whitney’s performance as Janice Rand was to the episode Charlie X (and another glimpse of a different show Star Trek could have become) and an obituary for Lee Kelso, one of the manifestly non-“red shirt” fatalities from Where No Man Has Gone Before.

With 117 essays and an equal number of viewpoints, not every essay is uniformly interesting. While their intent is admirable, the pieces on Space Seed and Errand Of Mercy come across as trying too hard to make a point about commercialism. In a similar vein, the essay about The Apple is working a bit too hard to set up a fairly obvious joke, though, admittedly a bit of irreverence can be welcome addition to any discussion of Star Trek. Ultimately, the strong pieces are far more numerous and offer engaging perspectives on a wide range of episodes and movies from the show’s 50 years.

Sometimes individual characters are the focus, as in the piece about For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky where Stephanie Crawford examines McCoy’s role as “the passionate, emotional center of Star Trek.” Similarly, Kate Orman’s piece about The Enemy Within and the treatment of Janice Rand therein is a stark reminder that the idealistic, progressive vision of the future Star Trek presented wasn’t always reflected in its onscreen reality. Another common thread is looking at episodes in the cultural context of their time, reflecting still potent issues such as racism in Let That Be Your Last Battlefield or environmental concerns in the animated story More Tribbles, More Troubles.

It’s especially nice to see The Animated Series treated with respect in this volume. The status of TAS has been inconsistent over the years, but there’s no indication that the writers here view it as anything other than proper Star Trek. Certainly, the range of approaches to it is no less varied, as shown by the whimsical entry for The Magicks Of Megas-Tu. Presented as an internal Starfleet memo regarding the possibility that Captain Kirk is a devil worshipper, it playfully references a variety of other Star Trek stories, including Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

In discussing the movies, the writers are to be commended for boldly going beyond the conventional wisdom of odd-bad/even-good. This is particularly noteworthy in the essays about Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek: Generations. Graeme Burk effectively argues that the former is the only actual “Star Trek film” while Thomas Cookson’s offers an eloquent defense of “the last ‘Trek’ film to not feel written by a committee”. Kudos also to Arnold T. Blumberg for keying in on the emotional impact of the music from Star Trek III: The Search For Spock.

Other highlights include essays relating to occasions where episodes of later Star Trek series tied back to TOS. In discussing Trials And Tribble-Ations Anthony Wilson finds connective tissue between that Deep Space Nine episode and The Trouble With Tribbles that makes the crossover between Deep Space Nine and TOS not just work but also seem perfectly logical. More surprisingly, Finn Clark’s piece on The Tholian Web makes a good case that the titular aliens were actually used to greater effect when they appeared in the prequel series Enterprise.

Whatever approach taken, from straightforward reminiscence to offbeat “in universe” narratives, the pieces here are above all very personal expressions. Like the people who made it, Star Trek itself is both brilliant and flawed. The measure of its fans is that so many of them can engage with it on both those fronts. Outside In Boldly Goes is nothing less than 117 testaments to the intelligence and passion of a remarkable fandom.

Outside In Boldly Goes: 117 New Perspectives on 117 Classic Star Trek Stories by 117 Writers edited by Robert Smith? is out now from ATB Publishing and you can order it directly from the publisher.

Reviewer: By Adam DiLeo
6th January 2017

The Outside In series tackles Trek in its latest effort.

There are 116 pieces of officially sanctioned moving image entertainment featuring the main characters of the original 1966 Star Trek TV series. I know that thanks to ATB Publishing’s latest entry in its Outside In series: Outside In Boldly Goes.

The general idea of the books, previously limited to the Doctor Who universe, is to gather a wide range of writers to each “review” (more on that in a moment) one TV episode or film from a given property. The viewpoints come from diehard fans to near newcomers and everything in between. Boldly Goes, as the name would suggest, applies that formula to “Kirk-era” Trek, covering all 79 TOS episodes, the 22-episode run of Star Trek: The Animated Series, the four TNG episodes featuring TOS characters, one episode each from DS9 and Voyager and all nine films starring the Kirk-era characters. (It’s not limited to stories involving the original cast; the Abramsverse Trek movies make the list as well.) There's even a bonus chapter devoted to the ultimate Trek homage film, Galaxy Quest.

While many of the writers are hardcore Trekkies (and often describe their fandom at considerable length) some are more casual fans. Others still describe themselves as more or less uninvested in the property. Pros with serious Trek cred like Robert Greenberger, Paul Simpson and the book’s publisher Arnold T. Blumberg join the founder of the official Star Trek Fan Club Dan Madsen, moonlighting scientists, historians, avowed non-fans, unlikely amateurs and more. The mixture provides variety but unevenness as well. Most chapters are highly intelligent, interesting and/or funny, but some are duds with a fair amount of jokes that fall flat, grammatical awkwardness and the odd typo here and there. Expanding the range of authors to include newbies and non-fans gives a wider spread of perspectives but their chapters aren’t of much value for longtime fans who may not find a neophyte’s opinions all that insightful.

Now about those “reviews”: there really aren’t that many traditional reviews assessing a given episode or film’s artistic merit. More common are thought-provoking philosophical pieces like Ivy Glennon’s examination of feminism in Wink Of An Eye. Indeed the greatest takeaway from many of these pieces is the hard but well-known-among-fans truth that, while light years ahead of its time on equality and social justice, the original Trek was nevertheless deeply flawed in its treatment of gender roles and stereotypes, often to the point of outright misogyny. This isn’t limited to Kirk’s well known penchant for charming alien ladies, it pervades both the casting and writing of women characters in the original series, most of whom lack any real power. No matter how formidable they appear at first, these women always seem to find themselves in need of a good man to take charge in the end.
But this is a book written for fans, mostly by devout fans. The writers who cast the objective light of modern sensibilities on the difficult areas do so with a sense of respect for the import of the original series and its progeny, and its optimism for a future free from prejudice, poverty, disease and war.

117 chapters is a lot of ground to cover so to keep it fresh writers were clearly encouraged to get creative. The result is a goodly number of chapters that veer off into the humorous or even the ridiculous. There’s an excellent obituary for one of the many redshirts who perish in the original series, complete with a local newspaper’s inaccurate rendering of Kirk’s name, a logical proof showing the object of Spock’s affection in Amok Time was a crappy Vulcan, Star Trek mad libs, a recipe book for giant blob clouds, a collectible trading card game, an “awful seductress-plot drinking game”, and countless other unique takes on the eps and films. Unsurprisingly many of the more ludicrous entries come in the sections devoted to The Animated Series because, well, one can only say “it’s not very good” in so many ways.

Outside In Boldly Goes won’t reveal any earth shaking commentary for diehards but those superfans may nonetheless find something to love, whether it's in the passionate essays about feminism and character motivation, whimsical deep dives like what might have happened if Assignment: Earth had managed to successfully spinoff a series about Gary Seven, or the goofy lampooning of some of the low points in Trek history. For the rest of us -- full disclosure, I reside somewhere between dilettante and casual aficionado, having as yet failed to see a number of DS9, Voyager and Enterprise episodes -- it’s a worthwhile read because, in addition to some laugh out loud humor and thoughtful prose, the mélange of opinions means that every so often a particular writer’s voice can sound surprisingly like the reader's own point of view at one milestone or another on the uniquely personal path of fanhood.

Outside In Boldly Goes is available now from ATB Publishing.

The Verdict
A fun book with a ton of variety, Outside In Boldly Goes has something for just about everyone. A few low points don't damage the overall quality of the endeavor, much like the show the book focuses on.

117 writers put their spin on Trek with mixed but mostly positive results in an often witty and insightful book.

(presumably out of ten)

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