Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Review -- These Are the Voyages - TOS 1 by Marc Cushman



            This is a great book, with flaws (like Captain Kirk!).  It is a reference book for the ages.  It’s always written interestingly, even in the potentially dry recitation of cast and crews’ early careers.


            As a first-generation Star Trek fan, and one who’s been paid for his nonfiction about the series, I consider myself fairly well-read on Trek, with a reasonably wide general knowledge about the show.


            But Cushman’s research takes us deep down, underground, into the origins of the show and EVERY individual episode.  Most of this information is stuff we fans in the general public wouldn’t know, because we were “on the outside.”  But Marc Cushman was granted access by the Great Bird himself and producer Bob Justman into archives of scripts, memos, story conferences, and the like.  Cushman performed dozens of in-person interviews himself, along with plowing through tons of books,  magazines, and newspaper articles.


            Another important new angle in this book is the listing of the TV ratings of Nielsen and other rating services.  These all prove that most of the time, first-season Star Trek was a solid second place in its oddball time slot (starting on a half-hour and not on the hour).  Sometimes one half of an episode would pull first-place ratings while the other half came in second to whatever sitcom might have outpulled it.  This gives the lie to a longstanding position that the show “wasn’t that popular anyway.”


            The behind-the-scenes stuff is so absorbing!  Trek nerd that I am, I loved reading through all the possible permutations of stories before we ended up with the one final version that we now think of as “the episode.”  At every turn, a few changes, or the delay of a memo or a draft or a script page could have brought about a finished episode very different from what is now canonized.


            Somehow Cushman shows some of the many conflicts (unavoidable in TV production) without potshotting at the writers or producers or actors or whomever -- although there are certainly many times when Roddenberry or others come across in less than flattering ways.  But, this revelation of behavior or character is in their own words.


            After reading a few chapters, I became amazed that ANYTHING AT ALL got produced, much less the fairly consistent characters and format that are familiar today.  How the heck did they get anything done, when it all had to pass through multiple layers of dictation, typists, mimeographs, carbons, and so on?  Writers could keep all that character stuff and interplay in their heads, and remember version-to-version what changed, and how?  As somebody might say, “Fascinating!”


            The sections on episodes’ reception by critics, and letters sent in concerning differing episodes, could have been pages longer for each show, in my opinion.  I could handle another couple of pounds’ worth of extra pages!  I would have kept on reading, and smiling.


            One intriguing bit of knowledge came to me in the background for “The Man Trap,” which became the first episode to air (mainly because it was the first one finished).  On pages 165-168 the discussion includes George Clayton Johnson’s early title for the episode, “Damsel with a Dulcimer.”  On page 168, Johnson is quoted, “Yeh, she was a man trap.  Whereas ‘Damsel with a Dulcimer’ was somehow trying to romanticize the dismal creature…”  And author Cushman concludes the discussion by saying, “Then again, would most audience members even know what ‘Damsel with a Dulcimer’ meant?” (page 168)


            Not from Cushman, they won’t!  He doesn’t mention it again.  Well, for the benefit you readers who were NOT English Majors (as I was), here’s the deal:  poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote a poem in 1797, published in 1816, called “Kubla Khan.”  It was a wild vision in his imagination of the savage Khan’s establishment of a “pleasure dome.”  But the last few lines change gear and tell, “A damsel with a dulcimer in a vision once I saw,” and says that if the writer could only reproduce her beauty and song, the world would go wild for it, and say that HE was crazy for carrying on so.


            So, the critter in “The Man Trap” had the power to drive men mad (that’s a line from the 1936 film The Charge of the Light Brigade), and writer Johnson wanted to get a vibe from Coleridge’s poem going in the mind of a perceptive Star Trek viewer.


            In the chapter on “Space Seed,” I’m surprised that Cushman doesn’t mention the mistake that made it on-air at the end of Act 1 of this episode.  When Bill Shatner breaks the glass on Ricardo Montalban’s sleeping unit, Shatner’s phaser falls off his belt.  For the rest of this scene, DeForest Kelley keeps looking back and forth between his scripted line-of-sight -- Khan’s bunk -- and the floor, where the phaser fell.  As Khan’s drawer slides out, Kelley squats down as if to grab the phaser or push it away.  I’m pretty sure that this was unscripted!


            In the chapter on “The City on the Edge of Forever,” on page 518, Cushman says that “The score of this episode was almost all tracked music.” Yes, but it’s also true that Fred Steiner composed some original music for this episode.  These eight selections, including the song “Goodnight, Sweetheart,” run for almost nine minutes on the “Season One” set of La La Land Records’ 2012 CD release of the original TV soundtracks.


            Perhaps Cushman felt it out of the reach of his focus on the production of the series, but a strange thing happened to “City” in a later home video release when a different song than “Goodnight Sweetheart” was cut into the episode, and Steiner’s use of its melody was cut also.  This is worth a research article in itself!  Although judging by other fans’ reactions when I mentioned it to them, I may be the only one who cared.


            In one episode commentary, Cushman writes that “ ‘The Devil in the Dark,’ while an important episode with a profound message, is far from perfect.  But, with thought-provoking material such as this, who needs perfection?” (p 483)


            And that’s exactly how I feel about the faults of this book.  They’re mistakes, but in a great book like this, be happy for the wondrous book we have! 


            Nevertheless, MY QUIBBLES:


            Besides typographical errors to be seen anywhere (probably in this review!), there are some important mistakes that need to be corrected in future editions.  This is an important book; it and companion volumes will be primary resources for researchers for decades to come.  That’s why corrections need to be made for future editions.


            Some names of people and institutions are misspelled.  In the lists of references at the back of the book, the name of publisher Ballantine Books is mostly misspelled “Ballentine.”  Fred Freiberger, Star Trek producer, consistently has his name misspelled “Freidberger.”  Here and there, names like Windom and van Vogt and Kenney are misspelled -- gotten correct in one place and wrong somewhere else.  It’s one thing to have typos -- it’s another thing to spell people’s names wrong!  As Shakespeare said, sometimes a name is all you’re got (paraphrase there, folks).  This is an important topic because this is a crucially important book!  It will be used as a reference by hundreds of other researchers, so there’s a double obligation to get proper names right!


            Another observation I have is that many times we are told how much a special effect or costume cost in 1966 or some other date from olden times.  Then Cushman says, “or XXX dollars today.”  This needs to be changed to refer to the equivalent in 2013 dollars.  After all, “today” changes every day.  Such a change will help make this book as timeless as it deserves to be.


            The bibliography doesn’t use standard form, and this is a failure.  Instead of having resources listed alphabetically by author and so forth, they’re listed alphabetically by the title of the work.  Why not follow established scholarly standards since this is a valuable reference work?


            A second puzzling failure is the lack of an index. Again I say:  This is a valuable, important, necessary book.  A big part of its value lies in its use as a primary research tool.  Why sabotage this value by not having an index?  Additionally, the process of producing an index for this wonderful book might have ironed out many of the name misspellings that are present.


            To sum up:  If you love Star Trek, this book is a must.  It tells the known things like airdates and guest stars; and it lays out innumerable lesser-known things, such as the various stages taken by a story or casting or special effects, on the way to the episode we saw onscreen.  And the fact of its worthiness as a base for future research and information-gathering -- this fact is what makes it imperative to fix as many errors as possible, to provide a firm and accurate foundation for future students.


            News flash -- I’ve been talking with author Marc Cushman and he tells me that “dat ol’ Debbil,” Time, was behind a lot of the missteps that got onto the printed page.  Locked into a certain press date and a certain page count, eventually he and all concerned had to “lock it and go.”  This hard page count also meant no room for an index IN THIS EDITION of THIS VOLUME.  Marc has assured me that a thorough sweeping-out will be performed for future e-editions (and we hope paper editions) of Volume 1.  Volumes 2 and 3 may get another pair of eyes to help track down niggling errors, too.  So hope lives!



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