Saturday, September 28, 2013

Review: These Are The Voyages, TOS, Season One

These Are The Voyages, TOS, Season One is the first book about the making of Star Trek to extensively use the show's production files currently housed at the University of California, Los Angeles. Written over the course of six years and researched over the course of three decades, it is without a doubt the most detailed account of the making of Star Trek's first season that has ever been published. Including snippets of hundreds of production documents and interviews, These Are The Voyages offers Star Trek fans a wealth of new behind-the-scenes information. Unfortunately, despite the author's years of diligent research, These Are The Voyages is a disappointing book, which is badly edited, clumsily written, and at times ethically dubious.

It is immediately evident that the book has not been proofread. There are hundreds of typos ("sweat kiss," "run the gambit," "Kahn," "Roddemberry," etc.) and a comparable number of small factual errors. For example, Robert H. Justman is repeatedly described as the associate producer of various programs prior to his involvement on Star Trek. This is simply false; in fact, Justman's ascension from assistant director to associate producer on 'Where No Man Has Gone Before' (Byron Haskin had the job on the first pilot) was an important step in his career. Although IMDb says Justman was an (uncredited) associate producer on The Adventures of Superman, a fact which These Are The Voyages repeats, he wasn't. In another passage, Cushman describes Roddenberry's Hollywood career as meteoric, going from a nobody to arriving at "the biggest studio in Hollywood" in just nine years. Although Roddenberry's career profile certainly grew dramatically, when he arrived at MGM in late 1962, the studio was far from its glory days of the 1940s, when it could bill itself as having "more stars than there are in heaven." In fact, the studio was actually in the midst of a decline and hardly "the biggest motion picture studio in Hollywood." In yet another example, Cushman identifies the non-professional fan films Star Trek: New Voyages and Star Trek: Of Gods and Men as a television series and a videogame, respectively, probably the result of relying on (and misreading) Grace Lee Whitney's IMDb page. These examples only scratch the surface when it comes to small factual errors that would have been caught by a proofreader.

A more significant problem than the book's lack of proofreading, however, is that is has been poorly edited. Although three editors are credited, I suspect they had little influence on the structure and content of the book. First of all, the book is simply bloated with excess material. Nearly every chapter begins with one and half pages of filler (a plot summary, quotations of dialogue, and the author's assessment) which amount to over fifty pages of material that any serious editor would have asked the author to cut. The plot summaries and quotations repeat material that will be familiar to everyone reading this book. Cushman's assessments, on the other hand, are too short to offer any substance, and often overly praiseworthy. In one, he writes, "Gone with the Wind... Casablanca... Love Story... Somewhere in Time... and 'The City on the Edge of Forever.'" Hyperboles like these betray Cushman's lack of knowledge about film and television history beyond his favorite subjects, and seem particularly egregious in light of the author's insistence that the book is so long it must be sold in three separate volumes.

The book's lack of editorial input leads to another major problem: all too frequently, Cushman seems to print conjecture as if it were fact. This is most glaring in the chapter on 'The Alternative Factor,' although it is apparent in other places as well. In that chapter, Cushman writes:
With only a few days left before the start of production, Gene Coon began receiving off the record phone calls suggesting that either Janet MacLachlan be replaced with a white actress or that the script be changed to remove the last of the scenes that depicted sexual or romantic interest between Lazarus #1 and Charlene Masters. (p.414)
This is a damning accusation to be levied against both NBC and Desilu. It is not the first time someone has speculated that the casting of a black actress led the role of Charlene Masters to be drastically reduced, but it is the first time that this has been asserted as fact. Unfortunately, Cushman doesn't bother to present any evidence to back up this claim. It is not supported by an author interview, a production document, or a secondary source. (It's also a bit odd that, in all his years of tilting at windmills about the network's alleged racism, Gene Roddenberry never once brought up the event.) Without evidence, it must be speculation, even if it is not so framed. This isn't the only time Cushman prints his own speculation as if it were fact in the chapter, either. Earlier, he quotes from a Roddenberry memo:
In both 'Space Seed' and this story, we have a crew woman madly in love with a brawny guest star and flipping our whole gang into a real mess because she is in they have to do [this] in two of our scripts? (p.413)
"Roddenberry wasn't suggesting 'The Alternative Factor,' first to film, be altered," writes Cushman. "His criticism had more to do with 'Space Seed' using the same plot device." Again, this is fine speculation, even plausible, but there is nothing in Roddenberry's memo which actually points to the executive producer's preference in rewriting one episode versus another.

The most troubling aspect of These Are The Voyages, however, has nothing to do with its editing, or even the text at all. Rather, it has to do with the photographs used to illustrate the book, many of which were furnished to the author by a Star Trek fan I will only identify as 'The Collector.' Although the book is filled with a variety of images attributed to many sources (in one particularly lazy case, a still from The Andy Griffith Show is simply attributed to the TrekBBS) most give credit to The Collector, who is also prominently featured on the Jacobs Brown Press webpage and credited (along with Marc Cushman and co-author Susan Osborn) for the book's "interior design." Unfortunately, many of the images in the book attributed to The Collector actually originated from Star Trek History and birdofthegalaxy (both sources, of course, have contributed information and images to this blog). To my knowledge, neither the author or the publisher ever asked either of these sources for permission to use their images (which they painstakingly restored) in a for-profit work. When presented with this information (on both Facebook and Amazon) the publisher could only make excuses, none of which stand up to much scrutiny. Adding insult to injury, the images in the book are small, low resolution, black and white, and rarely factor in the text. Their main function, it seems, is to make reading the book easier on the eyes.

To be fair, These Are The Voyages offers a great deal of material that will be exciting for fans of the original series, especially those who will never have the opportunity to explore the archival collections at UCLA (although those collections are open to the public as long as you make an appointment). Nonetheless, in the final analysis, These Are The Voyages is too problematic to earn my endorsement. Not only is it profiting off the labor of other fans without their permission, but it is amateurish and error-ridden. A much needed second edition has already been rumored. Hopefully, it will address the first edition's many problems. My advice would be to wait for it.

Author's Note: Cushman's ratings thesis has made some waves online. Essentially, he argues that the series was a hit, but NBC concealed this fact so that they could blame Star Trek's cancellation on low ratings. I don't think his argument is entirely sound, but it is certainly worth discussing on this blog in much greater detail at some point in the future. Additionally, for those who plan on using this book to support their own research, bear in mind that although the book is generally organized chronologically, it has no index. Lastly, in the interest of full disclosure, I emailed the publisher about interviewing Cushman and requested a review copy of the book using their website. The publisher never replied to my request for an interview, and I never received a review copy of the book. The publisher did, however, revise some advertising copy when I informed them in an email that the UCLA files were publicly accessible and that Marc Cushman's access could hardly be called "exclusive."

1 comment:

  1. Michael, when you get a chance, could you please contact me at I've looked through this book as both a fan of the original series, and as someone whose father was a co-worker and personal friend of Bob Justman. I had the pleasure of meeting the man once in the late 1990s. I'm aware of the significant errors in this book, as well as the sadly missed opportunity here. On the other hand, I realize that there were also some errors in Justman and Solow's book - although that one is exhaustive in its own right and has the virtue of having been written by the people who were on TOS when it was being produced. Thanks much, Kevin Koster