Star Trek Spaceflight Chronology
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Back in July 2011, after only a brief amount of hesitation I bought at BMV on Bloor West in downtown Toronto, a copy of Spaceflight Chronology , written by Stan and Fred Goldstein and illustrated by Rick Sternbach. I was really lucky: The book may have been printed back in 1980, but not only I was able to find a good copy, but I was able to find a cheap one, too! (A side note: I’d never have come across it if not for a physical bookstore where I could actually browse for books. Physical Back in July 2011, after only a brief amount of hesitation I bought at BMV on Bloor West in downtown Toronto, a copy of Spaceflight Chronology , written by Stan and Fred Goldstein and illustrated by Rick Sternbach. I was really lucky: The book may have been printed back in 1980, but not only I was able to find a good copy, but I was able to find a cheap one, too! (A side note: I’d never have come across it if not for a physical bookstore where I could actually browse for books. Physical bookstores matter.) *
The Spaceflight Chronology is a good read. Between its detailed and engrossing chronology–progress always happens, people learn, technologies advance, frontiers retreat–and the very high quality of Rick Sternbach ‘s colour and sketch illustrations, both colour and sketch, I’d say it bears comparison with the classic Terran Trade Authority series.
This book is very much a product of its time, as the Spaceflight Chronology is now a double alternate history. Star Trek itself is an alternate history, describing a world and a universe that is fundamentally different from our own, but more, the Spaceflight Chronology recounts a version of Star Trek radically different from the canon that has been developed since its publication. In the Spaceflight Chronology, for instance, the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s was Earth’s final conflict, following which space travel and colonization flourished along with Earth’s unification, with an aggressive blue-algae-driven terraforming of Venus succeeding by the mid-21st century even as the Moon and Mars were colonized, and the first STL ships sent to Earth’ neighbours entirely independently of any other civilization. In the current Star Trek universe, Earth continued to struggle through its geopolitical turmoil, seeing space travel and space colonization develop at a rather slower rate than above, finally suffering a global nuclear war before Cochrane’s development of warp drive led to a rather necessary Vulcan protectorate and, ultimately, to the emergence of Earth as an autonomous power in the galaxy. **
Why these differences? The Spaceflight Chronology was published at a time when all there was to Star Trek were the three seasons of the original series from the 1960s, the 22 episodes of the animated series from the early 1970s, and, just barely, the first Star Trek movie from 1979. There really wasn’t much canon at all for fans of the show. The Spaceflight Chronology ended up playing a major role in providing a broader depiction of the Star Trek universe for fans, its timeline and details inspiring both the FASA Star Trek roleplaying game and the 1980s Pocket Books novel continuity . Roddenberry began to enforce his copyright against these non-canonical perspectives on his universe in the late 1980s, stripping the RPG license from FASA, putting editors in place to make sure that the novels could never come close to challenging his writ, and–of course–producing Star Trek: The Next Generation with its own backstory. Only isolated elements from this earlier continuity have survived to the present, even in the more liberal realm of the novels. It’s still fun to read this, the fount of so much Trek.
The Spaceflight Chronology is also a sterling example of the science fiction of its time, a carefully-detailed and charted history of humanity’s expansion into the universe. Solar power satellites cheaply provide the abundant energy needed for the betterment of life on Earth; the space shuttle provides rapid and efficient access to space and is itself but the precursor to still easier travel; multiple O’Neill cylinders occupy the LaGrange points of cislunar space while a Mars base was founded last year; Venus is successfully terraformed within a century via Sagan’s blue-green algae and imported water from comets; and, with increasing confidence, humanity reaches out to neighbouring stars and makes there not only new homes but new friends. Space travel can be easy, space colonization even easier, and the universe is a potentially warm, friendly, and comprehensible place. I really have to give props to everyone involved in this book for making it work so well.
** (Being even more geekier beyond these details of the past, the near-Sol environments differ markedly. In the Spaceflight Chronology, Earth’s first contact is made at Alpha Centauri in 2048, when the UNSS Icarus happens upon the astonishingly very-nearly-human Alpha Centauran civilization, opening up a productive relationship that sees the Centauran Zefram Cochrane start a joint Earth-Centauri program leading to the development of warp drive. The discovery of a damaged Vulcan scout craft in Sol system by the UNSS Amity and the return of its crew to the Vulcan homeworld in the Epsilon Eridani system follows, with contact made in 2073 with the Tellarites and at an undetermined point with the Andorians. By the end of the 21st century, these five states and Rigel have bounded together to form the United Federation of Planets. By the time of V’Ger’s visit just after the beginning of the 23rd century, the Federation is a thriving culture set to develop rapid intergalactic travel, ubiquitous psionic skill sets in anyone so interested, and the ability to move planets about. In the actual Star Trek universe, Vulcan is in the 40 (or, if you would, Omicron 2) Eridani system, not closer Epsilon, Alpha Centauri’s extensive planetary system was unpopulated until Earth colonists set up an independent state there some time after the mid-21st century, contact with the Tellarites and the Andorians seems to have been limited by the Vulcan protectorate well into the 22nd century, Rigel was not a founding member of the UFP, and the development of the technologies I described at the end of the last paragraph is well, well into the future.) . more