These Are the Voyages: Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek in the 1970s, focuses on Star Trek’s creator in n extremely well researched volume. But, what does the author have to say about his subjects?
These Are the Voyages: Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek in the 1970s Volume 1 (1970-1975)
Author: Marc Cushman | Editors: Mark Alfred and Susan Osborn | Foreward: D.C. Fontana
There are readers out there who want to know about Gene Roddenberry beyond his role as creator of Star Trek. He was, after all, both a pilot and a police officer, which is a unique path to television producer. Also unique, especially for the time, was Roddenberry’s political, racial, and religious philosophies, which comprise the heart of Star Trek, so understanding the man could help a fan better understand the series.
For these readers, Marc Cushman has created These Are the Voyages: Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek in the 1970s Volume 1 (1970-1975). This is an extremely well-researched deep-dive into five years of Gene Roddenberry’s life. Keep in mind, the only Trek during this period is Star Trek: The Animated Series as Star Trek: The Original Series is off the air at this point, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a few years away (although I suspect will be very much the focus of volume two). The timeline in the book is not rigid. There is a summary of The Original Series, although presented through the lens of Roddenberry’s efforts to create a Tarzan movie. The 1969 wedding of Barret and Roddenberry, and Roddenberry’s preceding divorce, are the subject of many pages in this volume, mostly as it related to Roddenberry’s desire to create “post-divorce income” during the early 1970s.
This is not a Star Trek book, because there is just not a lot of Star Trek in the 1970s. During the Volume One timeline, there are some conventions, the original series is in syndication, and, of course, all of Star Trek: The Animated Series.
This is a Gene Roddenberry book. Readers will come to know more about Roddenberry’s personal and professional ups and downs than from any other source. Cushman presents Roddenberry as a polite but determined character. Creative people can be challenging and this notion holds in this book. Cushman has an ability to balance his affection for Roddenberry and the fact that Roddenberry also was not a perfect person.
This volume is also a “how television gets made” book and a look at Roddenberry’s less successful projects. Although a quarter of the book is a deep look at The Animated Series, fans of Star Trek who do not care about Roddenberry’s other works or how studios work should pass on this reference.
Cushman has access
Author March Cushman uses memos, photos, and interviews to go into his intense level of detail. Although Cushman was part of the group who created the story for Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Sarek,” he is probably best known for his Star Trek reference books. These Are The Voyages: TOS was well known for disputing that the Original Series got poor television ratings. This three-volume, 1,500 page book earned the 2014 Saturn Award for Special Achievement.
This new volume is just as well researched, so even the more scandalous information (about NBC executives concerns about Majel Barret playing a first officer: “Further, she was too unknown and untested for a costarring lead. And, worse, she was sleeping with the producer, Roddenberry … who was married and had two daughters.”), is well-documented. There is no doubt Cushman spent a lot of time and energy working through primary references to put together this volume.
Well-documented is what one wants from a reference books, but Cushman’s writing offers no commentary. Roddenberry’s affairs, financial and creative conflicts with the studios, and creative failures (Pretty Maids All in a Row, Strange New World, and Genesis II all get several pages) are presented almost without comment. For example, on the music in Genesis II:
“Sukman didn’t go with a tried-and-true action/adventure-type score, as Star Trek had. He chose instead to be more experimental, perhaps emulating the changing times. He came up with something a bit more … well, 1972 pseudo-jazzy-trendy. As with many trends, the sound was passé before it made it onto the airwaves.”
A bit more analysis would be welcome. Was there a reason for this musical choice?
Star Trek: The Animated Series
About one third of the book focuses on Star Trek: The Animated Series. During this section, Roddenberry moves away as the central focus and each episode of the cartoon is a character in its own story. I suspect a quote from William Shanter explains why. “Roddenberry had found the perfect vehicle. The animated Star Trek required almost none of his time, it kept his most durable brand name alive, and it served as a lightning rod, rallying the forces behind the cry to ‘Bring back Star Trek!’”
Each episode of the animated series receives a treatment on the backstory and development told usually by the writer with some filler from the show files and additional information from articles reviewing the episodes. Whether or not you have seen the episodes, each chapter is an interesting piece of Trek history. Most of the chapters offer fascinating looks into the workings of the studio as well as creations of cartoons themselves.
The lack of analysis is very clear in this section as well. There is a fascinating, but unsatisfying story about writing credits for the episode “Albatross.” Essentially, Paul Robert Coyle broke protocol and wrote a script for an episode of the animated series before he was asked. Roddenberry got angry and put the script away, although it was revised by someone else later. Most of the story comes from an interview with Coyle and show files. Coyle was upset and never watched the cartoon, although, as part of a very successful television writing career, he wrote for both Deep Space Nine and Voyager. At the end of the discussion of this issue, Cushman writes “Comparing the material, from story synopsis to story treatment to the last two drafts of the script, it appears that Coyle deserved to have his name on the screen, as ‘story by.’ As it stands now, Coyle has two Star Trek screen credits. Perhaps it should have been three…”.
After reading fifteen pages on the issue, I would have liked Cushman to take a stronger position on this.
Cushman clearly states during the five years presented in this volume, Roddenberry was working on different projects but hoping Star Trek would provide a source of income for him. As a reader, I found Roddenberry’s journey an interesting one. Towards the end of The Original Series, Roddenberry was ready to walk away from television, generally disgusted with the process of getting shows made. After several years of limited success, Roddenberry desperately wanted Star Trek to have another live action show or a motion picture. I do not think it was because he wanted to work with studios again, but because Star Trek was generating money and interest. Knowing where Star Trek goes after the 1970s is a tribute to Roddenberry and his team’s creativity, force of will, and desperation.
For readers who cannot get enough behind the scenes trivia on Roddenberry or Star Trek, this volume is extremely well researched and will serve all your needs. Part of me is quite certain I am a stronger Star Trek Trivia Pursuit player for reading it. However, readers less concerned with how Star Trek gets made, as long as it does, this is too much information. For me, I am glad I read this, but will likely pass on future volumes of this. However, I would listen to Marc Cushman tell stories about Star Trek all day, because he has done his research.
Beth Keithly is a graduate from The University of Missouri’s School of Journalism and works on grant development at a North Texas university. She is a fan of most science fiction and fantasy, especially Star Wars, Star Trek, Supernatural, DC comics and the Arrowverse, and the Marvel movieverse. When she is not teaching her children about her fandoms and the importance of a quality pen, she is reading, running or discussing fictional universes and their impacts on reality with her husband. She is @beth_keithly on Twitter.