Sunday, 24 February 2013

Review: Star Trek: The Visual Dictionary

I was very excited when the first listings appeared for Dorling Kindersley's Star Trek: The Visual Dictionary; owning a few of their Star Wars and Lego books, and being familiar with their many other books, I knew a Star Trek version of their information and image dense take on the universe would be a real treat. And I wasn't wrong!

The Star Trek Visual Dictionary covers the entire prime timeline Star Trek universe, or at least all the live-action TV series and films. TAS is left out, but I can understand why; it could have made the otherwise all "real" visuals inconsistent. After a forward from John de Lancie (aka Q) and a two page spread introducing the the Star Trek universe with a map of the galaxy, the book is in vaguely chronological order. Each of the series gets spreads for the hero ship, each captain, and each crew. The entire rest of the book is then arranged around the various species of the Star Trek universe, with the founding members of the Federation coupled with the Enterprise area of the book at the start, and species most strongly associated with DS9 and Voyager towards the end of the book, while the middle of the book includes everyone else, after the TOS and TNG intros. Each species gets anything from half a page, up to two two-page spreads for the major races (Vulcans, Klingons, Romulans, Borg, Dominion, and Cardassians). See the contents page image for an idea of exactly what's covered:


In some ways this feels like a fresh take on the old The Worlds of the Federation book, which also took a species-by-species view of the Star Trek universe, although with rather more non-canon expansions in that book. The downside of this format is that a few reasonably major areas of Trek are left out; there are no references to the mirror universe, alternate timelines, or the far future of the Trek universe we have occasionally glimpsed. While these are big areas of Star Trek lore, I can imagine their omissions being an editorial choice to focus on the core prime timeline. Perhaps more notable for a starship lover such as myself is that only the TV-hero Starfleet ships get any love; while mentioned, you wont see the Enterprise-A, Enterprise-E, Excelsior or any of the minor ships of Starfleet here. Starship designs from other species are well represented however.

Indeed the choice to mostly arrange the book by species gives some of the more obscure races a chance to shine as the book explores the culture and technology of each subject it covers. One of my favourite recurring elements in the book is spotlighting alien musical instruments, from the familiar Vulcan lute, to the bizarre Klingon concertina.

Andorians getting some much deserved attention.
Being such a dedicated trekkie, it's hard for me to give a wholly objective view of the book, but it feels like it would function well as an introduction to the Star Trek universe to newer Star Trek fans; covering all the major characters, species, technologies, and moments of Star Trek history. At the same time it's a real treat for those of us that are deeply familiar with Trek, thanks to the wealth of high quality imagery, particularly when it comes to props; some of which are delightfully obscure, and I'm sure have never had this level of attention in a Trek publication before. The chance to get a look at some of these alone, especially the brilliantly designed and incredibly well made props from Enterprise, are reason enough to buy this book. The production design from across the Star Trek series really gets a chance to shine here.

A page full of Klingon props
The author, Paul Ruditis, manages the same balancing act as the designers, in making the book both an accessible introduction to Trek, while giving the more familiar reader something interesting. Managing not too go into too much detail about subject one could easily get carried away on, while at the same time giving over room to give us paragraphs on such subjects as Human literature, the Carbon Creek incident (with one of my favourite props accompanying), and the inherent collectability the Ferengi design into their weapons to give them more of a market.

Insert on the Carbon Creek Incident, with brilliant retro Vulcan weapon.
My favourite part of the text by far though, are the labels accompanying most of the images. Some are practical guides to parts of technology or biology, but many are gloriously deadpan; with Porthos labelled simply "beagle", on the same page Keiko O'Biran is used to illustrate a typical Human female, with the excellent label informing us "leggings common in women's fashion". My favourite is the double labelling of one of Phlox's animal containers:

Phlox and his gadgets
At ninty-four pages this book manages to cram an impressive amount of Trek in. I feel it would be a great introduction for newbie trekkies, but also has lots of treats for the more familiar. I really hope this book is a success, as I would love to see similarly attractive and in-depth treatment to other areas of the Trekverse; perhaps a Star Trek starships guide in the same format, a look at all the lovely new designs coming out of the nuTrek films, or maybe one of DK's incredible cross section books!

Star Trek: The Visual Dictionary is due out next month, although Amazon appear to have already started shipping it in some countries, so you needn't wait that long! It's also due out, translated into German, in April.

Available at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.es, Amazon.it, Amazon.co.jp, Things From Another World, Entertainment Earth, Forbidden Planet.

Thanks to DK for sending me a copy to have an early look at. You can seem more sample pages on my previous reports, here, here, here, and here, plus pages from the German edition, here.




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