Lost Federations: The Unofficial Unmade History Of Star Trek (A.J. Black) – Book Review

It’s been a long road – as the pretty much universally reviled theme of Star Trek: Enterprise tells us – getting from there to here. As the Star Trek franchise closes on the point where it could almost qualify for its Senior Railcard, now is perhaps as good a time as any to look back at the direction which that particular road took us on, and also reflect on those roads not taken along the way.

The road to Hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions. It seems equally likely the road to Development Hell is littered with good ideas – and also some others which were perhaps not quite up to snuff. But for a twist of fate, things could well have been very different, and we may have now been taking a look back at the adventures of Captain Robert April of the United Space Ship Yorktown, alongside half-Martian right-hand man Mr Spock. Whether or not the series in its earliest iteration would have been so enduring across the decades is anyone’s guess.

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The temptation to play a game of ‘what if…?’ is irresistible, with Marvel having even produced an entire series based around the premise of exploring alternative realities, where things could have played out very differently. And with such a vast and rich legacy as Star Trek’s, we have a multitude of branching possibilities, where things could have gone off on a very different tangent. Some of these are more well known than others, and trying to navigate such an immense tangle of missed opportunities and creative dead-ends is a task not for the faint of heart, to be sure.

Fortunately for the curious amongst us, A.J. Black has set a course to visit those undiscovered countries, some of which made it no further than a pitch document. These, then, are the largely uncharted voyages of the Star Trek enterprise, in all its many forms, with Black being our navigator along the way. Lost Federations: The Unofficial Unmade History Of Star Trek, brought to us by Polaris Publishing, explores the false starts and might-have-beens, showing us how the franchise we know and love has been moulded and reshaped across the generations by so many influences and hands, far beyond those of creator Gene Roddenberry.

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Black’s book takes readers on a chronological tour through the Star Trek saga, going right the way back to the original proposal for Roddenberry’s ‘Wagon Train To The Stars’, and looking at every calling point along the way. Perhaps even the most ardent of aficionados – be they Trekkie, Trekker, or some other denomination – would be hard-pressed to have command of all those various unmade versions and projects which seem to have multiplied like Tribbles, and feel far too many to try and count. So seemingly foolhardy and hopeless is this mission, you almost half-suspect Black was wearing a red shirt while researching and writing.

The sheer amount of detail included here is quite staggering, which makes you realise the forensic level of study which has clearly gone into putting this work together. This is not some half-baked, slapdash effort cribbed from various Wikipedia entries and simply reheating well-trodden stories. Instead, Lost Federations is perhaps the first – and last – word on the subject. There are other published works which have looked solely at specific parts of the Star Trek story, like Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens’ Star Trek Phase II: The Lost Series, Preston Neal Jones’ Return To Tomorrow: The Filming Of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, or Sherilyn Connelly’s The First Star Trek Movie: Bringing The Franchise To The Big Screen, 1969-1980.

Yes, each of those books had a laser (or, perhaps, a Phaser)-like focus on covering a particular era – namely, the decade-long interregnum between the end of the original Star Trek on TV and its faltering journey back from the wilderness, as it flip-flopped wildly back and forth between being a series or a movie. However, none of them cover the sheer breadth of material as Black does here, encompassing the origins of the show, going right up to the present day, with the cluster of rotating series streaming on Paramount+, as well as the continual on-again, off-again status of the J.J. Abrams-led ‘Kelvinverse’ reboot movie series (which presently seems to be boldly going nowhere fast).

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From abortive ideas for individual episodes, to putative ideas for entire new programmes, no Excalbian is left unturned in the quest to cram in as many facts and details, making Lost Federations as definitive a study as you are ever likely to get. Not content with digging up so much buried treasure on the live action TV (and now streaming) shows and movies which could have been, Black goes one step further, including the proposed animated and video game ideas which have been mooted. All of that additional coverage means this is, quite simply, as comprehensive an examination as you could ever hope for, and sets the benchmark high, leaving some of the officially licenced and authorised tomes looking very much like poor relations in comparison.

Lost Federations: The Unofficial Unmade History Of Star Trek is absolutely a publication which will be of interest not solely to fans, but to anyone out there who wants to see the veil lifted on the creative process, with a litany of ideas and concepts having been left by the wayside. Compendious as well as engaging and informative, Lost Federations will sit comfortably alongside the very best writing not just on Star Trek in all its many forms, but also on entertainment media as a whole.

Lost Federations: The Unofficial Unmade History Of Star Trek is out now from Polaris Publishing.

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