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Canon Fodder

Causality: the description of the relationship between one event- the cause- and another - the effect in which the latter is the direct result of the former.

Canonality: the description of the relationship between one set of fictional stories- those depicted in television and film- and another- those depicted in print.

Every day, certainly, perhaps every few minutes, a new Star Trek fan discovers the width and breadth of the Trek-verse extends well beyond the lovely filmed entertainments that draw us all in.

In that discovery, whether through the writings of DeCandido or Mangels & Martin or Ward, the new fan is quickly introduced to characters, plotlines, even entire species that have no connection whatsoever to the ones on the big and small screen.

Despite the fact that most writers of Trek-Lit spend considerable energy making sure their printed tales line up as closely as possible with the filmed stuff a certain friction often develops in the mind of the new fan when reading. It is a combustion of feelings that leads invariably to the question, "Which one of these versions is true?" Which is canon- that is to say trusted- and which is to be tossed out?

There are endless cycles of discussion of the value of canon vs non-canon vs fanon, which elements should supplant others and which should be ignored completely.

The party line has always been that only what is filmed is considered truly "true." The books are fun, even illuminating on occasion but ultimately only the films and TV series' actually "count."

Despite this official edict, the fan community continues to have what is often a heated debate about where and how characters like Elias Vaughn fit into the canon. They take a dim view when the answer is a flat, "He doesn't."

As a victim of its own success, the Lit-verse must shoulder most of the blame for this. If the printed stuff weren't so stellar, nobody would care about it and, by extension, what aspects are to be considered canonical and which are not.

Even amongst those fans that only watch the filmed versions of Star Trek there are grumblings about any perceived deviation from what they feel is "authentic."

DS9 is (or isn't). Enterprise wasn't (or was). The Klingons wouldn't (or would). Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Setting aside the fact that ALL of it is fiction and therefore is only as true or false as it pleases each member of the audience, here is a humble resolution to the old debate. As usual it is to be found inside the official filmed material itself.

Star Trek plays fast and loose with Time and the travel therein. On the one hand we have multiple depictions of time lines being "broken" or "altered" and some iteration of our stalwart heroes moving to fix the breach. This implies that there is only one timeline and that breaches of that line have catastrophic consequences for our heroes and often the universe at large.

On the other we have stories showing an infinite number of alternate lines ("Parallels," "All Good Things"), each created when any choice is made or rejected. This is sort of analogous to the so-called Many Worlds Theory and it pretty much cancels out the other version.

This second approach, while apparently undercutting some great stories ("City on the Edge of Forever," "Yesterday's Enterprise," etc.) has also, unintentionally, settled the debate as to what is canon and what isn't.

If there are an infinite number of possible timelines, each branching from another infinite number of histories, it follows that timelines can neither be broken nor corrected. Everything that can happen, in short, DOES happen. The Borg assimilate the whole universe, the Klingons take over the galaxy. Sisko refuses the commission to Deep Space Nine, etc. In other words everything you've ever seen or read, from fan fiction to the next J.J. Abrams epic is canon. All of it.

In fact, taken to its next logical extension, not only is every fictional Star Trek story true, every story ever written about any subject whatsoever is also true. Somewhere, somewhen it is all happening.

If you miss the old smooth-headed Klingons and hate the ridges, well, you're in luck. Turns out you've only been watching the adventures of those Klingons that The Powers That Be have chosen to show. The smoothies are still out there insulting bartenders, fueling civil wars and generally running gleefully amuck without any hint of a human-made Augment virus to twist their foreheads one way or the other.

More than that, somewhen there's an entire Star Trek series featuring the adventures of Christopher Pike and where no one has ever heard of James T. Kirk. The Rihannsu are the true Romulans, regardless of what happens or doesn't happen on screen. And, yes, somewhen out there, the captain and the first officer have finally given in to their deep and burning-

Well. You get the idea.

So, when the question comes up again in about ten minutes, "What is in the canon?" you now have the final answer.

Everything, folks. Everything.


6 Comment count
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I'm so glad...

...you gave a shout-out to the Rihannsu. Margaret Wander Bonnano and Diane Duane have been among my favorite Trek-litterateurs. I like your formulation of what can be considered "canon." I think it's contextual (and not just for Star Trek): for major works like new TV shows and movies, better stick to what's already been broadcast or shown at the cinema. But for books or slash stuff on the web, the sky should be the limit, and the only bases for judging merit should be whether it's a great adventure.

Huntington Sharp, Red Room

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Beyond my imagining

Hi Geoffrey--I've never read such an elegant exploration and explanation of the Star Trek universe or any other such media-based fantasy, taking into account fan fiction and all the apparent contradictions. I don't know the Trek stuff well, but as an old comic book hand I see how the same bigness of imagination and generosity of spirit applies to those worlds too. Very much appreciated. (But ease my mind on this: Kirk and Spock have given into their burning desires only in fanfic, right? Or are they really giving the novel writers carte blanche these days?)

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nah. we don't get to do that sort of stuff. Only the fanfictioners go that boldly.

 I've always enjoyed your comics work and I'm glad to see you doing the prose.





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Our Mythology

I think one explanation for the pervasiveness of Star Trek is that, for better or worse, it really is our mythology for the 20/21 century.  The cultural recognition in American society is probably just as universal as the Greek gods were to ancient Greek society.  Lots has been written about the need for any culture to have a rich mythology....and in the age of technology, it happens to be Star Trek.  After all, they did predict the cellphone, the laptop computer, and the Bluetooth (Uhura's communicator).  Like it or not, it's a common cultural reference point. 



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I agree. I also think its themes of ethnic and "racial" tolerance cannot be over-hyped. 

There's something extremely hopeful and optimistic at the bottom of the Star Trek ethos. Certainly there was a lot of that can-do Kennedy era American-ness in there but, as the original series', films and later series' global popularity prove, that hopeful view was infectious. Just as it was technologically predictive, I think Star Trek was very much socially predictive as well.

My Dad opened a huge door to me by exposing me VERY early to the original series in re-runs. It's not the only reason I'm a writer now but it is one of them. And it's also one of the reasons I never had problems with people over ethnicity or gender ID or any of that other superficial social crap.

I don't beleive in so-called "color blindness." I believe in noticing and finding beauty in the rainbow. Star Trek is very much a part of why.

Infinite DIversity

Infinite Combinations.

You really can't do better when you're looking for a creed.  

 The other one I love comes from a film called STARS FELL ON HENRIETTA and sort of dovetails with the whole Trek phenomenon.

"Hitch your wagon to a star," says Robert Duvall's character. "I've lived my life by that."

And, so far, I have too.  

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It's really interesting to

It's really interesting to watch the inconsistencies in the original TV series. In one episode, Kirk sends an away team to a planet with the instructions. "I want to know everything there is to know before we get there. I hate surprises."

Well, my first thought on this is, "Captain, if you hate surprises, aren't you sort of in the wrong line of work??!!"

On the other hand, there were some really profound and hilarious lines from the very beginning. In one scene, Bones and Chekhov beam down to a strange planet. Bones says, "Just once, I'd like to say, 'Behold, I'm the Archangel Gabriel!'"

And nobody can deny that Star Trek was more than prophetic in the technical realm. Anyone who's worked with distributed processing recognizes the BORG as the logical conclusion! I work with borg-like bugs in networking situations all the time! :)

Certainly it's fiction, but there's enough good science to keep it interesting.