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A Love Letter to Fans--that tries both too hard and too little.,
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This review is from: Star Trek Stellar Cartography: The Starfleet Reference Library (Hardcover)
Stellar Cartography is a hard book to review because it really, really is a love-letter to Star Trek fans. The production values alone would bump up the worth of this book in any consumer's mind. Unfortunately, the actual content is very much a mixed bag. I'll try and be as clear and succinct with this review as possible, but be warned that specific details regarding this product are a bit difficult to articulate as it is more a work of visual art than literary art.
[ What's Awesome ]
The "book" is packaged in a large box with reflective-foil type and a beuatiful illustration of the Enterprise 1701-D flying over what looks like an old "textured" globe from the 1960s; the background is composed of a green nebula that forms a shape reminiscent of the Romulan Star Empire's emblem, dotted with small planets. The box is made of high quality cardboard and held shut with a "flap" with a magnet.
When you open the book, two panels fly outward, revealing a "frame" for the hardcover book flanked on either side by folders, each containing five enormous poster-sized maps. The maps are big, and mostly beautiful to behold.
The book contains various reproductions of the maps depicted in the 10 large posters, with along with some explanatory text. The paper is thick and glossy, and the book has approximately 48 pages.
[ What's Not Awesome ]
Many of the maps look very similar to each other, and many of them are "alien" -- that is to say, they have no legible writing anywhere, displaying instead imaginary Klingon, Romulan, or Vulcan script.
The composition of the maps also leaves a lot to be desired--so much so that I found their arrangement to be irritating, at best. In an effort to shoehorn as much of the geographic content from the franchise into a single, cohesive map of the setting (something anyone devoted Trek fan can tell you, immediately, is an impossible task) the maps feature all manner of inane, implausible features. To list a few:
-All of the major governments are located extremely close to Earth, the result being that the major homeworlds--Qo'noS, Romulus, Cardassia, etc.--are pressed up against the Federation border. In order to accommodate some of DS9's silliness, Cardassia and Bajor are depicted as being around 2 light years distant--which, if true, would have made Cardassia THE most vulnerable world in the Cardassian Union and the resolution of the Dominion War a much simpler proposition than it was depicted in the series.
-The scale is also wonky. The Federation is depicted as covering a super-massive area of space. That's fine--we know they're supposed to have over 1000 planets composed of over 100 species.But what's not fine is that all the other species--particularly the Cardassians and Romulans, who pose such enormous threats to the Federation--are depicted as having such miniscule territories. The Romulans and Cardassians are depicted with scarcely more than a dozen systems each.
-the Sarek-era map of Vulcan is by far the most visually unique (and appealing) map, but it's also the least credulous. It's a very "stylized" depiction of the Vulcan solar system that makes it seem like the Vulcans of Sarek's time would have had only the crudest understanding of their local system, when in fact they would have had warp drive and interplanetary travel for some time by then.
-There are too few systems, period. There are hundreds of Goldilocks-zone (potentially Earth-like) planets within 60 light years of us right now, so it's strange to see these vast interstellar states spanning hundreds of light years contain so few claimed systems. I guess we can assume that only the MAJOR population centers are mapped here, but if that's the case, there should still have been some indicator of systems that were claimed/settled, but not major--like little stars with colored circles around them or icons, or something like that.
-The written content in the book is exceedingly sparse and provides zero insight into the setting. It's double-spaced, so it's there's even less per page than you'd expect. What's worse, the content takes the profoundly stupid plot of J.J.Abrams' 2009 Star Trek as gospel writ, with multiple references to Romulus being destroyed by a magic (ulgh) supernova. Sure, this is a much more subjective thing, but in my opinion J.J.'s s***e should be kept out of the "prime universe" stuff as much as possible. Even acknowledging that garbage is a slap in the face.
Another issue is a map of the various exploratory voyages from the series, which (as you'd expect) completely fails due to trying to reconcile so many contradictory things. The dotted lines showing one Enterprise making a tiny little five-year mission in a narrow arc along the frontier of known space was laughable next to a giant-ass straight line depicting another Enterprise' voyages to the galactic core and rim, respectively, in even less time. Yikes.
The simple fact of the matter is that no one can create a single cohesive continuity out of Star Trek, due in no small part to the fact that for much of its history the producers of Star Trek were actively AGAINST the very notion of continuity in the first place. If a book like this is to be written, it needs to be prepared to play with the setting a little to make it cohere. You can't just toss everything in and hope it all lines up--it won't.
[ What Could Have Been ]
The real kicker here is just how much wasted potential there is in Stellar Cartography. Basically, the maps fail to elaborate (at all) on the setting. There was so much potential here!
All of the maps are drawn from the same top-down perspective--why no lateral view of the galactic disc demonstrating the "vertical" height of the individual territories?
Why only political maps? Some population density maps would have been cool, or subspace maps (we know, for example, that subspace has its own "geography" that determines how easily ships can go to warp--this could go a long way to explaining various incongruities, like the ease of travel between Bajor and Cardassia, for example). Any why not a map of population density--or the density of habitable worlds?
Or maps of local space at various times in the Federation's history? The "local space" of the ENT-era was very different from the TOS-era, which would be different from the TNG era--so much potential here. And then there's other stuff: why not "Vertical slice" maps that show the political entities and their approximate location encountered by the USS Voyager? Or the route of the Romulan exodus from Vulcan showing where they went, and where they split off to found other states?
And why no map of the gamma quadrant? We know nothing about it, but presumably it would have been mapped a little bit--as there were several colonies and trade agreements established prior the the Dominion War--not to mention the fact that a map of the Dominion itself would have been AWESOME.
Ultimately, Stellar Cartography ought to have made the Star Trek setting feel BIG. The shows may deal only with a small section of the galaxy, but even that small section of the galaxy is HUGE. Yet this book produces the opposite effect: it makes the galaxy feel oppressively small. The territory of the Federation is depicted as too big, too spindly and too thinly-stretched to be even remotely defensible, and the territories of most of the Federation's foes (everyone sans Klingons) so small in comparison that they don't make credible threats--particularly with their homeworlds pressed up so close to Earth itself. Yikes.
Overall, in spite of the fantastic production values, this book is a major disappointment. Stellar Cartography does not have much content, and what's there is very much a mixed-bag--and what's not there is a conspicuous in its absence. Honestly, I was very disappointed in this product, and if not for the fact that I got it at a discounted price or the fact that the artistic quality of some of the poster-maps is very good, I would probably have returned it within an hour of first cracking it open.
5/5 for production value.
3/5 for map quality.
1/5 for content.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 8, 2014 9:28:52 AM PST
This is a terrific and useful review. I really would have liked some alternate views.
Posted on Jan 23, 2014 7:09:38 PM PST
R. John Legerdemain says:
What a great review! Hopefully the author and publisher will become aware of criticisms and suggestions such as yours, and incorporate them into a future, expanded revision of the work.
Posted on May 11, 2014 12:16:42 PM PDT
Thanks for this detailed and extensive review!
Posted on Jul 24, 2014 2:44:04 PM PDT
Excellent and thorough review. Although I still may purchase it for the production value, this review will allow me to mitigate my disappointment over the content.
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