Star Trek's multiverse of story

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Buzz about the latest Star Trek movie may be dying down as summer blockbusters lumber onto the scene. But print is eternal – and Alan Dean Foster's novelization of the J. J. Abrams film is still selling briskly at Amazon.com.
"The star was a supergiant and very old," Foster's novel begins. "Over billions of years the forces that had powered it throughout its long life had finally exhausted themselves.... A star had died.

"Elsewhere in the cosmos, in an unremarkable corner of one galactic arm, a child was born. Such is the balance of existence."

The child, we quickly learn, is Spock – the still point upon which this fork of the Star Trek world pivots. And already the novel has departed from the film, which begins with the birth of James T. Kirk, ego to Spock's superego.

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But that's what the novelized Trekiverse is about: spinoffs of spinoffs, sublots within subplots, narratives bouncing off one another like quarks in a supercollider. The Star Trek literature shows how in science fiction all the ancient storytelling tricks and motifs have their cosmological analogs. Where the old tales had reversals, frame stories, and unreliable narrators, the new mythology has timewarps, alternate universes, and robotics.

The result for the Star Trek mythos is a multiverse so bubbling and frothy that cosmologists' models of the real universe seem comparatively flat.

It goes without saying that tie-in novels are conventionally beneath critical consideration. They're flagrantly commercial products, after all. Foster, whose Trek bibliography is a lengthy one, is a busy artisan in this trade; he is the author of novelizations of this season's other schlockbusters, Terminator Salvation and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

But where most spinoff books are cynical productions, the Star Trek literature is exuberantly prolific, kitschy but complex. Books have been an integral part of the Trekkie world since the heyday of the original series.

In the 70s it gave birth to a hybrid genre, the FotoNovel, in which stills from the TV series were printed with speech bubbles in comic-book fashion; in the 90s, William Shatner himself (the original Captain Kirk) launched a series of novels collectively dubbed the "Shatnerverse" by fans, in which his character returns from the dead to take his adventures well beyond the original five-year mission.

Star Trek has spawned a burgeoning bibliography of spin-off novels, short stories, and novelizations; fan fiction in book, film, and comic form; critical works and technical manuals. And like any sacred literature, the Trek canon ranges from the authorized to the pseudepigraphical to the apocryphal.

In a way, Trek fans pioneered the kind of crowd-sourced, cult-driven, viral culture that now flourishes everywhere on the Web. In that sense at least, Trekkies went boldly where no one had gone before.

Matthew Battles is a freelance writer in Jamaica Plain, Mass.

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