Steeped in the legends and lore of the vast Star Trek franchise, veteran journalist Ryan Britt has been captivated by the space opera sensation ever since dressing up as pint-sized Spock for Halloween in third grade.
Britt’s new retrospective guide, Phasers on Stun!: How Star Trek’s Making (and Remake) Changed the World (Plume, 2022), will be released May 31 and blaze a wide trail through the heart of the entire Star Trek universe. to touch on the myriad manifestations of creator Gene Roddenberry’s original “Train to the Stars” and explore the spread of the genre.
The guidebook is written in a light, gripping style, and Britt’s love for the iconic sci-fi object shines on every page, revealing the insightful truths and little-known facts behind the making of all of the Star Trek feature films and series. and animated shows, from the original Star Trek series to the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery spin-off, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. You can check out our guide to Star Trek streaming to find out where to watch them all so you’re ready for Britt’s book.
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“Phasers on stun!” traces the evolution of Star Trek from its inception on the small screen in the late 60s to its role as an opening mirror reflecting the social and political problems of the Earth in the 21st century. Intensely crafted with pop culture nuggets gleaming on every page, Britt’s entertaining tome has something for fans at every stage of the Star Trek obsession.
The 400-page book features over 100 exclusive interviews with Star Trek actors and writers, including Walter Koenig, LeVar Burton, Dorothy Fontana, Brent Spiner, Ronald D. Moore, Jeri Ryan and a host of key authors whose dedication has illuminated the franchise for over five decades. “Phasers on stun!” also visits Michael Chabon (co-creator of Star Trek: Picard) and director Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan).
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Space.com spoke with Britt about this eye-catching Star Trek valentine to find out how this all-encompassing book came about and why it is a refreshing addition to dozens of previously published Star Trek books that should enlighten trekking enthusiasts of all persuasions.
Space.com: What is the origin of this project and why does the world need another Star Trek retrospective?
Ryan Britt: I’m friends with a lot of guys who have worked on a lot of the Star Trek books over the years. Larry Nemechek, Mark Altman and Ed Gross are good friends who I consider my mentors. There have been a lot of non-fiction books about the history of Star Trek, but I don’t think it’s anything like the Fifty Year Mission. [Thomas Dunne Books, 2016]which has become an important bible for the unauthorized story of The Campaign, is very accessible to read on the plane.
“I Dream of the Beatles” [Dey Street Books, 2017] is a fairly new book by Rob Sheffield that inspired me to create Phasers on Stun! It’s an accessible take on The Beatles that touches on a lot of things you’ve always heard but weren’t sure what it was about, and it had a very specific garrulous tone.
I wanted to do something similar, but for Star Trek, as I knew a lot about it and have done a lot of reporting since the launch of the new shows. I wanted to use the quotes I used in previous articles and the ones I didn’t use and put them all in a new context to create something that reads like a personal essay – something that was also for people, who know nothing about creation. Star Trek, who are offline, don’t read tweets and don’t follow documentaries – to convey this information in a new way, clearly not in an oral history format. First of all, I wanted this book to be for the less visible Trekkies, the secret Trekkies.
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Space.com: Star Trek: The Motion Picture featured in Phasers on Stun! Do you think the movie has aged a lot over the years or is it still Star Trek: Slow Motion?
Britt: I think it went up in value. Every couple of years it seems like this was actually the most faithful to the original series, and I do think there is some truth in that argument. There are more behind-the-scenes books on the making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which is funny because it was the most—other than maybe Star Trek V—movie in the franchise vilified by critics. From a financial and sociological standpoint, you can’t get away from the fact that if Star Trek: The Motion Picture was the only Star Trek movie, the franchise would probably die, or at least it would die. not like what we think of Star Trek now.
And that’s the point of the book: Star Trek is constantly changing radically, perhaps more so than any other media entity or narrative science fiction franchise. His radical changes define him. Star Trek changes the main characters and aesthetics in such a gonzo way. For me, the difference between The Motion Picture and The Wrath of Khan is one of the clearest examples. Many people who are not science fiction fans or Star Trek fans, for them, the Star Trek franchise starts with The Wrath of Khan. Basically, every Star Trek movie since The Wrath of Khan has almost always had some kind of movie element built into it, and I don’t mean from science fiction, but from a structural point of view.
We wouldn’t have the rest of Star Trek without The Motion Picture, and [director] Robert Wise did an amazing job. But I don’t think his influence is evidence that Star Trek wanted to change. As risqué as the film may have seemed, The Wrath of Khan was actually a lot more risqué. This attracted not only the people who went to Star Trek Church every Sunday; it attracted people who hadn’t been to Star Trek Church in a long time. And that was important.
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Space.com: Of all the Star Trek TV shows or movies, which one do you like the most?
Britt: I would say Star Trek: The Next Generation and its spin-offs, Deep Space 9 and Voyager are all three. To a lesser extent, Star Trek: Enterprise. The fact that The Next Generation worked at all is shocking. This series was definitely mine. I wrote about it in my diary when I was a child and thought about it a lot. I recently told Patrick Stewart when I interviewed him for the second season of Picard that I got an audio recording of his one-man show Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and listened to it when I was 10 years old. I became interested in Dickens because of him and that was a very shaping factor.
“The Next Generation” had a mood and feel that the original series didn’t have – the camaraderie and unity of these core characters, though the other actors had it to varying degrees. But in The Next Generation, it was the first, and it was really revolutionary.
Phasers on Stun!: How the Making (and Remaking) of Star Trek Changed the World will hit bookstores and major online retailers on May 31st.
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