Review: The Fifty Year Mission: The First 25 Years by Edward Gross & Mark Altman

The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek: The First 25 YearsEver since William Shatner committed his memories about working on Star Trek to print, it seems like there have been a lot of books pulling back the curtain on what went on behind the scenes of the original series. And if you were to take the time to put together all those various accounts of what went into creating Star Trek, whether it be from the technical, creative or personal side, you’d probably get a fairly good idea of how the original series came to be on our screens.

But if you don’t have that much time or shelf space, you could simply pick up Edward Gross and Mark Altman’s new book The Fifty Year Mission, The First 25 Years: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral Historyof Star Trek. Weighing it at close to 600 pages, this first installment of two this year from Gross and Altman covers the history of the original crew of the starship Enterprise, from the initial vision by Gene Roddenberry to the cast literally signing off at the end of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

Taken from interviews with dozens of people associated with the creation of Star Trek, The First 25 Years gives a great macro view of the original series. Gross and Altman have interviewed as many of those associated with the original series as was possible, from creator Gene Roddenberry to the actors who brought these characters to life each week to the creative team, guest stars and fans who had an impact and helped create what Star Trek is today.

Gross and Altman offer connective tissue to the recollections, allowing the various personalities to share their side of the story. This gives the book an interesting perspective on some of the more vilified and praised players in Star Trek’s history. Polarizing figures like Roddenberry, William Shatner, Fred Freiberger, Nicholas Meyer and others have their positive and negative sides laid bare with little or no judgment. Instead, the reader is given the chance to decide for himself or herself where the truth lies (probably somewhere in the middle).

One thing I came away from this book wishing was that Altman and Gross had started their research earlier or had found some previously undiscovered notes or interview with producer Gene L. Coon. While we get a lot of memories of Coon and his tenure in helping shepherd Roddenberry’s creation from a good one to a great one, there is little straight from Coon’s legendarily fast typewriter. Alas, Coon passed away before Trek really hit its stride in terms of popularity, study and journalistic endeavors and has been, sadly, silent. (The closest we’ve come is Marc Cushman’s three volumes featuring memos from Coon to the production staff).

This book purports to be a definitive look at the making of all aspects of classic Trek. And while it offers a great overview of things and hits the broad strokes, it falls just short of being definitive. If you’re an avid Trek fan (like I am) this book could be paired with Marc Cushman’s These Are the Voyages volumes that takes a look at the original series episode by episode. Putting these volumes along side Cushman’s will give Trekkers the definitive look inside the making of the original series.

It just makes me eager to pick up the next volume in the series that examines the backstory of the modern Star Trek series.


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