Designing Voyager

Book review and book recommendations

Welcome to Star Trekking, my attempt to share points of interest and random intersections in the final frontier.

(Image from this excellent article on Forgotten Trek)

The Mickey Mouse Club had Guest Star Day, Anything Can Happen Day, etc.

Today on Star Trekking it’s BOOK REVIEW DAY.

Designing Starships – The USS Voyager and Beyond Offers A Detailed, Colorful Glimpse At The Evolution Of 34 Different Starships

Designing Starships - The USS Voyager and Beyond, by Ben Robinson & Marcus Riley, is the second volume in a series of hardcover guides to the art and process behind Star Trek ship design. The book stems from Star Trek: The Official Starships Collection, a British “partwork” by Eaglemoss Collections. Each issue of the partwork packages a single die-cast starship model with a 20-page magazine that describes the design, usage, and filming history of that ship.

This Designing Starships book highlights 34 of those starships by presenting just the “design” sections from the original magazines – in some cases bolstered with additional photos and text. The result is a handsome volume that stands as a testament to the brilliance of Rick Sternbach, John Eaves, Doug Drexler, and others who created the many starships that helped define the franchise.

The book opens with a deep dive into the creation of the USS Voyager. “I want it to be different,” Rick Berman is quoted as saying. “I don’t want it to look like TNG or DS9.” But he also said he wanted channel flippers to be able to instantly recognize it as a Star Trek ship. With that as a guide, Sternbach set to work, and the book offers numerous sketches showing the design’s slow evolution. But Sternbach wasn’t the only one given the chance to design the new signature starship, and the book covers alternate versions from production illustrator Jim Martin as well as radically different design options from Mike Okuda and Doug Drexler. As fun as it is to see the many drawings of could-have-been Voyagers, it’s the accompanying text that really makes the book stand out. Chock full of insight into the creative process, we also learn how much thought went into the worldbuilding behind all the show’s ships. 

“In the past, many Starfleet ships seemed to have 13 feet between decks,” Sternbach is quoted as saying, “an idea partially driven by set wall heights and the idea that there was a two-foot structural thickness made of deck plating, gravity generators and various conduits.” Throughout the book, this kind of attention to detail, of maintaining consistency across an entire Starfleet, keeps popping out. And that deep thought is all the more remarkable when you find out that many times the designers would have as little as two days to come up with a brand new ship.

Along with Voyager, the book covers the creation of the Delta Flyer, the Phoenix, the Klingon Bird-of-Prey, V’ger, the Borg Sphere, three Xindi warships, and many more. As you can see from that list, the contents include ships from just about every era of the show up through Enterprise. What you won’t find, though, is any seeming criteria for which ships were included. They’re not in any kind of chronological – real or fictional – order, which makes the book one that rewards thumbing through over many sittings, just picking a ship at random. Most of the entries are only 2 to 4 pages, so again it could be fun to just pick it up and admire the beautiful artwork instead of reading it straight through.

It’s also not a true reference book, as you won’t always find details about where the ship was seen or even, in some cases, how the final design appeared on screen. That’s one drawback of not getting each of the models – but maybe it’s incentive to seek out and buy a few.

Along with the large section on Voyager, other highlights include the V’ger sections, filled with gorgeous Syd Mead art, a look at the USS Prometheus that went from a single episode appearance to leading its own book series, and the design and thought-processes behind some of the ships created for the remastered TOS, including one design that originated on The Animated Series. There’s also a great look at the Phoenix from First Contact, which ended up inspiring – and even being cannibalized by – later ships created for Enterprise. Then there’s the section on the Enterprise-J, which barely even gets seen yet had so much thought and planning put into it. “The Enterprise-J would be ‘grown,’ like an organic animal,” Doug Drexler decided when trying to extrapolate to the 26th century. “Starships will be printed. Structural members will not be trusses and girders.”

“Drexler believes that a good design shouldn’t just spring from a ‘nice’ shape but should be rooted in an understanding of how the ship functions and what is inside it so, like an actor preparing for a role, he developed a backstory for his ship.”

I loved reading this book (although they really could have used some copy editing to catch some stray words and misspellings) and can see myself going back to it often. It’s given me much more appreciation for how much brainpower, craft, and love went in to the creation of even a random Voyager alien-of-the-week spaceship. And there’s just something about looking at alternate Romulan warbirds that warms this nerd’s heart.

Designing Starships - The USS Voyager and Beyond by Ben Robinson and Marcus Riley was published by Eaglemoss on January 8, 2019. The 160-page hardcover book is available on Amazon for $28.86.


I’d love to write more book reviews as well as conduct interviews with Trek creators and fans. And to do that, I’m asking for your help. I’ve turned on the Paid Subscription option for this newsletter and would sincerely appreciate it if you’d consider becoming a paid member.


Despite the too many Trek books already on my shelves, I asked this question on Twitter.

And got some FANTASTIC responses. Please check out the whole thread for some great ideas for your next Trek read.

For instance, this one came up several times.

Same for me.

This one reminds me of the Star Trek Maps I used to pore over.

And this passage is EVERYTHING.


MEANWHILE…

Love love love this kind of thing.


I’m on record as not being a fan of this movie, but I am in agreement here.


There are always possibilities…


Lee Sargent speaks my love language.


And finally, take a look at this lovely piece of art (h/t Darlene).


DIRECTIVES

  1. Our friend Laurie on Star Trek V.

  2. Trek/Dr. Who crossover?

  3. Someone buy me this Advent calendar, please.

  4. Insight into Discovery season four.

  5. Trekspert Mark A. Altman’s Kickstarter - a movie about the best geek year ever, 1982. I can’t argue with that.


Until next time,

LOVE long…and prosper.

Neil


Star Trekking is written and edited by Neil Shurley, except where noted.
Star Trekking logo art by James H. Dargie.
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