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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.


  1. mwhybark
    July 22, 2013 @ 2:35 am

    enjoying the whole project.

    not sure what you intend for the Blish adaptations + Spock Must Die, or the Alan Dean Foster TAS books, but I think you will be interested in the ADF-scripted audio episodes released on vinyl in the mid-seventies, just post TAS. I'm pretty sure it's the first instance of a recast crew (no TOS actors appear on the records).

    Aaditionally, since a part of your projec


  2. mwhybark
    July 22, 2013 @ 2:40 am

    project is to investigate how we retconned TOS into something you don't see in the original text, you should look at the Blish books – for the period 1970-1979, they (plus the Concordance and FJ blueprints/tech manual) were the most widely available form of Star Trek media, with a broader distribution and higher sales than these quirky comics.


  3. Ununnilium
    July 22, 2013 @ 6:11 am

    Okay, so; being in the Doctor Who fandom, I've grown increasingly weary of people fighting tooth and nail against anything being considered "canon" and insulting people who use the concept as minutiae-obsessed ubernerds. (Not that that's what you're doing here; I'm just frustrated.)

    Canon can mean many things, but there's one specific meaning that really is necessary for people following franchises that reboot and retcon and spin off: Canon is what counts for the specific story that you're watching/reading/whatnot.

    If you're watching Deep Space 9 and you read the TNG novel "Dark Mirror", featuring a return to the Mirror Universe, you should be aware that the books generally aren't considered canon by the TV series before you hit DS9's version of the concept. If you're reading the IDW comics, on the other hand, you should be aware that they keep as canon things that were never shown on a screen.

    This isn't exclusionary; it's utilitarian, an active engagement with how stories and sequels and ongoing narratives are written. It's about where you put your emotional investment and what expectations you can have for how the story will play out.

    Yes, if you only let yourself engage with things that "count", you'll cheat yourself out of stories that are just as fun and interesting, if not moreso. But that doesn't mean that "counting" is a meaningless concept.


  4. Josh Marsfelder
    July 22, 2013 @ 6:55 am

    James Blish is a definite. I can't see how I could rightfully cover Star Trek's pop influence without him. He's getting his own post somewhere later in the 1970s, I should think.


  5. Josh Marsfelder
    July 22, 2013 @ 7:04 am

    Right, and I mean that kind of utilitarian approach has merit. But I maintain what it comes down to for me is that, in Star Trek fandom at least, the idea of canon actually is used for exclusionary purposes (or at least was: There may well be a more fluid and lax attitude to it now in the wake of the cancellation of Enterprise and the tepid fan reaction to the J.J. Abrams movies). This is manifestly different then the minutiae squabbling of Star Wars or Doctor Who (though of course Trek has more than its fair share of that as well): This is very much some things count and some things don't and the ones that do are more valuable then the ones that don't.

    I guess we're differing on semantics. I'm not sure how your utilitarian approach to canon is very much different from what I've decided to call Roddenberry's utilitarian approach to writing instead of a canon. Obviously, you'd want to bear in mind the writing team on the shows only looked to the other TV episodes and movies for references when attempting to place their internal structural and narrative logic. But this similarly won't prevent things like the spin-off comic line outclassing its parent TV show.


  6. Ununnilium
    July 22, 2013 @ 8:14 am

    Oh, certainly, and that's fair. It's really one of those things where a new vocabulary is needed. (Which TV Tropes would probably be able to provide, had it not gone downhill.)


  7. Mitja Lovše
    July 22, 2013 @ 8:32 am

    Maybe we should use consistency instead of canon or does that term encompass too much?


  8. thepoparena.com
    July 22, 2013 @ 8:38 am

    I thought "continuity" fit the bill in most cases.


  9. Josh Marsfelder
    July 22, 2013 @ 11:52 am


    That seems a bit too vague for my liking, unfortunately: I prefer something like "internal continuity" or "structure".


    It would, except for the fact I've seen a lot of fans use "continuity" and "canon" interchangeably.


  10. Ununnilium
    July 23, 2013 @ 9:58 am

    Continuity is a bit of a wider concept. That said, "in-continuity" is a similar term, and you can specifically talk about how this one thing is in continuity with this other thing without implying that these things are the only things that matter.


  11. Jacob Nanfito
    July 23, 2013 @ 11:53 am

    I don't have anything to add to the discussion (except that I love the Gold Key Trek comics) …

    but I just wanted to point out to anybody interested in Trek comics that there is a DVD-ROM collection available, which has all of the various ST comic lines (across multiple publishers)on it in PDF format. I believe it contains every official ST comic book ever published up until around 1999-2000 or so.

    I picked one up on Amazon for about $10 USD … and it's an amazing resource. One of my best purchases 🙂


  12. Josh Marsfelder
    July 23, 2013 @ 7:19 pm

    I concur. There's a link to it in the site's Amazon Store if anyone's interested. This will be far from the only Trek comic we're going to be looking at.


  13. mwhybark
    July 24, 2013 @ 2:34 am

    Good to hear! I gather you are writing from the UK or from the perspective of such? It would be interesting to hear how that perspective picks up on clues within Blish's material that imply his geography at the time of writing, and of course to tease out the elements of shared labor engaged in by he and Lawrence together. Some sort of echo of Roddenberry / Barrett, perhaps.


  14. Josh Marsfelder
    July 24, 2013 @ 7:07 am

    As per the guiding themes of this project, I try to write from as global a perspective as possible, and the ancient Polynesian navigators are at least the mascot here. If anything what I'm trying to do is as much ethnography of the West in general fused with a predilection for social justice as much as anything else.

    If I sound like a primarily a UK writer, that may be because the majority of my writerly friends are British, I spent a great deal of time in Doctor Who fandom and have picked up some British mannerisms and linguistic conventions over my life (not to mention my rather unsubtle interest in Northern European mythology).

    As for Blish though, yes, that sounds pretty much like the approach I suspect I'll take with him. That and a large emphasis on, as you said before, the fact his novelizations were the only freely available ways for fans to preserve their favourite episodes and stories before home video.


  15. BerserkRL
    December 9, 2013 @ 10:22 pm

    Aside from the self-evidently rather silly notion of squabbling over which events did and didn't happen in a fictional world, to me the concept grows out of a particularly exclusionary mindset and approach to genre fiction

    I don't agree with this at all. If what actually did or didn't happen in a fictional world doesn't matter, why bother reading fiction? In any case, as I see it the goal isn't exclusion (there can be parallel canons); it's just the fairly natural desire to know whether two stories are part of a single larger story or not.


  16. BerserkRL
    December 9, 2013 @ 10:27 pm

    Nonsense technical jargon about travelling though “Galaxy Alpha” aside

    "Galaxy Alpha" is of course short for "Milky Way Galaxy, Alpha Quadrant." That's my story and I'm sticking to it.


  17. Josh Marsfelder
    December 10, 2013 @ 12:24 pm

    I had a discussion about this with Ununnilium when this post originally went live. Basically, I think we're differing on semantics: While I certainly agree it's important to know which stories are supposed to go together, I choose to call that the creative team's functional approach to writing instead of canon.

    Canon is not treated the same way in Star Trek fan circles as it is in Doctor Who fan circles. This isn't minutiae squabbling about what is and isn't canon, it's a very firm declaration from a very specific group of fans that some stories "count" and are important and others don't and aren't.


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