The Center Seat: 55 Years of Star Trek Book Review
Few shows have had the lasting power of Star Trek, a franchise nearing its sixtieth year of birth. Through the many eras of Trek, it became a series that changed the way sci-fi is appreciated, becoming a trendsetter for cultural change and technological advancement. Its reach is unparalleled, not just in its own genre but beyond. With decades of tales behind it, there are plenty of books out there telling the history of Star Trek, but few are done with the exact words of the people who were actually there.
“The Center Seat: 55 Years of Trek” is the companion book to the Nacelle Company’s TV show of the same name. You’ve likely seen their docu-series work before, including The Toys that Made Us on Netflix and their Icons Unleashed series currently airing on Vice. Originally airing on The History Channel, The Center Seat shed new light on the origins of Star Trek, with new interviews of the stars, writers, directors, and behind-the-scenes crew who experienced it firsthand.
The companion book by Peter Holmstrom encapsulates what the series accomplished by compiling these accounts in an easy-to-read encyclopedia of Trek knowledge. What separates this version from other books like it is the way it’s formatted. Primarily presented as snippets of interviews, the narration from Peter is sparse, allowing for the folks who lived it to walk us through every second of what happened on and off the set. It’s an oral history, which is simultaneously the closest way to figure out the truth about some things while also creating tension with the occasional conflict as told by different voices who were at the same place at the same time.
From the creation of the original series through the end of Enterprise, Holmstrom chronicles the ups and downs of this franchise, including its near-demise and resurrection. If you’re looking for info on the modern iterations of Trek like Strange New Worlds, Lower Decks, or Discovery, you’ll have to wait for a sequel! This is all classic Trek and goes into great detail on how Lucille Ball made this unwanted show a reality, tales about the unproduced Phase II series, why TNG has become so ingrained in modern sci-fi, how underdogs like DS9 and Voyager kicked butt, and what really went wrong with Enterprise, among other hot topics.
The amount of star power in this book could bring any starship to warp 10 (although I wouldn’t recommend it unless you want to turn into a salamander). The names you know, like Leonard Nimoy, Brent Spiner, Nana Visitor, Gates McFadden, Robert Picardo, and John de Lancie, to name a few, bring some never before told stories with them, supported by the creative people who kept the ships running.
There are excellent stories like Kate Mulgrew talking about her final day on the Voyager set, Nicholas Meyer discussing The Wrath of Khan, Mark Altman and David Gerrold explaining the changes in Gene Roddenberry over the years, or any number of things. I don’t want to give everything away because The Center Seat prided itself on digging up the past in a way Trek had never been looked at before. The Kirstie Alley interview alone is worth the price on the cover!
One of my biggest issues with books like this tends to be the depth of them. Sometimes, they are Wikipedia-quality surface-level reads, while on the other hand, there are others on the market that are so granular only the most hardcore fans would care. The Center Seat draws a fine line between epic reveals of info and keeping it digestible for every fan. That ability is certainly attributed to the interview format, making it feel like a TV show on paper. It’s a wonderful reference book, but more importantly, it’s a stellar reading experience.
If you’ve never watched The Center Seat, it’s available in a few places like Roku and Amazon Prime, or you can grab it on DVD this April. I guarantee after you watch the show, you’ll still want to pick up the book to keep the story going. Few Star Trek books achieve this level of entertainment and information, and it makes perfect sense that it’d be the Nacelle Company who could find a way to make that happen. It’s a book by people who love and respect this franchise, which goes a long way in continuing the legacy of it as well as the people who made it. Live long and prosper!