One Worth Fighting For: Review of Fighting for the Future: Essays on Star Trek: Discovery edited by Sabrina Mittermeier and Mareike Spychala
Fighting for the Future, Essays on Star Trek: Discovery. Edited by Sabrina Mittermeier and Mareike Spychala. Liverpool University Press, 2020.
The Star Trek: Discovery series is one of the current offerings in the Star Trek franchise, drawing controversy and delight from fans and viewers. Discovery has taken steps towards expanding the franchise’s diversity of characters and narrative tones. Drawing on nostalgia while making the viewer uncomfortable with the use of narrative approaches and tones unexpected in the Star Trek universe, it is most certainly a worthy text for study.
Fighting for the Future is an interesting and engaging collection of essays that examines Star Trek: Discovery as a piece of media in and of itself, as well as a piece of a much larger cultural legacy. Like other essay collections of its type, it draws on scholars from diverse disciplines who put their own spin and flavor on their scholarship.
I love these kinds of essay collections because they introduce me to different ways of thinking about and viewing popular culture. Using a base text for analysis helps to contextualise the many different disciplines and scholarly approaches. I have no particular interest in Victorian periodicals, but Will Tattersdill’s chapter about how seriality functions in Discovery gives a very useful entreé to thinking about the relationship between nineteenth century magazines and twenty-first century sci-fi TV. Most readers would not be exposed to these different ways of thinking about texts without collections like this one. The essays give just enough background into each discipline so that a layperson can follow the essayist’s reasoning, while providing unique insight into the Discovery narrative that would otherwise never have occurred to the reader. The collection would, of course, be very interesting to Trekkers and popular culture enthusiasts, assuming that they are interested in how Discovery engages with issues of social justice and the larger themes of the franchise.
The collection has eighteen essays examining everything from afrofuturism, to seriality, to representations of U.S. diplomacy. The first section of the collection is devoted to exploring how Discovery fits into the overall Trek franchise; the second section examines the storytelling methods used in Discovery, how they work, and their overall effect on the audience; the third section examines representation and diversity in the series, specifically race and gender; and the fourth and final section is titled “Queering Star Trek,” which examines the series using queer theory.
These are all approaches that other iterations in the Star Trek franchise have attracted—race and queerness in the Star Trek universe, in particular, have been explored in a lot of depth elsewhere—but Discovery’s many differences have brought a whole new scope and dimension to the analyses here. I particularly enjoyed Lisa Meinecke’s examination of Discovery’s negotiations with posthumanism, as well as Judith Rauscher’s essay on imperial(ist) feminism in the series. The essays in this collection are not all pro-Discovery; many of the essays note real and important criticisms of the show. I was glad to see that the authors didn’t try to pull punches when it came to their analyses.
The only gripe I have with this collection is that, at the time of writing, the Discovery series was not finished, and in fact is still ongoing. The scholarship is very current, but I have found that reflection on narratives works best when the narratives are understood in their entirety. That way, all of the character development, plots, and themes are complete. Additionally, the series claims to explore and represent the current socio-cultural climate, which is in the middle of a monumental shift; personally, I am looking forward to how Star Trek: Discovery explores the social and political world post-2020.
There are questions that the essays are examining that, in the future, the series itself might address or even answer. Publishing an essay collection after only two seasons does seem a bit premature. The contributors look at the ways that the series does not always get the critiques and examinations of society right, but there is still so much time for the series’ writers to learn and improve. It is a shame to pass judgement before Discovery has finished maturing. I would very much like to see some of these essay topics and discussions revisited when the series reaches its conclusion—to see if the contributors’ conclusions are still valid.
As Tattersdill notes in his chapter on “Discovery and the Form of Victorian Periodicals,” the essays in Fighting for the Future keep returning to the fact that Discovery is both like and unlike other series in the franchise. This collection acknowledges and explores how the series engages with the franchise and with the wider socio-cultural context. I look forward to seeing more analyses like this one in the future.Dr. Jessica Seymour (she/her) is an Australian researcher and lecturer at Fukuoka University, Japan. Her research interests include children’s and YA literature, transmedia storytelling, and popular culture. She has contributed chapters to several essay collections, which range in topic from fan studies, to online/transmedia writing, to TV series like Doctor Who and Supernatural, to ecocriticism in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Dr. Jessica Seymour (she/her) is an Australian researcher and lecturer at Fukuoka University, Japan. Her research interests include children’s and YA literature, transmedia storytelling, and popular culture. She has contributed chapters to several essay collections, which range in topic from fan studies, to online/transmedia writing, to TV series like Doctor Who and Supernatural, to ecocriticism in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.
This review was commissioned by editor Ashumi Shah on September 9, 2020. Sabrina Mittermeier, the co-editor of the volume and also an ARB editor, suggested the title for being reviewed for ARB. Sabrina Mittermeier was not involved in the reviewing, editing, or reviewer selection process. The author and editor were introduced at an academic conference in 2019, and are mutual acquaintances through shared scholarly networks. A review copy was arranged by ARB from Liverpool University Press.