Are Star Trek Novels Canon? | Mahannah's Sci-fi Universe

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Are Star Trek Novels Canon?

Posted by Sean Mahannah on

The fact is, some Star Trek books are canon and some are not. A licensing agreement, similar to that granted to produce games, collectibles, and comics, was granted by Paramount Pictures to market Star Trek novels through various publishers beginning in 1967, with books based on the original Star Trek series. After the success of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the Star Trek movies, the licensing office affiliated with productions took tighter control over the franchise image.

The Basics

Later Star Trek book writers were advised not to sway too far from the details and style of the franchise shown on film. Novels written in the 1960s through the early 80s usually deviate from canon more than later books.

As most novels are not written by authors affiliated with Star Trek's production staff, most books are considered unauthentic. If something written in a novel is later mentioned in a film, the mentioned information becomes canon, while the rest of the book remains not canon.

Star Trek Canon

According to the official Star Trek website, canon includes all Star Trek television series, Lower Decks, and Short Treks. In addition to this, all movies within the franchise are also canon.

It stands to reason that among Star Trek novels, any that do not in any way contradict anything that is established within these various television series and movies would be considered canon. However, sometimes what is considered canon in Star Trek gets confusing.

Roddenberry Influence

In regards to what was considered canon and what was not, Gene Roddenberry was a revisionist. According to those who worked with him, Roddenberry deemed things canon on a point-by-point basis rather than series-by-series or episode-by-episode.

Whenever Roddenberry changed his mind about something stated in an episode or decided a contradictory fact stated in another episode was more important, he would declare the original element as not-canon.

From Non-Canon to Canon

Sometimes writers create new canon from non-canon works. For instance, this was true of the first names for Sulu (Hikaru) and Uhura (Nyota), which were first mentioned in the reference book Star Trek II Biographies and the novel The Entropy Effect.

A number of ideas that were first mentioned in the Animated Series, considered canon upon creation but then deemed not canon for a period, before being renamed canon, have been used in other Star Trek creations.

Episode and Movie Novelizations

Movies and episodes that were made into Star Trek books are not classified as canon. This traces back to series creator, Gene Roddenberry. His book based on Star Trek: The Motion Picture has a lot of new information and contains several tangents.

For example, the book states that the woman who dies as a result of a transporter accident is Kirk's ex-wife. Although the book explained several gaps within the movie, Roddenberry has said it is not canon.

Original Tie-In Novels

Most of the original books published by Pocket Books are not thought of as canon. This rule was set by Gene Roddenberry and often repeated by those who worked for him. That said, there are a few exceptions to this rule. A couple of Voyager novels--Pathways and Mosaic, written by Jeri Taylor (co-creator and later producer of Voyager)--were written early in the series and provided detailed backgrounds of Voyager's main characters.
These books were created as canon. The series writers used them as references when developing the characters. On the other hand, there is some background information written in those novels that was never mentioned in a Voyager episode. Additionally, some information was later contradicted in episodes aired after the books were published. For this reason, their canon status is often debated.

Star Trek Novels That Everyone Should Read

There are numerous Star Trek books that have been written since the Original Series aired. Many of them are well written and entertaining. Some of the best authors have written Star Trek books. Here are a few Star Trek books that any science fiction fan should read:

Spock Must Die, by James Blish

In this novel, Blish delves into the most bewildering facet of the Star Trek fandom. James Blish explores the Organians, the race of godly beings who forced the Klingons and the Federation to make peace with each other. Once the Klingons begin to again make war, Spock must transport to the Organian planet via a tachyon beam. This results in two Spocks, and one of them has to die.

The Entropy Effect, by Vonda N. McIntyre

Vonda N. McIntyre is an award-winning author. In this book, McIntyre outdoes herself. This is a windy story about time travel. In this gripping novel, the fabric of the universe is physically harmed due to time travel. This is a perfect example of exploring scientific ideas through a Star Trek book.

The Final Reflection, by John M. Ford

This book is the first one to dive into the Klingon culture and portray the Klingons as possessing firm ideas and honor of their own. In this novel, Ford creates a Klingon interpretation of chess, known as klin zha, and utilizes it to examine the Klingon notion of the universe and where they fit into it. Most of the later Klingon development in Star Trek builds on the ideas in this novel.

Star Trek Tie-In Books That Are Canon

As previously indicated, Star Trek has always maintained a loose definition of what is and is not considered canon. Gene Roddenberry himself often changed his mind about whether or not something was canon. This situation apparently changed in 2009. At that time, IDW used comic book tie-ins for the Star Trek reboot by JJ Abrams.
In 2016, various tie-in comics and novels were commissioned by CBS for Star Trek Discovery. They worked closely with publishers Simon and Schuster and IDW during the Discovery production. The end result is that recent tie-ins appear to be canon. Some of them have even been referenced on the show.

Star Trek: Voyager – Mosaic and Pathways

In 1996, Jeri Taylor, Voyager's co-creator, received an offer she could not turn down. Taylor loved the Kathyrn Janeway character. Pocket Books asked her to write Janeway's official backstory. This resulted in two books: Mosaic and Pathways.

These are the only novels written in the 90s that can claim to be canon. Although some contradictions inescapably developed as the show continued, many aspects of the books were mentioned in the series.

Star Trek: Countdown

Star Trek: Countdown is four novels that serve as a prequel to JJ Abrams' 2009 Star Trek reboot. These books follow the stories of Nero and Spock in 2387. This series examines the events that resulted in the two traveling back in time.

The series details Spock's forlorn and vain attempt to avert the supernova that devastated the Romulan Empire. As the filmmakers were involved in the development of the comic, it is normally thought of as canon.

Enjoy It All

Some people believe that only material approved by Roddenberry should be thought of as canon. However, doing so would subtract a lot from canon, including some episodes of the original series. Roddenberry himself condemned this idea. He wanted Star Trek to continue after his death. What is and is not considered canon in the Star Trek fandom has changed throughout the years, however, most of the Star Trek novels remain not-canon. That said, many of them are still great reads!

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