SCIENCE FICTION BLUEPRINTS

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One of the odder, and less-explored areas of Science Fiction fandom is the whole “Science Fictions Blueprints” thing. In essence, these are blueprints, schematics, cutaways, and various technical diagrams of fictional spacecraft (mostly) and other SF vehicles, objects, and locations.

This odd sub-sub-sub genre more-or-less started with Franz Joseph and his “Starfleet Technical Manual” in 1975. TOS was in near-ubiquitous syndication in those days, the endless river of crappy tie-in novels were just changing from headwater to torrent, and there was a mad rush to get *any* Trek-related product out to the consumers, knowing full well they’d be consumed. This wasn’t a high-prestige project, it was basically a ‘throw it at the wall and see if it sticks’ kind of thing, but the semi-hardbound book (Softback inside a hard cover jacket. Weird) sold modestly well, and was followed by Joseph’s actual blueprints of the Enterprise.

Both these books were officially authorized and reviewed by Gene Roddenberry, who was always out to make a buck, particularly where he didn’t have to do anything. These were considered Canon at the time, and a lot of the stuff we take for granted in Trekdom - particularly the background ships seen in the “Star Trek Phase 2” fan films had there genesis here. When the TOS movies started rolling off the assembly line four years later, Roddenberry saw that he could make another buck by decrying all that 70s stuff that had kept Trek afloat for a decade, and selling *new* official crap to replace the old official crap. It’s vaguely Soviet, don’t you think? The party-dictated verities are eternal until they’re inconvenient and replaced by new eternal verities, and we’ll eliminate any references to the old ones.

As an eight year old kid, I can not tell you how exciting it was looking at the Tech Manual for the first time, reading it in Arthur Treachers Fish & Chips after my dad bought it for me (Over my mom’s objections). Here was a window into aspects of the Enterprise that I’d never heard of, nor even thought of! It made the ship and the show seem somehow more real, plus, with a dad who’s an engineer, anything technical was like candy for me. Of course it helped that I wasn’t too observant - there were wild discrepancies between the ship we saw on the show, and the ship depicted in the blueprints and tech manual. There is, for instance, no second door on the bridge of the Enterprise. There’s probably not a bowling alley. There is no physical way the conference room can be in the place Joseph put it. There’s a lot of artistic license taken here.

But, hey, I was eight, I wasn’t terribly observant, and it was cool.

The next really big blueprint dealie-whacker was the semi-official “Space: 1999 Technical Notebook” which Starlog published in 1977. This didn’t sell well, and was quickly discontinued. There followed literally scores of other blueprints from other shows and movies, the initial batch being official merchandise, but more and more were fan-made stuff, much of which has since gone on to become deuterocanonical or semi-canonical (“Fannon” if you will), despite having received no official mandate from the studios and whatnot. In fact, we interviewed Keith Young a year ago about his massive, massive expansion of the old Space: 1999 tech manual, which was all pretty fascinating. (You can read that here: http://www.republibot.com/content/interview-keith-young-talks-about-his-... ) Pretty much at this moment, the legacy of that series rests entirely on his shoulders, which is kind of fascinating when you think about it.

Though widely available - you can see stacks of these things at any Science Fiction Convention - they have a fairly narrow appeal, and while everyone glances at them from time to time, few purchase them. I mean, what are you going to do with the things? Pin ‘em up to your bedroom wall? Yeah, that’s going to impress the ladies, isn’t it? Stick ‘em up in the garage and get beat up by your auto mechanic friends? Study them rigorously to feed your delusions of building a space ship of your very own? They are, pretty much by definition, useless. More useless than Science fiction in general, really, which is saying something. But though pretty useless, they are at least uselessly pretty. To me, anyway.

So what are these things?

Well, they run the gamut, really. You’ve got official publications, like the various Trek tech manuals, the Galactica blueprints from 1978, the various Star Wars cutaway books (Which are all super-cool, even though I don’t really like Star Wars all that much), and so forth. For the most part, these purport to be official “In-universe” documents that talk about the ships and such as if they were real. The TNG and DS9 manuals keep jumping back and forth between “In universe” discussions of the tech, and actual real-world asides from the set designers and producers from the show yammering about stuff distractingly, but that’s an exception.

Even these official things there’s still a lot of liberties taken with what we see onscreen. There has to be: Scale is frequently wrong, references to where things are internally change in dialog from episode to episode, because, frankly, writers don’t care *where* the Seaview’s Nuclear Reactor is, or what deck the Aviary on the Enterprise-D is located, which leaves the draftsmen to pick up the slack. And have you *looked* at Starfleet ships? They’re hugely massively amazingly big, with vast amounts of inferred internal space, and you’ve got to fill it with something, be it bowling alleys (Franz Joseph) or aquariums big enough to hold adult whales (The Enterprise-D blueprints). Even though official and canonical, I can guarantee you that it’s not *really* canonical. Let’s imagine Paramount was producing Star Trek TNG Five: “Just Freakin’ Kill Us Already!” Let’s imagine someone said, “No, we can’t have Captain Wesley do that because the blueprints we sold to a million geeks show the Aquarium is there, and if we contradict that, the geeks will feel cheated.” Imagine the reaction once the laughter stops: Do they put a hundred million dollar movie on hold because of a contradiction with some random piece of crap they did twenty years ago, or do they say ‘screw the geeks, let’s make money?”

Obviously, they’re gonna’ say “Screw the geeks.” In fact, that’s ultimately what Trek has been about for the last 22 years or so: “To boldly screw geeks where no geeks have ever been screwed before,” but that’s a screed for another day.

There’s also official blueprints that are actually real official blueprints: Copies of the set plans from the show or movie. These are rare - the “Galactica” blueprints, for instance, and some “Lost in Space” stuff - and curiously, even though they’re real, they’re soooooo much more frustrating and less fulfilling than the fake ones. Philip K. Dick would have been amused.

This is a niche market, however, so official products are few and far between. Ergo, to fill demand for such few people as demand such things, fans crank out blueprints by the bushel load. These range in quality from the excellent Seaview plans to any number of utterly crappy Trek things, and they run the gamut from extremely rigorous translations of what we saw onscreen to entirely fantastic spacecraft and vehicles that are designed to be plugged into existing SF universes. Mostly Trek and ’Wars. These are basically “Fanfic” spacecraft.

Curiously, no one ever seems to publish original blueprints for standalone vehicles of their own design. I’d think that would be pretty cool: Blueprints for, say, the USS Monkeyspank, a space Aircraft carrier that is in no way related to movie, tv show, or whatever, it’s just really really cool. ( http://www.republibot.com/content/original-fiction-bubbas-burger-barn-pa... )

Alas, counter intuitively, despite all the imagination displayed in making these things, there’s very little imagination in *what* the drafters choose to be imaginative about. If it ain’t a major franchise, or a sentimental personal hobby horse, ain’t no one a-touchin’ it.

Odd. But then the whole concept is rather odd, isn’t it?

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