Story: Authors and experts in several fields – ranging from experimental physics to parasite pathology to archaeology – chip in to offer their insights on what could make the universe of the TV series Stargate SG-1 work (or, in some cases, which parts of the fiction decidedly don’t work).
Review: Once upon a time, I wasn’t that crazy about books that bore the word “Unauthorized!” on the cover like a badge of unlicensed honor – chalk it up to a not-so-great experience (as a contributing writer) with the author and publisher of such a books several years ago. To me, this basically translated to “we’re tap dancing around the outskirts of legal action as fast as we can without blowing our chance at geting to the bank in time to cash the check.” But I’ve recently become a fan of BenBella Books’ series of pop culture anthologies – sure, they too are “Unauthorized!”, but they at least have some meat between the pages. In “Stepping Through The Stargate”, we learn why the Tok’ra are marginally more plausible than the Goa’uld from a parasitic biological standpoint, some possible explanations as to why the stargate makes such a big “splash” when it opens, whether or not Samantha Carter’s career trajectory in the U.S. Air Force is a realistic one, and even hear from the show’s special effects supervisor and one of its recurring guest stars. Not too shabby.
It also helps that the contributors to this book are professionals in their field who know of what they speak (as opposed to previous “Unauthorized!” book series which have essentially consisted of someone cutitng and pasting Usenet postings until there’s a whole book worth). And yet the authors here still take things lightly enough to not just turn out a bunch of essays about how SG-1’s adventures, from a scientific standpoint, categorically could never happen. If anything, the one real low point of the book – at least from my perspective – was David Gerrold’s essay, comparing and contrasting the Stargate universe to the Star Trek universe. He makes some astute observations, but even as deserving as the Trek universe is of criticism over recent creative stagnation, it’s hard not to notice that Gerrold’s observations come with a whiff of sour grapes. (As is generally well known by now, Gerrold bailed out on the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation when Gene Roddenberry moved his AIDS-allegory script Blood And Fire off the production schedule, and a lot of his misgivings about Star Trek therefore seem to come across as a little bit personal.)
Even the light-hearted essays about the fashion trends encountered on the other side of the stargate, the main characters’ love lives and the preponderance of the overbaked line “We need you back!” in modern SF drama are worth reading. Tom McBeath, who plays the shifty Colonel Harry Maybourne (a recurring SG-1 adversary dating back to season one), offers some interesting ruminations on fandom, and how he has slowly come around to enjoy the madness. And perhaps the biggest insider stories come in the form of a diary kept by SG-1’s visual effects supervisor over the course of the sixth season. This part of the book, I could eminently relate to – get it done faster, get it done cheaper, and, oh, hey, make it great. Even though my own TV job isn’t even remotely as high-profile as working on the effects for the #1 rated SF series on television today, I can definitely relate. That essay made me want to buy somebody a drink. Possibly several somebodies. (And possibly several drinks.)
If lighthearted isn’t your thing, there’s an essay about the different flavors of philosophy and pragmatism among the show’s major characters, and at least two pieces on the mechanics of wormhole travel. Whether you’re looking for behind-the-scenes dirt, humor, or hard science, “Stepping Through The Stargate” has a little something for everyone – and it’s certainly raised my opinion of the “Unauthorized!” genre.
Editors: P.N. Elrod & Roxanne Conrad
Publisher: BenBella Books