CanonWars: Discovery and Trek Continuity

Reposting from my CanonWars blog:

In an interview with Digital Spy, Kurtzman, co-creator and showrunner of Star Trek: Discovery, was asked about keeping consistent with the novels and comics.   Of course, any production staffer asked that in the 90s would've said they weren't part of the canon continuity, besides the little oops-broken  handshake agreement not to use Shelby in DS9 while the Calhoun books used her . . . the exception proving the rule.

Kurtzman answered much differently, however, specifically placing them in the continuity that his universe as Trek show developer follows.

"Everybody is always trying to maintain continuity," Kurtzman told us. "But given the 50 plus years of Star Trek, it literally becomes impossible because people decide that they want to follow a character in a book series after the show has been cancelled, and so they'll invent stories."

"And then 15 years later, a new show will come on that will take that character back and you can't be consistent with everything. Our goal is always to try, always, always to try and never to negate what has existed in the novels and graphic novels but it is a literal impossibility."

"And part of what has kept Trek going for so long is everyone's wonderful imagination to keep writing books and keep making graphic novels and keep making shows. And at a certain point, given the volume of things that are out there it's just impossible for everything to sync up perfectly. So we give it our best effort."  

Source:  http://www.digitalspy.com/tv/star-trek-discovery/news/a868679/star-trek-boss-impossible-to-fix-canon/

Bolding mine.

The big takeaway from that is that Kurtzman didn't mean what everyone thought he meant when he said they were working hard to avoid "violating canon" on the new CBS productions like Discovery.

Most assumed that he meant not going contrary to the prior live-action Trek, but that was assuming a definition for both "violating" and "canon". For the former, some have argued that canon isn't violated so long as no one in prior live-action Trek specifically stated that no such thing as spore drive existed in the 2250s, for example. I find such a requirement a rather unique point of view, as direct negation alone cannot possibly serve as a rational standard. For the latter, of course, the exact meaning of "canon" is rather important. Since he includes the books and comics, we now know his definition was never the same.

Such quotes don't come along often, but with further review we can confirm this reading. Ten years prior, Kurtzman said:

Alex Kurtzman: We did a lot of reading of the books. I think we consider the books canon to a large degree so it’s very important to us to stay consistent. But there is a bit of a hole and there’s actually different mythologies about {Kirk & Spock's} history so it’s a matter of staying consistent but also figuring out how you can play around a little bit anchored by the rules

Source:  https://trekmovie.com/2008/09/19/orci-kurtzman-trek-very-true-to-canon-even-books/

TrekMovie even identifies it as him treating the "Star Trek EU" as canon.

Thus, Kurtzman has revealed that the canon policy he's operating under is totally different than the one used during the Roddenberry- and Berman-era of Trek production, instead matching the JJ-verse's.  Through the end of Enterprise and the Viacom split, Star Trek canon included only live-action Trek, with ultra-rare, explicit exception.

By adding in novels & comics generally, most never intended to be canon anyway, Kurtzman has fundamentally altered the Trek universe. This is more than the references we had before of them consulting "The Final Reflection" by John Ford for background material… that's little different in principle than using a WW2 submarine flick for inspiration.  Making it canon, however, is a much different animal.

For example, if I take Battlestar Galactica and declare that Stargate SG-1 is suddenly canon in that universe, I just radically altered Battlestar Galactica at the stroke of a pen.  But can I say I altered it, or is it that I have made a new universe different from what existed before? 

Clearly, the answer can only logically be the latter, because such a fundamental shift in meaning and fact cannot work any more than one can have a visual-only reboot of an audio-visual medium (e.g. replacing TOS visuals with clips from Star Wars).

Still, many view Discovery as true Trek because it is, to borrow a phrase, the next closest continuer of the Trek shows of the past. It was marketed that way, after all. And naturally, one can argue that the rights-holder can modify their universe via a change in canon policy as they see fit. I agree.

Indeed, in the case of subtraction, this can have only a limited effect on the universe. If one were to decanonize DS9 or The Empire Strikes Back, for instance, we would lose information but there'd still be the same story thereafter. Similarly, a minor clarification in the margins, or even minor additions, don't break the universe. Major additions, however, do. 

In the earlier 'BattleStargate' example, BSG's owners could claim that it was the same BSG universe as before, but this is a fundamental impossibility. Even had they been written so as not to contradict (in which case they'd have already been in the same universe), any new production of BSG that referenced SG-1 would be a break from what came before.

They can change the universe with a penstroke, in other words, but that doesn't negate the fictional reality and continuity that existed prior to the shift.

In effect, what we have here is Tuvix, the being created when a transporter accident merged the characters of the Vulcan Tuvok and the nutty alien Neelix. If the classic Trek canon is Tuvok and the books and comics continuities are Neelix, what Kurtzman has done with Discovery is not to give us more Tuvok, but to execute a transporter accident and give us Tuvix.

Why would I, to learn about Tuvok, waste my time on Tuvix? Tuvix can tell me things about Tuvok but only via a distorted lens, so I might as well stick with what Tuvok said. This is doubly true when Tuvix seems to sometimes "reimagine" assorted Tuvok things, add in new contrary info, and otherwise get Tuvok details wrong.

This is not to suggest Tuvix is bad, mind you, or that it is bad for you to like him. However, pretending he is Tuvok is pretty silly.

Some might argue the analogy and say the change is merely an addition of new information, as if giving Tuvok new memories, but that's not the case. The very identity of Trek is altered just as surely as Tuvok's DNA was . . . and his uniform, too.

While perhaps not as emotionally satisfying as having CBS explicitly say it is a reboot, the same effect is achieved over and above Fuller's previous "reimagine" comments or listing all the myriad differences in history, technology, culture, et cetera ad nauseum.   STD's universe is not the same as the one first seen in Star Trek: The Original Series and last seen in Star Trek: Enterprise.   It inhabits a new universe that includes other material, like the Star Wars EU before it.

Indeed, calling it a reboot might be unfair, as a reboot is usually something new.   This is just something completely different.