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Creating the Star Trek encyclopedia

To boldly go where no researcher has gone before

Created date

July 27th, 2010

[caption id="attachment_13481" align="alignleft" width="558" caption="The USS Enterprise, Constitution Class. (Courtesy of website)"][/caption] The year was 1967, or stardate 3196.1, when Alva Underwood first tuned into an episode of Star Trek. Devil in the Dark was its title, and Captain Kirk and his crew were roaming planet Janus VI in search of a creature blamed for 50 deaths. [caption id="attachment_13480" align="alignright" width="280" caption="Star Trek Reader s Reference to the Novels author Alva Underwood where she likes it most at her desk writing the next volume. She says of her work: I like research. I ll spend half a day going through as many sources as I can to confirm something in one novel and see if it s consistent with its usage in another. (Photo courtesy of Alva Underwood)"][/caption] That night, Kirk and his Vulcan comrade Mr. Spock solved the mystery, made it out alive (barely, of course), and flew off to their next mission with an extra crewmember aboard the Enterprise. Underwood pegs this as the moment she joined Gene Roddenberry and his characters on their quest to go where no one has gone before. From this day forward, she was a super fan, a fanatic for all things Star Trek, especially the novels. In 1968, she snapped up a copy of the debut book Mission to Horatius, and each installment that followed deepened her fascination with the series. This was not casual entertainment to Underwood, but rather literature worthy of the same meticulous study that scholars give works by Shakespeare and Milton. Forty years later, she s proving this with her Star Trek Reader s Reference to the Novels, arguably the definitive guide to Roddenberry s literary franchise.

Multi-volume reference companion

So far, Underwood has published six volumes that collectively hold thousands of entries related to novels starring Captain Kirk and his fellow space travelers. The set covers 78 books published from 1970 to 1991 and includes nearly every conceivable detail appearing on their pages. Readers looking for information about a character, ship, planet, even medicine used by Dr. McCoy, will most likely find it in this reference series. [caption id="attachment_13482" align="alignright" width="231" caption="Star Trek Reader s Reference to the Novels, Volumes 1-6, are available at,, and"][/caption] The work is painstaking, tedious, and has consumed much of Underwood s life since 1992, when she retired from teaching at a Missouri community college. Now in her mid 70s, she admits that her quest to go where no researcher has gone before and index the whole of Roddenberry s vast galaxy might come off as a bit obsessive. But for Underwood, it s only natural. She taught research for most of her career at Moberly Area Community College, and here she s using her expertise to fill a literary gap that s long bothered her.

Complex and rich in detail

I started writing these books because it seemed to me almost criminal that a series of novels so complex and rich in detail had no reference companion, says Underwood. There s one for Frank Herbert sDune, a very famous one for Shakespeare s works, but not for theStar Treknovels, so I thought to myself, Here s your chance to create one. Thumb through any of the 400-plus books that make up theStar Trekfranchise and you ll see why readers need it. Inside are characters with depth, stories with moral underpinnings that focus on the human condition, and an overall concept that s downright visionary. Roddenberry realized that he couldn t write stories with substance if they took place in a universe that had none. Everything in theStar Trekworld has a purpose beyond sounding futuristic. The characters have personalities; the starships, registry numbers and engineering schematics; the Starfleet academies, admissions policies all of which play a role in the adventures chronicled in the novels. Underwood s reference series aims to make details such as these more accessible toStar Trekfans. There is so much to the novels, and my hope is that these reference books will help readers get the most out of them, she says. The stories deal with human problems getting along with others, avoiding war and they always look forward with the belief that humans will get better as a species. Underwood speaks with the same enthusiasm that first hooked her back in 1967. Today, it s the driving force behind her efforts to create an encyclopedia for theStar Treknovels. Call it passion. Call it obsession. It doesn t matter to her. Underwood is working for the legions of diehard Trekkies who share her deep appreciation for Roddenberry s genius, and she has no intention of stopping any time soon. She s already completed the seventh volume (due out soon from Authorhouse) and is halfway through number eight. Indeed, Underwood will soldier on with her mission here on Earth as long as her beloved characters continue theirs in the frontiers of space. May I never reach the end of this project, she exclaims, and mayStar Treknever die!