An Enterprising Guide to the Galaxy

Courtesy Geoffrey Mandel

Someone, perhaps an owner of a genuine hand phaser from the starship Enterprise, will find an error in this story, something about Star Trek mentioned in a slightly improper context or tone. Fans found an error or two in Geoffrey Mandel’s new book, and Mandel actually knew what he was talking about. They loved his book. They said it was long overdue. But they also relished detecting things he missed. Maybe a planet he drew a little too large, or a date that seemed a tad off. But then, they live in a whole different world—nay, galaxy.

Mandel, MA ’81, first entered that galaxy as a teenager, years after the original Star Trek television series went off the air. He drew blueprints of the ships he saw on reruns. Sometimes he took out his Kodak Instamatic and snapped photographs from the tv screen. That way, he could closely examine the still ship as he copied its image. Soon he was selling his drawings through the mail and attending Star Trek conventions.

“He could almost fool a real engineer,” says Doug Drexler, a senior illustrator on the current Enterprise TV series who, at the time, worked at a Star Trek memorabilia store in New York City. “The place attracted closet Star Trek geeks from the New York metropolitan area and beyond. Here comes this kid. He was a superstar. How did he learn all of this stuff?”

Now Mandel has written, designed and illustrated Star Trek Star Charts: The Complete Atlas of Star Trek (Pocket Books, 2002). His unusual atlas comes after almost a decade’s work as a graphic artist in Hollywood. The 96-page book, complete with foldout charts, maps the Milky Way quadrant by quadrant. Mandel also depicts its civilizations in such detail—the Commonwealth of Menk and Valakis, for example, one of the few known worlds with two native humanoid species, was first contacted by Enterprise NX-01—that an outsider has to simply enjoy the bright colors and impressive graphics.

But to true believers, or “Trekkies,” the finer points make perfect sense. In fact, some classify the book as “Star Trek nonfiction” because it doesn’t deviate from the shows’ plots or make up new story lines, as many books do. Mandel prefers to call his atlas “reference,” though he understands the purists’ zeal: it’s been part of his own life.

Why the fascination, the conventions, the huge constituency? Mandel says it’s because the show is about an accepting universe, where appearance and social skills are irrelevant; its devotees are like that, too. For someone like Mandel, who says he didn’t always fit in high school social circles, the Star Trek family of fans quickly became his scene. “It’s a way for nerds and dweebs to have a social life, and that’s a good thing,” he says, claiming membership in those categories. “It’s a positive cult.”

That cult has long provided work for Mandel. After earning a master’s in English at Stanford, then an MFA in film at NYU, he got a job as a production assistant in the art department of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. From there, he became a graphic artist for more than a dozen TV shows and movies.

It was during his work on Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise—designing and producing animation, alien languages and control panels—that Mandel created Star Charts. He made a giant spreadsheet showing all the fictitious planets and the dates of visits by the shows’ characters, then spent nine months researching details while on the set and watching a lot of reruns on UPN at home.

This isn’t Mandel’s first book. He wrote and illustrated The Star Trek Maps (Bantam Books, 1980), The Star Fleet Medical Reference (Ballantine Books, 1977) and a guide to Word for Windows 6.0. But his latest work seems to be getting the most attention. “I don’t think anybody could have done a better job,” Drexler says. “He made it gorgeous. It’s spectacular to look at.”

Of course, there will always be nitpickers. But Mandel, who logs onto Trekkie chat rooms, is happy with the overall reaction. And if people call his book nonfiction, so be it. It’s an accepting universe, after all.

BRIAN EULE, ’01, who lives in Redwood City, wrote Basketball for Fun (Compass Point Books, 2003).