Nonfiction · Sci-Fi · TV & Movies

Review: Vulcan (Hidden Universe Travel Guides) by Dayton Ward

So there’s a travel guide for the planet Vulcan from Star Trek. As a hardcore Vulcan-obsessed Trekkie, of course I wanted to check it out. I didn’t have high hopes, I just expected it to be mildly amusing and nicely designed — it’s from Insight Editions, which publishes a lot of TV and film art books as well as some in-character publications like these. I thought I’d browse through it and that’d be all. Instead I ended up reading it all the way through and loving it.

Vulcan Hidden Universe coverThis book is so well designed that it becomes a uniquely immersive experience, someone talking to you like Vulcan is real in a context where someone would be talking to you about Vulcan. Dayton Ward, a prolific author of Trek novels, hits the travel-guide tone exactly right. It’s glossy and superficial, but tells you all the things you’d want to know when planning a trip and wants to sell you on the whole package. Where are the best cities to party, and where do you go for an authentic Vulcan experience? Where are the historical attractions, and what makes each region different? It follows the usual travel-guide setup of doing the same segments for each area that’s featured, but each one is different enough that it doesn’t get repetitive (and is thus a much better read than a real travel guide, even while it’s perfectly mimicking one).

The art and page designs are beautiful too. Someone spent a lot of time creating this whole package (and a good handful are credited in the back of the book). And yeah, there are those little moments of insider humor, like the advice section on what to do if you get caught up in a Vulcan marriage-or-challenge fight to the death: “It’s advised that you have a tri-ox compound administered before the fighting starts. You should always consult a physician before taking any medication or before beginning any new strenuous activities.”

From a content standpoint, I appreciated the realism Ward gave to the planet. We know it as a forbidding desert world, and it is, but of course there are water sources and of course many settlements are based around them. The towns and landmarks in the desert tend to be of a more spiritual nature, including monasteries, ceremonial sites, Luddite settlements, and any number of “Surak did such-and-such here” spots. Ward gives the Vulcans a similar treatment, not forgetting their beliefs and logical nature, but not acting like all Vulcans are going to be scientists. They’re obviously great believers in art and physical culture from what we’ve seen on the shows, plus there’s a need for people filling all the humdrum roles that keep a society functioning. Plus Ward’s picked up on minor things presented on the show, so it feels somehow more real when you’re reading along and think “Oh, well of course they have history with the Tellarites, that makes sense…” again as if it’s a real place you’ve heard about but never visited.

Vulcan Hidden Universe page

For fans, the book seamlessly blends all the eras together under the guise of revisions and new editions, even advising that Vulcan may not exist in all timelines and to consult your travel agent for details. The major Vulcans and Vulcan-based characters have also written short promotional pieces for the book, including a letter from Ambassador Spock at the beginning expressing his hope that we will enjoy and benefit from our cultural exchange. It’s an odd combination of fan nods and realism (of course the ambassador would support this) that carries through the whole production.

Throughout the book I unconsciously found myself planning the trip I’d take, and then getting sad when I caught myself and realized I couldn’t go. I even found myself getting frustrated that Vulcan was so touristy and commercial “these days,” and then realizing of course a travel guide would focus on those areas. This is honestly one of the most interesting meta experiences I’ve had, and I’m after those like an Enterprise is after strange new worlds.

The Klingon Empire travel guide just came out a few weeks ago and is also by Dayton Ward, plus there’s The Complete Marvel Cosmos: With Notes by the Guardians of the Galaxy by Marc Sumerak. I haven’t been able to determine if there are more in the works, but either way, I’m definitely reading these and then looking for Ward’s novels.

On Amazon | On Goodreads


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