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Tucson Weekly Language: The Final Frontier

Worlds collide in "The Star Trek Encyclopedia."

By James DiGiovanna

The Star Trek Encyclopedia, by Michael and Denise Okuda (Pocket Books). Cloth, $50.

DECEMBER 29, 1997:  IN JORGE LUIS Borges tale Tlön, Uqbar, Orbius Tertius, a cabal of creative thinkers from every field of inquiry meets to create a false encyclopedia for a world strikingly different from, yet reminiscent of, our own. The narrator of Borges' story finds one volume of this work, rife with cross-references to hundreds of imaginary books, and becomes lost in the world of Tlön that it describes--so much so that he conspires with others to produce the missing volumes. Soon, the world of Tlön begins to merge with Earth as its artifacts are produced by those who wish to further its reality, and as more and more people are taken in by the strange customs, clothes, ideas and sciences that its reference works describe.

Skimming through The Star Trek Encyclopedia, one can imagine how it would feel to discover a volume of the Encyclopedia of Tlön. Entries like "duridium alloy: metallic material used in the construction of throwing darts," mingle with more familiar items like "oatmeal: traditional Earth porridge made from rolled or ground oats." The most amusing aspect of this book is the cross-referencing, not only to itself ("inverter: device used by the Ansata terrorists of planet Rutia IV...see 'Ansata' ") but to other works in the Star Trek canon ("stardate: timekeeping system used to provide a standard galactic temporal reference, compensating for relativistic time dilation...See appendix 1 of Star Trek Chronology: The History of the Future.")

There's a disturbing element to this work, though: The fanatic devotion to details of the various Star Trek series causes the most obscure moments in a television storyline to make their way into an Encyclopedia entry: "uttaberry crepes: food. Benjamin Sisko ordered uttaberry crepes at Quark's bar on Deep Space 9." It's hard to fathom what it would take to produce a human who could pay this much attention to a television show. One can even find, in a separate entry, the fact that "uttaberries (are) a blueberry-like fruit found on Betazed."

In spite of how geeky this all becomes, I can't help but imagine Borges would've been delighted to know that "Hupyrian beetle snuff" was an "inhalable substance," and that perhaps he would be happy to see the artifacts of the Star Trek universe, like flip-open communicators and pen-based computer pads, becoming commonplace in our own world, just as the impossibly heavy metal worship-cones of Tlön began to appear in the Earth that he imagined.


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