Treknology: The Science of Star Trek from Tricorders to Warp Drive Book Review


TREKNOLOGY is a book about real world science that reflects the science in Star Trek. That is, it’s not like the various Star Trek technical manuals that explain how the science is supposed to work. So you won’t be reading about the fictional Heisenberg compensators in transporters, for example. But for technologies not yet available like warp drive and transporters, the work of Mexican theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre and developments using quantum entanglement are mentioned, respectively. Don’t expect, however, any blueprints for enabling you to build your own automatic sliding doors.

The author, Ethan Siegel, is a PhD astrophysicist, and his bio mentions that he’s a longtime Star Trek fan, which is apparent from his eloquent optimism and awareness of Star Trek‘s significance in his introduction and conclusion for the book.

The book is meant to be read by the general public, so science details are kept to a minimum. But it does occasionally use Star Trek references in an offhand way, so if you’re a Trekker, you will enjoy the book much more. And if you don’t know what the Picard Maneuver is, then be entertained and go watch some Star Trek. Actually, there was one reference that even I didn’t get. Who knows who Billy Telfer is? I need to watch more Star Trek! (FYI: I looked up Billy Telfer on the Internet. He’s a character featured in the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Good Shepherd.”)

The inclusion of simplified diagrams might help some people. In some cases, I think they will only clarify for those who already have an understanding of the underlying concepts. The diagram for the first working demonstration of an optical “tractor beam” comes to mind.

In the chapter on impulse engines, the term “antiparallel” is used. I’m embarrassed to admit that it’s the first time I have ever encountered the word. (To save you from having to look up the word after reading the book, it means “parallel but moving or oriented in opposite directions.”) Personally, I found the subspace communication chapter the most difficult to follow, but the chapters are short. And Star Trek photos are spread liberally throughout the text.

Since the book is officially licensed with CBS Consumer Products, photos from all the Star Trek series and movies including Star Trek Beyond are used. Although not all the movies are represented, you’re bound to find photos from your favourite Star Trek series with the exception of the animated series. Note that the animated series did introduce the concept of the holodeck.

As a way to pique your interest in the book, let me mention some of the facts that interested me:

  • Right from the introduction, we find out that in 1958 (Star Trek premiered in 1966), the President’s Science Advisory Committee (for the United States, I presume) issued a report that had the words “to go where no one has gone before.” Split the infinitive by adding the word “boldly,” add some sexism by replacing “one” with “man,” and you have the concluding declaration of Star Trek‘s mission statement!
  • Russia has a $14 trillion dollar (I assume this is a conversion from rubles) program that includes as a goal to teleport a human being by 2035! Could this be the needed scientific impetus paralleling the space race to get a man on the moon?
  • In the chapter on phasers, there is mention made of police surveys indicating how the use of Tasers has saved thousands of lives even though people have accidentally died from its effects. There really should be a courtroom drama episode of Star Trek in which a captain shoots their phaser set on stun at an alien who subsequently dies.
  • If synthehol is eventually devised as an alcohol substitute, the author doubts that a person would just be able to “shake it off” (as Taylor Swift would say). Supposedly, in Star Trek‘s imagined science, a rush of adrenaline would be enough to render a person sober. More likely says the author is that an alcohol substitute could provide the pleasing effects while an available “fast acting” antidote could be administered to return a person’s ability to safely drive a car (or pilot a starship). Hopefully, there would be no side effects like liver damage. One might think that alcoholism would no longer be a problem as a result. But given Scotty’s predilection for Scotch, and Kirk and McCoy’s for Romulan Ale…
  • A while back, I had read about hyposprays or jet injector guns, as known in the real world, being used for inoculations. But year after year, I continue to get a flu inoculation with a needle (not that I’m afraid of needles, mind you). Apparently, a cross-patient contamination problem can result from a patient’s blood getting into the jet injector gun nozzle. The U.S. Department of Defense discontinued the use of the jet injector gun in 1997, so I suppose this effectively prevented its widespread use. But recent developments might make the return of hyposprays possible!
  • Something that I have wondered about is why tricorders are named “tricorders.” Well, I finally get an explanation from the book. (It senses, computes and records.)

Surprisingly, the author neglects to cover large flat-screen monitors even though he does have a chapter on sliding doors.

With the effects of Hurricane Harvey currently in the news, it’s apropos that the book’s conclusion briefly touches on Star Trek‘s depiction of geoengineering or weather control. Perhaps it’s naive to think that humanity’s use of science can solve a problem like climate change. But Star Trek has always inspired hope for the future.

TREKNOLOGY is a nice addition to any Trekker’s library as it provides a summary of Star Trek‘s influence on the way we live. It might even serve as a nice introduction for scientifically minded children who are just getting into Star Trek. If displayed on a coffee table, I’m sure it could provide for discussion amongst friends.

With a new Star Trek series (Discovery) set to debut shortly, I wonder if we will be introduced to any new science that would appear in an updated edition of TREKNOLOGY. Even though the series is a prequel so that we probably won’t see any new technology unless it’s alien, there are still scientific questions the series can speculate about. Dark matter, anyone?

If you want to read about Star Trek technology currently in use, please feel free to peruse my Treknobabble article published years ago (Top 10 Star Trek Inventions in Use Today). I don’t believe any new inventions have arisen since I wrote my article, but TREKNOLOGY does mention advanced research conducted up to recent times.

The on-sale date for TREKNOLOGY is October 15, 2017.

  • mitch

    get em reed!!

  • Stinker

    Nice that you are back, where have you been Reed, saving the world or saving Reed´s sanity?

  • Nick P.

    So did you like the book?

  • Reed Farrington


  • Reed Farrington

    Been in my nuclear bunker, but coming out to use wi-fi regularly. I lost my sanity years ago, but my morality is intact.

  • Cameron

    Very interesting review, albeit vague in some areas. Do you think Jay will read this book or is he currently reading it? I am a little unclear still in regards to the actual purpose of the book. Personally I think we would have the technology today regardless of Star Trek and/or it’s influences. Really it is a little silly to imply that Star Trek is to thank for all of our resources. That seems strange to imply or even illogical (pardon the pun). I would perhaps read this book if it was discussed on an actual episode of the show and Jay reads it.

  • Deven Science

    This has been on my Goodreads “To-read” list for a while. I’ve got to get on it.

  • Deven Science

    I’m sorry, it was another book called Treknology.

    I’ll end up reading one of them.

  • Reed Farrington

    I noticed this other book after I read the reviewed book, which would be more up-to-date.

  • Reed Farrington

    I don’t think Jay would currently read the book, because his interests lie elsewhere.

    I gather the purpose of the book is to showcase the science of Star Trek in the real world. The book doesn’t imply that Star Trek is responsible for all current scientific developments.

    Since Star Trek science came directly from cutting edge research (except for the transporter), I suppose you’re correct in saying that we would have Star Trek’s technology regardless of Star Trek’s existence. I would say that Star Trek hastened development of the technologies since many scientists have said they were inspired by Star Trek.

  • Gerry

    Isn’t loss of sanity the new sane, given the world we currently live in?

    Please post more on the site.

  • dougy

    Could not get past the title of the book. “Treknology” just is so obvious. I am actually suprised that this site would even review it. Seems to me like pandering shit. Wonder if the author even watches much Star Trek. This shit sounds like the equivalent of those Halmark series that are made for people who don’t actually understand the source material. Do not mean to shit on this review, I just do not appreciate the marketing of the book itself.

  • Reed Farrington

    The author of the book is an astrophysicist and longtime fan of Star Trek.