It may be hard to recall with how easy it is to search for anything now, but when Star Trek was in its heyday, finding comprehensive reference material for the series usually meant forking out some cash. Even the advent of fan sites mostly meant a patchwork of info, some canon and some just made up, and tiny images. In the days when Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager were going through their first showings, the best place to find all those Trek facts and pictures of your favorite characters and ships was in print.
For me, the go-to Star Trek reference at the turn of the century was the Star Trek Encyclopedia. This book, along with the Star Trek Chronology, was written by Michael and Denise Okuda. These two works, elevated to quasi-canon by the Star Trek franchise holders, were (and still are) the most comprehensive reference guides to the Star Trek universe available, well at least in the United States.
While the Star Trek Encyclopedia is an excellent publication, there was a gigantic work that eclipsed it in size and scope which was only released in select markets. The Official Star Trek Fact Files, published by GE Fabbri, was a collection of 304 "magazines" released from 1997 until 2002 in the U.K. Each issue consisted of 24 cards that could be sorted out and placed into binders.
You've probably seen other series that work like this since they were all the rage in that time. As a child in the U.S., I remember subscribing to one that centered on aircraft of the world. Later in life, when I first heard about the Fact Files, I was a bit dismayed because I'd have rather been stuffing binders full of info on Spock, Picard, and the Federation instead of airliners.
If you managed to gather the whole thing, you ended up with 7,296 pages of Star Trek info. Practically any topic you could think of through the first season of Enterprise was covered in-depth and presented alongside illustrations made especially for the Fact Files. It was the first Star Trek publication to use the authentic CG models from the show for their graphics, and as such it was a lot of fan's first close look at many starships.
Comparing the Fact Files to the Star Trek Encyclopedia, it's hard to imagine how they managed to get 7,296 pages out of the Star Trek universe. At the point the Fact Files were published, there were nine movies, The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and later a season of Enterprise to draw on. Which seems like a lot, but we're talking about 17 binders full of info here.
Well, the Star Trek Fact Files have a bit of a reputation for inaccuracy. There's plenty of canon material within them, but there's also quite a bit of apocrypha. This publication covered a lot of Treknobabble and tried to have it make sense as much as possible. As such, there's plenty of explanations for the way things work that have never been confirmed on screen. Luckily though, even the questionably canon material has some lovely illustrations accompanying it, and if you keep in mind the status of the Star Trek universe at the time the Fact Files were published, it all tends to make sense.
So why the dramatic title for this article? Surely a publication with this much material and backing made it to the U.S. in some form, right? Well, some of it did, though in a much different style. GE Fabbri's American arm, Fabbri Publishing, launched Star Trek: The Magazine (not to be confused with Star Trek Magazine) in the U.S. in April 1999. The magazine contained interviews, reviews, and technical briefings, with the briefings being made up of content recycled from the Star Trek Fact Files. However, only a small bit of the Fact Files was tapped during the 48-issue run of Star Trek: The Magazine, and as such U.S. audiences have only gotten an official release of a tiny fraction of the total material on offer.
The strange thing about the Star Trek Fact Files being so elusive to U.S. fans is that they're not rare in the U.K. at all. On eBay in the U.K., you can routinely find the complete set of all 304 issues in 17 binders for £100 or less. The big problem is that the full collection weighs around 100 lbs., and shipping it overseas would cost approximately $500. I know these facts because I keep a constant vigil hoping that someday I'll find a posting for a complete set that offers to ship to the U.S.
Even scans of the Fact Files are spotty. Again, the collection's immensity makes it incredibly daunting to work with, and in my searches, I've only stumbled upon an incomplete collection of PDFs of individual issues. However, those issues were missing cards, so even obtaining digital copies of the complete Fact Files is impossible. Never before have I seen such a common item be just so completely unobtainable before.
As to why the Fact Files didn't make it to the States, there's no clear answer. The English version made it to the U.K. and Australia, and a German language version ran for the full 304 issues as well. The French and Italians got stiffed though, because those editions only ran 120 issues before being canceled. Strangely, a Japanese version of the Star Trek Fact Files was issued starting in 2003 and ended up having ten additional issues (bringing the total to 314) that weren't present in the original U.K. release that detailed Star Trek: Nemesis and more of Enterprise.
It would be great to get an official publication of the Official Star Trek Fact Files in the U.S., and there's more of a chance of that happening than you'd think. GE Fabbri folded into Eaglemoss which makes the Official Star Trek Starships Collection. In fact, one of the editors for the Fact Files, Ben Robinson, is now project manager of the magazines that accompany the various Eaglemoss model lines. However, it seems like after GE Fabbri merged with Eaglemoss that their parent company Midsummer Books kept the copyrights of the previous Star Trek productions. It looks as though that company may not exist anymore, so it's anybody's guess as to who holds the rights to the Fact Files anymore.
It's likely though that the Official Star Trek Fact Files will remain a rarity outside of their original markets. The sheer enormity of the material makes it incredibly difficult to transport, and although I'll maintain my vigil, my bank account can rest easy knowing that the chances of a complete set popping up that I can have shipped to the States are low. A lot of the information contained in the Fact Files is old and outdated as well, so it's likely Eaglemoss wouldn't be interested in the effort it would take to update and expand the series and the Star Trek license holders would probably be against licensing old material. Unfortunately for Star Trek fans around the world, the Fact Files will likely remain a difficult to impossible item to obtain outside of the territories they were released.