I have seen everything at least once, and all tv shows at least twice (finishing up my second run through of DS9 right now about 1/3 of the way through season 7).
I wish to start reading novels. I am only interested in cannon material for now (though I do enjoy the cartoon series from the 70's). Alternate timelines are fine though (which by definition could be considered cannon since it is an alternate timeline - as long as there is some explantion for why it is alternate). Or are they all considered non-cannon? What is the official stance from the franchise on the novels, are some endorsed and some merely allowed?
Canon is basically what Christopher
All I can add to that is to say that some elements of the novels do work their way into canon - the space station in TOS-R "The Ultimate Computer" is based on the Vanguard station designed for the novels. The version of George Kirk seen in the last movie was based on the one in Diane Carey's novels Final Frontier
(a casualty of Star Trek: Enterprise
continuity-wise, but a fantastic read nonetheless) and Best Destiny
. Uhura and Sulu's first names appeared in novels long before the movies used them. They're nice little nods for longtime readers.
Since there won't be any new episodes or movies set in the TOS/TNG/DS9/VOY continuity, the novels have been free to do pretty much whatever they want. The results have been extremely impressive, IMO.
That the director of Star Trek Online recently commented in a podcast that he couldn't believe the novels have been allowed to do the things they have should give you an idea how big some of the things that have happened are
Where do I begin? Is there a specific order I should read these books (like with teh Asimov foundation universe, best is recommended to read in the order of publication rather than chronological order as prequals were meant to be prequals)?
Publication order is probably best.
Is there a list of books that count as cannon vs a list of books that are non-cannon? If they (or some) are truly stand alones, are there some that are noticeably superior to others (or 'essential')? Are some authors better than others?
Please help. Where do I begin?? Are there any that could be considered 'classsics'?
I'd say the hit/miss ratio is about the same as that of the episodes. So yes, there are many classics! (and occasional stinkers)
I am interested in all time periods. Particularly the Borg interest me, and anything to do with artificial intelligence (like the doctor on Voyager).
For artifical intelligence, I recommend Immortal Coil
by Jeffrey Lang. It requires no prior Trek lit knowledge to read. David Mack's recent Cold Equations
trilogy is a belated sequel to it.
As for the Borg, David Mack's Destiny
trilogy is the ultimate Borg story. It will blow your mind.