Caveat: I haven’t read a lot of Star Trek fiction.
Before 1988, I remember reading the novelizations of the first three movies. There were also a few original novels – definitely Spock Must Die, and Enterprise, and a couple of others. I’d have to look through a full list of Trek novels to jog my memory. I know I owned several, but I didn’t read every one I owned.
In 1988, however, I began keeping a list of every book I finished, so I can tell you precisely how many Star Trek novels I’ve read since then. Reviewing the list last night, I noted seven Star Trek novels – and twenty books of Trek-related non-fiction. From biographies to technical manuals, my non-fiction experience far outweighs the fiction. And the novels listed tell their own story – of the seven I read, five were written by William Shatner. I guess Trek novels just aren’t my cup of earl grey.*
Last year I saw the title of an upcoming book: The Autobiography of Captain James T. Kirk. It immediately grabbed my attention, made me smile at the possibilities. I noted the release date and thought one day I’d go ahead and order it. Maybe when it came out in paperback. Maybe.
Then I pretty much forgot all about it.
Until a couple of weeks ago when a friend mentioned to me on Twitter that he was enjoying the book. A few days later, quite by accident, I saw a tweet from the book’s author, David A. Goodman, noting that the Kindle version was on sale for 99 cents.
I soon dove in and was immediately hooked. The Autobiography of Captain James T. Kirk reads like the memoir it purports to be while, of course, being complete fiction. It weaves in and out and around a lot of familiar stories while also adding new elements of its own. It’s a perfect hybrid of the biographies I love to read and the Star Trek universe I just plain love.
Author David A. Goodman does an excellent job putting Kirk’s voice on the page. It was easy to hear Shatner’s voice in my head as I read the text. I enjoyed the clever way he incorporated key characters and story elements from both the original series and the movies while also giving them his own spin. His take on the events chronicled in Star Trek V, for instance, is – shall we say – unique.
But even more than that, I loved Goodman’s attention to details and inclusion of, for lack of a better term, easter eggs. Take this passage, for example, when Kirk first arrives on an alien world:
“I was surprised at what I saw: blue skies, rolling hills, grass, and trees. My first exposure to a Class-M planet; it wasn’t foreign at all. It could easily have been mistaken for Southern California.”
Or this, when Kirk gets his first look at a Romulan commander (as seen in the episode Balance of Terror):
“Pointed ears, slanted eyebrows, he could’ve been Spock’s father.”
The book is full of these meta observations. It also demonstrates a deep knowledge – and love – of the source material. Sure, another author might have added different moments as being the “most meaningful” or “memorable” to Kirk, but what we’re given seems right. Sure, we could have spent a lot more time learning about details behind other episodes, but knowing that we’re all quite familiar with what’s on screen, Goodman manages to jog our memories without overwhelming us with recaps.
I had a wonderful time reading this book. It sucked me in and I found myself sneaking time to read more. It made me laugh, it made me rethink some of my favorite adventures (and appreciate some I’d long ago dismissed as subpar), and, in a couple of places, it very nearly had me choked up with pesky human emotion.
But more than that, this book opened up a new world for me, a new desire – it made me want to explore more Star Trek fiction. I’ve got a couple of volumes on my shelf that I’ve been toting around for years, and I’m finally going to give them a chance. If they don’t capture my interest within the first few chapters, I’ll move on. Because if there’s one thing for certain, there are plenty of Star Trek novels to choose from.
It was the best of times.