Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Tag: Star Trek

It’s your life, Jim, as we know it?

The Autobiography of James T. Kirk edited by David A. Goodman

James T KirkI still have a huge affection for Star Trek in all its incarnations and, as time goes on, although Jean-Luc Picard is the man for me, I prefer the warmer colours, the less sophisticated beeps and the cheesiness of the original series more and more over all the others. Truly ground-breaking, it was developed and aired alongside the early years of the space race.  Kirk’s opening speech, “to boldly go where no man has gone before,” was lifted almost verbatim from a government pamphlet on space  produced after the Sputnik flight in 1957 and when the last episode of Star Trek‘s third season finished filming in January 1969; man had yet to reach the moon.

Star_Trek_Fotonovel_03The appetite for Star Trek related books remains huge. At the height of my addiction in the mid 1990s, I’d collected and read almost all of the available novels, reference manuals, stars’ biographies etc. I must have had over 100 Star Trek Books (and tons of other ‘stuff’). Now, just a couple of books remain – my trusty original series episode guide and my copy of Fotonovel No 3 – The Trouble with Tribbles, which I just couldn’t bear to part with.

It’s been some years since I engaged with Star Trek, other than seeing the brilliant new films and catching the odd episode on TV, but, when offered a copy of this ‘autobiography’ I couldn’t resist.

David A. Goodman is best known as head writer on Family Guy, and has written for The Golden Girls and Futurama, as well as penning a history of the Star Trek Federation. This book is written exactly like a real autobiography, complete with photo section. When the book was launched at the San Diego Comic-Con, William Shatner (whose own autobiography is brilliant reading – see here) was on hand to give an exclusive reading, and you have to approach this book with his voice in your head, complete with its inflections, pauses and jokes…

The majority of what’s in Kirk’s memoir did happen in the original series and films, as detailed by Michael and Denise Okuda, keepers of the Star Trek Chronology! The rebooted Star Trek film franchise has played with the series timeline and details to preserve the spirit of the original while freeing it from the constraints of history and doesn’t really feature here.

Goodman is able to flesh out the bits in between while also referencing many favourite episodes and scenes from the films – so we get the chance to hear more about Kirk’s childhood in Iowa, and on Tarsus IV where he witnessed a massacre of 4000 colonists on the orders of Kodos the Executioner (whom he possibly meets again later in his career – see episode #13 The Conscience of the King).  I couldn’t wait, however, for Kirk to get to Starfleet Academy and to read how he beat the Kobayashi Maru (see movies II & VI). This is a no-win training exercise involving rescuing a starship that has strayed into the neutral zone bordering the Klingon Empire. Rescue the ship and you risk interplanetary war; It is a real test of starfleet officers’ decision making abilities and ‘command character’. You can’t win – unless you’re Jim Kirk of course…

I though the test was bullshit.

I had spent the past four years preparing to find answers to the questions I would face in the Galaxy, and up until this test, every question had an answer. There was always a way to successfully complete your mission. …

I decided that the central problem of Kobayashi Maru was really about figuring out how to beat the test. I took it very personally, felt it was an insult to all the work I’d done. I just couldn’t live with the failure. So, with Ben’s help, I would reprogram the simulation. Thus, the third time I took the test, I rescued the Kobayashi Maru and escaped the Klingons.

It caused quite a stir. […] It looked like I might be expelled. […]

‘You broke the rules,’ [Admiral] Komack said.

‘No, I didn’t, sir,’ I said. ‘I took the test within its own parameters twice. You have those result to judge me on. By letting me take it a third time, you invalidated those parameters. So I used my experience with the test to beat it.’

What a cocksure young man!

James T Kirk photoGraduating from Starfleet Academy, Kirk begins his career on board various vessels, but has enough time to meet the first love of his life, Carol Marcus. A career scientist herself, they have a son David, but Kirk is an absentee father for the most part. Their careers take precedence over their relationship and they part with regret and not a little acrimony on each side. David and Carol will appear again later in Kirk’s life when he re-encounters the tyrant Khan in his quest to steal the Genesis terraforming machine Carol has been developing, (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan).

It is at this fairly early stage in Kirk’s career that he’ll meet Dr McCoy, the third part of the inseparable trio. It is Kirk that will give McCoy his nickname ‘Bones’ after he reattaches Lt Cmr Gary Mitchell’s arm after an incident involving poison dart shooting rodents on the planet Dimorous whilst they serve together aboard the Hotspur. Kirk is yet to be promoted to command the USS Enterprise.

You may remember the time when Kirk and Spock went back through a time portal chasing McCoy who’d accidentally got a dose of a dangerous drug and leapt through the portal while under the influence. The portal took them back to the 1930s, and it was then that Kirk met the other love of his life, Edith Keeler (Joan Collins in – The City on the Edge of Forever – written by Harlan Ellison – possibly the best episode of them all). It is this first meeting that Kirk uses in his memoir’s prologue as a poignant reminder of what’s to come.

Because of her, I would literally save history. And I would also regret it for the rest of my life.

The memoir returns to Edith Keeler at the proper time in his chronology and Kirk recounts their growing relationship and the horror at realising she has to die to prevent history from being changed. The loss of his two main relationships, but Edith’s in particular does seem to harden him a little, fuelling his reputation as a ladies man.

As the memoir ends, Kirk is looking forward to the ceremony for the launching of the new Enterprise (NCC-1701B). In an Afterword, Spock tells us (remaining enigmatic to the end), who Kirk died helping to save the Enterprise B from destruction when the hull was ruptured. This occurred in 2293, and the Nexus was responsible. It is beyond the autobiography, but we now know the Nexus preserves a version of him who is able to help Captain Picard in Star Trek: Generations, but finally dies in his last heroic act.

There is a fantastic quotation by Kirk on the back cover of the book:

“The greatest danger facing us is an irrational fear of the unknown. But there’s no such thing as the unknown – only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.” (2266)

I looked this quote up, and was delighted to find that it heralds from The Corbomite Maneuver (the first episode of the first full series, airing in 1966, thus way before Donald Rumsfeld could possibly adapt it?). However the full quote has an extra word or two and consequently does read a little differently – this made me laugh, and reminded me how memoirs often edit the facts!

“Captain to crew: Those of you who have served for long on this vessel have encountered alien life-forms. You know the greatest danger facing us is… ourselves, and irrational fear of the unknown. There’s no such thing as ‘the unknown,’ only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.” (The Corbomite Maneuver, 1966)

I really enjoyed reading this ‘memoir’, Goodman as Kirk’s editor exhibits a light touch with the source material, and the few Editor’s footnotes add some extra little details that neatly explain occasional digressions from the accepted facts. Just one thing belies the fact that this is a fictional memoir though – there is no index.  But I can let Goodman off that!

Reading this book, I had a smile on my face every time I got a reference – which was a lot of the time – the book is chock full of them. Although surely written primarily to feed fans’ appetites for more from the franchise, this book was entertaining and has appeal beyond the diehard fans – anyone who still has fond memories of the original series can enjoy this ‘memoir’. (8/10)

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Source: Publisher – Thank you.
The autobiography of James T. Kirk, edited by David A Goodman (Titan, London, 2015) Hardback, 288 pages.

Leonard Nimoy – R.I.P.

spock live longI wasn’t going to post this weekend and I don’t usually write RIP pieces, but the death of Leonard Nimoy yesterday did bring a tear to my eye, and a smile too as many fond memories were evoked.

Although he had a varied career as actor and director, he will forever be Mr Spock for me. I grew up with the half Vulcan, half human who kept Captain Kirk in line, made it alright to be different, yet had such dignity.

The Telegraph has put together a wonderful collection of clips, tweets, tributes and links here, but below is Nimoy’s last tweet…  LLAP is, of course the Vulcan greeting ‘Live Long and Prosper’. We’ll miss him.

nimoy final tweet

Benedict, you're a very baaad man!


I couldn’t wait! Just back from the first screening (bar last night’s midnight one) at my local cinema of Star Trek: Into Darkness, the second outing for the young classic Trek crew.

I’m not going to tell you any of the story except that Benedict Cumberbatch, with a spectacularly basso profundo voice, was truly wonderful as Kirk’s adversary. However everything else was in place – here are a few slightly cryptic notes:

  • The crew from the previous movie are all present and correct;
  • Kirk breaks the prime directive – again;
  • Uhura and Spock have sparks flying off them!
  • There are plenty of laughs;
  • Simon ‘Fat boy’ Pegg gets to do lots of running as Scotty;
  • The Enterprise gets shot up of course;
  • It’s no tribble at all for Bones;
  • Future adventures are (retrospectively) set up, and references abound;
  • Spock gets to be an action hero – he melds, he pinches … and he cries.

LOVED IT!!!  Want to see it again.

It’s. Bill Shatner’s. Autobiography. Yes. Captain Kirk…

Up Till Now: The Autobiography by William Shatner with David Fisher

I can’t remember if I’ve confessed up to it since I’ve been blogging, but I used to be a full-blown Trekker – a Star Trek fan.  I managed to stop just short of buying a uniform, but had all the videos of all the episodes of all the series, plus the 60+ novels, episode and making of guides etc, a model enterprise, and loads of other ‘collectables’.  One day I decided it was too much, and snapped out of my collecting obsession and started to sell all the stuff off.

My enthusiasm for the shows themselves has not waned though. I remain a huge fan, even watch the occasional episode in the re-runs, and adored the last film which went back to Starfleet Academy.  If pushed, although I truly adore Patrick Stewart, my loyalties ultimately reside with the original.  Captain Kirk was fearless, handsome, decisive, and had a sense of humour; Kirk has a swagger about him that made it all such fun, contrasting brilliantly with Spock’s coolness and Bones’s old-fashioned Southern gent.  I’m old enough to remember seeing some of the episodes in their original showing on British TV too.

All of this brings me to William Shatner’s autobiography, Up Till Now, written with David Fisher, which is refreshingly honest and up front about nearly everything. It’s also very funny, but has plenty of touching moments too. William Shatner is a man of grand passions and big emotions.

Shatner’s acting career has been long, and so much more than Star Trek.  He started off in the Canadian theatre, playing small and supporting parts in much of the classical repertoire, before moving to New York and a new life in TV dramas – many of which were aired live.  He was in demand, and turned up on time, lines learned, got great reviews playing a wide variety of parts including leading men.

Part of the reason I was becoming better known was what people perceived to be an unusual. Speech. Pattern. Apparently I was becoming know for. Pausing, between words, in. Unusual Places… I have no idea where that. Came from… but the reality is that I don’t even hear it. I can mock the idea. I understand people hear me speaking. That way. They’ve even put a name to it, calling it Shatnerian. As in, ah yes, the character spoke with true Shatnerian eloquence.
But it’s certainly nothing I’m doing intentionally, nor do I do it in real life. I have seen several William Shatner impersonators speak in that. Clipped. Punctuated manner. Okay, if people recognize the impersonation as me, then it must be me.

Bill’s the big break didn’t come until well after he moved to LA.  Even after three series,  Star Trek wasn’t a hit until it later sold into syndication around the world, and so the hard-working Shatner continued plugging away.  It was the long-running series TJ Hooker in which he played a veteran cop that finally made him a TV star, later leading to the acclaimed Boston Legal, along with the Star Trek movies.

TV series like those tend to have a different director for each episode, and Shatner talks interestingly about this experience: “It’s the job of the actors who work there every week to proetct the integrity of the program. Because I cared about the quality of the show I tested every new director. And if they didn’t know what they were doing I would complain about it. That was my job.”

Another funny bit is when he and the voice cast of the animated film Over the Hedge got sent to plug the film in Cannes.  “As we were walking up the red carpet, surrounded by photographers, we were introduced to the French actors who had played our characters in the French version.  Wait a second, I wondered, we’re the stars of this film, right? I knew we were stars, our names were in big letters on the lobby cards and in the credits. Bus as this is an animated film our faces weren’t on the screen, and now our voices were being replaced by French actors. So we were the stars of a film in which we didn’t even appear.”  He forgets that the animators usually embed some of the personality of their voice actors into the characters…

Along the way he’s had four marriages, the third of which ended with tragedy, when his wife Nerine, an alcoholic, accidentally died in their swimming pool.  He threw himself into his horse business, and through that met Elizabeth his fourth wife.  His first marriage was to an actress, Gloria.  They had three daughters, but she never made it into the limelight, and it faltered once they moved to LA. Shatner talks openly about the mistakes he made, and the actor’s ego, that made him a poor husband at first.

What shines all the way through this memoir is Shatner’s sense of humour. Once he found it, (he was a very serious actor to start off with), he let loose, and takes every opportunity to laugh at himself.  He can even laugh at the way his spoken song performances in his 1968 album The Transformed Man have been taken, although they were recorded in all seriousness and remain cult tracks today.

I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir, which is so not just for Star Trek fans, although the spectre of Captain Kirk looms large over much of it. I got a much better appreciation of Shatner, the actor and have-a-go hero, a would-be family man who learns by his mistakes, and unashamed self-publicist with a great line in self-deprecation.  I shall leave you with an urging though, to pop over to Youtube and watch his spoken interpretation of Elton John’s song, Rocket Man, introduced by lyricist Bernie Taupin. If you search for William Shatner Rocket Man, you’ll find it (sorry, can’t embed it). (8.5/10)

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I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
Up Till Now by William Shatner with David Fisher (pub Sidgwick & Jackson, 2008), now in paperback.
The Transformed Man – William Shatner (CD)
Star Trek – The Original Series – Series 1 – Complete – Remastered [DVD]

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