The Autobiography Of James T Kirk REVIEW

autobiogrpahy_of_james_t_kirk_coverAuthor: David A Goodman
Publisher: Titan Books
Published: 11 September

William Shatner is renowned – even shameless – about using ghost writers for novels that go out under his name. Seems his most famous creation, James T Kirk, is similarly liberal with the truth when it comes to claiming authorship. Though he has an excuse. He doesn’t really exist.

This clearly isn’t an autobiography. It is, instead, an enticing meta-conceit, concocted by TV scriptwriter David A Goodman (Star Trek: Enterprise, Futurama). It’s also a mindboggling piece of research which combines everything from the film and TV plots to allusions made to Kirk’s past and private lives in throwaway lines into a coherent history of the man. It is also one massive conveyor belt of in-jokes, as Goodman challenges the reader to spot which onscreen references – some very obscure – he’s extrapolated anecdotes from. There are even cheeky little footnotes from the book’s “editor” correcting “errors” Shatner has made, taking post-modern to whole new levels.

To be clear, the Kirk in question here is the Star Trek prime universe Kirk, when he looked like Shatner and not Pine. So his dad plays a big part in the proceedings.

Presumably you know the basic plot. Jim Kirk, from Iowa, becomes the greatest star ship Captain Starfleet has ever know through bravery, cunning, charm, commitment to his crew and cheating at exams. The first half of the book is by far the more successful and enjoyable for a very simple reason: it’s less well documented. As in: practically undocumented. Goodman does a great job of taking all the onscreen evidence and concocting a credible, fascinating and entertaining “pre-TV-history” for the young James Tiberius, especially his time at the Academy and his first few close encounters with woman-kind. However, unless your frame of reference is as thorough as Goodman’s you are left wondering how much of what he’s telling you is canon and how much he’s made up. Nevertheless, these early chapters are great fun.

The inherent problem with a book like this, though – and one it never quire overcomes – is that once it reaches the televised and film adventures, it largely becomes redundant. We know what happens. Goodman attempts to address this problem by giving mere summaries of on screen plots and then filling in a few blanks inbetween, such as Kirk officiating at Khan’s marriage before he sends him into exile, or Kirk contacting his parents to tell them his brother, George, has been killed on Deneva. The trouble is, by only paying lip service to the TV episodes major events that would have had an effect on Kirk – the kind of thing an autobiography would address, such as the death of his best friend Gary Mitchell – it draws attention to the artificiality of the whole, erm, enterprise.

The City On The Edge Of Forever

The City On The Edge Of Forever

Goodman at least has the sense not to dismiss “The City On The Edge Of Forever” in a paragraph, though. He presents Kirk’s relationship with Edith Keeler as a life-changing one and gives the story the space it deserves and  bit a of a deeper spin, showing how Keeler’s death affected Kirk’s future choices.

The other main problem with the book is the narrative voice. It simply doesn’t sound like Kirk. Admittedly, many autobiographies don’t sound like the people who wrote them (largely because a lot of them are ghost written) but you feel that with a character like Kirk his particular brand of humour and bombast would shine through. Here he’s just a little too bland and earnest. The gentle reflection work in places but it’s relentless. Aside from his dismissive attitude to anyone who doesn’t agree with his solution to the Kobayashi Maru he seems disconcertingly full of self doubts that go way beyond mere humility. The Kirk twinkle is missing.

There is a fun picture section in the middle – on glossy paper, like a real autobiography – that’s almost worth the price of the book alone. Although some amusingly unconvincing Photoshop filters have been used on a couple of the photos, the photobooth images of Kirk with Edith Keeler (which he’s said to have kept with him until his death) are sweet, and a draft letter – never sent – written to his son David is a lovely touch.

In the end, then, it’s a clever book that’s more of a literary Rubik’s Cube than a faux-autobiography. Medium to hardcore Trek fans will enjoy pitting their wits against Goodman to see if they can spot all the references; some will probably enjoy even arguing that some of his “made up” material is contradicted in such and such episode, or such and such book. Less Trek-familiar readers may be a little bemused by it all, though, unsure how much of it they can regard as “official”.

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