“It seems unbelievable that so much history could be centred around one person, but the record is clear.” So writes Leonard McCoy, former ship’s surgeon of the USS Enterprise in his introduction to this autobiographical volume penned by his former captain, the legendary James Tiberius Kirk.
September 2016 brings the fiftieth anniversary of the first broadcast of Star Trek, and considering that an empire more worthy of the mirror universe counterpart has built itself around that notorious first footer of the United Federation of Planets it is inevitable that not only the date itself but the surrounding months will be furnished with sufficient branded merchandise to make even a Ferengi blush.
One of the first is this surprisingly brief memoir “edited” by David A Goodman, but an extended period as head writer of Family Guy does not qualify him to write an engaging personal narrative and his interpretation of Kirk is all too similar to Peter Griffin, shallow and single-minded to the point of monomania, intensely insensitive to the needs of others and prone to leaping to unworkable plans without thought of the consequences.
From that time Goodman has also retained a predilection for labouring a joke, demonstrated by constant winks at the reader which further undermine his already fragile pretence. While it may have seemed funny at the time for Gary Mitchell to muse on what he would be like with absolute power, to consider that the Romulan commander of Balance of Terror “could’ve been Spock’s father” or describe the first alien planet Kirk sets foot on as “just like Southern California,” it loses the wonder at the expense of cheap jokes.
From a teenager on his first time in space to a young ensign, where is the sweeping majesty of space, the gazing out the ports at new stars? Bereft of metaphor or simile and without one clever turn of phrase there is no colour to the skies, no vibration in the decks, no genuine sense of this being the life of a real person, of the reader having any connection with the experiences that are described, nor is there a wider sense of Starfleet as a living, expanding organisation.
Taking in early encounters with The Conscience of the King’s Governor Kodos, Shore Leave’s Ruth and Finnegan (just as annoying on paper as he was in person), Court Martial‘s Ben Finney and Obsession’s Captain Garrovick, a one line comment from Where No Man Has Gone Before becoming a scene lifted wholesale from Paul Verhoeven‘s Starship Troopers, each meeting is a domino consciously set up to be toppled later, ticking off boxes from a checklist of events depicted or mentioned in passing but adding little insight or originality, the reader fully aware exactly how each is going to fall.
Unlike the dream world of Star Trek Generation’s Nexus where Kirk’s ideal woman was the mysterious “Antonia,” here a furniture designer who piqued Kirk’s interest by playing hard to get, this at least acknowledges that the one of most important woman in Kirk’s life was Edith Keeler though fails to credit Harlan Ellison in any way (nor any of the other writers whose work is stripmined) even though the prologue is little more than a novelisation of a key scenes from The City on the Edge of Forever, more detailed perhaps than James Blish’s 1968 equivalent but essentially covering the same ground.
The five year mission offers randomly selected flatly written impersonal synopses but neglects to chart the changing offscreen relationships in terms of anything other than Kirk’s ego. A true memoir should reflect the personalities and friendships of those around the writer as well as themselves, yet not one of these characters so well-known and beloved to millions comes across as other than a superficial facsimile.
The redundant repetition of already richly examined source material is not so much the problem as that Goodman is a deeply mediocre writer who describes emotion rather than experiencing it. Despite the tragedies which Kirk bears witnesses to, he carries the wounds no further than his tongue; they have no deeper impact than his written assertions that they have changed him, assertions unsupported by the narrative where the destruction of the Enterprise over Genesis brings the underwhelming “That ship meant a lot to me.”
The massacre at Tarsus under Kodos, the bodies burnt and swept away, the loss of half the crew of the Republic, his best friend Gary Mitchell, all are over in a couple of paragraphs with no further reflection (Doctor Elizabeth Dehner who died saving Kirk’s life on the same mission does not even warrant a mention, nor does Lori Ciana). With no impact, no horror, no lasting scars, this is no more than glorified fan fiction joining together the dots and filling in the gaps with fanboy speculation, no better for being officially sanctioned.
Apparently an expert on the history of the UFP having been responsible for Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years, Goodman is more comfortable with historical context than the essential passion of the real Jim Kirk; like George Samuel Kirk and Spock, his awkwardness is apparent in the phrasing he uses. If the style is to reflect Kirk’s terse and direct command style it doesn’t modify when recounting conversations with others, the young officer’s relationship with Carol Marcus resembling nothing so much as an overwrought juvenile romance novel.
Presented as a fictional autobiography, the question must also be asked: who would the intended audience be? While some encounters would be common knowledge even if the details remained obscured and others might be declassified after sufficient time had passed, others – the existence of the Guardian of Forever, the participants of the Khitomer conspiracy– would remain secret for as long as the stars burned hot in space.
So formulaic as to have been outlined by a programme (this is what happened, this was the consequence, this is what I learned as a result, can’t you see me growing as a person?) 272 pages might be sufficient for a celebutard expose but not the career of the most famous pioneering starship captain who defined an era.
In their prime there were Star Trek novels crafted by writers of genuine talent who understood the characters and could express them effortlessly, Margaret Wander Bonanno’s Strangers from the Sky, Diane Duane’s Spock’s World, J M Dillard’s The Lost Years, the latter of which covered a portion of the material here in a superior fashion, Vonda N McIntyre’s novelisation of The Search for Spock offering a more heartfelt reading of Carol Marcus learning of her son’s death, but these have been succeeded by the age of the marketing opportunity, this first release of the anticipated celebration a workmanlike effort and a wasted opportunity.
The Autobiography of James T Kirk is available now from Titan Books