(semi-)Timely Book Review: Star Trek Academy

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Star Trek Academy – Collision Course, by William Shatner (with Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens)

This novel, by Shatner and the R-Ss (however that works) is probably the best novel this trio has written to date (though not as good as “Federation”, a novel by the R-Ss which is, IMHO, the best Trek novel ever written). It tells the story of a teen-age James T. Kirk and how he first met a Vulcan named Spock.

Wait, you may be saying, isn’t that the same plot as the new movie?

No.

This novel was released in 2007 to much fanfare, not all of it good. The most oft-sited complaint was that it played fast and loose with “Star Trek” “canon”. That sentence needs way more quotation marks as the concept of “canon” concerning “Star Trek” has long been an overstatement. It also strays from the “Star Trek Writer’s Bible” out there that apparently demands a specific amount of pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo with little to no basis in actually science. There is very little of that in this novel (thank goodness).

Anyway, this novel’s place in the mythical canon can quickly be understood if the reader approaches it with one idea in mind: only that which has been put to screen is canon. The myriad novels, comic books, encyclopedias and even script-writer “bibles” hold no sway over this story.

Case in point: most sources tell us that Kirk and Spock never met until they met on the Enterprise as adults. Most Trekkers consider this to be part of the gospel canon. However, the TV shows and movies make no such stipulation. So Shatner has Kirk and Spock meeting when Kirk was 17 and Spock 19 (which is consistent with their ages as mentioned on the show but rather humorous to those who know the actors share the same age).

The shows and movies never specified when Kirk first set foot on the Enterprise, so Shatner has him get there (briefly) as a teenager. A key point is made during this section of the book concerning Kirk’s relationship to the center chair that is humorous to us devotees of the original series, as well as pleasingly touching.

To fans of the “non-screen canon”, especially the “Best Destiny” series of books (which I enjoyed myself) about Kirk’s father serving as First Officer to the Enterprise’s first captain (Robert April), the depiction here of Joe Kirk being a hard-nosed, retired Starfleet sergeant may be kind of jarring. Having been around a lot of rebellious military offspring who—at 15—would have sworn they were never going to follow their sire into the military but at 18 did just that, Joe’s character didn’t bring much to the plot but much to the verisimilitude of the overall story.

Many fans of Spock may be most troubled by his non-canonical appearance and struggles, but I thought this book may have come closer than any other Trek novel (I have read, anyway) of making sense of Spock’s apparent abandonment of his life’s pursuit in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”. It’s as if that moment where he stops the ceremony we never really understood anyway is not just some ethereal, mystical moment but right in character.

This book is very timely as it deals with a military leader (or, maybe, a whole military philosophy) who uses children—some trained—as soldiers. As I read those passages, I couldn’t help but think of the many instances in our world today where children are being trained to be soldiers or strapped with bombs and sent into crowded areas. How do you deal with such wanton evil? The battlefield “solution” presented in the book is frightening, not just because it’s brutal, but because one agrees with the commander in the field that it’s either that or surrender.

Reviewer’s note: I read this a couple weeks before seeing the new JJ Abrams movie (“’Lost’ in Space”) and they make for an interesting counterpoint to each other. On the last page of the book (both the hardback and paperback versions) there is a promise of another book in the series. I imagine this has been put on hold so as not to detract from the movie, but I hope it gets released eventually. As I say, it’s a nice counterpoint; plus, with the movie taking place in an alternate reality they aren’t really going to conflict with each other, anyway.