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

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Reviewed by Annabel

I 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.

The appetite for Star Trek related books remains huge. At the height of my own addiction in the early 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, with which I just couldn’t bear to part.

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) 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 thought 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!

Graduating 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), how 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’.

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Annabel is one of the editors of Shiny New Books and is obviously still a Trekker at heart.

David A Goodman, The Autobiography of James T. Kirk, (Titan: London, 2015.) 9781783297467, 288 pp., hardback.

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