Review: Leonard by William Shatner with David Fisher

Review: Leonard by William Shatner with David FisherLeonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man by William Shatner, David Fisher
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 278
Published by Thomas Dunne Books on February 16th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner first crossed paths as actors on the set of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Little did they know that their next roles, in a new science-fiction television series, would shape their lives in ways no one could have anticipated. In seventy-nine television episodes and six feature films, they grew to know each other more than most friends could ever imagine.
Over the course of half a century, Shatner and Nimoy saw each other through personal and professional highs and lows. In this powerfully emotional book, Shatner tells the story of a man who was his friend for five decades, recounting anecdotes and untold stories of their lives on and off set, as well as gathering stories from others who knew Nimoy well, to present a full picture of a rich life.
As much a biography of Nimoy as a story of their friendship, Leonard is a uniquely heartfelt book written by one legendary actor in celebration of another.

My Review:

Yesterday was NASA’s Day of Remembrance, in honor of all those who lost their lives in the quest for space, particularly the tragic losses of Apollo I and the Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia.

Because so many people have entered the space program and the aerospace industry because they fell in love with the idea of space travel while watching Star Trek, William Shatner’s semi-biographical, semi-autobiographical book about his friendship with the late and very much lamented Leonard Nimoy seemed like an appropriate book for this week.

shatner nimoy youngTo this reader, it felt as if the book, while purporting to tell the story of Leonard Nimoy’s life, ends up combining autobiography with biography. These two men knew each other very well for a very long time, came from somewhat similar backgrounds, and found themselves yoked together, whether they liked it or not (and sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t) by their performances in what everyone expected would be a short-lived TV program.

Instead, Star Trek became a phenomenon and none of the lives that it touched were ever the same. Particularly theirs.

Because Star Trek altered the trajectory of both their lives in ways that were both bizarre and profound, this book also serves as a personal recollection of the production of the original series. While many of these stories have been told before, it is still interesting to hear them again from someone who lived through those events.

A group which gets smaller and smaller every year. Dammit.

The other story that is told here is that of the life and occasionally hard times of a working actor in what is now considered the “Golden Age” of television. There is never a good time to be an actor. It’s a lot of tiny parts, short run work, and cab driving (in Nimoy’s case) or waiting tables or some other job that can be dropped and picked up on the whim of a casting director.

And even though these stories are now more than 50 years in the past, that struggle still resonates. The reader can see how those years formed the characters of the men who performed those iconic characters, and how much those characters both represented pieces of their core selves, and how much those characters influenced who they became.

For a fan, this is a fascinating story, all the more so because it rings so true in the author’s voice.

Escape Rating B+: Sometimes I talk about what I think about a book, sometimes I talk about what I feel. Fair warning, this is one of those “feelie” reviews.

I’ve been a Star Trek fan since the end of the original series. I watched some of those early episodes with my dad, so there are a lot of memories tied up in this for me. Also, the stories that Shatner tells at the very beginning of the book, about his and Nimoy’s shared background as first-generation Americans (or Canadians) in Jewish immigrant families is also the story of my parents’ generation. With very little alteration, my mother could tell similar stories.

As a fan, I read a lot of the “making of Star Trek” books that came out in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of the stories that Shatner relates were also a part of those books, but they are told slightly differently from one participant’s perspective than they were in those more “reporting style” books. Different both in the sense that we all remember things differently, and that it seems as if Shatner glosses over some of his behavior that drove his colleagues crazy at the time, and for years later. Some of the more contentious incidents seem to have faded from memory a bit.

We are all the stars of our own stories, possibly in this case more literally than for the rest of us.

This was a book where I both read the book in ebook, looked at the pictures in the hardcover, and listened to the audio. I would have the audio on in the car, and then pick up with the book at lunch and after I got home. One of the things that comes through on the audio is that the author often sounds tired. He frequently ran out of breath on the longer sentences. I kept wanting to tell him to take a breath in the middle, or grab a glass of water. I wanted to be there as he told his story.

shatner nimoy laughing lateIn the end, this is a book for the fans.It is way more about the history of Star Trek than any other single topic. As a fan, I found the story interesting and often charming. Perhaps I should say “fascinating” as Spock often did.

For readers who are not fans, or for later readers who are looking to find out what all the fuss was about, this is not a book that analyzes the influence of Star Trek or its characters on pop culture and the explosion of science fiction into movies, TV and mainstream literature. That’s a book for someone else at some other time.

But for those of us who loved those men and the show that they created, and which created them, this book is a marvelous way to remember them both.

As his most famous saying goes, Leonard Nimoy lived long and prospered. And he is missed.

Stacking the Shelves (153)

Stacking the Shelves

I didn’t get a lot this week, probably a good thing. But the one book I want to highlight is the Dark Beyond the Stars anthology. It’s a collection of space opera short stories written by women. While that would interest me anyway, I was alerted to the book by an article at The Mary Sue. It seems that there is an Amazon reviewer troll who used his review of the book to claim that women are incapable of writing good space opera, and oh by the way, he has some space opera that he wrote that is inherently better because he’s a male writer and space opera is, and I disgustedly quote, “a purely male domain.” This is purely bullshit as any reader of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga will heartily attest. My own personal protest to this idiocy was to buy the book. It was well worth $5.99, (and it would have been worth considerably more) to poke this troll in the eye with a sharp “buy this book”.

For Review:
Harvest Moon (Moon #4) by Lisa Kessler
Roth (Hell Squad #5) by Anna Hackett
Secret Sisters by Jayne Ann Krentz

Purchased from Amazon:
Dark Beyond the Stars by Blair C. Babylon, Annie Bellet, Elle Casey, Ann Christy,Patrice Fitzgerald, Autumn Kalquist, Theresa Kay, Susan Kaye Quinn, Sara Reine, Rysa Walker, Jennifer Foehner Wells
These Are the Voyages: TOS Season One (These are the Voyages #1) by Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn
These Are the Voyages: TOS Season Two (These are the Voyages #2) by Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn
These Are the Voyages: TOS Season Three (These are the Voyages #3) by Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn


Review: The Autobiography of James T. Kirk by David A. Goodman

autobiography of james t kirk by david goodmanFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genre: science fiction
Series: Star Trek
Length: 288 pages
Publisher: Titan Books
Date Released: September 8, 2015
Purchasing Info: Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

The Autobiography of James T. Kirk chronicles the greatest Starfleet captain’s life (2233–2371), in his own words. From his birth on the U.S.S. Kelvin, his youth spent on Tarsus IV, his time in the Starfleet Academy, his meteoric raise through the ranks of Starfleet, and his illustrious career at the helm of the Enterprise, this in-world memoir uncovers Captain Kirk in a way Star Trek fans have never seen. Kirk’s singular voice rings throughout the text, giving insight into his convictions, his bravery, and his commitment to the life—in all forms—throughout this Galaxy and beyond. Excerpts from his personal correspondence, captain’s logs, and more give Kirk’s personal narrative further depth.

My Review:

I bounced off of two fairly serious books, and found myself staring at today with nothing to post. I gave up my attempts at serious for the week and turned to the book that was calling my name, loudly and with 60s theme music. As the 49th anniversary of the debut of a quirky little science fiction TV series called Star Trek occurred this week, it seemed like a fine time to dig The Autobiography of James T. Kirk out of my TBR pile.

Just in case you’re wondering, this is the story of the first James T. Kirk. Or perhaps the “Original Kirk”, in line with the naming convention of referring to the 1966-1969 series as “The Original Series” or TOS.

The framing story that sets up the book is interesting in and of itself. It is purportedly edited from a recording that Kirk made at Memory Alpha just before his “death” on the maiden voyage of the Enterprise-B. Kirk was a ceremonial guest at the launch, but ended up saving the ship and being swallowed by an energy vortex when the ship was attacked. He saved the day (again) and was lost, presumed dead.

James T. Kirk in 2371

Memory Alpha really exists. It is the name of one of the Star Trek wikis. Fans know that Kirk was not killed on the Enterprise-B, but was lost in the Nexus vortex and returned to real space-time to finally die while helping his successor, Jean-Luc Picard, Captain of the Enterprise-D, save the universe from a madman intent on destroying the universe. Again. (This is the plot of the movie Star Trek Generations in a very tiny nutshell.)

Kirk’s last words were, “It was… fun. Oh my…” This Autobiography is a fleshing out of exactly what it was that was so much fun. And sometimes so much tragedy.

While the book is part of the convention of fiction that is written as though its protagonist was a real person, in the same way that the Sherlock Holmes stories are purported to be written by Dr. John Watson about his friend Holmes and merely edited by Conan Doyle, this book can be read as a fleshing out of Kirk’s biographical entry in our version of Memory Alpha.

It takes all of the incidents that are known from the series and movies, and turns them into a complete portrait of a fictional life. Because the story is told from Kirk’s perspective, we see things that we did not see on film. Kirk was so often a “cowboy”; cocky, self-assured, sometimes self-absorbed, and always coming out on top with a smirk or a smile. Through his eyes in this autobiography, we see all the times when that was an act, that the outward confidence often masked an inwards doubt. And sometimes a bit too much hubris.

A James T. Kirk, Starfleet Academy photo is shown in this undated handout photo provided by CBS, September 4, 2015.  REUTERS/CBS/Handout via Reuters
James T. Kirk, Starfleet Academy graduation photo

The other thing that this book does well is put some meat on the bones of the story we heard bits of but didn’t see – both his childhood and the years after his retirement from Starfleet. In the episode Court Martial, there is a recitation of all of Kirk’s many, many medals and awards. In the book, we see how he got those awards, without him talking about them directly. We read about the tragedy that led to Kodos the Executioner (The Conscience of the King), and the insanity of the Axanar peace talks. And there is plenty of information, and plenty of regret, in Kirk’s relationship with the son he virtually abandoned.

While the story does touch on some incidents from the TV episodes, it does not become a catalog of them. Only the incidents that impacted on the life of this fictional person get any mention. So we read his perspective of The Doomsday Machine and Obsession, but not The Trouble With Tribbles. And the inclusions and exclusions feel right.

Escape Rating B+: This is, without a doubt, a book for the fans, especially fans of the original series. For readers like me, who loved that show and remember it with extreme fondness, it is an absolute treat of a book. I read it in one sitting, mostly with a smile on my face. And occasionally with a pang in my heart. Which makes it a difficult book to rate. I loved it and was lost in it, but that has as much to do with my own nostalgia rather than it does the book.

For those who loved this show, even with its many faults, the throw away treatment of the events in the laughably awful movie Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, is guaranteed to bring a chuckle.

On the other hand, this book is no way to introduce anyone to Star Trek: The Original Series. And possibly not for fans of the reboot who are wondering what all the fuss is about. But for those of us who already know what made this show so marvelous, this is a chance to slip back to a universe we all remember with love.

Live long, and prosper.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Star Trek: Shadow of the Machine by Scott Harrison

star trek original series shadow of the machine by scott harrisonFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Length: 99 pages
Publisher: Pocket Books
Date Released: March 9, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

An e-novella set in the Original Series universe—taking place immediately after the events of the 1979 film Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

After its recent encounter with V’ger, the U.S.S. Enterprise has returned to dry dock to finish its refit before commencing its second five-year mission. The crew has been granted a two-week period of shore leave before preparations for their next voyage begins. Shaken by their encounter with V’ger, Kirk, Spock, and Sulu travel to their respective homes and must reflect upon their lives—now forever changed.

My Review:

Star_Trek_The_Motion_Picture_posterThis short novella is not exactly a story. Instead, it reads like three character profiles of people we know well. We see Kirk, Spock and Sulu at a pivotal point in their lives – the immediate aftermath of the V’ger incident portrayed in the movie Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

It is also, for each of them a meditation on the place that is called home, and a glimpse into their relationships with people that we know of but are not necessarily familiar with.

The poet Robert Frost once said that, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Which does not mean that you necessarily want to go there, that you want to stay, or that it still feels like home to you.

For Jim Kirk, it is not a place that he wants to go; for Spock, not a place he wants to stay, and for Hikaru Sulu, not a place that feels like home to him.

Jim Kirk is called back to his family farm in Iowa. (“I’m from Iowa, I only work in outer space”) His nephew Peter is being raised on the family farm, by Jim Kirk’s aunt and uncle, making Abner and Hanna Peter Kirk’s great-aunt and great-uncle. We’ve met Peter once before, in the episode Operation: Annihilate. His father, Jim’s brother Sam, and his wife Aurelan were killed in the invasion of the energy suckers. Only Peter survived.

Peter seems to have lost his way, or been lost in the black depths of depression after V’ger. He thought he was safe on Earth, but it has just been brought home to him, and everyone on Earth, that there is no such thing as a safe place. The teenaged Peter has lost interest in any future, and Jim’s Aunt Hanna hopes that something he might say to the boy will bring him back. That both is and isn’t the way it works.

Spock returns to Vulcan to tie up the loose ends related to his abandonment of the Kolinahr ritual at the beginning of the V’ger incident. Everyone he meets assumes that Spock plans to return to the ritual, but in meeting V’ger, he discovered that his human (and emotional) side has as much value as his logical and Vulcan side. He has been denying his own place in the IDIC principle (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) in his mistaken attempt to become fully Vulcan, which he is not.

In meeting with both his human mother Amanda and his Vulcan father Sarek Spock’s new knowledge of himself helps to further heal the family rifts that were apparent in the episode Journey to Babel.

Last, but in this case not least, Hikaru Sulu comes home to await the birth of his daughter, and while he is awed by the love and responsibility of becoming a new father, his partner also makes him aware that she understands him as much as she loves him. She is making a home for herself and their daughter, knowing and accepting that Sulu’s life is and will always be in space and not on Earth.

He discovers that he has a home, but it is not truly his.

Escape Rating B: While I enjoyed this, it is not so much a story as it is a visit with old and dear friends. The character portraits in this novella are definitely for the fans – there isn’t enough story to draw in anyone who is not already very familiar with Star Trek.

While this is an original work, there were quite a few points where the dialogue between the characters felt spot on – I could hear their voices in my head, including those that we will not hear again. For that gift, I thank the author.

Star Trek GenerationsThe bit of the story that was most original was Sulu’s story. He is not featured in as many of the stories as might have been – the Original Series was much less of a true ensemble than Next Gen, but in this case we learn a bit that has not been known before. Demora Sulu appeared in Star Trek Generations as the current helmsman of the Enterprise B, and Kirk greets her as Hikaru Sulu’s daughter – but no one ever knew anything about her mother or where she came into the story. This is that story, and it is illuminating.

I originally picked this book after reading and reviewing The Interstellar Age by Jim Bell. That true space science story had so many resonances with ST:TMP that I couldn’t resist reading a V’ger story. After the news about Leonard Nimoy’s death, I moved the book as far up the schedule as I could find a slot. It is only coincidence (but an excellent one) that this Sunday (March 22) will be William Shatner’s 84th birthday.

Live Long and Prosper.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest Review: Star Trek: The Original Series: The More Things Change by Scott Pearson

Star Trek - The More Things Change by Scott PearsonFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Length: 90 pages
Publisher: Pocket Star
Date Released: June 23, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Six months after the events of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Doctor Christine Chapel and Spock must save the life of an ailing Audrid Dax, her true nature as a Trill having remained a mystery until now. But after an unknown vessel attacks their shuttle, a risky game of cat-and-mouse may be the only way to save all their lives.

Guest review by Galen.  Visit The Book Pushers for Marlene’s take.

This novella has a possible future as a one-set play. All of the action of note takes place inside a shuttle-craft. In fact, it would almost work as a monologue, as the heart of the story takes place inside the head of Christine Chapel.

Chapel, no longer Nurse Chapel but Dr. Chapel, has gained her medical degree and is starting to spread her wings. The events of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, however, have delayed her assuming full confidence by putting Dr. McCoy back as Chief Medical Officer of the Enterprise.

McCoy dispatches her and Spock to take the Trill ambassador Audrid Dax to rendezvous with a Trill vessel to deal with an urgent medical issue of Dax’s.  However, there is more under the surface than meets the eye: with Dax, with the mission, and with Chapel’s relationship with Spock.

Escape Rating B: This is a competently written character piece that is worth reading by any fan of TOS, particularly those who hanker for knowing what comes next.

As near as I can tell, The More Things Change references just about every canonical appearance of Chapel and provides a nice bridge between TOS and her final appearance in The Voyage Home. Some of the references to incidents in the animated series are inspiring me to dust off the DVDs and give TAS a proper watch.

On the other hand, it did feel like the story was a little too careful to name-check every relevant incident in the TV shows; it would have been nice if it had given Chapel a little more roam to wander around in her life, as it were. That said, her voice rang true as that of a person ready to acknowledge the past that shaped her and move on to her future.

The big reveal that Audrid Dax is both Audrid and Dax, host and symbiont,  is of course not a surprise to any fan of Star Trek, though it was to Dr. Chapel. I do have a quibble about how long the Trill could have actually kept their secret in the face of sensor technology (and the impression one gets that just about every space-faring civilization in the universe of Star Trek is effectively a total surveillance state), but well, such quibbles are part of what make fandom fun.  The external conflict (in the form of raiders chasing the shuttle in an attempt to capture Dax) was strictly paint-by-numbers, but didn’t detract from the core story of Chapel resolving her relationship with Spock and preparing to leave her second family.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.