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

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

Titan Books, 268pp standard hardback, £17.99 cover price
£6.02 on Kindle (March 2016)

Reviewed by Alex Bardy (Twitter: @mangozoid)

This book was always going to be an awkward one to review, tucked very tightly between ‘pointless tie-in’ and ‘useful insight into the mind of Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise’; it’s all the more difficult to judge if you’re not an avid devotee of the original, believe me! So what is there to say, about the fictional autobiography of a character many people (esp. genre fans) already feel quite familiar with?

Well, the book does a very good job of introducing us to the beloved Captain, taking us through his very early childhood days growing up in Iowa, devoid of much input from his parents and carrying a wild sense of simply ‘belonging elsewhere’, as well as his early cadet training at Starfleet Academy as he pushed on to cheat his way through the infamous Kobayashi Maru test to pass his graduation… [one for the fans, that, probably!]  It’s around this point that I started to believe in the book a little bit more – it managed to set up and maintain the illusion that this really could be the true voice of a young Captain Kirk as he blundered his way through some of his early assignments, and the sprinkling of “Editor’s Notes” throughout the text (whereby minor corrections and ‘factual’ clarifications are made with the wisdom of hindsight) lends at least some credibility to this being a ‘real’ autobiography.

Having been denied a settled home life, the early part of this puts a lot of emphasis on Kirk’s desire to settle down, have children, and rectify things with a family of his own, his desire for a proper relationship with his son, David, seemingly ever-present. Soon enough, of course, we discover that his first love [other than himself? – behave!], is the idea of commanding his own starship, and this doesn’t take long to turn into an obsession –you guessed it– with the USS Enterprise. His deeper, longer-lasting relationships aren’t glossed over either, and in fact, remain carefully threaded throughout, but I personally didn’t care so much for this aspect of the narrative, although I suspect it gives some sense of ‘grounding’ to the character, esp. for those readers not so familiar with Kirk et al.

It’s here though, past the halfway-mark, that the book could have so easily turned into a series of episode summaries based on many of those TV shows and movies a fair number of fans still recall with some clarity, but these all have an oblique angle in the telling that’s slightly adrift to what you’d initially expect, smartly treading through some of the side-stories and perhaps exposing readers to the inner thoughts and feelings of Kirk without rehashing complete plotlines, etc.  It is really well done, I think, and as with any titular work, in some places it pays off better than others. One particular standout is how the editor and Kirk himself deals with the elephant in the room that is Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (aka The Search For God’s Starship [sic]) – this is a clever masterstroke that’s both charmingly disarming, and in essence, mostly harmless… but it’s very well done nonetheless, and something worth watching for. It happens in Chapter 12 btw…

The addition of a Foreword by ‘Bones’ McCoy and an Afterword by Spock are also to its credit, with the latter feeling especially poignant and indeed, very Leonard Nimoy-ish, in truth.

Later this year (September, actually), it would have been fully 50 years since the original Star Trek TV series first aired on US screens. No doubt there may be a couple more things already in the pipeline to celebrate this, but if not you could do worse than treat yourself and show your respect for what remains a stalwart of genre fandom, helping to lay the foundations for syndicated TV and still considered the backbone of many of today’s major fan events. Failing that, you could just show your love for Trekkies with a subtle nod and a few quid…

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