Monday, 14 September 2015

It's My Life: The Autobiography of James T Kirk

For the first time in an age I raced through a Star Trek book.

I was pretty surprised that I nailed off The Autobiography of James T Kirk in a couple of days because lately I've been finding Star Trek novels a bit heavy going. But this is different, there's something here that just inspired me and edged me on and on and on. 

"Edited" by Family Guy head writer David A Goodman who is also responsible for the briliant Federation: The First 150 Years, we have almost 30 pages dedicated to the life story of a certain famous starship captain. The first half focuses on Jim's life from his birth on the USS Kelvin right through to his assignment to command the USS Enterprise.

Now we could have had a book which spent three-quarters of it's time on the more well-known years of his life but Goodman's choice to detail the earlier events is a good choice. Providing us with a skirting insight into the Kirk family, we learn about the captain's immediate ancestry as well as understanding his relationships with his parents and brother George (Sam).

I'd also keep your eyes open for blink and miss references to certain members of the Enterprise cast and a ton of first meetings and characters who would later play important roles within the future captain's life in short story-bytes which tie together nicely as you read further in. We get appearances from Admiral Morrow, one Lance Cartwright, a Major West even JT Esteban, future captain of the USS Grissom is included as is Morgan Bateson in the unexpected position as Kirk's yeoman. Their links into the captain's life are well-placed however there are a lot of coincidences that we get to see which I did take with a pinch of salt. Certainly the origins of the Kirk-Spock-McCoy friendship are well explored and Goodman has conveyed the bond between the trio exceptionally well including all the nuances of the verbal sparring between the Vulcan and the ship's doctor to a tee.

From there we get under the skin of the family dynamic, how uneasy it could be between his parents and how Jim and his mother would end up on Tarsus IV leading to seeing the executions at the hands of Governor Kodos. Goodman neatly weaves in elements that we would be told through episodes of Star Trek such as The Conscience of a King (and Kirk's childhood friend Tom Leighton) and certainly borrows from the JJ Abrams reboots to fill in some of the earlier parts of Kirk's life.

Kirk's chance meeting with Captain Mallory and later with Captain Robert April as well as his father's own - cut short - career show how he came to choose the Starfleet path and his early struggles on an old ship before moving onto more illustrious vessels and a stint of command before stepping into the Enterprise hot-seat. Much of the narrative from that half-way point in the book becomes familiar as we encounter Klingons, Gorn, a trip to 1930's New York, the tragic deaths of Kirk's brother and Gary Mitchell and many more incidents from the five year mission.

What I really did appreciate is some of the "errors" and adjustments to the truth that are captured within the book and make it just less than a perfect novelisation. These work well to give a sense of the humanity of Kirk, his ability to get things wrong and also his respect for many notable individuals who suffered setbacks or made questionable decisions. Sitting in there would certainly be Ben Finney (Court Martial) and later Commodore Matt Decker (The Doomsday Machine) whose interactions with Kirk were less than pleasant on occasion but that shows his imperfections as well as his dedication to the service in different ways. 

However, there are a few occasions where I wasn't sure if the author's "memory" remembered things incorrectly or if we were experiencing "editing" mistakes such as Kirk saying he'd finished A Tale of Two Cities when he didn't in the movie since his glasses were broken or that the Ti-Ho was the vessel renamed Enterprise-A. If this was intentional then very well but they seem fairly obvious points that wouldn't be incorrectly noted.

David Goodman's book doesn't carry the lofty ego I was expecting as this seems a much more reflective Kirk who recognises his fallibilities as well as the errors of his ways and not just the glory. His relationship with Carol Marcus and the subsequent arrival of their son David plays out right across the book and we see Kirk choose career over family with reminders along the way hinting that his decision is a regret that haunted him. I think it would be wrong to say he's a bad parent since Kirk is never involved with his son's life in any way but Starfleet is clearly his first love. His choice to override Will Decker and effectively steal command of the Enterprise back is another moment that seems to play on Kirk's mind and this is really where Goodman's publication excels.

He has managed to dive into the captain's psyche to a degree. I'm not sure that I agree with some reviewers that this is showing a dark side to Kirk more that it's showing him as a "real" person, flawed and as imperfect as the rest of us with real world issues. The loss of life across his career is marked on his soul as are those regrets about Carol and David Marcus. Kirk realises here that his actions have had influence - in some ways bad - on a lot of other characters including placing some of them into the more familiar positions we know or why some of them never turned up after a single appearance. A good example of that is in Admiral Morrow from The Search for Spock

In fact we do get a lot of explanations as to why certain things happened. Whether you believe their accuracy or not is certainly up to your opinion of the franchise. Goodman also tends to point Kirk's memories towards less obvious moments within the Star Trek universe and almost dismisses big events in a few lines while the captain's thoughts and asides take a president. I like that twist here and it makes this book ever more readable. 

Goodman does appear to understand Captain James T Kirk very well but I do have some quibbles with his source material as I've noted in some points already. His sweeping aside of the events of The Final Frontier might be a bit of an inside joke but whether it was good or not doesn't determine that it's still canon. Nor am I too sure of the sequence of events that Goodman details from The Motion Picture through to The Wrath of Khan. Also we get some nice "wink-wink" lines to the fact that the crew manage to remain together for a scarily long time when a lot of them should have had their own commands. The recollections of the Enterprise's second five year mission, Spock's five year mission as captain and Kirk's rubber-balling between admiral and captain doesn't ring true to other material and effectively means that this work of fiction becomes a fantastical tome within an imagined universe. 

Our "editor" may well have had to flesh out these points and does a good job of making the events engaging even managing to work in those confusing "when the hell did they happen?!" scenes from Kirk's world in the Nexus into viable events within the life story of Starfleet's most revered captain. It's been a while since I've sliced through a 350 plus page book in a matter of days so I can't fault David A Goodman for the content, the appeal and absolutely the engagement factor that just kept me reading on and on. However, just how "accurate" this is in relation to the canon universe is a little bit hit and miss so I can't say this is a perfect work to add to your collection but it is one you'll love from first to last page.

The Autobiography of James T Kirk is available now from Titan Books priced £17.99 ISBN 9781783297467.

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