I just finished a book that I was loath to put down every night for a week so that I could get some sleep: The Autobiography of James T. Kirk, The Story of Starfleet’s Greatest Captain, “edited” by David A Goodman. Star Trek, as I believe I’ve indicated before, was my first fandom, years before comic books became my thing, so when I saw this book in Previews a few months back, I knew I would be getting it. But what was I getting? Some schlock that did not offer me anything new or at least that I couldn’t read at Memory Alpha? I’m happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised.
The first thing I did was look at the color pictures of James Kirk, offering glimpses into a past that was largely undefined aside from the scattered bits in various episodes and the movies. The first picture following shows a young Kirk, age 12, as he was heading for Tarsus IV and his run-in with Kodos. Notice the detail about his allergy to Retinax V, which was revealed in Star Trek II?
The next photo shows Kirk’s Academy graduation photo, age 21. (Shatner was quite handsome in his youth.)
Then I read the Afterword, by Spock, and then started the book with the forward by McCoy. (Don’t ask my why I did that–it’s actually common for me whenever I read any book to start it out of order, especially when there is front and back matter to read.) These pieces were sentimental, being written about their friend after he, from their perspective, had died saving the Enterprise-B, as shown in Star Trek Generations. As it turns out, Kirk submitted this autobiography right before that fateful event.
The meat of book was very surprising to me. It filled in quite of bit of Kirk’s personal history that I, as a fan of Star Trek for the last 40 years (one of my earliest memories is waking up from a nap the summer before I started kindergarten and seeing these colorful costumes, and who was that guy with the pointed ears?), did not know. This is exactly what I wanted to read! From Kirk’s childhood, to his time at the academy, to his early postings before he became Captain of the Enterprise, the fleshing out of some of his five-year missions (though, when I got to the point of Kirk retelling certain of those adventures, I got a little bored), and what came after that and between the movies was all very entertaining and fulfilling to this fan. But all of that wasn’t the surprising part.
The book opens with a prologue about Kirk meeting Edith Keeler (from the fan favorite episode “City on the Edge of Forever”). This focus on his feelings for and about Keeler permeates the book with a melancholy that belies the somewhat jovial tone the series and movies oftentimes had. Even more, Kirk admits to his own selfishness, his ambition, his failings, which is something I did not expect. I was–pardon me–fascinated by this approach. The “editor” could have easily chosen to just romp through Kirk’s adventures, sprinkling in details to tantalize and educate us (and we do get plenty of that through the back half of the book), but there is a lot of second guessing and self-reflection that goes along with the adventures, and it is a stronger story for it.
Because of this book, I will never think of Captain Kirk the same way as I did. He became more of a three-dimensional character for me, someone more relatable than just the brave and daring Captain who saved Earth and the galaxy on multiple occasions. As Spock writes in the end of the book, Kirk is not dead, and he will return. I think these statements transcend the foreshadowing of the events of Generations, and the reimagining of the character in the JJ Abrams relaunch. Kirk has made such an indelible impression on our culture, on me, that he (and his crew) can never really “die”. I hope that, to paraphrase the tag line from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the adventure is just beginning.