THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF JAMES T. KIRK: Over the years, when it strikes me I haven’t read a book in a while, I have often gotten back into the habit by reading a Star Trek book. Star Trek books are usually light, quick and entertaining. That ploy hasn’t worked in a while, though. Of the last two Star Trek books I have bought, one I didn’t finish and one I didn’t even start. The TV show Star Trek: Disovery, however, has put me in the mood to read some more Trek, so I went back to the one I bought most recent and didn’t even crack.
The autobiography of James T. Kirk is everything I expected it to be. It follows Kirk’s life from Earth, to Tarsus IV, to Starfleet Academy, to the Republic, to the Farragut, to his first command (mentioned on TV but never identified), to the Enterprise. It takes nearly every mention of his early life from the television show, places them in chronological order, and populates them with the appropriate characters. For example, his academy days deal with Ben Finney, Finnegan, Ruth, Professor Gill, Gary Mitchell and the Kobiashi Maru. It also establishes how, when and under what circumstances he met those who were to become his crew.
When it gets to the era of the TV series, it hits the highlights but glosses over some of the details. It fleshes out the end of the five year mission and what happened after that which led into the movies. It covers “the lost years” and focuses on events between films. It also details the behind-the-scenes politics of Star Fleet, and the differences between Admirals Nogura, Morrow, Cartwright and others. It takes Kirk’s story right up to the launch of the Enterprise-B. Much of this material has been covered elsewhere, but never so completely or with such consistency.
Nothing that occurs in print is considered canon, and this book does contradict or offer alternate versions of the same events from other books, but this one conforms almost exactly to my personal interpretation of these events. I was still so jazzed after finishing it that I re-read part one of the Generations novelization (which goes into much more details than the movie). Whereas this book tells the comprehensive story of Captain Kirk’s life, I wouldn’t recommend it to the casual fan; the hardcore fan is in a better place to fully appreciate all the “Easter eggs.” Either that, or I would recommend it to someone such as Amy Farah Fowler because it provides a quick overview of everything (the girlfriend of) a fan would need to know about the original crew from the TV show to the movies.
Whenever I'm experiencing "reader's block" (as I am now), I usually read a bit of fluff to get me back in the habit. More often than not, that "fluff" has been a Star Trek book, which brings me to...
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MR. SPOCK: I read The Autobiography of James T. Kirk in 2018 and loved it. that led to The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard in 2017, but I wasn't in the mood for it at the time and didn't finish it. what I was in the mood for was The Autobiography of Mr. Spock, which has been pushed back so many times over the years I didn't think it was ever going to come out. But it's out now and I just finished it.
What I liked about the Kirk one was that it smoothed out the antecedent action of the original series, with the series itself and the movies and what happened in between into one smoothly flowing narrative. The Spock one does the same, but it incorporates backstory from the Star Trek: Discovery series which I have not seen. Beyond that, the section dealing with Spock's early years on Vulcan includes his betrothal to T'Pring and the events of the animated episode "Yesteryear." My favorite part of this section, however, was the story of Sarek's first wife, Sybok's mother.
Spock's service aboard Pike's Enterprise is largely glossed over, except as it relates to Discovery and "The Cage." A good deal of background detail is provided for Saavik and Valeris, and Saavik remains an important character in Spock's life into the 24th century. Events between The Undiscovered Country and "Reunification" are dealt with perfunctorily, but what happen between "Reunification" and Spock's disappearance on the Romulan border are dealt with in more detail. I was disappointed that the throwaway line from "Sarek" (that Picard met the Sarek briefly at the wedding of the ambassador's son) was completely ignored.
The book was "edited" by Una McCormick, who also wrote Picard: The Last Best Hope, which I was surprised to find just now, unread, on my shelf. (I had planned to read it immediately following Picard's autobiography, which I didn't finish). Spock's bridges the gap between Kirk's and Picard's, and I think I'm in the mood to read it now. Also, there's one for Kathryn Janeway. I had thought the publication delay in regard to the Spock one might have been due to writer's block, but so much of it ties to the events of Discovery that the publication date may have been pushed back to give the show the chance to "catch up." (Again, I don't know because I haven't seen the show beyond the first season, but I do have the first three on DVD waiting to be watched.)
As far as the book is concerned, I think I would have enjoyed it more if I were familiar with Discovery... if I like discovery. From what I have seen so far, however (i.e., season one), Discovery takes place in an alternate universe, despite the fact that the showrunners insist it takes place in the same continuity. I can't really recommend The Autobiography of Mr. Spock to anyone not familiar with Discovery, but if you are familiar with the show (and like it), you might want to give the book a try.
THE AUTOBIOGRPHY OF JEAN-LUC PICARD:
I really enjoyed reading The Autobiography of James T. Kirk in 2018 but, when I began reading The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard two years later, I got only about halfway through before I determined I wasn't familiar enough with Picard's backstory to fully appreciate the book, so I set it aside to re-watch Star Trek: The Next Generation. After that, I moved on to all of the spin-off series and just recently re-watched Picard for the first time. Now I'm ready to read the "autobiography."
The difference between the two is that Kirk's is like a jigsaw puzzle, but Picard's is like a tapestry. We're mostly familiar with Kirk's life story onscreen (seven years of it from TOS through TMP, then another nine spanning movies II through VII) with hints at the gaps peppered throughout. But with Picard, his onscreen life spans a mere 12 years (from TNG through Insurrection). Beyond that, what we know of his early life is painted in broad strokes: he grew up on a vineyard in France; he won a footrace as a freshman at Starfleet Academy; he has an artificial heart; his first command was the Stargazer; Jack Crusher was killed under his command; and so on. Keeping those milestones (and a few others) in mind, "editor" (i.e., writer) David Goodman embellishes details while remaining true to the overall canon.
By the time "Picard" gets to the part at which he takes command of the Enterprise-D (chapter nine, about three quarters of the way through), we are already accustomed to "episodes" being related as short, punchy anecdotes, so that by the time we get to the actual episodes of TNG, there's not a lot of rehash. the "mystery years" between Stargazer and Enterprise are filled in, and we get to see Picard's first meetings with several of the TNG crew in ways that do not contradict continuity or canon.
The "autobiography" also fills in many scenes missing from TNG, such as Dr. Crusher's departure, Dr. Pulaski's arrival (and subsequent departure) and Guinan's arrival. The TNG episodes included are ones that might be expected in an autobiography: his first mission; his assimilation by the Borg; his capture and torture by the Cardassians, etc. More personal episodes (such as "We'll Always Have Paris") are included as well, and the "editor" does a good job of fleshing out such episodes with introductory chapters early on. The story goes beyond Insurrection, but is more faithful to "All Good Things" than it is to Picard (which makes sense since the book was written before the TV series).
I must say I enjoyed the Picard autobiography as much as I did the Kirk one, but in a different way (as a "tapestry" rather than a "jigsaw puzzle"). And both were much better than The Autobiography of Spock, which suffered from trying to integrate the prime universe with revisionist Discovery one. Conspicuous in its absence from Spock's autobiography is any mention of Spock's wife at all. Picard's autobiography spends more time on Spock's wedding than Spock's does.
UP NEXT (but not immediately): The Autobiography of Kathryn Janeway
THE AUTOBIOGRPHY OF KATHRYN JANEWAY: Of the most famous Starfleet captains of the original universe (i.e., the ones with their own TV shows), Kathryn Janeway is probably the biggest cipher. Jonathan Archer and Benjamin Sisko haven't yet "written" autobiographies, but I think that assessment would hold true even in they had. We know she likes coffee and that's about it. I recently finished watching all seven seasons of Star Trek: Voyager, and nothing about her early life really sticks out in my mind. If Captain Kirk's life is a jigsaw puzzle and Captain Picard's life is a tapestry, then Captain Janeway's is a blank canvas.
A part of me wonders who the intended audience for this "autobiography" is. Yes, fans of the fictional Star Trek universe are the real audience, of course, but who within the Star Trek universe? It's far too personal to be of interest to Starfleet Academy cadets (for use in class, anyway), although I imagine her command decisions during her seven-year mission are the subject of study in the Academy's Ethics of Command classes.
I'm sure the entire crew of Voyager are celebrities on Earth, but I'm sure the general populace is more interested in what happened in the Gamma Quadrant than in her early life. (She takes command of Voyager about halfway through the book.) "Janeway" seems to be aware of this herself; the early chapters are peppered with references to Voyager crew she has not yet introduced, assuming a familiarity on the part of her readers. She's a lot like Ringo Starr in this respect. Ringo was once asked about the prospect of writing an autobiography of his life with the Beatles, and he replied that there was enough story to fill ten volumes before he even got to the Beatles. But I digress.
I enjoyed this book almost as much as I did the Kirk and Picard ones, and far more than the Spock one. The television show ended with Voyager's return to the Alpha Quadrant but before its return to Earth. In that respect, the book provides closure that the television show didn't have.
I thought the Janeway book was OK. I thought thye might have given more attention mto her running conflict with the Borg Queen.
Twice it was mentioned that she was the Starfleet captain who had the most experience dealing with the Borg and the Q. I might dispute both of those assertions. Whereas she certainly encountered more different Q than any other captain, I still think Picard holds the record for the most times. And as for the Borg, you may want to ask "Captain Locutus" about that.