Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Some Actors Never Give Up Their Roles: William Shatner's Star Trek The Return

The Good: Mildly interesting concept
The Bad: Does not get the "voice" of many of the characters, Ridiculous overall plot
The Basics: Resurrecting Captain Kirk for a new series of novels is fraught with problems and The Return is the result.

In the Star Trek universe, Captain Kirk is dead. He died in the film Star Trek Generations (reviewed here!) and since then, the character has been dead. Except in the novels. Apparently, the only way to get celebrity William Shatner to write a Star Trek novel is to use Captain Kirk. And it makes some sense that the author/actor/originator of Captain Kirk would want to keep readers wondering what will happen next, thus there would be little interest in writing adventures for Captain Kirk from before he died (because, obviously, Kirk would survive them). So, it makes sense that Shatner would want to write the continuing adventures of Captain Kirk in the Star Trek The Next Generation universe.

Except for that being dead part.

The Return is Shatner's (and ghost co-authors Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens') response, which follows on the success of his book The Ashes Of Eden (reviewed here!). The whole purpose of the novel must be to resurrect James T. Kirk and allow him to continue on in new novels. Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens know the Star Trek universe expertly and they are an excellent choice to co-author. William Shatner knows Captain Kirk like no one else, so it makes sense.

It just doesn't work, though.

Set after the events of Star Trek Generations, Captain Kirk's gravesite is being visited by Ambassador Spock when Kirk's body is abducted. Kirk awakens a short time later on an alien vessel with a mission; to kill Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Kirk is a pawn for the Romulans, one of whom is bearing a grudge over her grandfather's death (from the original Star Trek episode "Balance Of Terror"). Picard is a target for the Borg, who believe he knows how to defeat them.

Yes, the basic premise of The Return is that The Borg and the Romulans have teamed up to destroy the Federation by eliminating two of the most famous captains. After extensive brainwashing, Kirk is sent to find Picard. Picard, for his part, is undercover infiltrating the Borg. And it all comes together in a kind of blah way.

The main problem with The Return is that its basic premise must by its nature be fantastic, but instead it is rendered ridiculous here. William Shatner knows Kirk, the problem is this is a William Shatner novel expounding on ideas in the Star Trek universe that Shatner is not to clear on and apparently the Reeves-Stevens' weren't good enough to correct him on. The idea that Kirk is resurrected by Nanites from the Borg is not a bad idea. That the Romulans are using him as a tool then falls flat. That the Romulans and the Borg have an alliance falls flat.

The Borg were destroyed by one man: Brannon Braga. Fans of the Star Trek franchise originally liked Braga's surprising style and innovative mind. Then, most of us realized he was a one-trick pony. Following writing two or three genius episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation, Braga was given more power over the franchise, soon knocking Jeri Taylor off Star Trek Voyager and eventually sinking the franchise as executive producer of Enterprise. In his tenure, Braga took one of the most menacing villains, brilliantly created by Maurice Hurley, and made them into one of the least impressive recurring races in the Star Trek franchise.

Allow me to explain. Hurley's Borg are deliciously simple. They come, they take, you become one of them. There is no conversation, no negotiations, no objective or long term plan other than All Will Be Borg. Braga introduced fundamentally flawed ideas into the Borg, creating the Borg Queen for Star Trek First Contact and transwarp conduits for the Borg in Star Trek Voyager (purists will say that the Borg had transwarp conduits in Star Trek The Next Generation, but they did not; the Independent Borg from "Decent, Parts I and II" had a ship that was clearly not Borg that had transwarp conduits. The prevailing idea in the episode was that Lore captured that ship and moved the independent Borg there when he came upon their crippled ship. Thus, the Borg should not know about transwarp conduits.) and a whole Borg Underground Dream Movement in Star Trek Voyager. Braga's Borg make no sense; for example, if the Borg could essentially move faster than any other race in the galaxy, there would be no reason under their philosophy to not conquer everything. Now. They would swarm a planet or system, assimilate everything and move on. That's not imagination, that's simple use of resources to maximize the effort and the movement.

Similarly, in The Return, the idea of the Borg and Romulan alliance falls flat. Of all of the races in the Star Trek universe, the Romulans would have the least to offer the Borg. They are isolationists that are surrounded by other major powers. So renegade Romulans teaming up with the Borg is a fundamental plot point that is a huge plot hole. It doesn't work.

On a similar note, William Shatner's voice for action and adventure comes through in a most inconvenient manner with the Borg with his creation of, essentially, Borg spiders and Borg Centipedes. Having read many of Shatner's Tek books, this kind of science fiction concept seems like his idea. It's not a bad idea, but it is a bad idea for the Borg. Again, part of the genius of the Borg concept from "Q-Who?" is that there is no differentiation. No unit is special. No unit is unique. Stringing together multiple biological units to create a specialized unit is counterideolgical to the Borg premise.

The massive problem with the Borg in this novel comes near the climax with Picard's actions. They read as totally off for both the character of Picard and the nature of the Borg.

Finally, in the effort to make the novel more encompassing of the entire Star Trek universe, there are a few scenes set on Deep Space Nine and the voice of Bashir is not truly captured.

So what does work?

Well, it's fast paced, even if it is not terribly engaging. Things happen at a good pace and that works well for the book. The ultimate revelation on the origin of the Borg works nicely as well. In fact, the aspect of the book that works best is the Spock story. Spock's past and present come together in a way that is best described as fascinating. Unfortunately, to say more about it would be revealing as the most intriguing aspects of the Spock plot are revealed in the last fifth of the novel.

Is the Spock plotline worth the price of the book? No. Is it something that has already been ruined or bastardized in the Star Trek cannon? Yes, by Enterprise. Unfortunately, this novel is a loser in terms of Star Trek books and novels in general.

For other Star Trek novels with Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens involved, please check out my review of Federation here!


For other book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2005 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission

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