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Saturday, February 20, 2010

review: Collision Course by William Shatner


Star Trek Academy #1:
Collision Course
by William Shatner
with Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens

Young Jim Kirk wants nothing to do with Starfleet, and never wants to leave Earth. In the summer of 2249, he's a headstrong seventeen-year-old barely scraping by in San Francisco, haunted by horrific memories from his past.
In the same city, a nineteen-year-old alien named Spock is determined to rise above the emotional turmoil of his mixed-species heritage. He's determined to show his parents he has what it takes to be Vulcan - even if it means exposing a mysterious conspiracy at the heart of the Vulcan Embassy, stretching to the farthest reaches of the Federation's borders. There, a chilling new threat has arisen to test the Federation's deepest held belief that war is a thing of the past and that a secure future can be forged through peaceful means alone. But it is in San Francisco, home to Starfleet Academy, where that threat will be met by two troubled teenage boys driven to solve the mystery that links them both.
In time, the universe will come to know these young rebels as Captain James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock...two of the Federation's greatest heroes. Yet before they were heroes, they were simply conflicted teenagers, filled with raw ambition and talent, not yet seasoned by wisdom and experience, searching for their own unique directions in life - a destiny they'll discover on one fateful night in San Francisco, when two lives collide, and two legends are born.

adult fiction ; sci-fi { genre
PG-13 for violence { rating
October 16, 2007 { first released
Pocket Books paperback (401 pages) { review edition
bought at full price { acquisition
Amazon.com ; Amazon.ca ; IndieBound ; Book Depository { purchase links

Why I Read This
Was on a Star Trek high when the 2009 movie came out and proceeded to watch most of the first 2 seasons of the original series. I ended up liking the original series more than the new movie, so I was curious how Mr. Shatner (the actor for the original Kirk) interpreted the First Meeting.

First Lines
That first night in San Francisco when it all began was cool and gray and thick with fog. Soft billows of it drifted over the Academy, causing its tall locked gates to phase in and out of visibility for the teenager dressed in black, lost in the shadows across Pacific Street.

Overall Rating
☂☂☂☂

An unexpectedly intricate mystery is woven neatly alongside the themes of teenage rebellion, institutional corruption, and the slightly overdramatized flashbacks to the murky past of a young Jimmy Kirk. The struggles both teens have to overcome - Spock's search for his place between the Vulcan and human races, and Kirk's reluctant admiration for the very institution he has grown up to resent - urges along character development and the beginnings of a mutually supportive friendship. I am quite disappointed of the less than satisfying portrayals of female characters, as well as the lack of PoC characters, but casual readers should have no problems enjoying this read. I should also mention that, while there are ample descriptions of high-tech settings and props, I found this novel quite accessible for non-sci-fi fans as well.

review posted to Amazon.ca, Book Depository, goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari

Plot/Themes
☂☂☂☂

In order to not give away too much for those who are yet unfamiliar with Kirk's past, I will try to be as un-spoilery as possible. The main theme of this book deals with teenage rebellion against institutional regulations, whether it is Kirk's blatant antagonism for Starfleet, or Spock's struggle to assert himself - a human-Vulcan hybrid - as a respectable member of elitist Vulcan race. Of course, this being a Star Trek novel, there are always multiple social and moral issues at stake: governmental corruption, flawed hierarchies, choices made in desperation, social Darwinism, child soldiers, racial discrimination, and the price of life. The villains are often given subtly sympathetic portrayals, and almost no one is exempt from the path of corruption. Some themes were a little preachy - as expected from a largely American-centric view of the future of Earth - but overall I enjoyed the questions it presented for the reader to consider.
I must also mention that this book is indeed a mystery novel as well, and it is the element of conspiracy that brings Kirk and Spock together from their two separate solo investigations. I personally found the mechanization and motives behind the crime to be quite genius and enjoyed trying to figure out how the two cases are related. You may have to suspend belief that two teenagers are able to figure out the puzzle before Starfleet/Federation officials, but both the fact that Kirk and Spock have their own insider information, and the fact that the conspiracy within the system impedes official investigation helps to explain away most doubts. Plus, Spock is very very smart, and so is Kirk I guess.
On the issue of POC representation however, despite the diverse cast in the original TV series, there are next to no indications of POC characters in the novel. Most were given "colourless" status in which they are not assigned hair/eye colours or specific accents. Colour-blindness is not new to Star Trek - TOS did better than TNG - and I'm really not sure how "racial" or even "ethnic" boundaries are divided in this future. Minorities are instead represented by aliens - such as Vulcans and Orions - but the issue of making American the default human state is quite problematic in of itself...I can go on, but I'll spare the rant for another time. If it helps, I had no trouble imagining the colourless characters as POC anyway since I'm quite used to seeing diverse faces on the Star Trek show.

Characters
☂☂☂.5

Suffice to say that, since this book is written by the actor of the original Kirk, said character is portrayed as the central force for the novel. He is the rebellious "bad boy" (as he calls himself) who defies the authority of Star Fleet, is a semi-genius tactician and natural leader, and the star of chapter-long flashbacks to a dark and way too dramatized past. I find myself skimming past most of these installments because it is damnably easy to guess how the rest of the flashbacks would end up, and it gets tedious listening to the woes of Jimmy repeated over and over. Also, not being a big fan of Kirk (either incarnation), I wasn't particularly charmed by all the awesomeness he's supposed to embody. That is not to say I dislike him, as he does genuinely care for his brother and his girlfriend, I just dislike that everyone else is dumbed down to put him on the pedestal.
Spock on the other hand was awesome. I was quite conflicted at some points when he shouts or puts some extreme emotion on display, but I forgave those bits for the fact that he is a teen here, and still wavering between the paths of emotionless Vulcan (the one he embodies most in the main series) vs. emotional human. Unlike some of the other side characters, Spock is given a few chapters to display his own amazing intellect and investigative skills. His passive-aggressive arguments with his father were some of my favourite parts in the book, because smart!insults are just too fun lol
One large issue I had for this book however was the portrayal of female characters as those who are taken advantage of and/or become the catalysts for disaster. They are the traitors, the sluts and the idiots who endanger the Earth and get in the way of the male saviours. And in the end, they're still all just puppets for the greater evils who are distinctly male.

Writing
☂☂☂☂

I have nothing particularly bad to say about the writing. Even though it is not spectacular, but I did enjoy it for its lack of complex stylizations. There were some parts that were particularly melodramatic, and some of the word choices (ex. "Stretch" as Spock's nickname) seemed to be overcompensating or were overused. However I did like that they kept pseudo-science jargon to a minimum (even if I am quite a nerd and admit I like them), so non-sci-fi fans can just as easily understand most of the dialogue. Even if this book is about the two teens, I feel that this book would definitely appeal to adult readers as well.

Ending
☂☂☂☂

The only section in the book where non-sci-fi fans may find rather tedious is perhaps the final battle. My nerdy self was quite elated to hear some of the awful technobabble I adored, but they're not essential to understanding the events so anti-technobabble readers need not fear. I do like that it was not a brute force battle too, as there are ample amounts of strategic maneouvering. It was a surprise that new characters get dragged in towards the end and become quite essential to the final solution, but they quickly get ushered out of the picture without much closure afterwords - perhaps to return in the planned sequel? Some other characters conveniently disappear without much explanation as well, or otherwise do so with ambiguous departures. Overall however, the mystery was solved, the Earth (or Starfleet at least) was saved, and a surprisingly deep lesson was learned. I wouldn't mind reading the next book (if it ever comes out), but this novel works quite nicely as a standalone either way.

Star Trek Academy Series
#1 Collision Course (2007)
#2 Trial Run

Reading Challenges
A to Z Challenge (2010) → C for Collision (title)
TwentyTen Challenge (2010) → Win! Win!
Science-Fiction Challenge (2010)
1st in a Series Challenge (2010) → Star Trek Academy Series

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3 comments:

Ah Yuan // wingstodust said...

LAWL, this review reminded me of how much of a GEEK you can be. =D I say this with all the fondness and love in my heart. Not that I'd ever touch this book with a ten foot pole, but your review amused me greatly. You know what I think would have made this book a better reading experience for you? Graphs. Graphs and equations utilized to formulate their battle plan. 8D I think of everything, I know. Also less Kirk and more Spock, but that's always a given, sooooooo yeah. =D

Melissa (My World...in words and pages) said...

I never really knew there was a book out there for StarTrek. This sounds really cool. Thanks for the great review!

NatalieSap said...

I, too, love love loved the new Star Trek movie and have been watching both the original and The Next Generation (that's the one I grew up with) but never even considered reading any of the novels. I think I may have to check this one out though! Thanks for the review.