Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Return

Star Trek: The Return by William Shatner with Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
Published April 1996
Read January 2nd, 2011 

Previous book ("Shatnerverse"): The Ashes of Eden
Next book ("Shatnerverse"): Avenger
Spoilers ahead for William Shatner's The Return!


From the back cover:
Veridian III: A world has been saved, the USS Enterprise 1701-D lies in ruins, and one of the galaxy's greatest heroes rests beneath a simple cairn of rocks on a lonely hillside.  But as a legendary Vulcan ambassador comes at last to the grave of his best and dearest friend, the adventure is only beginning.
The Borg and the Romulan Star Empire have joined forces against the Federation, and their ultimate weapon is none other than James T. Kirk, resurrected by alien science to destroy the Borg's most formidable enemy: Jean-Luc Picard.
The astounding return of Kirk -- as only William Shatner can tell it!

About the Novel:

On Veridian III, starfleet crews are dismantling and removing the wreckage of the USS Enterprise to avoid others finding it.  Meanwhile, Ambassador Spock visits the grave of his former Captain, James T. Kirk, before the remains are brought back to Earth.  However, the reclamation crews come under attack, and in the midst of the assault, Captain Kirk's body is taken away by the attackers.  Reanimated by Borg technology, Captain Kirk is used as a brain-washed assassin by a fringe group of Romulans who have allied themselves with the Borg.

Confused about his origins, and under the control of a Romulan fanatic obsessed with seeing Kirk punished for what she perceives as a crime against her family generations prior, Kirk sets out with only one purpose: Kill Jean-Luc Picard.


Meanwhile, Picard and Dr. Crusher are on a covert-ops mission to infiltrate and hopefully defeat the Borg.  As they get closer to their goal, Picard unknowingly comes closer to being a victim of the Romulan-Borg alliance.  His only hope is for Kirk to be woken up from his single-minded mission before it is too late.

My Thoughts:

The Return was a story conceived of by William Shatner as a response to the death of Captain Kirk in Star Trek: Generations.  As such, it fulfills a wish of many Star Trek fans: the resurrection of James T. Kirk.  But more than that, it feels to me like what Generations could have been, or more likely, what many fans were expecting when we first learned that the first TNG movie would feature a crossover of sorts between the original Star Trek and The Next Generation.  Many scenes that one would expect when Captain Kirk and Captain Picard come together are realized in this book.  One take on the Picard-Kirk interaction is that it should be a competition or fight between the two captains.  After all, isn't that what fans indulged in for years?  Ever since The Next Generation premiered in 1987, Star Trek magazines, fanzines, websites and message boards have been inundated with the same quandary:  who is the better captain, Kirk or Picard?  The Return pits the two heroes against each other, certainly.  Although, in my mind, the battle between them doesn't completely satisfy as it pits Picard against a crazed, nanite-infused, brain-washed Kirk.  Not exactly the battle royale people would have wanted.


Another scenario that Trek fans wanted to see was Kirk and Picard working together to combat some foe, preferably both on the bridge of the Enterprise.  The Return does give us that, and it is much more satisfying than the situation presented by Generations: "Hey, I need some extra help punching the bad guy on this planet you've never heard of.  I could just get some day labour from the local hardware store parking lot, but I'd rather have Captain Kirk.  Wanna come?"  Admittedly, I stole this image from RedLetterMedia's excellent review of Generations, part one of which can be seen here.


In many ways, The Return is a much better send-off than Generations ever was.  Rather than dying for some planet we don't really care about by falling off a mountain, Kirk instead has a hand in much bigger stakes: the defeat of the Borg Collective.  The final showdown on the Borg homeworld supposedly sees the end of Kirk.  In the massive conflagration that follows, Picard says, "Perhaps this is a more fitting memorial than a simple cairn of stones."  Well put, and very apt.  The death of Kirk should have been a bigger deal than it was made out to be in Generations.  The Return gives Kirk a much better ending.  However, as we all know, this isn't actually the end of Kirk (at least, not in the William Shatner novels that follow this one!).


In some respects, however, reading The Return felt a lot like watching Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.  Many parts of the book feel like a massive stroking of William Shatner's ego.  Whenever Kirk is mentioned by the 24th century characters, his exploits and feats of derring-do are talked about in reverential and worshiping tones.  He is able to defeat Worf in a bat'leth fight handily, seemingly without breaking a sweat.  Riker, while being pursued by Kirk, describes Kirk's phantom-like supernatural ability to easily get the drop on him.  Finally, at the end of the novel, even Kirk's enemies play up his amazing god-like abilities. Just like the Klingons in Star Trek V, the Romulans in The Return are so awed and amazed by Kirk's abilities, they can't help but mention just how awesome he is at every turn.  "Kirk must be on that ship!"  "Why do you think that?"  "How else can they so easily defeat us?"  Seriously?  Also, over the years since "The Best of Both Worlds," Starfleet has been contending with the Borg and barely escaping destruction at every turn.  Well, no more!  Enter Kirk!  Silly 24th century, can't even deal with a galactic menace.  Guess Kirk will clean that up for them, too!


There is certainly a lot to love about
The Return.  The eventual reunions between Kirk, Spock, and an extremely advanced-aged McCoy are quite touching.  The reverence for the Star Trek mythos that the writers exhibit definitely shines through.  I particularly enjoyed McCoy's relating to Kirk the fates of the other characters from the original Star Trek series.  Uhura's eventual career especially had me smiling.  McCoy tells Kirk that Uhura eventually went on to be a recruiter for Starfleet Academy, helping to create the next generation of space explorers.  This was an obvious and thoughtful nod to the exploits of Uhura actress Nichelle Nichols, who did a lot of work recruiting for NASA in the years following her work on Star Trek.

Positives:  The characterizations of Spock and McCoy are spot on, and some other characters like Riker and Crusher were also well-written.  The alliance between the Romulans and the Borg was handled well in my opinion.  I remember that when I first read this novel many years ago, I thought that particular plot device to be contrived and unrealistic, but in retrospect, the writers presented it well.  In fact, it presaged the brief alliance between Captain Janeway and the
USS Voyager in "Scorpion."

Negatives:  There are some small niggling things to mention, and I almost thought better of it, but I am a Trekkie after all.  I can be a little obsessive over minor details if I want!  The Starfleet phasers in The Return are often referred to as having a blue beam.  But, as us Trekkies know, the phasers of the TNG era are yellow/orange in colour!  Basic details, guys.  Pull it together!  Another small issue that bothered me was the seeming impotence of the Borg.  Why on earth would they be trying so hard to kill Jean-Luc Picard on the one hand, and be completely okay with Locutus wandering around among their ranks on the other?  Shouldn't the various parts of the collective be a little better at communicating things than that?

Final Thoughts:

For the most part, The Return is a wild, enjoyable ride, with a few bothersome details.  The Kirk-fawning gets a little old, but then again, the entire Star Trek franchise is occasionally guilty of that one.


I'm a little torn about what numerical grade to give
The Return.  I feel that my thoughts above tend to do a much better job of summarizing my feelings about the book than any arbitrary number I can assign.  Therefore, I will refrain from providing a mark out of ten, and instead say that The Return does a good job of rectifying some mistakes that Generations made, but goes a little overboard in the Kirk-worship.  I recommend that any Star Trek fan should give it a read, but won't blame them if they find it a little too "fanwank-ish."

Also by William Shatner (with Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens):

My next read:

The Never-Ending Sacrifice, a Deep Space Nine novel by Una McCormack, is next on my reading list.  Look for that review, coming soon!