Friday, October 5, 2018

Collision Course

Star Trek: Academy
Collision Course by William Shatner with Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens
Published October 2007
Read April 18th 2018

Previous book (Shatnerverse): Captain's Glory

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Spoilers ahead for Collision Course

From the back cover:
If you think you know how it all began, think again… 
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. 
Star Trek: Academy – Collision Course sets the stage for an exciting new era of Star Trek adventure, and for the first time reveals Kirk and Spock as they were, and how they began their journey to become the Kirk and Spock we know today.

My thoughts:

In 2007, Star Trek was at a kind of crossroads. Two years earlier, Viacom, who owned Paramount Pictures, separated from CBS, which retained the rights to Star Trek on television. Paramount, meanwhile, was allowed 18 months to develop a new Star Trek film, otherwise they would lose the Trek film rights. The result was J.J. Abrams being tapped to direct a new Trek film, originally scheduled for release in the holiday season of 2008, and later delayed to the summer of 2009.

Star Trek (2009) was in pre-production when Collision Course was released.

Meanwhile, a new Star Trek novel was released: Star Trek: Academy: Collision Course by William Shatner (with Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens). This novel focused on the young James T. Kirk and the events that led him to join Starfleet Academy and train to become an officer in the Federation's Starfleet.

Both the film, called just Star Trek, and this novel, focused on very similar themes and events. Both feature a young Kirk on a troubled path, described as a "delinquent," and showing his journey of redemption and acceptance into Starfleet. The film, while decried by some as not in keeping with the Star Trek of the past, proved to be a commercial and critical success, launching a new film series that renewed interest in the somewhat flagging franchise. Given the similarities between the film and the novel, but also the inherent differences due to each taking place in a separate timeline from the other, it is understandable that the proposed novel trilogy was cut short after just the first novel.

However, it is unfortunate, because Collision Course is actually pretty good.

As the novel begins, Jim Kirk is a troubled young man who is not only not interested in joining Starfleet, he actually hates the organization. This all stems from his horrific experience on Tarsus IV during the massacre of 4000 colonists by Governor Kodos. Collision Course goes into a lot of detail about this event, including the young Kirk's failed attempt to save the lives of a group of very young children and the use of child soldiers by Kodos' regime. There is a lot of chilling content in this novel, and the experiences that Kirk has on Tarsus IV go a long way to explain the problems he is having. A different person would possibly never recover from these experiences.

When it came to Kirk in this novel, I found myself picturing a young Chris Pine in the role.

In the "present day," Kirk gets involved with a number of illegal activities, but with an eye towards altruism, if that makes sense. For example, he steals a Starfleet staff car, but ostensibly for the purpose of proving his girlfriend's innocence with regards to a lab break-in at Starfleet Academy, showing how her codes could have been stolen or faked. While I initially bristled against this characterization of Kirk, it does remain consistent with some of what we have seen before; young Kirk in Diane Carey's Best Destiny, for example, has this rebellious streak as well. What I found interesting, however, is that while reading Collision Course, I actually pictured a young Chris Pine in my head. I found that the depiction of Kirk in this novel matched my idea of Kirk in the Kelvin Timeline quite well.

For the most part, Collision Course works well as a vehicle to show young Kirk's journey from troubled youth to Starfleet cadet. The primary plot, linking back to the events of the Tarsus IV massacre and a present-day threat that stems from that horrific tragedy, serves the characters well. However, some of the minutia of the plot seems overly complex. For example, there is a conspiracy to acquire advanced camouflage technology by setting up a scheme to purchase fake Vulcan artifacts. The buyers, however, know the artifacts are fake, and are actually after the technology that makes them seem authentic. If this is their endgame, it seems overly convoluted and highly unlikely to succeed once you examine the plan closely.

Young Spock's motivation to enter Starfleet Academy struck the wrong tone for me in this novel.

One final issue I had with the novel was Spock's motivation for joining Starfleet Academy. We know from Star Trek canon that Spock's decision to attend the academy was over Sarek's wishes, and led to a rift between father and son that saw them not speak to each other for well over a decade. However, in Collision Course, we learn that Spock was made to join the academy as a sentence for a crime he allegedly committed. There is an attempt to make it fit in that the sentence is ammended to allow Spock to join the Vulcan Science Academy instead if he so chooses, but he ends up joining Starfleet Academy for plot reasons, which seems to undercut the conflict between the two characters established elsewhere in Trek canon.

Final thoughts:

Collision Course was certainly an interesting novel, and it was fun to read about young Kirk and Spock's initial entry into Starfleet Academy and the choices that led them there. It's unfortunate that similar plots were explored in Star Trek 2009; if they hadn't, it's possible that we would have had the originally-planned follow-up novels. The back of this novel says the sequel, Trial Run, would be coming soon, but alas, that was not to be. Perhaps, however, this is a good thing; the ending of Collision Course features Kirk and Spock parting ways and entering the academy on separate tracks. I like the idea of them going off and then meeting up years later on the Enterprise; if the series had continued, it's likely they would have had to contrive some reason to have them continually meet up and get into misadventures. Maybe it's better that the series ended now, before a later volume completely jumped the shark. 4/5.

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

More about Collision Course:

My next read:

Next review is for book two of the Star Trek: Prometheus trilogy: The Root of All Rage by Bernd Perplies & Christian Humberg.

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