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Book News

He keeps going, and going ...


'Star Trek: Dark Victory'
by William Shatner

Simon & Schuster Trade, $23

Review by L.D. Meagher

(CNN) -- A madman from the Mirror Universe is on the loose, and he could bring down Starfleet and the Federation. There is only one man who can stop him: Capt. James T. Kirk.

If you thought Captain Kirk was dead, well, you haven't been paying attention. No sooner had William Shatner uttered his last words ("Oh, my!") in the movie "Star Trek: Generations" than he began plotting a way to resurrect his fictional alter ego. The result is five novels so far, and a sixth due next year. "Star Trek: Dark Victory" is the fifth installment. If you haven't read any of the others, it won't make much sense.

"Dark Victory" begins in the middle of the story and ends somewhere just after the middle. It's like an episode in one of those old movie serials. It is not intended to stand on its own as a novel. Its purpose is to advance the story toward the next book. That's a major drawback to the casual fan who happens across "Dark Victory."

The plot involves a universe Kirk stumbled onto in the original "Star Trek" TV series. It is a mirror image of our universe. Our good guys are bad guys there. When Kirk, Spock, Uhura and Scotty first visited the Mirror Universe, they found an Enterprise commanded by a brutal and ruthless James T. Kirk who used assassination to fulfill his ambitions. Now, more than 80 years later, that Kirk has become a maniacal mass murderer who calls himself Emperor Tiberius.

"Dark Victory" has less to do with the efforts of Kirk, Spock, Captains Jean-Luc Picard and Kathryn Janeway to stop Tiberius than with the attempt to save the life of Kirk's wife. Yes, Trekkers, the galaxy's most notorious womanizer has decided to settle down. But his wife is stricken at their wedding and will die in a matter of days.

Shatner has become a cottage publishing industry unto himself in recent years. His highly successful "Tek War" books spawned a TV series, and his foray into "Star Trek" fiction has added some star power to the franchise. His books are generally entertaining, and he is not above a bit of self-deprecation. At his wedding, Kirk is so caught up in his love for his bride that his mind wanders from the ceremony:

"'Oh!' Kirk said as he pulled himself from his reverie and realized what was expected of him. 'Yes, yes, I do!' He couldn't believe it! He had forgotten his line. And that never happened. Well, not often, at least."

Shatner -- who once implored a mock convention of Trekkers on "Saturday Night Live" to "get a life" -- packs "Dark Victory" with cross-references across the entire "Star Trek" canon. One example involves two characters from "Deep Space Nine" -- Bashir and Garak, the former Cardassian spy.

"Julian waved his hand dismissively. 'You remember, Garak. Six, eight months ago? Just before that horrible time when the O'Briens nearly lost their daughter in the temporal anomaly. 'I recall it,' Garak said vaguely. 'There were all sorts of Ferengi on the station then. Equal rights for Ferengi females. Something along those lines. Very messy.'"

Such inside jokes are the best part of Shatner's "Star Trek" novels. Whether he is responsible for them or they are the contributions of his collaborators Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, they provide a bit of fun among the more ponderous twists and turns of the plot.

Fans who have been following this second life of James T. Kirk will surely cheer "Dark Victory." Those who haven't should be warned that this might be the wrong place to enter the narrative. Backstory is sacrificed in the name of action, and the victory promised by the title is not achieved during this episode. As Walter Koenig (Ensign Chekhov) once put it, "There's always the sequel!"

L.D. Meagher is a News Editor at CNN Headline News. He has worked in broadcasting for 30 years.

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