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Review: Voyage of discovery in Shatner's latest trek

'Get a Life!'
by William Shatner

Simon & Schuster Trade, $24.00

Review by L.D. Meagher

July 8, 1999
Web posted at: 12:54 p.m. EDT (1654 GMT)

(CNN) -- Revelation number one: James Tiberius Kirk, the pride of Starfleet, the interstellar explorer and space-straddling hero, is afraid of flying. Revelation number two: Captain Kirk was murdered not by some mad genius seeking a 23rd Century version of nirvana, but by the actor who portrayed him for 30 years. Revelation number three: that same actor, who once showed clear disdain for the crowds that gathered at "Star Trek" conventions, has become a Trekkie himself.

"Get a Life!" is a voyage of discovery for William Shatner. After pounding the final nail into the coffin of his on-screen alter ego, he plunged into the realm of "Star Trek" fandom. Despite his years of traveling the "Star Trek" convention circuit, he realized he had never taken the time to find out what it is that draws all those fans together, year after year in city after city.

What he learned was, to him, a revelation.

"Who were these people?" he writes. "Were they sane? Were they sober? Did they really need to 'get a life'? To be brutally, humiliatingly honest, that now-infamous 'Saturday Night Live' sketch was for me, at that time, equal parts comedy and catharsis. I was oblivious to the facts. I bought into the 'Trekkie' stereotypes. In a nutshell, I was a dope."

Imagine asking Paul McCartney to describe what it was like to watch a Beatles concert. He would have no idea. His experiences of touring with the Fab Four are very different from the experiences of the fans that turned out in droves to see them.

For Shatner, Trek conventions were much the same way. He was hustled from an airport to a back room in the convention site, did his hour and a quarter on stage, and was hustled off again. He lacked perspective, and he decided to change that.

For months, Shatner would wander through conventions in disguise -- and a bad disguise at that. He describes himself as "endlessly inquisitive," pestering convention-goers, organizers, guests and even his former castmates with questions about the "Star Trek" phenomenon.

Gains new outlook on fans

For his efforts, Shatner was rewarded with a new outlook on both "Star Trek" and its legion of fans. He found that most of them are relatively normal people who use conventions as a sort of relief-valve.

When they paint themselves blue (Andorians) or attach plastic omelets to their foreheads (Klingons), they are putting aside the harsh or mundane realities of daily life and joining in a shared fantasy. As one fan puts it, "It's a world where people cherish and celebrate being different, instead of being afraid of difference."

There's a lot of "warm and fuzzy" stuff in "Get a Life!" But there are also a lot of laughs. Shatner exhibits a genuine affection for the fans he profiles, but often skewers himself and his own foibles. Most revealing is the chapter on performing a good impression of Captain Kirk.

"Step 1: Call Kevin Pollack, then beg him to come over and teach you everything."

Shatner did just that. Pollack, an accomplished actor and veteran stand-up comedian, is acknowledged as the world's leading authority on "doing" Captain Kirk. He has obviously spent much more time studying Kirk's voice and mannerisms than Shatner has. (When they first met, Pollack offered Shatner a piece of constructive criticism: "You suck at doing 'you.'")

"Get a Life!" is a joyous excursion through the universe of "Star Trek" fandom. Shatner takes us backstage at the joint appearance of the "Four Captains" (himself, Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks and Kate Mulgrew).

He demonstrates how he orchestrated an elaborate prank on his dear friend and foil Leonard Nimoy.

He plows into the "huckster room" where all manner of memorabilia is offered at every convention. There, he becomes an undercover consumer reporter and ferrets out some of the ways the unscrupulous dealers try to separate fans from their paychecks.

Collectors: 'You can spot them immediately'

He also comes face to face with a bizarre sub-genre of Trek fan, the hard-core collectors.

"You can spot them immediately. Their brows are permanently furrowed. Their eyes scour every square inch of the dealers' tables, dissecting the carefully choreographed displays in search of potential bargains: an item of unrecognized value, a card or action figure, or autograph, that they perceive will skyrocket in value over time. Of everyone I met, in every aspect of conventionland, this may be the only group that truly needs to 'get a life.'"

Shatner and his co-author Chris Kreski, the head writer for Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," have turned out a chatty, funny, loving tribute to "Star Trek" fans everywhere. The actor launched the project at a time when he had just buried his most famous creation, and when his two television series had been canceled.

On his journey through the strange and often wonderful universe of fandom, he met people who warmed his heart and even inspired him. In a plot twist worthy of the best "Star Trek" scriptwriters, when Shatner surrounded himself with Trekkers, he was the one who "got a life."

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


RELATED STORIES:
Review: 'Star Trek: Dark Victory'
May 19, 1999
Lead Trekkie teams up with musician Ben Folds
March 4, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Official William Shatner site
Official Star Trek site
Star Trek convention listings
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