by Jeff Burk
Reviewed by Christopher DeFilippis
Shatner fans: Shatnerquake is not a good book. But you should buy it. It fails to deliver on almost every level—story, character, humor and editing—but you should buy it. It may possibly be your most disappointing reading experience in recent memory. But. You. Should. Buy. It.
You should buy it, because the very fact that a book called Shatnerquake even exists trumps anything as trifling as what’s actually inside it, and long after you’ve read and forgotten the half-baked story, you will still own a book called Shatnerquake, and you’ll grin like an idiot every time you pick it up, marveling at its actual physical presence in your library. Anyway, that’s what I do.
But if that’s not enough to get you on board, check out the premise:
A reality bomb is detonated at the first-ever ShatnerCon, bringing to life every character William Shatner has ever portrayed on the small screen: Captain Kirk, T.J. Hooker, Animated Series Kirk, Denny Crane, Rescue 9-1-1 Shatner, Singing Shatner, Priceline Shatner and many other Shatners. And they’re all intent on killing the real William Shatner!
How can you go wrong with a premise like this? It promises an orgy of all things Shatner. And the novella clocks in at a tidy 82 pages—an afternoon’s fancy, a literary lark. What do you have to lose?
Look, I award five stars to author Jeff Burk for the flash of inspiration that inspired this story. He had me at “reality bomb.” But the sad reality is that he fails to do anything even remotely interesting with this brilliant idea.
Which is a shame, because you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a better parodic foil than William Shatner. As Burk points out in his forward, Shatner has largely built his later career on self-parody. And since he has reinvented himself repeatedly over the course of decades, there are many, many versions of William Shatner to take aim at. So why not all of them?
Unfortunately, Burk entirely fails to reap the harvest of this well-sown field. In fact, it’s as if he got it within his sights and then made a U-turn. It’s not just that he falls short in capturing Shatner’s many unique voices and characters and playing them off one another—he never even attempts to do so. Instead, all of his myriad Shatners go on a one-note, murderous rampage that makes even 82 pages seem like too much after a while.
Okay, I can see where you might have trouble fleshing out singing Priceline Shatner or even T.J. Hooker. But when you can’t even draw a bead on Captain Kirk—live action or animated—you’ve got serious problems. Unfortunatley, Burk uses his one-dimensional, hardly recognizable Original Series Kirk as the story’s main nemesis, reminding you time and again of everything Shatnerquake might have been, but isn’t.
For instance, there’s a scene early on in the ShatnerCon dealers’ room in which TOS Kirk stumbles over a Star Wars merchandise table and comes up wielding a lightsaber—which remains his weapon of choice for the remainder of the book. To paraphrase the question Kirk asks in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier: What the fuck does Captain Kirk need with a lightsaber?
Because of these faulty character beats and countless other wasted opportunities, Shatnerquake can be most aptly classified as an epic fail.
But then again so can every sentence written by James Fennimore Cooper, John Grisham and post-Tommyknockers Stephen King, and I bet you own a book by at least one of them. Yet none of their covers brag a kick-ass action shot of William Shatner wildly diving for his life!
And this is where Shatnerquake, the book, becomes vastly superior to Shatnerquake, the story. Not only is it a conversation piece and a tribute to a celebrated Science Fiction legend, but it’s genuinely wacky and arresting, at least on the surface—exactly like William Shatner. And because it so perfectly captures and emulates the essence of the man it sets out to lampoon, it ceases to be a book and becomes a piece of genuine pop art, legitimate in its own right and something to be sought after.
Which is why I must reiterate: You should buy it.