Shatnerquake and Left of Cool

A couple of weeks ago I started writing a new column. Left of Cool will appear in The Sunday Guardian every Sunday. Aadisht Khanna and I (on alternating weekends) will be talking about books that are mildly odd or completely bizarre or just generally obscure and wonderful. This week (most serendipitously the week of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy’s 80th birthdays) I chose to focus on Jeff Burk’s Shatnerquake.

The review in the paper can be found here; an edited version is below.
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William Shatner fascinates me. Even now, after decades of seeing him in other things and knowing just how far he is from one’s mental picture of what a dashing, heroic space captain ought to look like, it is possible to watch one of the original series episodes of Star Trek and have a crush on Captain Kirk. It makes no sense.

The internet is fond of a certain game. It is called “Who would win in a fight?” Popcultural figures are pitted against each other in imaginary duels, as people conversant with these figures and their skillsets work out what possible strategies and advantages they could possibly deploy against each other. Superman vs Batman? Alien vs Predator? Chacha Chaudhary vs Godzilla? Who would win in a fight between a William Shatner character and another William Shatner character?

Jeff Burk goes a step further in his book Shatnerquake. The question Burk asks is this: who would win in a fight between all the characters Shatner has ever played and Shatner himself?

The story, if you can call it that, is as follows. William Shatner is at a convention for William Shatner fans. Unfortunately, so are a group of Campbellians, fans of Bruce Campbell (who has also had an odd acting career, though not quite as much of one as Shatner). These Campbellians, having infiltrated the convention, set off a “fiction bomb” which brings all the characters Shatner has ever played into this reality, where they cause chaos and destruction.

The result is both less stupid and more awesome (depending on how you the reader feel about very silly books about cultural icons) than it sounds. Every other line is a reference to something or the other that is Shatner related, and it would take a serious connoisseur to unpack the full extent of the book’s allusiveness. As a mere dilettante myself, I suspect I only picked up the most obvious references. So you have Captain Kirk killing innocent fans dressed as Klingons and sexually harassing other innocent fans dressed as Orion slave girls, T.J. Hooker yelling at people, and bewildered bystanders witnessing spoken word performances. When he speaks, Shatner keeps making the random pauses that we know him for. There is a man in a red shirt whose name (it is Stephen) Kirk refuses to know. The plot of Shatnerquake itself might be a reference to the actor’s appearance in a skit on Saturday Night Live, in which he insulted a convention-ful of Star Trek fans. The book even has a two-dimensional animated Shatner, invisible when he turns sideways. And somehow (and I cannot give Burk enough credit for this) it is actually readable.

Perhaps Shatnerquake could not work if it were about almost any other celebrity figure. But as Burk himself points out in a letter to Shatner at the beginning of the book (it ends with the postscript “please don’t sue me”), one is never quite sure whether the actor is acting, when he is parodying himself, when he is serious. Shatner has had quite a bit of success spoofing James T. Kirk, but it’s more than that; as Burk says, “[His] entire life has become an elaborate work of performance art”. The actor has been blurring the lines between actor and character for so long now that it makes perfect sense that they should be completely obscured in this manner; there simply isn’t a Shatner-persona we can take as more ‘real’ than any of the parts he has played. From this perspective the book ties in perfectly with the larger piece of art that is Shatner’s own life.

The first page of the book carries a list of the author’s other works, among them Shatnerquest and Shatnerpocalypse. I suspect that neither of these books exists, but so strange is this actor’s career that I would not be surprised if they did. Or even if he had written them himself.

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2 Comments to “Shatnerquake and Left of Cool”

  1. It is very hard to believe this book actually exists and that it isn't some piece of Borgesian ephemera like The Approach to Al'Mutasim. I suppose that's just because William Shatner is still a living man. He could (and probably has) read this book.

  2. I strongly suspect that Shatner googles himself rather a lot. If he knows about the book I can't imagine he'll have been able to resist the temptation to read it.

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