Brent Spiner is known as a lot of things – Lt. Commander Data, Dr. Brackish Okun, Devlin Bowman, Dr. Strom, and, well more television doctors than one can possibly count and a villainous Stromboli (similarly a doctor of terror) in a horrifying Pinocchio reboot that came out just as George W. Bush stepped into office.
He is also one hell of a guy. As I stepped into experiencing his new role as writer of prose, I knew I was getting into something great. His personable nature and dedication to his lifelong craft was guaranteed to bring something quite brilliant.
This ‘mem-noir’ wasn’t what I was expecting at all – a complete surprise, and a lot of fun.
Spiner dips in and out of his life as an emerging actor as he weaves a story that begins with hitting the streets his first days in New York City. He starts his career at the beginning, and ends somewhere in the nineties at the height of his career getting advice and guidance from all of our familiar TNG actors. The other element is a very funny noir potboiler that Spiner tickles with bad puns, violence, and enough quirky and random events that wrap us into a Spiner-tingling mystery (so, so sorry, folks) where an out-of-control fan is stalking him at every turn. Enter two obsessed pen pals, a set of twins, and a pig penis in the mail, and you have an edge of your seat, hilarious thriller.
I read some reviews of the book right after I finished, and I noticed a few things that seem to miscalculate what this book is meant to be. Many people that hated it seemed to misunderstand that the wild alligator-over-the-transom-ness of it all is entirely on-brand for the fanfic nature of the book. It is supposed to read like a wildly inappropriate, out-of-left field noir novel… A mix between something cowritten by Dashiell Hammett and SonicHedgeMILF69. It’s wild, mysterious, and a whole lot of ridiculous fun – and there’s absolutely no question that Spiner’s interpretation of his costars in the book is either entirely on-point as a sendup or completely ridiculous caricatures and in-jokes about their long friendships. The second thing I think a lot of them got wrong is that Spiner is a human being – and perhaps they got into the book thinking this would be about Data and not a hard-drinking, swearing, down-to-fuck red-blooded man. I think the picture he paints of himself is both a gorgeous portrait of how he sees his own ego in reality, and a hard-boiled womanizer all guys wish they were. Lusty love letters from a midwestern Lake Wobegon woman ready to leave her husband? Check. Twins? Check, check. Soirees, booze, and guns? Check, check, and check. It’s meant to be fun! He isn’t the characters he plays on television, and he kinda isn’t this character either, and that’s a major motif of the book, people! Live a little!
Finally, and perhaps the best part of the book to me, was that it is such a beautiful love letter to his friends and his fans. There is no question that whatever the version, either satiric or genuine, he is presenting of his costars and production assistants, there is a true familial bond between them after having worked so closely for so long. In terms of the fans, there is no question to me either that he truly loves his job and the people that love the work he’s done in his career. He is a cross-fandom character actor whose career has spanned hundreds of roles, some of which are deep, some of which are personal, some of which are alien, and some of which are as flimsy as tissue paper. He is instantly recognizable and insanely talented, and if it weren’t for people taking early chances on him and a fandom so illuminated by his brilliant work, he knows he wouldn’t be where he is today. This love, admiration, acceptance, and appreciation goes both ways. It’s so very apparent in this book. It isn’t difficult to remember scenes where he traded lighthearted gibes with Michael Dorn or burning smudge sticks after a meditation with LeVar Burton. I can easily remember when, at a convention he admired a young fan’s costume or consoled some brothers that always come to talk to him about their sick mother… in the book he gave these fans genuine time and attention. He remembers all of them. The way he writes about these interactions, it’s clear that this aspect of the book is in no way embellished or forced.
Now, I finished reading this book in maybe three breezy days not long after it was released, but after reading others’ reviews I noticed one piece of advice kept popping up – don’t miss the audiobook with its full cast, sound effects, and musical accompaniment.
I got a copy for myself, and I went through the book no less than another three times. I have to say, the audiobook is one of the best I have ever listened to. Nostalgic, quaint, and funny, it adds a dimension to the book that is so much more dynamic than the print edition and is worth a listen.
This isn’t just a book for Trekkies, it’s a book for anyone with any kind of fandom. While it takes a lot of detours and strange angles that branch off the weird fictional and strangely nonfiction paths our particular Spiner trod upon, one thing is certain: he completely nails what it means to be a fan, what it means to be an actor! And he loves being one just as much as we do. Even when it’s terrifying, it can still be a hell of a lot of bloody fun.
rwoan, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons