We all know the story of Captain James Tiberius Kirk, who for many is Star Trek’s greatest captain. From a humble upbringing in Iowa, he distinguished himself at Starfleet Academy, even winning the Kobayashi Maru. After serving on the USS Farragut, Kirk took command of the Enterprise, the ship to which he returned time and again, even after being promoted to Admiral. After his presumed death aboard the Enterprise-B, Kirk spent time in the idyllic Nexus before returning with his successor Captain Jean-Luc Picard, who convinced him to come to Veridian III and stop the rogue El-Aurian Dr. Soren.
Kirk and Picard defeated Soren at the cost of the former’s life. “Oh my…” said the dying legend as he got a glimpse of the great beyond awaiting him, where no man had gone before.
Honestly, Star Trek: Generations offered a pretty ignoble end for the legendary character, especially after the glorious send-off that was Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Sure, William Shatner puts in a full charm offensive, making Patrick Stewart look stilted in every scene they share. But still, Kirk deserved a better death than plummeting from a rusty plank on a desert planet to stop one of the more bland baddies in the franchise.
Unsurprisingly, no one hated Kirk’s last adventure more than Kirk himself, and Shatner took to his typewriter to put things right. Star Trek novels aren’t (usually) canon, but they do help flesh out areas in the universe. Along with Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, Shatner penned nine novels about the further adventures of James T. Kirk. Dubbed “The Shatnerverse,” these nine novels are a treat for anyone who loves Kirk, and especially for those who love William Shatner’s love of Kirk.
The second Shatnerverse novel, The Return, captures the egomaniacal glory of the series. Unlike the first Shatnerverse entry Ashes of Eden, which follows a late Kirk adventure that put him against Starfleet, The Return picks up shortly after the events of Generations.
From the ravages of Veridian III, Kirk comes back to life via the machinations of his greatest enemies, the Romulan Star Empire. The Romulans brainwash the returned Kirk and set him not just against Starfleet, but specifically against Jean-Luc Picard. Why Picard, you ask? For the sake of the Romulans’ new allies, the Borg Collective.
That audacious combination aside — one that presents the usually crafty Romulans as buffoons easily hoodwinked by the Borg, a race not really known for their strategic acumen — The Return has some fun conceits. The adventure takes the heroes across the galaxy, including a layover on Deep Space Nine with appearances by Dr. Bashir and Quark. Strangely, Sisko doesn’t drop by, despite the man having met Kirk and holding strong opinions about the Borg. Spock’s mind-meld with V’Ger in The Motion Picture plays a surprising role in the story, and Bashir teams up with McCoy for a surgical procedure.
But really, The Return exists to make sure everyone knows that Jim Kirk is the greatest Starfleet officer who ever Starfleeted. While still in the thrall of the Borg and Romulans, Kirk takes out nearly every member of the Enterprise-D bridge crew, punking Data and Geordi and outfoxing Riker. More importantly, Kirk uses Picard’s knowledge as Locutus to find the central Borg hub and, basically, flip the “off” switch, doing what Picard couldn’t — at least, until Picard season two.
Indulgent as that story certainly is, it unfolds at a ripping, well-written pace. In fact, that trait holds across all of the Shatnerverse novels, in terms both good and bad. Ashes of Eden puts Kirk and Scotty on a new ship to defend a planet from Starfleet interference, nearly pitting these two venerable officers against their old shipmates. Sequel Avenger finds Kirk and Spock teaming up to avenge the death of Spock’s father Sarek (Sybok and Michael Burnham couldn’t be bothered, apparently).
In the three-part Mirror Universe saga of the Shatnerverse, Kirk and Picard team up and go to the Mirror Universe to battle with the ruler of the Terran Empire, Emperor Tiberius — Kirk’s own evil counterpart, who has survived into the 24th century. The final three novels in the series insert Kirk into major 24th-century events, including the fallout of the Dominion War and the assassination of Kirk following the attack on the Romulan Senate after Star Trek: Nemesis. Along the way, Kirk interacts with almost every member of the TNG, DS9, and Voyager crews, while reuniting with his old friends along the way.
Are the Shatnerverse novels fan fiction? Of course! But Star Trek still exists today thanks to the devotion of its fans, including fans who wrote their own space-faring adventures. Why should William Shatner be any different?