When a Magic: The Gathering tournament at Baltimore’s SuperCoolCon is interrupted by the beginning of the end of the world, Gary, Janice, Benny, and Benny’s cat Squishy find themselves on a mission, to boldly go where no cosplay group has gone before. To do what any self-respecting fan should do, given the circumstances. To do the right thing. They steal a DeLorean modified to resemble that of Doc Brown in Back to the Future and set a course for California to save their hero, William Shatner. Because after all, wouldn’t he do the same for them?
Shatnerquest is the fourth novel to leap out of the warped mind of Portland, Oregon punk and Bizarro author Jeff Burk. Burk is the editor-in-chief for The Magazine of Bizarro and head editor for Deadite Press, not to mention the author of titles such as Super Giant Monster Time! (a Bizarro-style choose your own adventure book), Cripple Wolf (which is about, well, exactly what the title says, a werewolf in a wheelchair), and of course Shatnerquake, the prequel to Shatnerquest. (Quick note for those not familiar with the genre of Bizarro fiction: taken directly from the Bizarro Central website, Bizarro fiction is essentially the genre of the weird, or literature’s equivalent of the “cult classic” section at the video store. It is sometimes horror, sometimes sci-fi, sometimes surreal, and always fun.)
To briefly backtrack, in Shatnerquake a cult of Bruce Campbell followers invaded the first ever ShatnerCon, armed with a fiction bomb that could effectively erase all memory of anything William Shatner ever did. Security caused it to malfunction, so instead of erasing Shatner’s work, it brought to life every character he had ever played, all of them on a mission to destroy the real William Shatner. And we’re not just talking Captain Kirk and TJ Hooker; for real, every character, from the Priceline negotiator to the Rescue 911 host to everyone in between. Well, four years later, in Shatnerquest, Shatner is preparing for a cameo role in the newest Star Trek sequel, and we yet again find the world in peril, but this time at a much larger scale. However, instead of the story focusing on old “Captain Quirk” himself, instead we follow three friends and a cat as they go cross-country, running into a bizarre cast of characters and all things Star Trek along the way.
Shatnerquest starts with action and doesn’t let up throughout. We follow this group of friends across America as they have to steer clear of zombie borgs, stay ahead of a rapidly approaching, white supremacist Klingon biker gang, and narrowly escape the clutches of a cannibal society led by actor (and “new” Kirk) Chris Pine in Captain Kirk’s hometown of Riverside, Iowa. Burk keeps the action going non-stop, now and then dedicating a chapter to getting to know our characters’ pasts so as not to slow down the action with backstory details. By doing this, it causes the book to feel even more like a movie, where the reader can’t help but imagine the cutaways to our characters in their slightly younger days, before the world began to literally go to hell. Even Squishy the cat gets an origin chapter.
Jeff Burk knows his Star Trek. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a fan ever since my dad showed me individual episodes on our Betamax VCR when I was a child. Sure, I know Klingons, and I definitely had a good laugh imagining flaming tribbles flying through the air. But Burk really knows his stuff and takes it so many steps further, to the great delight of this reader and no doubt many more. His use of Borgs and red shirts is great, and the Dalek and Gorn appearances are fantastic. This should all be expected, of course, as his bio specifically states he grew up on Godzilla, Star Trek, and EC Comics. Speaking of, and without giving too big a spoiler, two of those three influences are incorporated in Shatnerquest. I’m leaving it up to you to figure out which other one makes an appearance.
Shatnerquest is a super fast read, weighing in at a little under 200 pages. The writing is quick and to the point in order to keep the story moving forward, but still giving enough detail to see what is going on. Non-Trekkies should be able to appreciate its humor and action-packed story telling as much as Trekkies will admire its references and depth of knowledge. It’s not a prerequisite to have read the earlier novel, as either stands on its own with two strong legs, although I’d highly recommend anyone to read both as they’re just that much fun. Shatnerquest is funny, never taking itself too seriously (at one point, the main characters converse about how some of the things that have happened have easily pushed the story into satire territory), but still respectful to Star Trek and the Trekkie culture. I had an absolute blast reading it. Now, I just have to cross my fingers that Shatnerpocalypse finds its way from Burks mind to the printed page.
Book Review: Shatnerquest – Author Jeff Burk