So before we start, I have to state that I am a huge fan of Brent Spiner, he’s a phenomenal talented actor, and I’ve enjoyed him as Dr. Nigel Fenway on Threshold, Brother Adrian on Warehouse 13 and as Dr. Brackish Okun in the 1991 movie, Independence Day and its 2016 sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence. Obviously as a lifelong fan of Star Trek, I adored him as Lieutenant Commander Data, and various members of the Soong family. I’m not quite enough of a fan to pretend to be his daughter, or send him animal body parts but I like him an appropriate and healthy amount for someone I do not know personally, and whom I’m unlikely to meet in person.
I don’t just follow his acting career, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Spiner’s musical exploits, and have reviewed both his 1991 album ‘Ol’ Yellow Eyes Is Back’ and his 2010 album ‘Dreamland’ which you can check out here and here respectively.
I add this to make it clear that I have considerable good will built up for Brent Spiner, but despite that I will endeavour to be unbiased when reviewing his book.
Okay, moving on, the book is called ‘Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True Events’ and was written by Brent Spiner, it is a semi-autobiographical story, which blends real life events with fictional elements. The title is a sort of tongue and cheek reference to fan fics, where fans of something whether it be a character, show, movie, book or similar thing write their own stories utilising those elements. In this case, Brent has essentially written fan fiction about his own life, specifically during the period of time where he was filming the fourth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The title also gives away a little of the genre, it’s a piece of noir fiction masquerading as a real life story, although as the title goes on to say it’s only inspired by true events. It takes a comedic and yet dark look at the parasocial relationship between fan and subject. I will endeavour not to spoil any key plot details, but do be aware that at least a portion of this review will have mild to moderate spoilers and so if you don’t want to see that, then I suggest you stop reading.
Still here? Okay, so the main plot of the book has Brent begin to receive correspondence from a crazed fan who is claiming to be Lal, the android daughter of Data, the role he played on TNG. The character in question appeared on the third season episode ‘The Offspring’. The episode itself is awesome, and in fact appeared as an honourable mention on my Top 10 TNG episodes list, which you can check out here. But returning to the Mem-Noir, we drop in on Brent who is filming the fourth season of the series, and things appear to be going relatively well for him, until he opens up the first package and his life is turned upside down.
Despite the very dark underlying themes, I have to say that this book was hilarious, Spiner has been able to create a richly textured and evocative narrative that practically leapt off the page. I mean I humour myself with the notion that I have a good imagination, but the imagery was creative and descriptive, but not too indulgent, you weren’t led by the nose to see exactly what Brent wanted you to see, but nonetheless things were clear and easy to capture in your mind.
I don’t tend to review comedy, I think it’s too subjective and it’s hard to analyse what makes something funny without cutting the heart out of the joke. I especially don’t like when something is marketed as humorous, more often than not, I don’t crack a smile, let alone laugh out loud. In fact, prior to this, the only book I’ve read that came under the comedic banner which actually made me laugh was My Shit Life So Far, a semi autobiographical book by Scottish comedian, Frankie Boyle. In fact I think I liked the same things about both. Real life events, filtered through a surreal, and sometimes macabre filter. Both are outrageous at times, and didn’t make any attempt to be another cookie cutter autobiography.
Moving away from comparisons, I want to discuss the Star Trek of it all, now this follows Brent at a period of time when he was actively playing his most notable role, and the story featured a variety of Star Trek alumni. Plus if you’re a fan of audiobooks, Spiner narrates the book, with occasional features by the rest of the TNG cast. But It’s not a Star Trek book, and obviously considering the subject material, it takes an honest look at extreme fandom. Some people may take offence, but it’s made clear this isn’t Spiner’s view of all fans, and at times during the book he seems modestly appreciative of his fans. I think this would obviously appeal to fans of Star Trek, but I don’t think it’s intended to be a book for people who are just into Star Trek.
Something I particularly liked is that Spiner, as both the writer and a character, does not shield himself in the narrative, he is openly flawed, and neurotic, both uncomfortable with the adoration that comes with being a star, and yet on some level, his more ego driven side clearly enjoys the attention. I think it’s tricky to portray that complexity, and it’s hard to be honest about one’s self, but the advantage of the narrative being at least partly fictional is that it perhaps allowed Spiner the a sense of detachment from the events portrayed in the story, and since we cannot know for sure what is and isn’t real there’s some obvious plausible deniability.
The plot as a whole can be described as fast paced, chaotic at times, and immensely engaging. It’s a satire, a whodunnit and a reflection of fans, as well as Brent Spiner himself all at once. I only just got my copy and I read it incredibly quickly, it’s by no means a short book but it is an incredibly easy read, it captures you with its vivid word choice and style, and as I discussed a moment ago is actually really funny. I liked the balance between elements more than anything, the eclectic cast of characters, specific highlights include Ortiz, a detective and head of obsessives, Mickey, the mailroom boy and Candy Lou & Cindy Lou Jones, twin sisters who were a personal bodyguard and FBI agent respectively. I found these characters added a certain levity to proceedings, especially since they were unknown quantities, compare that to Spiner’s portrayals of his real life friends and colleagues, I like that he didn’t steer away from poking good natured fun at them, but especially his characterisation of Jonathan Frakes really showed how strong the bonds between them are.
Speaking of more touching elements like that, I found the section regarding Gene Roddenberry’s death to be poignant and well done. Many elements of the story are obviously and deliberately farcical and hyperbolic, but Spiner doesn’t shy away from moments of depth and introspection, and as I mentioned a moment ago, the Roddenberry funeral was very emotional, but was filled with all those sort of experiences that stick in your head. I mean a funeral is supposed to be a solemn occasion but humans are by their very nature odd and idiosyncratic, and you can sometimes find humour in the most absurd circumstances. I found Spiner’s recollection of the man with the Vulcan ears at the funeral to be both humorous and strangely authentic.
Overall, I would say this is a really good book. It does the comedy part really well, it weaves in darker threads and heavier overtones equally well. As a biography, even a semi-fictional one, it has helped me to understand Brent Spiner a little better, and as a narrative, it was gripping and legitimately interesting. It is a very unique story, and I applaud Spiner for the effort, because he has succeeded in creating something that I honestly could not put down.
So that’s what I thought of ‘Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True Events’, whether or not you are a Star Trek fan, or even a Brent Spiner fan, I think it’s well worth a read, and easily earns a 4/5. You can check the book out for yourself by heading on over to Amazon. Also show your support for Spiner by following him on Twitter and Instagram.
First Published on: https://offtherecordblog.org/