Fan Fiction, Brent Spiner (St. Martin’s 9781250274366, $27.99, 256pp, hc) October 2021.
Acclaimed actor Brent Spiner’s debut novel Fan Fiction is, as the cover boasts, not a memoir but a Mem-Noir: an avant-garde mystery loosely based on actual events that [may or may not have] happened to Spiner during the course of filming Star Trek: The Next Generation, where he played android Commander Data, and received some incredibly disturbing fan letters.
The first letter arrives with a bloody gift and is signed “Lal,” Data’s daughter who appeared in one episode on the show (“The Offspring”). More threatening missives arrive one-by-one, each more disturbing than the next. And as if that weren’t enough, he receives multiple letters from an obsessive fan named Loretta who claims Spiner has been calling her on the phone every night and having intimate conversations. Could Lal and Loretta be the same person?
Spiner is directed to the Head of Obsessives, a police detective on Paramount’s payroll who also happens to write screenplays on the side. He teams up with sexy crime fighting twins: an FBI agent and a personal bodyguard named Cindy and Candy, respectively. Scattered among these fictional side characters are the beloved real-life cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Sir Patrick Stewart plays both Captain Picard and the star of a one-man production of “A Christmas Carol”; LeVar “Burt” Burton, one of Spiner’s best friends, appears as the true spiritualist: a man at peace with the world and always handy with advice; and the way Jonathan “Johnny” Frakes’s witty dialogue comes booming off the page is a deliciously unexpected treat.
At the heart of it all is Spiner himself: a neurotic Jewish actor whose newfound fears caused by these threats unearth deep-seeded fears he’s held onto since childhood. In solving the mystery, there may also be healing.
With malevolent letters, turbulent relationships, and strange stepfather-filled dreams, Spiner’s escapade is both humorous and truly bizarre, with an emphasis on the weird. Readers may constantly find themselves wondering, “Is this true?” After all, truth is stranger than fiction. The realness of on-set nicknames and camaraderie comes through, as do the tricks Spiner used to teach himself the trademark Star Trek technobabble and the toxic nature of the makeup he had to wear on a daily basis.
An introduction provides some essential background information and a taste of Spiner’s fabulously acerbic, self-deprecating voice. I do wish I had laughed with the same regularity throughout the story as I did during the introduction, but humor is subjective, and a few of the jokes fell flat for me.
I very much appreciated the multiple layers of the title, and it was not lost on me that the author’s initials are, fittingly, “B.S.” Fan Fiction is what might have happened if Data acted out Ray Bradbury’s Death is a Lonely Business on the holodeck. (Amusingly, Ray Bradbury himself also has a cameo in this book.) This is an entertaining and subversive Brent Spiner in Wonderland. And while Lal is the quintessential stalker, Spiner makes a point of not disparaging his fans or Star Trek fandom at large. While Star Trek actors, such as Nichelle Nichols with Beyond Uhura and Leonard Nimoy with I Am Not Spock / I Am Spock, have written memoirs, and a number have written tie-in fiction, and several mysteries have been written set in science fiction fandom, such as Sharyn McCrumb’s wonderful Bimbos of the Death Sun and Zombies of the Gene Pool, in the end, Brent Spiner’s Fan Fiction is a positively unique tale that couldn’t be told by anyone else.
This review and more like it in the September 2021 issue of Locus.
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