Oh! I almost forgot, but I listened to an audio-book in the last week or two, called Fan Fiction, by Brent Spiner.
If that name is familiar, it’s because he’s the actor who played Lt. Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
I heard him being interviewed on a podcast where he said he was approached by a literary agent who asked him about writing a memoir. He wasn’t interested, but he was interested in a story he had in mind. The literary agent wasn’t interested in that, but after some process a strange sort of hybrid project emerged, which is what we now have as Fan Fiction, co-written by Spiner and Jeanne Darst
Fan Fiction is a fictional novel, a dark comedy, primarily covering events that never took place. But it is about an actor named Brent Spiner, who was acting as Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation in the 80’s and 90’s. This actor ends up plagued with attentions from an apparently deranged fan, sending him all manner of threatening letters. He becomes increasingly paranoid about the experience, getting involved (in more ways than one) with the FBI and with a personal bodyguard that he hires. He faces many of the uglier sides of being a celebrity, and along the way must confront his own unresolved issues with his emotionally abusive step-father.
But, at the same time, Fan Fiction is also a memoir of sorts (the book actually promotes itself as a “mem-noir”), giving what is presumably either truthful–or at least reflective of the truth–accounts of what life was like on the Next Generation set, along with impressions of his co-stars. These accounts are laced throughout the story but are never really the focus–you don’t come away with anything so involved or detailed as other works, like William Shatner’s Star Trek Memories, for example. So it’s interesting, but not really fully satisfying as a memoir.
And I can’t say I found the mystery aspect of the book fully satisfying either. Again, it was interesting, and actually the development of the mystery is pretty good. But since the story is very much told from the point of view of Brent Spiner himself (indeed, he narrates it), a lot of the revelations about what is going on are announced second-hand by other people, like a Greek chorus coming on stage and explaining the plot. There is still a “thriller” element of the story which packs some surprises, but it all ends up unfolding almost without any action being taken by the story’s “hero” at all, which is probably more believable considering who the character is supposed to be, but is less engaging to read about.
And maybe that’s the key thing about the book which gives it it’s unique flavor–although Brent Spiner is the main character, he’s in no way a hero. Of course he’s not a villain either; rather he’s just an ordinary guy trying to do his job, trying to find his way forward in love and life, and trying not to die if he doesn’t have to. This gives the whole story a natural feeling, even if some of the events are extraordinary–no one thinks these things actually happened to the real Brent Spiner, but if they did, this is maybe how he’d have handled it.
Spiner’s representation of himself in the book is maybe one of the most interesting things about it. There is something pretty vulnerable about the presentation (he makes himself come across as a bit of a twerp at times), but the fictionalization of things still keeps us a bit of a distance. I feel like I’m listening to someone talk about themselves from a stage, rather than being invited into their private thoughts. But that’s okay–the story is like an elaborate show designed to entertain people interested in the life of a celebrity whose work has touched them in some way. And that’s me–I guess it has the same sort of appeal as going to listen to someone at a convention.
I do say “listen” because as mentioned, I listened to the audio-book version of Fan Fiction. I was drawn to this because it’s read by Spiner himself, and because he actually got the real people he depicts in the story to perform their own dialogue. This includes all his main co-stars in Star Trek: The Next Generation: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Michael Dorn, LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden and Marina Sirtis, as well as other people such as Genie Francis (Jonathan Frakes’ wife) and Hallie Todd (who appeared in Next Generation as Data’s daughter Lal, whom Spiner’s creepy stalker letters are signed from). Other obviously invented characters are also read by actors. It’s not quite like listening to a full-cast audio play, but it does lean in that direction. Patrick Stewart sounds recognizably older but the other actors still sound pretty much the same as in the old days (although it’s a little jarring hearing them swear, etc).
I can’t say I loved Fan Fiction but I did enjoy it. I don’t see it holding much appeal for anyone who wasn’t a Next Generation (or Brent Spiner) fan, but as someone who is I certainly was engaged over its seven hour runtime.