Fan Fiction–Actor Brent Spiner gives a go at writing crime noir in strange new meta-novel

Fan Fiction book cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

First off, “fan fiction” refers to the drivel that fans of a franchise write to either show characters in situations the actual writers of the characters would never embark upon, or it’s a self-published or otherwise self-distributed book written by wannabe writers, which tends to demonstrate why the creator is not–and should not be–an actual, legitimate, published author.  For Star Trek: The Next Generation–and now Star Trek: Picard–actor Brent Spiner, the title of his new book Fan Fiction seems intended as a play on words, a nod to his fans.  Unfortunately it’s written as a piece of meta-fiction and dark comedy intended to blur the lines between fact and fiction, and it does it in a way that lands as more fan fiction than providing insight into the actor. 

In the prologue to Fan Fiction, Spiner states the story he is about to tell is not true, although readers know from the cover it is “inspired by true events.”  But the fan/reader is left with little to go on in deciphering what is real and what is fiction.  At one level this is a story about Spiner in 1990.  While he’s filming season 4 of Star Trek: The Next Generation, he receives multiple, bizarre fan letters–and a package–that include death threats and the other kinds of strange correspondence you can imagine celebrities getting in the mail from fringe fans and more unhinged types.  It’s interwoven with dreams and recollections of having a bad step-father and a search for who is threatening him, coupled with what seems to be a desire to have an intimate relationship with a pair of twins, written here as an FBI agent and a bodyguard.  It leaves the reader wondering whether his psychiatrist put him up to writing this as a form of some kind of therapy.   For the fans Spiner includes his interactions with caricatures/facsimiles of his Trek castmates, while sprinkling the narrative with good evidence that he, unlike many celebrities on the fan convention circuit, actually paid attention to his character and plots of the TV show, especially with respect to Data’s daughter Lal.  This reads like what you’d expect from a book of fan fiction (i.e. not by a professional writer) although it is co-written by a ghost writer (Jeanne Darst).  To say the writing–the storytelling itself–is clichéd may miss the point; is this just a man expressing he is tired of the life of celebrity?  

Although you certainly can’t know a person from meeting him at a convention a few times, Spiner seems normal, lucid, interesting, and intelligent in person, leading to the conclusion the message of the book is beyond the words.  Fan Fiction reads more like a prank, and Spiner’s sense of humor in the book brings to mind another comedic actor known for stretching the boundaries of humor: Steve Martin.  The book reads like a brazen mix of the crime noir tropes of Martin’s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, life as a Hollywood player in L.A. Story, and the batshit crazy melodrama of The Man with Two Brains.  And when the last page is turned, the reader may feel like they just read Martin’s novel Cruel Shoes.  What exactly did I just read?

In person chatting with fans at conventions, Trek cast members love to make up stories about each other, or they tell truths that are so ludicrous the fans are supposed to think they can’t possibly be true.  I once heard Robert Picardo talk incessantly about Garrett Wang’s propensity to sweat through costumes to a group of fans.  Fan Fiction must be the ultimate display of this brand of insider humor.  Or maybe LeVar Burton really smells like patchouli and lavender.  (At the next convention you visit with Burton as a guest, you might lean in closer to see if you can learn the truth–and blame Spiner if it all goes wrong).

Fans who have met Brent Spiner know and love him for his real-life sense of humor and his character of Data, or his many other roles, initially a bit-part player on television until the world met him as his funny recurring character on Night Court and then–BAM–he became a household name soon after as co-star of the next incarnation of Star Trek.  After Trek, he went on to memorable appearances in the Independence Day movies, back to Trek on Enterprise, and roles on genre shows like Leverage, The Librarians, Warehouse 13, Outcast, and Penny Dreadful.  You have to imagine his friends and family, upon reading Fan Fiction, reaching out to Spiner to make sure he’s okay.  Or they all get it and the joke is on us.  Is this a serious writing effort or an inside joke for friends and family and Hollywood insiders?  To the rest of us the trip is not much fun nor all that funny–but certainly disturbing.  Stalkers aren’t that funny. 

If you’re up to the challenge and think it might be for you, or if you just want to see a surprising side of one of your favorite actors, pre-order Brent Spiner’s Fan Fiction now here at Amazon.  Or find it at your local bookstore next week–it’s being released in a hardcover edition this Tuesday, October 12, 2021. 

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