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TekWar

TekWar by William ShatnerTekwar front
Ace Books, 1989
Price I paid: 90¢

Known to millions as STAR TREK’S Captain Kirk, actor-director William Shatner now turns his talents to a stunning novel of future shock. TekWar is the story of ex-cop Jake Cardigan, who’s framed for dealing an addictive brain stimulant called Tek and sentenced to fifteen years of suspended animation. Now, mysteriously released after four years in the “Freezer,” Cardigan is on the loose…and out for justice.

So this book might seem a bit out of the ordinary for me. After all, I tend to look for authors whose names I don’t already know. William Shatner is probably the opposite of that fact. Of course, I’ve read another book by a Star Trek actor before, so it’s not entirely out of nowhere. Plus I’d heard of this book before and I sought it out instead of letting it fall into my hands by a chance stroll through the used-book store. Really it just all boils down to the fact that I remembered TekWar was a thing and I wanted to see if it was as bad as I thought it would be.

When I was in high school reading horrible Star Trek and Star Wars tie-ins (until my librarian introduced me to Arthur C. Clarke, basically), I was all about Shatner’s Star Trek novels. I devoured them. Alas, the passing of time has led me to realize that they were pretty awful. Still, how might a non-Trek Shatner novel go? Could it possibly be any good?

Well, look at that cover. It tells you a lot of what you need to know. There’s a spaceship for some reason. There aren’t very many spaceships in the book. A floating island? What’s that all about? Then there’s our character portraits. Handsome dude that’s probably supposed to be the protagonist? Check. Silver robot man? Check. Naked lady with huge eighties perm? Oh you better believe that’s a check. Of course it’s Boris Vallejo, so what do you expect? The man draws cleavage the way I draw stares at Taco Bell.

Often and hilariously.

You know who liked this book, apparently? Kinky Friedman. It says so right inside the cover where they print the review snippets. Of all people.

You know who wrote this book, apparently? Ron Goulart. That part’s not in the front cover, though. It’s not anywhere. The Internet told me that one. Ron gets some acknowledgement, though, in the appropriately named “Acknowledgements” section. According to that, Ron “showed me the way into completing this novel.” I assume that’s code for “wrote it for me.”

So how much does it read like a Goulart novel? I’ve got two of them under my belt, so I think I can quite honestly say that this book read like a Ron Goulart novel without a lot of the humor, weird crap, or telekinetics. Snarky robots, though? Oh you’d better believe it. I’m pretty sure every machine, android to toaster, in this book, talks at some point and is just smarting off to our protagonist. So yeah, it’s a Goulart novel.

Our hero, Jake Cardigan, has just been released from prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Prison in this 22nd century future involves being sent to the “Freezer,” an orbital station where people are put into suspended animation. I’m not sure exactly what this is supposed to accomplish other than getting people out of society’s way for a while. They’re not going to learn anything about why what they did was wrong. They’re not going to seek a GED and try to make something out of their post-prison lives. And it’s barely even punishment because the perpetrator of the crime is just asleep for that period. They’re not even bored.

It’s a really stupid punishment.

Jake was sentenced to fifteen years of this stupid punishment but managed to get out on parole after four. He’s lost his job as a cop so his old partner, Gomez, invites him to join the Cosmos Detective Agency where he works. That’s where we find out the actual plot of the book.

In the meantime, Jake learns that while he was frozen his wife, Kate, left him and took their kid, Dan, with her. Jake is pretty upset about that but it doesn’t really come up again until nearly the end of the book.

The real plot hinges on the fact that this father-daughter scientist team, the Kittridges, Leon and Beth, have gone missing. The big deal with them is that they were working on a means of destroying Tek all across the world in one fell swoop.

See, Tek is the drug of choice in the 22nd century. Our hero, Jake, was addicted to it for a while, even. Basically what it is is a box you put on your head and then load in these computer chips that will give you a very realistic fantasy while, I suppose, stimulating the pleasure center of the brain. Heavy stuff. For the first most of the book I was convinced that the only reason it was illegal was because it was addictive, which is a silly thing because people in this book smoke and drink all the time. Finally at some point somebody decided there needed to be a reason to actually avoid using the stuff and it turns out that it can cause seizures in people. That makes it bad enough to warrant a massive future version of/commentary on The War on Drugs.

Leon and Beth have devised a means by which a satellite can shoot a beam down to Earth and render all Tek chips useless. This would be incredibly bad for the Tek trade, so everybody figures that some Tek Lord has captured them and might well kill them. Jake and Gomez are tasked with finding them, assuming they’re still alive.

Gomez gets taken out of the story pretty quickly. It turns out that the first person they go to meet gets killed. Sort of. See, she turns out to be an android duplicate of the person they were trying to meet. Unfortunately that android duplicate got attacked by another android and exploded before Jake and Gomez got a chance to talk to it. Gomez gets a broken leg and Jake has to go it alone.

Until he doesn’t anymore. See, it turns out that among other things Leon Kittridge is a genius at making android duplicates. I got the feeling that most androids in this universe were supposed to be silver or brushed copper or something, but Leon is really good at making them entirely lifelike.

A note on androids in this universe. They’re everywhere. Apparently they’re just fully accepted members of society. It also seems they have emotions or something. At the very least they can get sarcastic (because this is a Ron Goulart novel), they can fall in love (that’s coming up), and they hurt when you kick them in the crotch (that comes up a few times). I wasn’t entirely sure what the limits of android life were in this book. There’s no mention of any laws or rights or anything, they just are. Sometimes when you’d expect a person to do something, it just turns out they’re an android.

I actually kind of like that. In a future where they’re really commonplace, it wouldn’t be necessary for a character to comment on them. This book was pretty good about just taking it as a given that there are androids and they can do whatever humans can do.

I guess I should mention that Jake doesn’t like androids, because of course he doesn’t. Why is it that in any setting with mechanical people, our gritty, old fashioned protagonist has to have his one flaw of almost-racism? In this case that’s the only example of gritty old fashionedness that Jake has. I suppose it had to be set up because Jake eventually falls in love with an android.

Of course he does!

See, Leon Kittridge decided that a good way to keep his daughter hidden would be to build an android duplicate of her to serve as a decoy. Hey, we’ve seen this plot before! Beth Kittridge is of course amazingly attractive. I’m assuming that she’s supposed to be the android girl with the Boris Vallejo tits on the cover there.

THAT HAIR

I JUST CAN’T STOP LOOKING AT IT

But yeah, Jake heads down to Mexico and stumbles upon the android duplicate of Beth in a warehouse somewhere. It’s not quite finished but he has just enough technical know-how to get it working. It wakes up and does everything it can to just solve the plot, up to a point. See, the thing even has Beth’s memories duplicated in it—I guess to make it more convincing?—up to about three days ago. The Kittridges disappeared about three days ago, so thanks for nothin’, lady.

The android (gynoid?) turns out to be pretty useful, though. She’s got some kind of laser beams or something she can shoot out of her hand (a lot of people seem to have that, by the way), and also she knows what is essentially a Vulcan Nerve Pinch (hey, remember how Shatner “wrote” this book?).

Jake and “Beth” get involved in some intrigues down in Mexico. Somebody captures Jake and puts him in a warehouse full of electric bulls that get turned on and almost trample him. She saves him from that. At another point he heads down to the state of Chihuahua to meet an old flame of his, Warbride. Apparently they were together before she was named Warbride, but either way it’s a stupid name. She’s leading a revolution because the Mexican government has become despotic. Getting in to meet her is no easy matter, but again Beth turns out to be the answer. They get in and it turns out that while Warbride is very happy to meet her old flame, her current flame is not at all happy about it. Everybody chalks it up to jealousy until some evidence surfaces that this guy is behind a lot of the plots to have Jake killed. He’s also involved in the Tek trade, which makes Warbride very angry so she shoots a red laser out of her hand and kills him.

A note about villains in this book: they don’t tend to last very long. They get introduced, get established as villains, and then get killed. And not in a fun Penetrator way, either. It’s usually by somebody who’s not Jake at all.

Now that he’s attracted a lot more attention, Jake almost gets killed by yet another exploding android. This one is in the shape of his son, Dan, and it almost gets him before Beth sees with her android vision that something’s not up. She takes a dive at this kamikaze android and takes him out before it touches Jake. It explodes and android-Beth dies, leaving Jake sad and pissed.

Apparently the Kittridges are being held by this guy Sonny Hokori, a major Tek kingpin. So that’s who he goes after. It also turns out that Jake’s ex-wife Kate is in town because this other guy, Bennett Sands, is really the reason she left him. He was her boss before Jake got sent up to the Freezer and apparently they were having an affair even then.

What a bitch!

Actually that revelation was probably one of the most humanizing aspects of Jake’s character. Up to then he was a pretty cardboard ex-cop with a grudge and a son he never sees. The revelation that his wife was messing around on him and that she thought he knew was pretty rough. Jake is written to have been a really good detective and investigator before he got framed, so that fact that he never even suspected his wife of cheating on him was a pretty decent touch, actually. The implication, to me, was that he could have figured it out almost immediately had he wanted to, but he was so very in love with her that the idea was unthinkable, so he never even thought about it.

Anyway, Jake finds their house and breaks in one night. He holds Sands at gunpoint and says basically “take me to your boss” while Kate is all “You can’t do this this is insane what are you doing” and Sands is like “Oh god you’re an idiot like I’m going to do that OWWWW”

Sands takes Jake to Sonny. There’s a chat where it’s revealed that Sands and Sonny worked together to frame Jake all those years ago. Before he can get his revenge, though, the wall starts to come down. Apparently there’s a raid from some international Drug-Finding Force. Sands and Sonny get killed in the gunfire, pretty much ending the book right there.

A really crappy unsatisfying ending? Yep, it’s a Ron Goulart novel.

There’s a little bit left. Jake finds out that Leon Kittridge was actually working with the bad guys. See, they worked it out so that whenever the big anti-Tek thing went off, Sonny’s stash would be okay and he’d have a corner on the market. Beth found out about this and managed to escape.

Jake then remembers something that android-Beth told him about how she had this place on the Moon where she’d go when she needed to get away from things. Jake decides that he’ll go up there and meet real Beth, even though she’s never even met him, because after all, if android-Beth and he fell in love, isn’t it likely that real-Beth and he could find love too?

I don’t know, that’s pretty dumb to me. If I fell in love with someone and they died tragically, I think the last thing I’d want to do is go looking for their exact duplicate. Even with androids and things like that, it still seems like a pretty pathetic thing to do? Maybe I’m overthinking this.

So there you go. TekWar. It was not very good, even though it was written by an author I’ve enjoyed in the past despite his flaws. Apart from the wholly terrible ending, the other Goulart trademark that made it into this novel was his tendency to invent future slang. In this book, it was mostly things like “plasglass,” which I assume is plastic glass. There was also a “voxwatch” and my very favorite, “Xmasfax.” Because in the 22nd century we are still using fax machines.

There were some pretty neat bits in the book, though. I like it when a technological advance is presented in a book and the author thinks of some of the spinoff uses of it. We have a lot of androids in this book, as I’ve said, and apparently it’s possible to pass them off as copies of humans, so at one point we get a bordello full of android duplicates of movie stars. That kind of thing. Another bit has a guy who bought a very expensive plot of land in “Watts district.” One assumes this is Goulart’s trademark thing of taking something and flip-flopping it around because in the future everything will be backward, since in real life Watts is (or at least was at the time of writing), a den of poverty and gang violence. Anyway, this guy didn’t have enough money left over to buy a house, so he just rented a holoprojector and made everybody think he was living in this grand house while in reality he had a tent in the backyard.

It’s silly, but I could see exactly that kind of thing happening today if the technology were available. The ultimate in McMansions, right?

The last thing I want to talk about is the way the protagonist’s thoughts were depicted to us, the readership. Normally a book would say something like

“That’s a big cat!” thought rock legend David Bowie.

or

David Bowie thought that the cat was pretty damn big.

What this book instead did was have Jake talk to himself. All the damn time he’s talking to himself, just describing the scene, his thoughts, and his plans straight toward the reader. It felt really hacky and awful.

Actually a lot of the book was pretty hacky, but on the whole it wasn’t that awful. It was really middle-of-the-road. I don’t intend to finish reading the series but if the television version happened to show up on Netflix, I’d probably watch the pilot. I don’t remember anything about it.

I still love Shatner, though.


7 Comments

  1. Joachim Boaz says:

    Did you know that they made an entire TV-movie sequence from this serious? It’s considered complete trash.

    Like

  2. Joseph Nebus says:

    I remember reading this when it came out, because I was a little too much into Star Trek at the time and thought it might be something fresh and original along those lines and … well, not so much, although I guess it was one of the steps into my reading non-tie-in novels, so there’s that for it.

    The Tek drug seemed like a pretty nifty idea, although I was ignorant enough back then to suppose it was wholly original (I suppose the publicity about Captain Kirk Writes A Novel built up the idea that it was a fresh new idea). I wonder what a contemporary take on the idea would look like.

    Like

    • It is fairly amazing how hard they tried to sell the book on the fact that Shatner wrote it. And now that I think about it, the word Tek does look a little like the word Trek…coincidence?

      A 21st century reboot of the series might actually be pretty decent. There’s still a core of a good idea in there, buried deep.

      Like

  3. P.S. For a moment there I seriously had to stop and figure out of “Xmasfax” is a palindrome. It is not.

    Like

  4. Deanne says:

    Tek reminds me of the Orgasmatron in the 1973 Woody Allen movie Sleeper. Yes, I did see it in theater when it first came out and may be off on the similarity. However, the addictive quality is shared and the side effect, at least in the movie, is seriohumorous.

    Like

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