Saturday, July 6, 2013
Read: 12 April to 17 April 2013
3.5 / 5 stars
So it's kind of like the movie Fanboys: A group of friends makes their way west with an altruistic but thoroughly nerdy goal. Only where Fanboys was about sneaking onto Skywalker Ranch so a terminally ill pal could watch the The Phantom Menace before dying, Shatnerquest begins with plans to rescue William Shatner from the apocalypse and is punctuated by the group's ongoing struggle to survive in the face of celestially wrought terrors and the heedless violence that a few bands of survivors always seem to embrace in every end-times scenario.
Which is to say that this tale's pit stop in Riverside, IA (the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk, obviously), still ends in chaos -- but of a much more dire, violent and cannibalistic sort.
The only other work of Jeff Burk's I've read is Cripple Wolf, which means I'm not terribly familiar with this story's more notorious predecessor, Shatnerquake. But I have seen an awful lot of Star Trek and plenty of cult classics, and have either dabbled in or otherwise gained a basic grasp on other mainstays of geekery: The gleeful mash-up of allusions to "Magic: The Gathering" tournaments, Star Wars, Back to the Future, comic stores, Kevin Smith flicks, the road trip as a movie genre, gamer culture, zombies, Daleks and tribbles were more than enough to delight my inner nerd.
Alas, much like Cripple Wolf, Burk's newest offering could have benefited from just one more round of careful editing. I can't turn my proofreading powers off even for lighter fare, so things like "in between" being rendered as one word, "Twitter" being capitalized inconsistently, "wares" being replaced by its homonym and at least one instance of an erroneous "and" supplanting "an" just pulled me out of the story and made me remember that I was reading this at work while wearing my Bitchy Grammarian hat.
But I know I'm a snob about certain things, just like I know that this is simply good, bizarro fun that shouldn't be taken too seriously, given the gratuitous bloodshed and things like a dude slicing his way out of horror-movie monster's belly. For all my hang-ups over flaws in the mechanics, the little bit of exposure that I've had to Burk's older stuff makes me feel pretty confident in saying that his writing seems to be on a steady upward trajectory: The action flows well, the narrative is mighty tight and even the excessive bits are comedic rather than tedious.
I find that the bizarro genre is at its best when there's some heart at the.... well, heart of the story, and Shatnerquest has it, surprisingly, in spades. Each of the main characters gets a chapter of back story (yes, even William Shatner, which explains how he turns into a rampaging giant stomping the ever-loving piss out of LaLa Land -- and you're goddamn right that Squishy the pleasantly plump cat's origin story got me all misty-eyed because nothing affects me as deeply as sad-animal stories) and the road-trip-story standards of friendship, a blossoming romance and the redemptive journey are all undercurrents driving and elements softening the more overtly wacky and downright savage elements of the plot.
And Shatnerquest does society a great service by answering the age-old question of who would win in the battle between Klingons and steampunks. Also: It's got zombie Borg. Motherfucking zombie Borg, guys.