‘Fan Fiction’, by Brent Spiner: NPR
Fan-fiction starts with a pig penis. It ends in murder. And in between, he tackles murder, obsession, Frank Sinatra, quaaludes, Hollywood, TV series, fandom and the early years of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
It’s not great literature, but it’s weird (which matters a lot) and fun (which matters a lot too), maybe an elaborate farce played by the author, and it’s absolutely a book. that could have been written only by Brent Spiner – Lt. Commander Data of TNG celebrity, working here on the page for the very first time (with help from co-author / ghostwriter Jeanne Darst).
Fan-fiction is Spiner’s first book – a novel that’s also part memory, part black pastiche, an insider (ish) look behind the scenes of Star Trek and the life of a working actor, completely made up and also maybe a little real. It’s a strange thing, taken as a whole, and the voice wobbles more than a bit as she tries to maintain her luscious black aesthetic amid the many challenges presented by her cadre (1990 Los Angeles), narrator (la victim, rather than some hard-like private cock nail) and its author (Spiner’s taste for strange physical comedy and exaggerated caricature make it borderline surrealism). And it begins with the condensed story of a 22-year-old leaving his home in Texas for the very first time and moving to New York City with the dream of becoming a star.
This is Brent Spiner the author talking about Brent Spiner the actor, recounting years of struggle, rejection, minor successes (which sounded like anything but), and great success. It lasts about 10 pages. This is the pure memory part. The story of a skinny young Jew from Houston who manages to grow up in Hollywood playing an android trying to figure out what it’s like to be human.
“Everything I have written so far is absolutely true,” he wrote. “But the story I’m about to tell isn’t.”
And this is where things get weird.
The rest of the book is Brent Spiner the author telling a shaggy dog story about Brent Spiner, an actor he bears a striking (but not complete) resemblance to, whose life is like a parallel version of his – a where actors of the Royal Shakespeare Company (such as Patrick Stewart, who played Captain Jean-Luc Picard in TNG) are all martial arts trained and everything in LA is only a 10 minute drive to everything else.
One day, among his buckets of fan mail (the size and content of which Spiner is obsessed with guilt), the studio mailman delivers to Data’s trailer a box containing a cut pork wang, along with a bloody letter. of a fan who calls him “Papa”, threatens to kill him soon, and signs him as the TNG character Lal – an android girl created by (and ultimately disabled by) Data in a previous season.
“Lal” is a dangerous madman, determined to assassinate Brent Spiner. His letters keep coming in, becoming more and more personal and threatening. And strange things keep happening. There’s another obsessed fan who imagines having long (and dirty) conversations with Spiner on the phone while her husband is away, a police detective with the title “Head of Obsessives” who runs a team that deals only with Hollywood stalkers (and is, of course, an aspiring screenwriter himself). There’s a traffic cop who stops Brent while being drugged by the ‘ludes’ given by his facialist-slash-therapist, but then lets him trade for an autograph. LeVar Burton appears as a transcendentalist with the scent of patchouli. A handsome FBI agent is put on the case and his twin sister is named as Brent’s bodyguard – and he falls in love with them both. And then there are his kidney stones …
Look, it’s a parcel, Okay? And it’s all crossed by dream sequences in which Spiner deals with his feelings about his abusive stepfather and his own shortcomings, thoughts about fandom and funerals, the meaning of pretending, and numerous scenes spent wandering around in their underwear. So if you like that sort of thing, you know, the jackpot.
It’s a strange book, completely impassive, liberally sprinkled with self-mockery on the part of the author about… himself. Or her makeup self. Or both. A more talented writer would have given the whole depth, i.e. weight. A less accomplished storyteller would have passed himself off as a schlub. And one or the other would have ruined Fan-fictionhis crazy energy, his Bizarro-World charm. As it stands, the writing varies wildly between manic and laconic, the ending is sudden, bizarre, utterly absurd, and absolutely predictable at the same time, and the characterizations of the women throughout are unfortunate in that they are largely based on appearance – although that’s a hard thing to gauge in a book where every character is a caricature and the tone tries so hard (with occasional success) to read itself as the kind of black sun that Absolutely having hard nosed women with legs that far, or whatever.
And while there were times in reading where I was sure it was an elaborate Spiner gag, in the end, I think it’s exactly what I said was earlier – a thread. The kind of story he’s told hundreds of times before, to his friends and fans, changing names and locations, beautifying and inventing as he goes. It’s a bar epic, a party piece for boring cocktails, a story told without ego or shame just for the sheer, weird joy of telling it.
Jason Sheehan knows his stuff about food, video games, books and Star blazers. He is a restaurant critic at Philadelphia cream magazine, but when no one is looking, he spends his time writing books about giant robots and ray guns. Tales of the Radiation Age is his latest book.