Fan Fiction is a quasi-autobiographical daydream from Brent Spiner.
If you’ve seen Trekkies, you may recall the woman who said she lived within sight of the hill at the bottom of which Brent Spiner lived. Whenever she felt “stressed out,” she said, she’d go to her balcony and gaze toward that hill and “daydream for a little while.” She called these moments her “Brent breaks.”
With his new novel Fan Fiction, whose subtitle calls it a “mem-noir inspired by true events,” Brent Spiner offers fans of his work as Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation, wherever they live and however intense their interest in him, an extended, extremely entertaining “Brent break” of his own.
The story it spins isn’t entirely factual—”none of it’s real, really, even though a lot of things actually happened,” as Spiner told Syfy Wire’s Vanessa Armstrong. So readers can take the tale as Spiner’s own “daydream,” albeit at times a nightmarish one, about the risks and rewards of fame, the special but often complicated connections between stars and their fans, and the lasting mark our fellow human beings leave on us, for ill but also for good.
Fan Fiction by Brent Spiner is a fast, funny thriller with insights into Star Trek—and life
In the book’s reality-adjacent version of 1991, Brent Spiner is enjoying his career-making role as Data on TNG when he receives some disturbing and threatening “fan mail.” The sender signs themselves “Lal,” after Data’s android daughter in “The Offspring”—an episode repeatedly referenced, in an amusing running joke, by the book’s characters. But this Lal is dangerously obsessed with “Daddy,” and seems determined to kill Spiner.
As Lal’s letters and threats intensify, so do Spiner’s relationships with twin sisters Cindy Lou and Candy Lou Jones, the FBI agents investigating the case and his newly hired bodyguard. Their surreal entanglement are only one of the twisting and turning trails down which the plot careens, as every good noir detective story must, before arriving at a conclusion that feels slightly rushed but still satisfies.
Spiner’s comic talent helped him make Data the compelling character he is, and he successfully brings those talents to his writing. Such scenes as a suspected attempt on Spiner’s life at a dinner party hosted by none other than Gene and Majel Roddenberry and Spiner’s improvised eulogy at a stranger’s funeral make for laugh-out-loud reading.
His acting expertise also allows Spiner to deftly create a supporting cast of characters who remain vivid in readers’ minds long after the book is done. My favorite may be Ortiz, the police detective who’s working on a script (as I gather so many in Hollywood are) in which he and Data are buddy cops.
(As an ordained Presbyterian minister myself, I noted with amusement Spiner’s sketch of the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, scene of the aforementioned funeral. Intentionally or not, Spiner captures the distinctive tone and cadence of the Rev. Lloyd John Ogilvie, pastor of First Presbyterian through 1995, and left me wondering whether Ogilvie really used “The Offspring” as a sermon illustration!)
Spiner’s TNG castmates make cameos in the book. He told Syfy these versions of LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Patrick Stewart, and Jonathan Frakes and Genie Francis (Frakes’ wife and famous actor in her own right) “heightened” versions of themselves. They even play themselves in the audiobook, and their presence certainly make the book extra fun for Star Trek fans.
A couple of famous visitors to the TNG set appear in Fan Fiction’s pages, artfully woven into its main plot. The late Dr. Oliver Sacks pays a call and tells Spiner how several patients with Asperger’s syndrome find Data a positive role model. Sacks’s visit is based on reality, as is President Ronald Reagan’s. Star Trek fans will appreciate the way these moments illustrate the franchise’s ability to inspire real-world empathy and hope.
Fan Fiction does contain some more somber content. Spiner’s abusive stepfather, Sol, appears to him in a series of increasingly bizarre and funny but also sad and disturbing dreams—as a new Enterprise captain threatening to whip Data with his belt, for instance, and as the Ghost of Christmas Past from Patrick Stewart’s one-man production of A Christmas Carol. Spiner’s remembered and imagined interactions with Sol might prove painful for some readers but also show it’s possible to achieve some measure of peace with the emotional wounds of our past.
But overall, Fan Fiction never takes itself too seriously. Ultimately, it’s a fast-paced, fun, and funny book. A must-read for TNG and Brent Spiner fans, it should also appeal to anyone interested in an actor’s life when the camera isn’t rolling and to mystery and crime buffs who won’t mind seeing the genre’s tropes played largely for laughs.
Fan Fiction also reminds all readers, in Spiner’s words, to “live life to the hilt.” Don’t spend too much time taking your equivalent of “Brent breaks”—gazing off into the distance, daydreaming about others. Don’t give in to fear, either, because “what we fear most,” death, “will ultimately take place.” Instead, make something remarkable, do something remarkable, be someone remarkable while you can!