Star Trek: 'The Captain's Oath' Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Star Trek: 'The Captain's Oath' Review

Matthew Kresal explores Kirk's early days as Starfleet's youngest captain.
James T. Kirk.

Whether played by William Shatner, Chris Pine, fan film actors such as James Cawley and Vic Mignogna, or now Paul Wesley in the upcoming TV series Strange New Worlds, over the last fifty-five years, he's become one of science fiction's most iconic characters. Yet, in that time, we've only been given the rarest of glimpses into who he was before he took over the center seat on the Enterprise bridge. Exploring Kirk's earlier starship command before he became captain of the Enterprise in the franchise's original timeline is Christopher L. Bennett's 2019 novel The Captain's Oath.

Calling this a novel feels like something of a misnomer. It has the page count, given it ran slightly over 300 pages in the Kindle edition this reviewer read. The Captain's Oath also has scope, with Bennett taking on both Kirk's time as captain of his first starship, the scout ship Sacagawea, and some of the lead-up to his first on-screen appearance in command of the Enterprise in Where No Man Has Gone Before. As that may suggest, this covers events sometimes months and years apart, and it's there that calling it a novel feels like a misnomer.

What Captain's Oath is at Bennett's pen is, in essence, a series of linked short stories. It moves around in time, nominally anchored in the early weeks of Kirk's time on Enterprise but flashing back to the events of his time as captain of the Sacagawea. In doing so, Bennett reveals the man who will be captain through his early battles with Klingons (including one familiar to fans of a particular classic Original Series episode) to encounters with the very alien race known as the Agni. Those encounters with the Agni and what Kirk learns about commanding a starship and himself are arguably the prime movers of the flashback sections of the book. The "present-day" portions, focusing on the early time in Kirk's tenure on the Enterprise, play out with a narrative that links back to those sections while telling its own story. It's a neat way to tell a story and compare the man Kirk was with who he will become.
Make no mistake about it, Captain's Oath is a book as much about characters as anything else. Or, rather, a character in particular. As Bennett says in the acknowledgments, part of his goal in writing the book was to take down some of the myths around Kirk. It's become far too easy to caricature to suggest Kirk was a simple character, a man of action with a girl on every planet. As Captain's Oath reminds fans, that wasn't the case and especially wasn't in the inaugural season of Trek. Even so, Bennett draws upon both Shatner and Pine's characterizations of the captain, as the younger, brasher man gives way to the more thoughtful yet driven commander of the Enterprise. That's something that also comes out in Kirk's friendships, from familiar characters like McCoy or Gary Mitchell to his Andorian first officer on the Sacagewea Rhenas Sherev. If Bennett set out to make readers think again about how they perceive Kirk, then, without question, he succeeded.

And that is reason enough to give The Captain's Oath a read.

Matthew Kresal is a writer, critic, and podcaster with many and varying interests. His prose includes the non-fiction The Silver Archive: Dark Skies from Obverse Books, the Cold War alternate history spy thriller Our Man on the Hill, and the Sidewise Award winning short story Moonshot in Sea Lion Press' Alternate Australias anthology. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, or follow him on Twitter @KresalWritesHe was born, raised, and lives in North Alabama where he never developed a southern accent.

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