William Shatner is known as an actor, spokesperson, and occasional documentary host, but he has played in other forms of media. He’s been a “singer”  (more like spoken word outside of his one-night appearance on The Masked Singer that showed us why he did spoken word music) and an author. One of those books was also made into a video game based on the spin-off TV show, and that’s what I just finished reviewing over on my other site one chapter at a time. So you can click here for the very deep review. What you’ll be reading here is just my overall thoughts on the complete book.

Created by William Shatner, there are claims that the book was ghostwritten by Ron Goulart, who does have a credit in the book. From there a total of eight more books, a series of adaptations airing in syndication as part of a programming block called “Action Pack” was followed by a full season on the USA cable network, which was the basis for a rather mediocre first-person video game. Additionally both Marvel Comics and Bluewater Productions have made comic stories set in that world.

I’m working from the paperback novel released in 1990 by Ace Books. Before then a limited edition printing by Phantasia Press and a printing by G.P. Putman’s Sons were released, at least one of them in hardback.

The trailer for the first movie adaptation sets up the concept of the franchise so let me drop that.

There are changes to the show and probably could be on one of those book-to-movie adaptation review shows, but that’s the basic idea of the franchise. Jake Cardigan is a cop accused of working with Tek dealers and sentenced to prison. He’s innocent but was a Tek user. “Tek” is a sort of virtual reality drug. It allows you to feel like you’re part of the fantasy but it does so by messing with your brain. You can guess some of the side effects. Jake is awakened early from cryosleep, or “the Freezer”, by Walter Bascom (played by Shatner himself in the show and game) at the suggestion of Jake’s friend Sid Gomez. Jake has contacts in the area where a scientist who could potentially end Tek for good disappeared so Bascom uses his pull to get Jake out to help investigate. He is soon joined by the android duplicate of the scientist’s daughter, Beth Kittridge, and together they try to track the doctor and the real Beth down before the Teklords and overzealous anti-Tek government agents find them first.

There is some focus on Jake’s new reality. His wife, who was involved with one of the people who might have been responsible for his frame-up, divorced him while he was in the Freezer and took their son with her. However, this book isn’t about Jake seeking to clear his name. The focus is on why he was released, to find the Kittridges, which takes him from future Los Angeles to future Mexico, a former lover turned revolutionary, and more than one encounter with suicide bomber androids. Former cops turned private investigator is nothing new in fiction; it’s just that this one is in the future, which in a way is the biggest flaw with the book. The plot itself is solid and there are some good moments between Jake and the android Beth, exploring both of their pasts…well, Jake’s and the real Beth’s as “Bethdroid” has all her memories up to her disappearance…and seeing them come together as friends.

Sid doesn’t appear for most of the story and Bascom is hardly in it, but the character focus is on Jake and “Beth” so they got that right. There are a lot of characters, maybe too many, that are only there to be temporary issues and probably wouldn’t have been missed but most of the padding comes from the worldbuilding. I do enjoy good worldbuilding but Shatner and Goulart seem to want to show off every minute detail of what they created for this future world, which will be outdated by the time we reach the real 2120, when the book is set. TVs and other devices need some fancy sci-fi name for some reason, information about the world that has no bearing on the story and doesn’t even feel necessary as flavor text takes up a lot of unnecessary room and wastes your time.

This causes the ending, the final meeting with the main villains of the story, to feel rushed and unsatisfying. Pull some of that stuff out, leave the character stuff the way it is, and take more time to make the build-up to the baddies feel worth it and you might have something there. Facing is this book’s greatest weakness, taking away from a decent plot with only the character moments feeling worth it, but we’re here for the mystery and action. The character moments are just there to make us care about the characters, and the setting should make us interested in the world but is often more of a distraction.

Ron Goulart, who passed away in 2022, was a comic book historian and wrote a series of science fiction and detective novels, including one where Groucho Marx becomes a detective because why not? He’s also written for television and there are times that shows in this book. I’m guessing it’s also what brought him together with William Shatner, who has gone on to do other series, including a few novels in the Star Trek franchise, but you’d think someone with that history would know better than to let the worldbuilding get out of control. I guess it depends on how much influence Shatner had on the story, this being a story he had developed since the Star Trek movies.

In short TekWar has some great ideas buried in overuse of “we’re in the future” but does have some good character moment, well-explained fight scenes, and pacing issues that lead to an unsatisfactory ending. That’s too bad because what it does well is marred by what it does poorly. Overall I enjoyed reading the book but there are some big flaws I hope they avoided in the later books because I’d like to read some of them eventually.