Live Long, Prosper

Jim Kirk didn't die. Bill Shatner just got scared to death.

This month, Pocket Books will publish Shatner's seventh Kirk novel, Captain's Peril, the start of a trilogy in which the aging hero becomes involved with a younger woman and deals with the death of a loved one--a recurring theme in his novels, as common as punctuation. "We're paying for his therapy," says Mark Altman. "It's cathartic for him." Shatner would not disagree.

"Well, I've had Captain Kirk use my life," he says. "I've invested some of the main events in my life in Captain Kirk and played with them. I've taken what's happened in my life and tried to have ideal solutions. He does more heroic things. He's not subject to the whims and laws of human nature like I am, so he does a better job of conducting his life, but still he has the problems."

Which brings us, inevitably, to the oldest question one can ask of Shatner: Does he miss Captain Kirk? Or does he just miss the idealized Bill Shatner--the hero, not just the actor cashing the paycheck? Does he like going where he has gone before? He considers it for a second.

"I don't know whether I miss playing the part like one would miss a loved one," he says, speaking slowly. "What I do miss is that the part was, on occasion, extremely well-written, and not only that, but I also had a voice in the writing of it. I had an element of creative power without any of the responsibility." He laughs. "And I miss the impertinence of Captain Kirk. If there were roles written for me that were of a different character, now that I have gotten older and ama different character, I would be just as happy."

For a while, his interviewer starts down some long, windy road about how Shatner sees Kirk as a surrogate, as a perfect vehicle through which he can tell his own story. He stops his interrogator midblather. His tone shifts, from friendly to formal. He reminds that, above all, he's a businessman. Nimoy's the artist, the photographer--Spock's shooting nude studies these days, how illogical. Shatner's the pragmatist, the seller of things. His enterprises are business ventures, not a set on a soundstage.

"There's something you're forgetting," he reminds as he drags the deep conversation back to the shallow end. "These books are pre-sold, so I don't have to go to an editor and sell an idea and do all the things writers have to do to get a book published. This is a marriage of convenience as well."

Then his tone quickly shifts again. His voice softens.

"But having said that, it's also a joyful marriage," he says. "I enjoy getting down with this character who leads a life that I lead--who's somewhat peripatetic, who is a lover of life and seeker of mysteries."

For the longest time, he and Nimoy loathed being identified with their characters: Nimoy wrote I Am Not Spock; Shatner went on Saturday Night Liveand told a nation to "get a life." But now, they embrace their counterparts; they protect them. They have, at long last, become them.

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