Confession: I stopped reading the Star Trek fiction books a long time ago. I used to devour them as a kid, but somewhere along the line, I stopped reading them, focusing my Star Trek reading on behind-the-scenes books and memoirs.
When I read Una McCormack’s The Autobiography of Kathryn Janeway in preparation for interviewing her, I discovered that I’ve been missing out. I was hooked almost immediately, engaged both by the exploration into Janeway’s character (with the freedom that comes with not being tied to a 45-minute episode) and the flow of McCormack’s writing.
The book begins with an introduction from my favorite underage Janeway protégé, Naomi Wildman, now a Commander. “I learned courage, and wisdom, and grace under fire from the very best captain of all,” she writes, reminding us of what made Janeway so aspirational and heroic—and then the autobiography itself begins, not with heroics, but with Kathryn telling us that her mother made pop-up books for children. Family is everything to young Kathryn long before she becomes a ship’s captain, and the strength she gets from her upbringing is what helps her keep her Voyager family together when they are stranded in the Delta Quadrant.
If you’re looking for a deeper exploration of some of Star Trek: Voyager’s episodes, especially where Janeway’s choices and inner thoughts are concerned, you’ve found it: McCormack covers the captain’s controversial decision about Tuvix (how could she not?), her take on the Equinox crew, her relationship with Kes, and more, exploring Janeway’s inner thoughts about these pivotal encounters. She takes a deeper dive into moments that happened off screen, like the first time Janeway speaks to her mother once they reestablish communication with Starfleet—which hit me on a much deeper emotional level than I expected. (In my interview with McCormack, she suggested that the theme of Voyager being so far from home and its crew only being able to talk to their loved ones on viewscreens is resonating especially strongly now, as we are all facing similar distance from our loved ones and using Zoom and its ilk as our prime method of communicating with them. I think she’s right.)
When my turn came up (of course I didn’t pull rank; I was about thirtieth, which was pretty good, all things considered), I stood nervously waiting for the communication to start. I was a little conscious of Seven of Nine standing behind me, but the moment my mother’s face appeared on-screen, everything around me was forgotten.
“Mom,” I whispered.
But while Voyager’s time in the Delta Quadrant takes up the bulk of the narrative, the journey through Janeway’s life story has much to offer and McCormack explores it all. We see Janeway’s childhood with her mother, sister, and frequently absent (Starfleet flag officer) father. We understand her ambition, her sibling rivalry, and most of all, her determination—both when it drives her and when it steers her wrong.
Her relationship with fiancé Mark, barely touched upon in the series, is fleshed out in a way that makes that loss more acutely felt. We also find out that she has a long history with Tom Paris, which illuminates why she was so set on adding him to her crew and why she was so supportive of him; she saw the background he was struggling against as worthy of compassion and sympathy, even though she was an admirer of his father. (Between McCormack’s book and The Delta Flyers podcast, I have a completely new view of the character these days.) She meets him for the second time when he’s only seventeen.
It wasn’t the most promising of encounters, but I couldn’t put young Tom Paris out of my mind. I suppose on some level, I sympathized with him. It’s not easy, having a Starfleet officer as your father. It’s not easy proving yourself. I often found myself wondering about him, over the next years, what he was
doing, and where he was going to end up.
McCormack also does some impressive worldbuilding, taking a deep dive—through Janeway’s eyes—into how the Cardassians fit into Starfleet and Federation history, from the political to the personal. She doesn’t address the updates to Seven and Icheb seen in Star Trek: Picard, but that makes sense within the narrative; Janeway wrote the book before those events took place.
And of course, we get that ending Voyager fans have long awaited: Janeway and Chakotay’s last moment together on the bridge after arriving on Earth, and what life was like after their triumphant return. None of those details will be revealed in this review, but I assure you, they are satisfying. And thanks to McCormack’s flowing prose, you can lose yourself completely in this book; you may not want to put it down once you start.
Janeway’s Autobiography available now
The Autobiography of Kathryn Janeway by Una McCormack is available now on hardcover and eBook. You can order it at Amazon. A paperback version will be released in the summer of 2021
McCormack hoping for audiobook
The author doesn’t know if there are plans for an audiobook version, but one can only hope they’d ask Kate Mulgrew to narrate it. I asked her if that was something she’d want to have happen.
“Wouldn’t it be marvelous? She tweeted about it, which is super exciting. And then it turned out she’d heard my name and, you know, people have said nice things about me to her, which has just been mind-blowing… but wouldn’t it be wonderful if she read it? I’d love it. But who knows?”
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