Review: ‘The Autobiography of Kathryn Janeway’ Delivers An Insider’s View Of Voyager’s Captain

The Autobiography of Kathyrn Janeway - TrekMovie review

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.

Introduction by Commander Naomi Wildman

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

The Autobiography of Kathryn Janeway

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?”

Read our interview with Una McCormack here.

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Does she try to incorporate the background story that Jeri Taylor developed for her Star Trek novels? The authors of Voyager treated “Pathways” as a quasi-official biography, at least as far as the main points of the character were concerned.

It’s been a long time ago that I read the two books. I think Mosaic was the other one. One dealt with Janeway having to make a decision and reflecting on her past life while the other one goes deeper into the history of Chakotay and some other characters (but I don’t remember which is which). I’m pretty sure that’s where Berman and Braga got the premise for the Enterprise finale from.:)

I can recommend Pathways, it’s a touching, deeply layered story, linking the past and the present.

Would it be too much to ask for a Starfleet Captain whose parents were not also Starfleet brass or Federation bigwigs? We’ve seen it with Kirk’s father, Henry Archer (OK, a civilian contractor, but still), and now Janeway, not to mention Michael Burnham’s lineage. Fortunately, Picard, Sisko, and Pike seem to be exceptions.

Well as a fan of Voyager I was really looking forward to this book but found it quite dissapointing.

The contradictions not only to Mosaic are very strange as well but mainly I found the writing just boring.

It’s too much like “I did this, I did that and then what happened was this”. To be honest I had trouble falling not asleep while reading. Also the ending just uh what? I mean I had my share of bad fanfiction but this?

Is it canon? I am fed up buying sci-fi books only to find out it isn’t canon and I may as well have read fan fiction.

Nope, none of the novels are canon.

Does anyone know what is happening with the Autobiography of Spock? I thought it was supposed to be out by now and written by David A Goodman (the same author as the autobiographies of Kirk and Picard) but now appears to be September of 2021 and written by Una Mccormack?

Yes, Goodman just wasn’t able to finish the book with his schedule so it is now being written by Una and is coming out next year.

Thank you very much!

Voyager ratings trended higher than DS9 for a brief time and then started its gradual trend down. It finally dipped below DS9 and actions were taken. Jeri Taylor moved into a consultant role, Michael Piller came in and shook up the writing staff. The Borg had a bigger role, Jeri Ryan was brought on and the numbers started trending back up. They held somewhat steady and then started trending down again as season 7 began. When Mulgrew appeared in Nemesis, the audience clapped. So that was a good sign that Voyager resonated at a certain level with fans.