Sometime in 1992, probably late in the year, I devoured the first three novels in William Shatner’s Tek series: TekWar (1989), TekLords (1991), and TekLab (1991). At the time, as a teenager, I was certain they were as original and exciting as anything ever published. As I’ve aged, become jaded by life, my opinion has changed a smidge; there probably are stories more original, more exciting. And, even worse, the Tek books will never be canonized, but—even after these truths were revealed—I still enjoy them. They are a sweetly inviting piece of candy—all sugary and sweet with no aftertaste, or calories. Maybe a shadow of guilt, literati induced guilt, but thankfully it passes with the first page.
The first novel, TekWar, was published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons in hardcover. Ace reissued it as a mass market in 1990. Amazingly, I have read it three times. It introduces former police detective Jake Cardigan who was convicted of corruption. He was sentenced to fifteen years in the “Freezer,” which is a cryogenic suspended animation penitentiary. The world continues, but the convict sleeps it away. Jake is given parole after four years when an influential private detective agency, Cosmos, successfully lobbies for his release.
Cosmos wants Jake for his contacts in Mexico. A man named Leon Kittridge, along with his daughter Beth, have disappeared in Chihuahua where their skycar reportedly crashed. Professor Kittridge is developing a device that easily, and remotely, destroys tek; an illegal virtual reality device that creates the illusion of a perfect life. Cosmos has sent three operatives to Chihuahua in pursuit of the Kittridges and none have returned.
TekWaris a humorous, almost tongue-in-cheek, futuristic private eye novel. The setting is 22nd century, but the science fiction takes a backseat to the hardboiled detective story. There are robots, flying cars, and, of course, tek, but the “science” is decoration. Very good decoration and the novel is better for it, but still decoration. Change out tek for smack and flying cars for Chevys and it is a 20th century piece.
The humor is built in to the science fiction element of the story, which gives it the feeling of, “don’t take this too seriously.” In an early passage the warden, through his robot proxy, wishes Jake well and of his certainty Jake learned his lesson and will never return to the Freezer—
“Or, for that matter, to any of the fifty-three other prisons and correctional facilities in the State of Southern California…”
A platinum haired silver painted receptionist, going through life changes, confesses to Jake she has recently been mistaken for an android—
“‘…so far three clients have confused me with servomechs and a new ‘bot on the custodial staff tried to dust and polish me.’”
The action and humor are the novels strong points, and overshadow its weaknesses—there isn’t much doubt how the novel will end, and Jake Cardigan’s motive is exposed by his annoying habit of talking to himself. A habit, in my memory, that is reduced in the later series novels.