Review: The Kennedy Enterprise

By Matthew Kresal



The 1960s: the decade politically dominated by the Kennedys in the United States and saw the debut of one of science fiction's biggest franchises. No, I don't mean Doctor Who (for once), but Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry's creation that went from cancelation after 79 episodes into a pop culture phenomenon whose saga is playing out on screens even as I type these words. What if, as all alternate history tales begin, these two icons of the sixties had come together? David Gerrold's short story The Kennedy Enterprise, now available on Kindle and Audible, answers that question.


Gerrold's story has a bit of history behind it. Gerrold was the writer of the well-regarded 1967 episode The Trouble with Tribbles and later worked on the 1970s animated series and Star Trek: The Next Generation, so someone well suited to write a story like The Kennedy Enterprise. The story was first published nearly thirty years ago in the Mike Resnick edited Alternate Kennedys anthology, full of tales that saw the famous family in various scenarios. Running a mere 17 pages on Kindle and a tad under 40 minutes on Audible, it does offer a brief but neat tale.


Gerrold's point of divergence is an interesting one and surprisingly plausible. Something often overlooked when it comes to the Kennedy’s is that family patriarch Joe Kennedy spent the late 1920s in Hollywood, producing films in the late silent and early sound era, bringing a number of smaller studios together to form RKO Pictures before leaving the business in 1931. The elder Kennedy also carried on an affair with Gloria Swanson for three years in the process in another detail Gerrold leaps upon for his story. Here, Joe Kennedy divorces his wife and brings at least two of his sons out west with him (Joe Jr, who in OTL died during the Second World War, is never mentioned in the story). While Ted Kennedy stays east with his mother, gets into politics, and is "never heard of again," per the story's narrator, John "Jack" Kennedy becomes an actor, and Robert "Bobby" Kennedy follows his father into studio management. Along the way, circumstances align with Jack eventually taking William Shatner's place as captain of perhaps science fiction's most famous spaceship and Bobby giving notes to those making the show.


Gerrold having worked on Trek in its earliest incarnations serves the story well. The number of details and in-jokes from both the Original Series and Next Generation are numerous given the comparatively short page count, including references to Forbidden Planet's influence on the series (known in this timeline as The New Frontier, thanks to Bobby's meddling and Jack taking Leslie Nielson's place in the film) to behind the scenes feuding between Shatner and Nimoy and, of course, life on the convention circuit. The details of Trek's re-tooling once Bobby buys out Desliu (Trek's original production company) and has reworked for his brother should likewise ring a bell for those with even limited knowledge about Trek. Put together, it all adds flavor and a sense of plausibility to a piece that, on the surface, would appear to be outlandish.


So too does how Gerrold tells The Kennedy Enterprise. Written as an interview (albeit just the answers, not the questions) with an unnamed writer from Trek (whose identity will be easy for those paying attention to work out from one particular reference made in the story), it's a breezy and conversational piece, filled with bits of humor. The interview format likewise allows Gerrold to pepper in details and go off on brief tangents as such conversations often do, from Ronald Reagan's very different career that derails after he sides with HUAC, or how Bobby, to keep his brother's womanizing out of the press, reveals Rock Hudon being a homosexual to the press decades earlier than in OTL. The personal touch also makes the ending, with its own twists on the history we know, all the more powerful when it arrives. It's something that comes across well in the Audible reading, with Daniel Penz presenting it essentially as a monologue, which he does well.


The resulting tale, whether you read or listen to it, is a short yet fun piece, boldly going where no Kennedy has gone before.

 

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Matthew Kresal is a fiction writer who has a (Sidewise Winning) story in the Alternate Australias Anthology by Sea Lion Press, and has also written a Sea Lion Press novel about Joe McCarthy.