William Shatner's Trek Never Ends The Actor-author Keeps Seeking New Challenges While Feeding Fans' Hunger For All Things Kirk

Stardate: 1999. And William Shatner is still going where few actors have gone before that exalted place where you can live off one character from a TV show despite its cancellation several millennia ago.

Thirty years after the Enterprise ended its mission to explore the heavens on "Star Trek," Shatner is still cashing in on Capt. James T. Kirk.

When he isn't writing science-fiction novels starring Capt. Kirk or playing himself in the upcoming comedy "Free Enterprise," about a pair of "Star Trek" fanatics, much of Shatner's time is spent addressing the show's real-life fanatics at conventions around the world.

Shatner, whose 1993 autobiography was titled "Star Trek Memories," has come up with yet another 'Star Trek" angle "Get a Life!" (Pocket Books), which details his encounters over the years with the show's die-hard fans, as well as a history of how the whole cult phenomenon came about.

Although the title is taken from a "Saturday Night Live" sketch that skewered the rabid obsession of "Trekkies," Shatner says the book was conceived as a tribute to their undying devotion.

"For years, I did the occasional convention," says Shatner, who admits he was lured by a quick and easy payday.

"But three or four years ago, I found myself doing a surge of these 50 conventions in a year in every corner of the country," says Shatner from his Los Angeles office.

"That's when I began to puzzle about the constituency of the audience, and I came up with the idea for the book and began doing the research."

Shatner interviewed scores of Trekkies over a two-year span at conventions in the U.S. and Europe at times wearing a space alien mask to conceal his identity.

"What I found was that fans were as interested in each other as much as they were interested in the show," he says.

Ironically, it was the death of Capt. Kirk that gave rise to Shatner's career as a convention speaker.

Once Kirk was killed off in 1994's "Star Trek Generations," the seventh installment of the movie series based on the show, Shatner figured he would be able to devote more time to his TV projects the reality show "Rescue 911" and "TekWar," a sci-fi series adapted from his novels.

But both shows were suddenly canceled. With no more work in "Star Trek" movies on the horizon and an impending divorce from his second wife Shatner reluctantly agreed to attend a few conventions, just to pay the bills.

He writes that it wasn't only a turning point in his life, but in the way he viewed Trekkies: "These conventions weren't just quickie events anymore, these weren't just halls filled with fans. I was finding friendship here, and fun, and excitement," writes Shatner.

"I marveled at how astonishingly lucky I'd been to spend 30 years at the epicenter of a phenomenon so powerful it could inspire reasonable, rational human beings to forget themselves for a day or two, to publicly revel in sharing their love for all things 'Star Trek.'

"Talk about 'getting a life,' has anyone on the planet gotten more out of 'Star Trek' than me?"

If anyone else has, it would be Leonard Nimoy, who as pointy-eared Vulcan Mr. Spock is the only original cast member who can rival Shatner's status among Trekkers.

The two men have long been rumored to have a strained, competitive relationship, but Shatner denies it.

He does, however, frequently knock his co-star in the book subtle digs at Nimoy's proclivity for "totally disgusting" fried-egg sandwiches, or how he "runs like an old lady."

Shatner just laughs when asked whether he was expressing subconscious hostility toward his old castmate.

"Maybe it's passive-aggressive," says Shatner. "He's actually one of my best friends, but I do envy the way he dresses."

Although Shatner writes fondly about his fans, not every encounter has been a pleasant one. He says he's often spooked by the way some people react to him.

"There have been so many instances over the years," says Shatner. "But the latest one was in Germany, when somebody went looking for me with gun in hand.

"He had gotten into the venue and was hiding underground in a labryinth of tunnels. He was discovered at the last minute and the police jumped on him." That's the dark side of [fan obsession]."

Speaking of obsession, Shatner isn't worried his book might be overshadowed by current fan frenzy over that other science-fiction phenomenon.

" 'Star Wars' is responsible for the revitalization of 'Star Trek,' so there is a symbiotic relationship between the two shows," he says, crediting "Star Wars" for paving the way for the nine "Star Trek" films to date (as with Shatner's book, an upcoming documentary, "Trekkies," is also about fan conventions).

Now 68, the Montreal native devotes more time these days to writing than acting. Besides "Free Enterprise," which opens June 4, Shatner has a guest shot on the NBC sitcom "3rd Rock From the Sun" next week. But he plans to continue penning "Star Trek" novels featuring a more mature Capt. Kirk.

"I'm using my own life as a pivotal point, and having great fun imagining what Kirk's feelings would be as he got older," he says.

He can even imagine where his life would be had "Star Trek" never happened.

"I'd be in Montreal," he says with a Kirk-like intonation, "working in the subway and blasting new holes underground where no man has gone before."