Saturday, June 24, 2017

Kobayashi Maru

Star Trek: Enterprise
Kobayashi Maru by Michael A. Martin & Andy Mangels
Published August 2008
Read June 21st 2016


Previous book (Enterprise): The Good That Men Do

Next book (Enterprise): The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor's Wing


Spoilers ahead for Kobayashi Maru!

From the back cover:
To protect the cargo ships essential to the continuing existence of the fledgling Coalition of Planets, the captains of the United Earth's Starfleet are ordered to interstellar picket duty, with little more to do than ask "Who goes there?" into the darkness of space. 
Captain Jonathan Archer of the Enterprise seethes with frustration, wondering if anyone else can see what he sees. A secret, closed, militaristic society, convinced that their survival hangs by a thread, who view their neighbors as a threat to their very existence -- the Spartans of ancient Greece, the Russians of the old Soviet Union, the Koreans under Kim Il-sung -- with only one goal: attain ultimate power, no matter the cost. The little-known, never-seen Romulans seem to live by these same principles.

The captain realizes that the bond between the signers of the Coalition charter is fragile and likely to snap if pushed. But he knows that the Romulans are hostile, and he believes they are the force behind the cargo ship attacks. If asked, Archer can offer no proof without endangering his friend's life.

To whom does he owe his loyalty: his friend, his world, the Coalition? And by choosing one, does he not risk losing all of them? What is the solution to a no-win scenario?

My thoughts:

Continuing the story after the previous Enterprise novel, The Good That Men Do, Kobayashi Maru documents the march towards the Romulan War in which United Earth is plunged into a conflict with the Romulan Star Empire that will leave many dead and a quadrant changed forever. In the run up to that war, Romulan forces are disrupting shipping and commerce in the region, and Starfleet's premiere ships, Enterprise and Columbia, are assigned to convoy protection duty. Archer is convinced that the Romulans are planning war, and is continually frustrated in his attempts to convince Starfleet to change its stance to prepare to be on a war footing. Adding to his fears are the experiences of his former engineer, Trip Tucker, who is operating behind enemy lines in the service of Section 31.

Kobayashi Maru continues the story of Trip's work behind enemy lines as an agent of Section 31.

While at times Kobayashi Maru feels a bit meandering, the story's "big picture" take on the socio-political arena of the time is very welcome. I like the large scope of the story, even if it occasionally gets a bit bogged down in the minutia. I enjoy a good political thriller, and the politics of the early pre-Federation days are certainly fascinating.

The most unfortunate aspect of this novel involves its namesake. Star Trek fans know the Kobayashi Maru as the infamous test that Starfleet cadets must face, a test that has only been beaten by one cadet: James T. Kirk. The simulation involves the rescue of the Kobayashi Maru, a neutronic fuel carrier under attack by Klingon forces. The cadet must choose whether or not to risk his or her ship in a rescue attempt, in what has come to be known as the "no-win scenario." In this novel, we get a glimpse of the events of the "real" Kobayashi Maru incident, in which the freighter is under attack by Romulan vessels. Captain Archer must decide whether or not to attempt a rescue. However, an added factor is in play: if the Enterprise goes to rescue the freighter, she will certainly be captured by the Romulans using a "tele-capture" system and will be used to attack Coalition ships and planets. Therefore, in this scenario, there really is only one viable option: abandon the rescue attempt because the stakes are just too high. It is not only the ship and crew that are at risk, but the certainty that attempting a rescue will result in handing the Romulans a formidable weapon. In this way, I feel like the real-life incident was a poor template for the Kobayashi Maru test, as the real conditions eliminate any other possible choice.

In this novel, we learn about the incident that inspired the Kobayashi Maru scenario that cadets must face at Starfleet Academy. Unfortunately, the "reality" bears little resemblance to the test.

That small quibble aside, Kobayashi Maru is certainly an interesting story that moves us towards the Romulan War in a satisfactory way. While I wish there was another role for Trip other than Section 31 spy, I am at least happy that we weren't left with his fate in the episode "These Are the Voyages...".

Final thoughts:

A well-executed story about the lead-up to the Romulan War, Kobayashi Maru showcases the political climate of the newly-formed Coalition of Planets as they find themselves threatened by the Romulan Empire. A bit meandering at times, the story finds itself bogged down as it slowly moves the plot forward, but for the most part, it is an engaging novel that fills in some previously unknown blanks. The characters are my favorite part, and most of them get some interesting development. I feel like the story of the Romulan War goes a bit downhill in subsequent novels, but Kobayashi Maru is a pretty good setup.

More about Kobayashi Maru:

Podcast: Literary Treks 147: The Phantom Menace


Also by Michael A. Martin & Andy Mangels:

My next read:

I've really gotten myself behind again! My next written review will be for Enterprise: The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor's Wing. Next up on the new release front will be my video review for Section 31: Control by David Mack.