The last of the Star Trek TV series, Star Trek: Enterprise, was over-all a disappointment but the biggest tragedy of the show was that it was cancelled just as it was starting to get good. The series left a number of plot-threads unresolved. Luckily, the authors of Pocket Books’ Star Trek novels have taken it upon themselves to pick up and resolve those dangling threads in a very entertaining fashion. Christopher L. Bennett resolved the Temporal Cold War story-line (that had been an aspect of Enterprise since the show’s very first episode) in his novel Watching the Clock (click here for my review). That novel was set in the 24th century, but Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels have been, in a series of novels, continuing the adventures of Captain Archer and the crew of the Enterprise NX-01 in the 22nd century, depicting the adventures we might have seen had the show gotten a fifth season.
In their novels Last Full Measure (which I haven’t read) The Good that Men Do (which I did read, and really enjoyed) and in Kobayashi Maru, which I have just re-read, Mr. Martin and Mr. Mangels have set about to do several praiseworthy things. First of all, they have ret-conned the ridiculous, stupid death of Trip, the Enterprise’s chief engineer, that was seen in the series’ final episode “These Are the Voyages”. Second, they have focused in on the story-line begun in the show’s fourth and final season of the first, tentative steps towards the formation of the United Federation of Planets with the creation of a new coalition between Earth, Vulcan, Andor, and Tellar. I was fascinated by that story-line in the show, and in these novels Mr. Martin & Mr. Mangels dig deeply into the politics and struggles of this burgeoning interstellar alliance. Lastly, with Kobayashi Maru in particular, they have begun telling the story that fans of Enterprise always hoped the show would eventually get to: the Romulan War hinted at in the Original Series.
I had read Kobayashi Maru when it was originally published a few years ago, but I hadn’t yet gotten to the two “Romulan War” novels written by Mr. Martin (no longer collaborating with Mr. Mangels, I’m not sure why). Before reading those two books, I decided to go back and re-read Kobayashi Maru. It’s a solid though not quite spectacular novel.
My favorite aspect of the book is its focus on interstellar politics. I love the glimpses we get into the discussions and debates between the ambassadors of the various Coalition planets, as well as the struggles and disagreements between the leaders of each individual world. I love that Mr. Martin and Mr. Mangels don’t just assume that, once the initial agreement for an alliance had been formed, these very-different alien races would all just suddenly hug and agree with one another about everything.
My least favorite aspect of the book is Trip’s adventures undercover on Romulus. The whole things just seems terribly far-fetched to me, and the idea that Starfleet would use an engineer (and an incredibly valuable one at that, serving as chief engineer on one of only two NX-01 warp five Starfleet vessels) for such a critical mission seems ludicrous. Of course, it’s hard to fault Mr. Martin and Mr. Mangels, because they had to come up with SOME reason why Trip’s death as seen in the Enterprise finale would have been faked. But the whole thing seems very far-fetched, and I hope that Trip finds his way back to the Enterprise sooner rather than later in the future books.
But the main hook of this novel, as is made obvious by it’s title, is the bold choice to depict the true story of the Kobayashi Maru, the ship of the no-win scenario Starfleet Academy test for cadets, as seen in the famous opening of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This novel is going to succeed or fail based on how compellingly Mr. Martin and Mr. Mangels are able to depict the events of this no-win scenario. So how did they do? I’d say very solidly, though it’s not a home run. They succeeded in constructing a pretty elaborate and convincing no-win scenario for Captain Archer, in which he has a genuine reason why saving the crew of the freighter Kobayashi Maru seems to be impossible. I thought it was clever how many aspects of the cadet test scenario seen in Star Trek II were incorporated into the events as depicted in this novel, from the interstellar geography of the events (“nineteen periods out of Altair VI”… “Our position is Gamma Hydra…”) to the fact that the Kobayashi Maru’s distress call was actually directed at a ship called Enterprise (“Can you assist us, Enterprise? Can you assist us??”) And I give major props to Mr. Martin and Mr. Mangels for not giving Captain Archer an easy out. Archer is not able to defeat the no-win scenario. He is able to save his ship, but only at a terrible cost. Anything else would have been a real cheat, I feel, so I’m really glad that Mr. Martin and Mr. Mangels went with a tougher ending.
My complaint is that in a book entitled Kobayashi Maru, I wish we’d spent a lot more time getting to know the crew of that freighter. The one chapter in the beginning of the book, and the one chapter right at the end right before things go bad, were hardly sufficient for me. The ending of the novel would have been a lot more powerful had we really grown to know and like the crew of the Kobayashi Maru. As it is in the finished novel, they’re not too much more than just some names, so the impact of their fate is diluted. (I also wish the book hadn’t ended so quickly after the tragic events in the Gamma Hydra sector. I would really have appreciated spending more time with Archer and the Enterprise crew at the end, to see how Archer’s decision re: the Kobayashi Maru was affecting him and his crew. I am already about a hundred pages into the next Enterprise novel, and we do get to see that played out there. But I really feel that material should have been in this novel — it would have made the ending felt more complete and less rushed.)
I have a few other complaints. Although each chapter opens with an exact date (which would lead me to believe that Mr. Martin and Mr. Mangels had thought through the chronology of the story very carefully), I found the time-line of events in the book very confusing. Archer and the Enterprise seem to be able to zip between planets in just days, when I would have expected those trips to take weeks or months. For example, he’s on Earth in the beginning of the novel, and soon after is on Cronos, the Klingon homeworld. It seems like all the planets are super-close together!! There’s also an instance when Trip and a Romulan are discussing how long it will take them to get someplace, and Trip says it will take weeks — but by the chapter headings, they arrive there mere days later. The novel could have been written exactly as it is, but had the time-lines of the chapter headings been changed to have the book take place over the span of several months, rather than just about four weeks, I think that would have been more effective.
There also seem to be a lot of instances where the characters are surprisingly clueless about things that they really should have known. Something tragic happens to Travis Mayweather’s family on-board their freighter, the Horizon, towards the start of the book. Pretty much every other character seems to know immediately that the Horizon has gone missing, except for Travis who for some reason doesn’t find out until the very end of the book. (I thought this development would finally give poor Travis a meaty story-line, but that doesn’t happen because he doesn’t learn of the freighter’s disappearance until the closing pages of the book.) In another example, Trip is fed what we, the reader, know is disinformation while on Romulus, but Trip doesn’t seem to have any iota of doubt that the information is genuine, which makes him seem very stupid. Then there’s Captain Archer, who seems clueless about the disappearance of two of his officers (Reed and T’Pol) for quite a while longer than I would have expected. In this sort of adventure fiction, I always prefer the characters to be really SMART rather than stupid — I think that leads to far more compelling drama.
Kobayashi Maru is a solid book, and I really appreciate the ambition of the undertaking. This is a long book, with a huge cast of characters set all over the known galaxy. And most excitingly of all, this is just the beginning of a larger story of the Romulan War that will be continued in two future novels (which are on my bookshelf, and that I am excited to read!). It’s not a home run, but this is very much the type of story I hope from in my Star Trek fiction — something that pushes the story forward and tackles head-on story-lines left incomplete by the TV series. I am excited for the next book.
Previous Star Trek novel reviews:
Star Trek: Voyager – Full Circle
Star Trek: Mirror Universe (Books 1 & 2) – Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Shards & Shadows – Star Trek: Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire — Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Rise Like Lions – Star Trek: Myriad Universes (Books 1 & 2) – Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Shattered Light