Phil Parker (tigertoy) wrote,
Phil Parker

Book review: The Kobayashi Maru

Last week's book review blown off until today is The Kobayashi Maru by Julia Ecklar.

This is an officially sanctioned Star Trek novel.  If you're not familiar with classic Trek, you probably don't want to try reading this.  Since some of the first grown up books I ever bought with my own money were Star Trek books, the franchise has some sentimental value to me, but I'm really not interested in reading them any more.  However, the fact that this one is by a well-known filker was enough to make me pick it up when I was dragged off to a book sale last summer.

If I hadn't set my expectations to Star Trek standards, I probably wouldn't have been able to tolerate this book.  The main plot is terribly contrived -- but it's definitely a Star Trek plot.  And the main plot is really only a device to hold some pieces together.  Each piece is designed to try to give some real dimension to one of the cardboard characters from the original series.  I can give the author some credit for trying (and I rather doubt she had very much creative freedom anyway, given that this is a sanctioned franchise novel).  I think the teenager who loved the Blish novelizations of TOS would have loved this book, but I've grown way beyond it.  It was readable, even kind of fun, but pretty weak as a book.  6 out of 10.


Kirk, Scott, Sulu, Chekhov, and McCoy take a shuttlecraft into a system so unstable that it's too risky for the Enterprise to go.  The shuttle hits a gravitic mine (whose presence, or even just what it is, aren't covered) and is disabled.  Kirk and Sulu are injured.  While they sit around waiting for Spock to rescue them, they tell stories about how each of them (except McCoy, who never had the pleasure) handled the Kobayashi Maru simulation in Command School.  This simulation (mentioned in passing in one of the movies, so it's at least sort of canon) is a test of character.  It's rigged so that no matter what you do in the simulation, you lose -- your ship is destroyed by Klingons and you potentially start a war.  Kirk goes first, relating how he obsessed over the simulation.  Normally cadets only take the thing once and are glad to get it over with, but Kirk took it over and over.  Finally, he becomes so obsessed with how the simulation is rigged against him that he decides that the simulation is cheating and he decides to cheat back.  He hacks the computers so that the simulated Klingons recognize him by name and help him out instead of blowing him up.  He gets a chewing out for this, but manages to convince Starfleet that he shouldn't be thrown out for his initiative that he goes on to be a starship captain anyway.  Next, Chekhov tells of his experience.  He responded to the Kobayashi Maru's no-win simulation by suiciding his starship to kill the three Klingons, only to have it pointed out afterwards that the crew that he'd had abandon ship would never have survived the explosion of four starships' antimatter drives.  Then he relates a second exercise, in which a large group of cadets are put on an abandoned space station and told that one of their number is a secret assassin, and their only goal is to "live" through the simulation.  (All the phasers are set on stun.)  Chekhov ruthlessly lies and cheats his way to being the only survivor, earning the hatred of the other cadets he betrayed along the way, only to be told that everybody failed, because they were supposed to have been clever enough to figure out a way to get through it without bloodshed.  Next up, Sulu recounts how he manages to do better than expected in a relatively hopeless political simulation as he copes with his grandfather dying.  He has to do the Kobayashi Maru after he's just had to accept that his grandfather has refused to continue his chemotherapy.  Somehow, from this he derives the strength to do what he's really supposed to do (but nobody ever does) -- refuse to violate the Neutral Zone to answer the distress call.  To me, this seems to point up the silliness of the situation more than anything -- it's just assumed that everyone who does the simulation, people expected to go on to be starship captains, is going to break a treaty, possibly start a war, and probably get everyone on his ship killed by Klingons to answer a distress call when there isn't even any good evidence that it's not fake.  Finally, we get to hear how Scotty used his knowledge of a theoretical defect in Klingon shields (which turns out to only exist in theory, not in reality, but which Scotty correctly figures will exist in the simulation) to destroy more Klingons than anyone else ever managed to before his ship is killed.  But since the simulation always produces more no matter how many you take out, he still can't win.  Then Scotty pulls an engineering miracle out of his butt, creating something Spock can see on the sensors, and they get rescued.
Tags: book review, julia ecklar, sf
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