Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Kobayashi Maru

Star Trek #47: The Kobayashi Maru
© 1989 Julia Ecklar
254 pages

Captain James Kirk and most of his senior officers are adrift in space aboard the shuttlecraft Halley after having struck a gravitic mine. With no engines and minimal power, they've nothing to do but wait for Mr. Spock to find them: they are helpless,  and the circumstances remind most of the shuttlecraft's occupants of the Kobayashi Maru scenario, in which cadets take command of a simulated starship and attempt the rescue of the Kobayashi Maru, a stranded fuel freighter adrift in hostile territory. To cross  enemy lines is to invite war and destruction -- but they can't just leave those people to die.  Every choice the tested cadet seems to be the wrong, leading inevitably toward defeat -- fo this scenario is designed to test not a cadet's strenth in battle, but strength of character. How do the best minds at the Academy, who believe they can do anything if they're clever or hard-working enough, react to defeat?

To pass the time while they wait,  Kirk and his other officers with command-track experience -- Chekov, Sulu, and Scotty -- share their experiences with the test while McCoy  grouses in the background. Kirk is famous for having beaten the scenario by reprogramming it (countering the simulation's ability to cheat by cheating himself), but his three fellow command officers all took interesting approaches.  I won't spoil anything (though you can do that yourself here), but suffice it to say all four  took interesting approaches, ones that reveal the officers' characters. Chekov is flamboyant and brash, eager to live up to the legacy of Kirk: Sulu is deliberate, wily, and pragmatic: Mr. Scott thinks outside the box and uses his engineering interest; and Kirk, of course,  defies defeat. His solution is here is more entertaining than that of nu-Kirk in the most recent film, and audacious enough that Chekov's desire to follow in his footsteps is understandable.

While each of the four stories task the officers with the same scenario, they don't limit themselves to the few minutes each man spends inside the simulator: instead, readers are treated to full stories about these officers' lives as Academy students contemplating their futures. Ecklar's characterization is superb. The framing drama isn't completely hollow: action picks up toward the end of the book when circumstances force the officers to take action. The Kobayashi Maru stories are the major draw of the book, though, and Ecklar fulfills the promise: this is one definitely worth picking up..


  • Kobayashi Maru, Andy Mangels and Michael A. Martin, which depicts the scenario's 'real life' inspiration from a period shortly before the start of the Romulan War, early in Starfleet history.
  • Sarek, A.C. Crispin,  in which Kirk's nephew takes the scenario on himself.  
  • Starfall, Brad and Barbara Strickland. This novel aimed at middle-school readers depicts a young Jean-Luc Picard encountering a similar scenario while failing the Starfleet entrance exams. 

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