Library Computer: Retro Review – The Kobayashi Maru

Before taking a look at the soon-to-be-released and long-anticipated Star Trek: Enterprise novel "Kobayashi Maru", the Library Computer is taking a retrospective look at Trek Literature’s first major foray into the mystique of the no-win scenario. This week, therefore, brings a retro review of 1989’s "The Kobayashi Maru" by Julia Ecklar.


The Kobayahsi Maru simulation is the toughest test a cadet can face at Starfleet Academy. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan showed us the test for Saavik and described James T. Kirk’s famous ‘solution’ to the test (and with a new Star Trek prequel film in the works, we may just see how he did it). Ecklar’s 1989 book "The Kobayashi Maru" tells the tales of how some of the other Original Series crew members faced the test.


When a group of the Enterprise’s senior officers is stranded aboard a mortally damaged shuttlecraft, their thoughts (naturally) turn to how they have dealt with such situations in the past. For any Command School cadet, one common thread in such a discussion becomes the Kobayashi Maru scenario. Julia Ecklar dedicated the final Star Trek novel of the 1980’s to unfolding the story of the fabled scenario, exploring the solutions of Jim Kirk, Pavel Chekov, Hikaru Sulu, and Montgomery Scott in the simulator, and its effects in their lives.

While the setup for the story (the disabled shuttle) is pretty unimaginative, the stories that Ecklar crafts are not only entertaining, but are easily in keeping with the kind of approaches that the fan would take when thinking about the kinds of solutions that each of the four officers would put forth.

Kirk, of course, revises the ‘conditions’ of the test (i.e., he cheats) with humorous, worshipful results, but in his cheating, we get an idea of the passion that drives him in many hopeless situations. Chekov’s Kobayashi Maru experience is really only the beginning of his odyssey, with his deepest test to come after that, in the passageways and systems of a lunar station in the midst of a more unique exercise. Sulu’s solution is rooted in the feelings surrounding the death of his grandfather, while Scott’s shows the kind of engineering prowess and utterly unintentional hilarity that we all expect from the best engineer in the fleet.

With the book coming in at little more than two-hundred and fifty pages, each of the scenario-based stories is necessarily short, but they easily keep the interest of the reader, and manage to shed light the frame of mind of Academy cadets. Most importantly for this story, Ecklar ‘gets it’ when it comes to applying the mindsets of our heroes, and the background of Star Trek. She nails each of the classic crew’s forays into the hopeless with the kind of skill that shows what the mind (and heart) of a fan can do when given the chance to play in the 23rd century sandbox.

If Harve Bennett’s early-90’s "Starfleet Academy" film idea had been approached in this manner, it could well have succeeded. Ecklar’s creative writing, unique situations (particularly for Chekov), and strong sense of Star Trek lore ensure that "The Kobayashi Maru", nearly two decades after it first hit the shelf, is an entertaining and enriching part of Trek history.

The Kobayashi Maru is available used at Amazon

Next Week – Review of "Star Trek Enterprise: Kobayshi Maru"
Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels’ "Kobayashi Maru" tells the story of the original (and very real) encounter between Jonathan Archer and the crew of the NX-01 with the Kobashi Maru (see previous TrekMovie preview). Can it live up to Ecklar’s tale? Well, you’ll just have to stop by next week to find out.

Enterprise: Kobayashi Maru is available for pre-order at Amazon
(ship date: August 26)


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I like the old novels better than the new ones. They’re written with more personality (or eccentricity: take your pick).

Hmm… reading the original tale of the Kobayashi Maru in Star Trek Enterprise. Sounds interesting. I look forward to your review of the book.

Cool. Old school

I read this a few months ago. Good read. The setup story with the shuttle is somewhat boring and superfluous, but it takes up a considerable portion of the book. It would have been more natural if they had just exchanged stories on a long untroubled shuttle ride, instead. After a while I didn’t bother reading it any more and skipped those chapters, immediately going to the Kobayashi Maru stories themselves. I enjoyed those very much. There’s an authentic Trek feeling to those. Well, to the shuttle story, too, but it has the Trek feeling of one of the most boring episodes.

Good review!

I just recently re-read this one too, and I have to agree with the reviewer… the author really nailed the characters in this one.

I found Sulu’s story particularly touching, and really felt like she added depth to this oft underused character.

This is one of my favorite Star Trek books not written by William Shatner or Judith and Gar Reeves Stevens. The Kirk and Scotty stories were my favorites and they were so “in character.” Scotty’s story had me laughing out loud.

I loved this novel when it came out. Scotty’s story was the funniest, both for being so inventively true to his character (exploiting bugs in the simulator physics to destroy a dozen warships) and explains why he was drummed out of command training into engineering.

I just hope those early rumours that Kirk had a chick he slept with reprogram the simulator aren’t true. (re: movie)

I would expect as much if Brannon or Rick where reinventing Kirk’s back story.

Please no Kirk sleeps with chick. Let’s see Kirk using his brain instead and be true to the character!

Okay, after the big film and subsequent sequels, they need to make a show called “Starfleet Academy.” Take Bennett’s idea and set it in whatever era and focus on the lives and experiences of a handful of raw cadets. Think the OC meets Wing Commander. Pin-point turns, dangerous maneuvers around Kuiper’s belt, etc., and some sex scenes, yes, you heard me right. Make it kinda sexy and action-based but with a thoughtful, inspiring, preachy ending that avoids being Jerry Springer’s final thought-cheesy. Make it a Trek you can take your bimbo partner to and have both of you appreciate it. Admiral Sulu could be head of Starfleet Command, as well as the remaining original cast member cameos, if set in the TOS era, or else any of the TNG, DS9, Voyagers era crew could make appearances. Hell, Wesley Crusher could be in charge.

Bennett had a great idea, but it was not to be. But I think it would make fantastic television and cover an aspect of Starfleet not yet seen. Imagine zero-g simulations, battles, etc.

C’mon let’s rally behind this idea and lobby Paramount. What do you guys think? You know you want to see it.

There’s a nice audio adaption of this too. I think George Takei reads it.

By the way, having Kirk sleep with the chick IS him using his head…

#11 ;) very naughty

I was only 11 when I read this book, but I loved it and I still remember it fondly. I remember, even at that age, finding Scott’s story quite meaningful. I don’t remember all the details, but it was about choosing to go after one’s own dreams rather than following the supposed “best” path according to society. Glad to see I’m not the only one who remembers this gem.

#8 –

“Please no Kirk sleeps with chick. Let’s see Kirk using his brain instead and be true to the character!”

I thought Kirk sleeping with the “chick” WAS being true to the character!


Although I’d rather see a different way for him getting out of the KM scenario as well.

one of these books I’ve actually read

This was a good book. I read it when it first came out. Another one I liked was where Kirk and Spock left the ship and made McCoy the “acting Captain”.

I guess I’m in the minority. I thought the book was terrible and I never finished it. Maybe it got better, but what I read of it was so terribly boring I moved on to something else.

I’m really looking forward to the new book. There’s an excerpt on the publisher’s website that includes the entire first chapter. It seems like an excellent read, and these ST:ENT books are the only avenue we fans have left to achieve some closure. Well done, Pocket Books!

Although, I do not read the books anymore, I do like some of the directions I hear about. Like the ST: Enterprise encountering the Koybiashi Maru. It would be a nice nod if it was included.

no.8 I kind of do not agree with you. While I do understand where you’re coming from, Kirk using a chick to get through a situation is perfectly in character for him. He often used the romance ploy in many episodes to help achieve a desired result.
Kirk the strategizer, Kirk the gambler, Kirk the drop kicker, Kirk the womanizer. All part of his arsenal and it fits that ‘I don’t like to lose” quality of his.

On a side note: All these traits, come to think of it, do kind of sound Han Solo-ish, no?

One of my favorite Trek novels, because the author gets the characters so RIGHT. The Scotty story is the best (tho’ I fail to see why people find it funny) but each and every one of them exactly fits the character it was written for. The stuff on the disabled shuttlecraft it also well-crafted, with the character interaction (particularly between Scotty and Chekov) beautifully done.
If you don’t like the shuttle scenes though, see if you can get a copy of the audio book (which is read by James Doohan). It’s abridged, and concentrates mostly on the ‘Maru’ scenarios. (Jimmy’s a great reader too!)

#20 I don’t agree. Since when has Kirk ever *used* a woman to advance his Starfleet career? Aliens in life and death situations, to save everyone else, yes. That was using seduction to save the ship. This would be to cheat in an exam.

My main point really was that if the chick does all the work, it takes away from the legend of Kirk reprogramming the simulator. “I reprogrammed the simulator, so it was possible to rescue the ship”. If that folklore is reduced to bedding a chick and she did it… It just weakens what is probably the most famous thing Kirk did in his youth.

21 – I think the Scotty scenes are so funny because Scotty was, often, unintentionally funny in the series. Far from the forced Scotty humor of Trek V, the series painted him as a man dedicated to the well-being of the ship, and that drive sometimes led him to extreme measures…


Since getting my Amazon Kindle I’ve been buying a few of the old school TREK (post-TMP Pocketbooks novels), starting (logically, of course) with THE ENTROPY EFFECT. Will eventually get to my favorites, both TOS and TNG (still love VENDETTA and think it could have morphed nicely into the first TOS/TNG film, but I digress).

Biggest thing I love about these original novels is that they’re self-contained stories. No multi-part books, no multi-generational crossovers, no worries about getting three to six books to complete the story — they’re a good single-sitting (per se) read.

17. I agree with you.

I’ve recently read a ton of Star Trek books, mostly from the 90s and 2000s so reading this one was kind of a huge let-down.

I loved the chance to see their stories aroudn the KM but Chekov’s tale was so boringly told, so many minor details, every look left, look right, up down, it was like watching someone else play a video game and I never was able to finish his tale.

Sulu’s was a bit more maudlin and emotional but still I thought rather ham-fisted and poorly told.

The shuttle stuff was also kind of dry, even though I agree the crew interaction was true to character and nicely told. Still… I skimmed a lot of this book.

The best novels are those written before TNG came into existence. The best TOS novels came out ca. 1980-1989.

9. Ensign Ruiter –
“Okay, after the big film and subsequent sequels, they need to make a show called “Starfleet Academy.” ”

Ugh! How Smallville! I hope they never do that. “Star Trek 90210″….

Anyway, never read this one but was always surprised at the cover illustration by Keith Birdsong’s use of that ship for the Kobayashi Maru (btw I never cared for Birdsong’s pedestrian mostly colored pencil covers). That ship design — by TNG senior illustrator Rick Sternbach — first appeared in the long-out-of-print “Star Trek Spaceflight Chronology” which came out ‘way back in 1980 to coincide with ST:TMP. For those not familiar with this excellent book, it was a speculative history of spaceflight from Sputnik up through the 1701 refit. Some of the designs and information in the book have been contradicted by subsequent episodes (and in 1980 there was still TNG, DS9, ENT, VOY and 9 more films yet) but it remains a fascinating resource that I highly recommend. It is, however, a rare find. I first checked this book out from a local library after STII came out and spent many years trying to track down my own copy. I finally found one at a Half-Priced Books about five years ago and it holds up amazingly well, especially in light of what was revealled about the early days of Starfleet on ENT. If you enjoyed the Star Trek Starcharts, Technical Manuals, Chronologys and/or Encyclopedias you should buy this book if you ever get the chance. Like I implied, Rick Sternbach, still many years away from working on TNG, designed all the ships and provided many full-color paintings for the book. It even had a pull-out ship-comparison timeline.

Just as a follow-up to my previous post, the ship used on the cover as the Kobayashi Maru was actually a (non-canonical) Starfleet ship called the Tritium. It was purposed to be Starfleet’s prototype of a 3-nacelled ship but was scrapped after it failed. It would’ve been in operation at roughly the same time as the NX-01 if it was canon — which is an ironic coincidence given the new ENT novel.

There was no design in the Spaceflight Chronology for a Kobayashi Maru as the book predated that ship’s first mention in STII by a couple years.

“Star trek 90210” –that made me crack up. Yes, I guess this is what I am proposing, but with a more of a focus on the Wing Commander aspect, much in line with the debonair and swagger expected from hotshot pilots that work hard and play hard.

Isn’t anyone interested in a Starfleet Academy concept? For me some of the best parts of the TOS era movies was the Enterprise leaving or entering space dock–although TMP belabored that somewhat. It created a sense of wonder and realism in Starfleet as an entity. The Wesley Crusher training episode of TNG where he stands up to that agro alien with the webbed hands also shows this aspect. Imagine the spine tingling pride at seeing the Starfleet banner to high brass music in the intro sequence. I still think it would be a good show that would bring in many new young fans.

29. Ensign Ruiter

Whereas I admit there could be *some* audience for this idea I don’t think many longtime Trekfans would want to endure it. Personally, I’m more interested in exploring those strange new worlds than watching cadets go to school in preparation for that.

I just watched TNG’s “Tapestry” on Sci Fi this past Monday with it’s fresh, young, cocky, horny cadets. What we know about cadets is they seem really self-entitled and elitist — like fratboys or sorority gals. I hated those types in college. If that tendency could be avoided maybe it could work but I dunno. I’d only tune in to an Academy series to see these cocky kids receive their comeupance. Of course, I’m 40 and am hardly interested in the lives of kids half my age so there’s that bias.

Damn kids with their rocky roll music…

26. neonknights:

Which titles would that be? Kobyashi Maru is the only one I’ve read besides the Audio version of Enterprise and The Lost Years and neither of those seem to me as well-founded in the greater Star Trek universe as the later post TNG book.

31. vorta23492392932939230

Check out “The Final Reflection”. A very different version of the Klingons (it was written before STIII) but an excellent book, Star Trek or otherwise.

This is my favorite Star Trek novel.

#22 Like I said, I know where you’re coming from and I do understand your point and to a certain degree I also agree with it. Basically, It all comes down to the way it is done. For example, If Kirk woos the chick that handles the simulator scheduling to only get ACCESS and does the actual programming himself once he gets in there, then that would work imho.