Star Trek fans have long wondered about the story behind the story of the Kobayashi Maru simulation made famous in Star Trek II. While Julia Ecklar shared some of the lore behind the Academy test in her novel "The Kobayashi Maru" we have never gotten to the real tale of the Maru… until now. Was the wait worth it?
REVIEW STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE: KOBAYASHI MARU
by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels
[NOTE: contains spoilers from previous post ENT finale books]
In the wake of the events of the two most recent Enterprise novels, "Last Full Measure" and "The Good That Men Do" (see TrekMovie review), the nascent Coalition of Planets is on the verge of war, or breaking up, or both, as the events of Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels’ "Kobayashi Maru" unfold.
With Trip Tucker still operating behind Romulan lines, it falls to Jonathan Archer, Erika Hernandez, and the collective diplomatic and military minds of the Coalition to discover what is really behind the growing wave of attacks and violence in Coalition territory.
"Kobayashi Maru" an ambitious tale, filled with many wonderful settings and potentially compelling storylines; one that genuinely shows a desire to explore strange new worlds and to expose the depths of a civilization that is still largely in the background to the average human … the Romulans. Following Trip in his journey is, probably, the single-most-compelling story element of "Kobayashi Maru", and it never fails to be both exciting and suspenseful (if, at times, a touch melodramatic).
Unfortunately, Trip’s storyline is about the only part of the story that works, for, you see, the bumbling Captain Jonathan Archer of the first two seasons of the TV series is back, together with a merry band of Starfleet brass who wouldn’t know how to defend themselves from a food-fight in the Admiral’s Mess. After two straight outstanding (and competent) voyages for Archer at the hands of the Martin and Mangels duo, "Kobayashi Maru" brings back to the forefront a commander who has no business helming the most advanced starship in Earth’s fleet.
Am I being a bit dramatic? You be the judge. At a critical juncture in the story, the Enterprise prepares to enter a highly dangerous situation. Lieutenant Reed, however, is a no-show at tactical. The reason? He’s got the runs. The ship’s tactical officer is on the crapper, and that’s the end of it. Archer heads straight into the fire with his best tactician absent, and doesn’t so much as call on Reed. Now, I don’t know about you, but I would have went to Reed’s quarters, diaper in hand if necessary, and ordered him to the bridge… but that would ruin the revelation of Archer’s second monumental act of stupidity in the book. About the only Enterprise crew member who appears to have an ounce of intelligence in the story is Hoshi Sato. (Starfleet should really consider giving her a promotion.)
The crew of the Columbia doesn’t fair much better, and Captain Hernandez had better hope that Starfleet doesn’t bother with an investigation whenever her story is resolved, because she show shows herself to be little more intelligent than Archer. Entering into battle, knowing what’s been happening throughout Coalition space for the past few weeks, Hernandez is indecisive, and even when confronted with the truth, is slow to act, imperiling all who are depending on her.
I’d ask who is assigning these people to command advanced starships, but one look at Starfleet’s brass answers that question easily enough. In short, nobody from Earth (except Trip) seems to have two sticks to rub together, and the remainder of the Coalition side has little of value to offer, save their own equally disappointing shortsightedness. If this is an attempt by the authors to show how forging a diverse Federation based on the talents of individual species is a benefit, well, they failed… miserably.
All of this renewed incompetence on the commanders appears to be an attempt to keep up the jeopardy in the story, but it is so unbelievable (especially in light of Martin and Mangel’s previous two ENT novles), that it just takes you out of the story.
As for the origin story of the actual Kobayashi Maru, it is confusing and disappointing, while her demise is, frankly, bland. I could have done with just about every bit of insight surrounding the storied neutronic fuel carrier. There is nothing remotely interesting (pun intended) or unanticipated about the way the historic moment goes down, and the only twinge of shock comes when Mayweather finally gets a moment’s coverage in the story. Considering the centrality of his family’s ship, the Horizon, to the early part of the book, this charts up as another inexcusable moment of writing off a background player into oblivion.
After spending twenty-six years building up the questions about the origins of the Kobayashi Maru Scenario, the sequence that serves to establish it is such a let down that I fail to see why anyone would want to use the situation as a setup for an Academy ‘test of character’.
In short, the entire book, with the notable exception of Trip’s storyline, is utterly forgettable, though at least it is written with good pacing and clip; something common to Martin and Mangels’ writing. As much as I hate to say it, "Kobayashi Maru" is a disappointment. Perhaps it’s the year-long buildup since "The Good That Men Do", perhaps it’s the quarter century of mystery that surrounded the Kobayashi Maru test within fandom, but this installment in the continuing story of Star Trek: Enterprise left this reviewer cold, unfulfilled, and looking for his copy of Ecklar’s far superior work.
Enterprise: Kobayashi Maru is available for pre-order at Amazon
(ship date: August 26)
Next Week – Preview of "Star Trek 101"
Next week John Tenuto will take a look back at Trek’s non-fiction ‘companion’ books and give us a glimpse of what we can look forward to with the new "Star Trek 101" guide to everything Star Trek.