BOOK REVIEW: Kobayashi Maru, by Michael A. Martin & Andy Mangels

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kobayashi maru.jpg

Era: Enterprise

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 475

Publication Date: 2008

Verdict: 5/5

The Romulan Star Empire wages a secret war against the nascent Coalition of Planets. Haunted by piracy and split by hidden agendas, the Coalition may be over before it has truly begun. Unless Jonathan Archer and the Enterprise can prove that the Romulans are truly to blame . . .

Kobayashi Maru marks a second strong entry in the Star Trek canon for Martin and Mangels, and follows on directly from the events of The Good That Men Do. The two plot threads are largely the same as in the previous book. One follows Archer and his crew as they build relations between Earth and its new allies, while the other continues Trip’s undercover exploits within the Romulan Empire. Of course, these threads inevitably cross over more than once. In both threads, the stakes are raised from the previous book, and the scale now engulfs numerous planets.

This space opera tale is more in line with pulpy adventure than the social SF Star Trek usually trades in, with all the high emotion and spectacle you’d expect from this style. the pioneering NX-01 crew are uniquely suited to this faster pace of life, and the entire crew is well-utilised this time around. Reed is perhaps the best-served, getting his own side quests to spend the book on, but Hoshi and Travis also get a fair share of the storyline pie. Travis in particular gets a lot of personal development, as he is the most directly affected by the brewing war and increased piracy. Archer, Trip and T’Pol, meanwhile, play their usual role of the pyramid on which the crew is built.

There are plenty of call-backs to Enterprise‘s four-season TV adventures. Not just as easter eggs, but as key parts of the plot. Particularly as Archer and the team head to Klingon space to avert a war. On the note of Klingons, I must say that while I enjoy their language, when written down it is hard to parse. That minor quibble aside, Kobayashi Maru avoids getting to bogged down in the complexities of Klingon culture. As a whole, the book does an excellent job of showing the difficulties of building the Coalition without become bloated by unnecessary details.

The name Kobayashi Maru will of course be familiar to many Star trek fans. It is the famous ‘no win scenario’ that Starfleet tests its officers with. A pivotal moment in the book deals with Archer facing the situation for real, in an incident that will later become that simulation for Kirk et al. For all its importance, this scene is incredibly brief, taking only the time it needs to drive home the theme that permeates this book. The idea that sometimes, you just can’t win. When backed into a corner, Archer shows his true colours, and everyone must reckon with the consequences of his decisions.

Kobayashi Maru is an excellent book, both as a standalone adventure, and as set up for the Romulan War duology. A near-essential purchase for all hardcore Enterprise fans.

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