The random thoughts of a nash.
a book review
Published on October 24, 2005 By Gene Nash In Fiction
I despise bad writing, but particularly bad writing that makes it into print. Julia Ecklar's novel "Star Trek: The Kobayashi Maru" is such a case.

The book is so poorly written I had to read it in fits and starts over a period of a month. It is so forgettable that between readings I had totally forgotten what had come before and had to do considerable back-skimming to recapture the thread. I cannot remember a single time I've ever had to do that before, and I've read thousands of books.

The story involves five Enterprise crew members -- Kirk, Scotty, Sulu, McCoy, and Chekov -- leaving for a totally irrelevant mission (so much for the mission being all-important in the Star Trek universe!) on a shuttlecraft that's soon to be damaged beyond repair. As they drift in space, they decide to relate their encounters with the Kobayashi Maru, the training test seen at the beginning of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Frankly, the only reason I even picked up the book was to see how Kirk handled it. We know from ST II what he did (without any real specifics), but not how he did it. For me that was the only real draw. Unfortunately, Kirk is first and briefest. I guess the author felt we already knew what happened so why bother. I'll tell you why to bother -- because we don't actually know much, that's our only connection with the Kobayashi Maru, and its likely why we picked up the book. Though it could have been delightfully detailed and a joy to watch Kirk in action, we never see him do what he does. It's short, its perfunctory, it doesn't tell us much more than we already knew, and it's disappointing.

Ms. Ecklar seems satisfied with it, though. When McCoy can't control his laughter at the resolution and crows "It's so in character! I'm surprised I didn't just guess it!" we hear not the gruff doctor, but the author congratulating herself on her creativity.

In fact, we never truly hear any of the characters. None of the dialogue rings true. Not once could I hear the lines being voiced by the familiar characters as I read. Instead, they sounded alike, as if watching a single puppeteer put on a show by herself without differentiating between her characters by any more than a slight shaking of the appropriate lifeless marionette. They don't act in character, they don't speak in character, they don't even rise to the level of caricature. The author has no grasp of her material.

Not even the non-familiar characters have individuality. Sulu's 100+ year old Japanese great-grandfather speaks exactly the same as all the other characters in the novel. Regardless of age, race, or planetary origin, they are all cut from a single cloth. They exist solely to plod through the motions the author has not-so-cleverly laid out. (Though she seems to be the only one not to notice the lack of cleverness.)

Sulu and Chekov's stories take up the bulk of the book. Chekov's is overly long, all of it coming after his trip through Kobayashi Maru. You never even see him in the simulator, only the results being reviewed in class. Wasn't this book supposed to be about the Kobayashi Maru? Isn't that the title? Ms. Ecklar seems to have quickly forgotten that. It's like reading Alice In Wonderland and finding Alice only spends ten minutes there before clawing her way back up the rabbit hole. Sulu, too, spends little time in the simulator -- the bulk of his story taking place elsewhere.

Everything in the book is an excuse to continue along the path of the author's poorly conceived plots. Even the eventual solution concocted to signal Enterprise for a rescue is ludicrous, unworkable, and even by Star Trek standards as impossible as Scotty's Kobayashi Maru gambit. The only real revelation is just what lengths Starfleet goes to in making their scenario truly unwinable. (Though without noticing, she makes a lie to that and an integral part of ST II when Kirk seemingly isn't the only one who beats the simulation -- how could Starfleet leave that loophole? -- nor is he the only one who cheats.)

In the acknowledgments, author Julia Ecklar thanks her "friend and editor" for "doing me the very great favor... of reading my first Star Trek novel and telling me why it stank." What, the "friend and editor" didn't read this one? She was drunk at the time? She's tired of trying to knock some quality into the work of this hopeless "writer"?

"Star Trek: The Kobayashi Maru" is a definite pass. It's an unreadable book ostensibly about an unwinable situation that somehow doesn't spend much time there.

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