Saturday, October 4, 2008

Kobayashi Maru by Martin & Mangels

I live in one of the bigger state capitals around, and I work downtown near both the Capitol and City Hall. So I have firsthand knowledge of how many people it actually takes to run these governments: not just the elected, but also all the people that assist them and help run the infrastructure. I’d have to conservative say that several thousand people are needed each day just to run the upper echelons of the bureaucracy.

I say this because the new Coalition of Planets is one of the main plot points in Kobayashi Maru
by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels. The Coalition is made up of four planets, Earth, Vulcan, Tellar, and Andor, each with populations upwards of a several billion if not more. The state of Texas needs several thousand in just the top positions; the Coalition of Planets apparently only needs about fourteen. And I could go into about a hundred other reasons why this governmental body makes absolutely no practical sense, like why everyone else has an ambassador but Earth uses its Prime Minister for the same role, but what’s the point?

Politics makes for good stories; if you don’t believe me, turn on a freaking television. For most of the existence of Star Trek, the Federation government has been shown as some sort of monolithic body where everything works right and there is little dissension between members. That’s moronic, but beside the point here. The Coalition consists of four planets, none of whom trust each other, some of which outright hate each other. Political tension at the time of war should be the cornerstone of this post-Enterprise series. Even at such a small stage, the players should be wide-ranging with varying agendas. Maybe it’s impossible to show all of this, but rather than just giving us the viewpoint
of two people from Earth, maybe we could have at least some sense of the political consequences Samuels would have on his own planet: we get none in this book.

The plot of the novel works well enough, I suppose. Most of the elements seemed to function to set the stage for next year’s novel by Martin on the Romulan War. And to a large extent this worked for me; though I have been dissatisfied with their work over the last few books, I am interested to see where the story goes from here. However, I hope the writing gets better. The prose is horrible, almost painful to read at times. Here’s an example:
After Archer signed off with Gardner and returned to the bridge, the Starfleet Academy cadets' code for imponderable mysteries kept swirling through his mind.

Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

Mentally translating those time-honored military placeholders into less polite nonmilitary parlance, he thought, What. The. Fuck.
Why would he think something and then think the explanation. It’s not as though third-person limited perspective is something hard to master, yet it seems beyond the authors at times. In fact, the novel reads as though it is a slightly polished rough draft. I can’t imagine that this book got much editorial oversight, something that is becoming hard to ignore as at least half of the fiction line is overseen by an seemingly incompetent editor.

Apparently the passage quoted above is the first use of the word ‘fuck’ in a ST book. You know, if I were in some of these insane situations, I'd curse a hell of a lot more than they do. It was a laugh line, but Data’s ‘Shit!’ in Generations might have been the only believable part of that movie.

Martin & Mangels also have the annoying habit of name-dropping other authors and editors into the narrative for no reason. It’s distracting and causes me to lose my suspension of disbelief. And at one point the Vulcans provide a ship with some advanced parts to help it go faster. One of those parts: the flux capacitor. Give me a fucking break.

At least the characterization of Archer was done well. It’s hard to believe anyone would act that way, but it was how the captain was played in all of seasons three and four. I didn't buy it then, nor do I now, but at least it's consistent.

Kobayashi Maru is a mediocre Star Trek novel, but it’s not unreadable. You know, I started to write merely an unfavorable review and it turned into an evisceration.
Let’s just hope the Romulan War book is somewhat better, though it's hard to imagine how it couldn't be.

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