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Saturday, June 4, 2016

Kobayashi Maru

The Kobayashi Maru… that’s Japanese for the “SS Small Forest”, as ‘maru’ is the designation japan gives to ship names, just like countries denote SS Minnow or HMS Titanic.

However, aside from a few Star Trek fans with money, there is no large battleship or aircraft carrier with that name… it is is famous/infamous as an even-then fictional starship from the Star Trek universe.

Despite our memories, there is no mention of the Starfleet computer training vessel Kobayashi Maru in the epic three-season long television series Star Trek.

It’s first mention comes in the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - my favorite of those movies, and revolves around the very young actress Kirstie Alley playing the role of Lieutenant JG Saavik, a half-Vulcan (good-guy) and half Romulan (bad-guy) mix.  That’s not important.

In the opening of Star Trek II—though not revealed at that time—Saavik is involved in a computer simulation at Star Fleet Academy in San Francisco.

She does not win the simulation. No one does… well, unless your name is Kirk, or possible related to someone with that name.

Here’s what the Kpbayasji Maru test is all about:

You are the captain of a starship, with other Starfleet cadets and officers performing their tasks and duties.

A Communications officer receives a distress signal from the civilian freighter Kobayashi Maru, that it has hit a gravity mine within the Klingon Neutral Zone, and is losing power, hull integrity and life support.

Sensor readings can not verify the legitimacy of the distress call.

No other vessels are nearby.

No one is supposed to enter the Neutral Zone, without risking war with the warlike Klingon race.

What do you do?

You can take your Starfleet (United Federation of Planets) starship into the Neutral Zone to rescue the crew of the Kobayashi Maru knowing that doing so could be considered by the Klingon’s as an act of war;

You can ignore the distress warning - but that means the Kobayashi Maru could explode or life support could kack out meaning everyone aboard could die.

You could also try and contact Starfleet, but dammit, you are so far away that waiting for a yay or nay could put the passengers of the Kobayashi Maru in danger.

This is a no-win scenario.

The computer programs will:

If you choose to rescue the passengers/crew of the Kobayashi Maru, nearby Klingons will see your intrusion into the Neutral Zone as an act of war, and will attack you, which isn’t good for you and your crew, but also means war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire.

However… since you are trying a rescue… the Communications Officer loses contact with the Kobayashi Maru. Klingon warships decloak from their ‘invisible’ stealth mode and attack your Starfleet vessel. 

No matter what maneouver you perform, no matter how often you try and take this test, this is a no-win scenario.

You and your crew either die in the failed rescue attempt, or the crew of the Kobayashi Maru perish.

The idea behind the test is to impart the wisdom to a Starfleet commander, that sometimes… despite what you might think… sometimes you will find yourself in a no-win situation.

Starfleet Academy students are not passed or failed based on their reaction to the test - except perhaps if they ‘freeze’ and are unable to perform an adequate order.

Now, as all us Star Trek fans know, one person—James Tiberius Kirk (played by Canada’s own William Shatner)—beat the no-win computer scenario.

The man who would be the main alien fugger and Captain of the famed USS Enterprise, Kirk took the Kobayashi Maru test three times, failing the first two.

Before taking the test a third time, Kirk reprogrammed the computer simulation so that the computer would now offer a winnable scenario where the starship could indeed rescue the Kobayashi Maru without causing a war with the Klingon Empire.

Kirk reprogrammed the simulator so that when he offered a message to the Klingons after the decloaked in front him, that when he introduced himself as “The Captain Kirk”, the Klingons would become afraid of him and would back off.
Screw YOUR rules!
Kirk beats the Kobayashi Maru. He reasons that he does not believe in a no-win scenario… which if I was a crew member, I would think that would be the best way to ensure survival… even with this dangerous-looking red shirt on.

Now… as mentioned, there was supposed to be another person who beat the Kobayashi Maru… Kirk’s nephew… in the novel Sarek, written by A.C. Crispin, whereby Peter Kirk has to try and rescue the crew of the Kobayashi Maru against a different opponent - the Romulans… by crossing over into the Romulan Neutral Zone.

Using a little used Romulan law which says that one may challenge a Vulcan to a ritual fight to the death… and while said contest is going on, any wars or skirmishes can not be continued.

In this way, Peter Kirk was able to order the safe rescue of the crew of the Kobayashi Maru and removal of his starship outside the Neutral Zone, while he himself stayed behind to fight the Rommulan commander whom he challenged.

Peter Kirk might survive, but more than likely would not… Those Romulans are tough buggers.   

But that’s a book and hardly the real thing… which I know is funny… considering it’s all made-up.

Anyhow… it’s not a very Japanese topic, but I hope you found it interesting.

Unlike Star Wars, where all the comic books and novels had to be vetted to ensure it was within Star Wars canon (until the recent Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie throws all previous books out with the bathwater - and I mean ALL books and comics), the Star Trek universe wasn’t as consistent.

I tend to not allow the animated Stare Trek series of the 1970s to be part of the canon, and the same with the Gold Key 1960s-70s comic books… but will allow the James Blish novels from the 1970s… and then it gets hinky.

If there are books featuring James Kirk, then I tend to only allow the Garfield-Reeves novels as canon, mostly because they at least claim to have some inspiration and feedback from William Shatner himself about his titular character.

Others probably have their own theory on what counts as canon. But, if we are to believe the two latest movies staring Chris Pine as Captain James T. Kirk, that original (and The Next Generation) shows, books, comic books, movies are NOT part of the current (and now official) Star Trek timeline. It’s like it never existed at all.
I'm too sexy for this scenario!
Still… in the new Star Trek movies… James T. Kirk does indeed still reprogram the Kobayashi Maru computer simulation… only this time he gets reprimanded for messing with a school test, rather than rewarded for thinking outside the box to win the no-win scenario.

Kirk and crew lives! And so does the crew of the Kobayashi Maru.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Despite the evident passion and nerd-like knowledge depicted here, I'm a fan of the show and not a fanboy... which means that although I have been 20-something and living in my parent's basement, at no point in my life have I ever worn a Star Trek shirt or tried to pick up a woman by saying "Set phasers to stunning" even though I think it might work. As such, I just enjoy the Star Trek universe for the entertaining escapism it brings. 

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