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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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03/03/2005 Archived Entry: "Trek book review: The Hand of Kahless"

The Hand of Kahless
John M. Ford and Michael Jan Friedman
Publisher: Pocket Books

Review by Kelly S. Taylor

The Hand of Kahless is less than meets the eye. I was very eager to review this book. Looking at the cover, I assumed that John M. Ford, writer The Final Reflection, a book I consider to be the best Star Trek novel ever published, had after twenty years finally teamed up with another writer to create a sequel. Alas, no. Opening the book, I found that The Hand of Kahless is Final Reflection and another novel combined into one volume. Quellle disappointment.

Getting over my initial letdown, I settled in to re-read Final Reflection. I was pleased to find that after twenty years, my original estimation of the book's quality had not changed. In fact, re-reading deepened my admiration of the novel. I caught references that had gone over my head on my initial reading and noticed details that I had missed before.

Final Reflection is a book about war and peace. For me, it resonated differently with contemporary politics. It's hardly a secret that in Star Trek, created during the Cold War, the Klingons are the metaphorical equivalent of the Russians. Final Reflection, published in 1984, reflects more the attitude of Gorbachev's era of perestroika. Klingons are no longer mere cardboard villains, motivated by love of evil, but a complex culture responding to internal and external pressures. In a passage I don't remember from the my first reading, the main character, Krenn, explains that "empire" in Klingonese means "a thing that grows." The only other linguistic term they have to describe a society is the polar opposite, "a thing that dies." As was happening in the 1980s in U.S./U.S.S.R. relations, Final Reflection is about the process of appreciating similarities and understanding differences with the enemy. Reading the book today as an American at the what is probably the height of the American Empire, the book was for me much less about understanding the enemy than it was about comprehending some of the reasons why we do the evil that we do.

The only complaint I've ever had about Final Reflection is with the brief introductory and closing chapters that take place on the Enterprise. These chapters seem tacked on. It's as if someone at Pocket Books said, 'star Trek fans will never buy a book in which Captain Kirk's name never appears." The only function served by these bookend pieces seems to be making sure that Captain Kirk's name appears several times.

Above and beyond being the best Star Trek novel published (which is admittedly a pretty low bar to jump). Final Reflection is a good read for any lover of Science Fiction. Although Ford is playing in Roddenberry and Company's sandbox, he fleshes out this alien race in surprising but satisfying directions and makes it his own. The plot is tight and action-packed. The prose is crisp and intelligent. It is a lovely little novel.

You will probably not be surprised to hear that I felt that Friedman's "Kahless" suffers in comparison. It's like Pocket Books decided to pad out the page count of a reprint of "Anna Karenina" by tossing in a free copy of "Love's Savage Fury." Well, to be fair, "Kahless" isn't that bad. It's just not that good.

The book's primary flaw is that it suffers from a malady that developed and spread during the Next Generation era - the bad B plot. Finding that they lacked either the stamina or creativity to write the less than forty-five minutes of plotting necessary for an hour-long TV show, the writers of Star Trek: The Next Generation began to routinely include what they unashamedly referred to in interviews as a "B" plot, events taking place at the same time as the main action that didn't necessarily further the plot but gave minor characters the chance for a little face time. Strangely enough, even though the amount of actual air time for hour long shows is steadily decreasing, writers of later incarnations of Star Trek have lovingly embraced the hoary "B" plot tradition even going so far as to develop "C" and even "D" plots in a few mind-numbing instances.

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against subplots. Done correctly, the contrasting or paralleling subplot is a lovely piece of literary legerdemain. Executed by hacks, it's hamburger helper. "Kahless" has a little too much superfluous breading for my taste.

The main plot is pretty interesting. It reconstructs the story of Kahless, legendary leader of the Klingons, told by Worf to his son in a Next Generation episode. In Freidman's version, mistaken identity transforms the story from a simple parable about honor and sacrifice into the journey of an ordinary Klingon learning to be the hero his people need. This part of the book is fine. The plotting isn't as tight and the prose isn't as crisp as Final Reflection, but it's not a bad little novel.

Then we start tacking on subplots. The "B" plot tells the story of the contemporary-to-the-Next-Generation-universe incarnation of Kahless cloned from blood found on his dagger discovering and defeating a conspiracy to overthrow Galron. Despite the depth and seriousness of the conspiracy, Kahless is able to avert it with the assistance of three people, Captain Picard, Worf, and Worf's brother. Plot twists are so predictable that the story begins to take on a fairy-tale like quality. It reminded me a lot of the story of Henny Penny. In fact, if you can imagine a really well-armed, aggressive but self-doubting Henny Penny, you've pretty much got this part of the book.

The "C" plot is the story of Alexander being worried about his dad. That's it... And that's important, I guess, if you're a real big fan of Alexander and have always wanted to see more of him coming to terms with being worried about his dad...

The moral of this review, dear reader, is that more is not always better. If you're a Star Trek fan and you haven't read Final Reflection then get your geeky butt down to the local used bookstore pronto where you can still pick it up for the original 1984 price or less. Do your fannish heart a favor and give this fatty, over-priced, super-sized marketing ploy of a book a miss.

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