Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Fixing Your Warp Wings: Haynes Klingon Bird-of-Prey Owners' Workshop Manual

Back in 1984 we were introduced to what would become one of the most iconic spacecraft ever to grace the Star Trek franchise.

Decloaking above a rusty freighter in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, the Klingon Bird-of-Prey was an instant hit with fans and has become one of the longest surviving ship types in the history of the series, appearing in several of the films, The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. Quite incredible when you consider that even a single incarnation of the Enterprise probably hasn't seen that much action and even more amazing considering that it was supposed to be a Romulan Bird-of-Prey in an original version of the Star Trek III script.

Aside from entries within the Star Trek Encyclopedia there has been very little written about this ship over the years, so it's fitting that the Bird-of-Prey should now receive the attention it deserves in the form of the Haynes Owners' Workshop Manual. While it has been a few months since the original release of this volume (November 2012), this is still one of the biggest Star Trek literary offerings for some time and well worth a few column inches.

I thoroughly enjoyed 2010's volume on the various incarnations of the USS Enterprise but this is a completely different beast.  While the Enterprise manual was more a history of the namesake from Archer's NX-01 to Picard's NCC-1701-E this is a much more detailed look at a particular class and to some degree one specific ship in the form of the Rotarran from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Running at 119 pages from start to finish it might not appear to be a long read but once you're past the scene-setting introduction by the no less than the Klingon Chancellor and commander of the Rotarran, Martok, it's a mesmerising read.

Written by Ben Robinson and illustrated by Trek expert Rick Sternbach with CGI renders from Adam 'Mojo' Lebowitz this manual provides an insight into not only the ship but the Klingon way of life that has developed through nearly 50 years of the Star Trek franchise. As usual with Haynes, the volume is hard-backed and presented with their trademark cutaway illustration on the cover (above) keeping it firmly framed within their owners' manual range. Inside, the contents are split into distinctive sections for easy reference with the first two; Commissioning a Bird-of-Prey and the IKS Rotarran; giving the reader a look into the way in which the B'rel Class of ship was developed and how they come into service, funded by individual Klingon houses rather than by the military.  

The multiple designs of the command deck from numerous appearances on screen are explained here by way of a commander's personal preference and it's good to get to grips with the background before we delve deeper beneath the space-frame. What I like is that we have never been provided with this kind of intricacy before and it marks this as distinctly different to 2010's Enterprise offering straight from the first chapter. Cleverly it sets the scene for the rest of the manual and how Klingon life is very much intertwined with their vessels and the militaristic way of life.

For the casual fan this opening section is a great introduction to the book and even by this point you'd be easily forgiven for thinking that the Bird-of-Prey actually exists - the image conjured is that distinctive. For more experienced lovers of Star Trek it's great to see such information in the same place and given some form and structure amassed from snippets of disalogue and set design over the years. 

Moving further in, the design and specification of a Bird-of-Prey is further divided into areas of focus; Weapons and Defensive Systems, Propulsion and Navigation and Ship's Systems with a final addition section on ships of the Klingon fleet across all generations of Star Trek.

The detail in the description of everything from ship systems to operations, crew positions and even shift rotation is absolutely incredible. Every process appears to be explained in the greatest detail and for the more involved Star Trek fan this will prove a fascinating read. While the text opens up the Empire to all, it is Sternbach and Lebowitz's illustrations that truly make this a book worth the investment.  Every page is filled with cutaway diagrams carefully key coded to allow you full access aboard ship from stem to stern, deck one to deck six.

Illustrations of the interior of the engine room (never seen on TV), the deck by deck plans  as well as explanations of how the impulse engines and warp wings function (for example) show the furtive imagination that this expansive franchise has fostered - a good thing that these ships have backup systems for everything considering how much of a pummeling they routinely came under in the show! The main cutaway illustration of the Rotarran (also on the cover) is definitely a highlight but there are so many to choose from it's hard to pick an absolute favourite. In terms of content it's excellent that we get to know the details of the cloaking device as well as specific answers as to why the cloaking device from Chang's ship in Star Trek VI was never replicated. There are even pages dedicated to the computer core, the gravity systems and even the different types of photon torpedo and their differing characteristics - not something you would have picked up on the small screen.

No stone is left unturned in this dissection of the ship, even down to the very shift patterns and workloads of the various crew-members. This works perfectly when set beside the expansive section on the Rotarran bridge and stations.  Who would have thought that this much could come out of something that has only existed as a CGI creation and at the most an upscaled model kit? It is in the level of detail and intricacy that this manual steps ahead and possibly may even eclipse the preceding year's Enterprise edition. No self respecting Klingon warrior would be without this should they be called up to serve on a Bird-of-Prey. What becomes apparent is the care and attention that Robinson, Sternbach and Lebowitz have taken in producing the Owners' Technical Manual and equally it goes to show just how much information on the Empire, its ships and customs have been referenced since Klingons were first introduced in the original Star Trek series' "Errand of Mercy"

As you go through the manual there is no doubt you will recognise and remember points from episodes of The Next Generation including "A Matter of Honor" and Redemption" and Deep Space Nine installments such as"Soldiers of the Empire" and "Sons and Daughters". This only helps to enrich the experience as it steps between being both a reference guide to a civilisation as well as a technical bible for their most prominent spacecraft.

Nicely the authors have also included a final section to familiarise us with all craft within the Klingon Defence Force both "past" and "present" which even hints at the reasons for the construction and design of Martok's predecessor Gowron's flagship, the excessive and opulent Negh'Var. It's also nice to have something on paper as a reference to the predecessor of the Bird-of-Prey from Enterprise alongside the D-7, K'Tinga and Vor'Cha crusiers. As an appendix there are also a handy couple of pages of English to Klingon translations should you ever find yourself stuck behind the navigation console of the Rotarran and need to engage the warp drive. A nice touch to really round off the manual and keep both landing footpads securely within the fictional world - perhaps those screen shots from episodes and films scattered throughout aren't necessary to keep that "fourth wall" in place?

This is the second book produced in conjunction with Star Trek and it's a breath of fresh air into the franchise, reminding us of the "Prime" Universe especially at a time where the JJ Abrams alternative reality reboot is becoming more prominent. Moreover it's good to see some new and fresh reference-style books coming onto the shelves when they have been absent for what seems like an eternity. Hopefully we can expect a third title at the end of 2013..

So overall is this a recommendation?  Absolutely.  

As a casual fan you would more than enjoy the diagrams and illustrations here and for those who are more hardcore fans demanding behind the scenes detail this is a must as it lays open the Klingon military lifestyle for all to analyse.  Since the first season of the original Star Trek series we have gradually come to know these fearsome warriors as a major piece of the overall franchise puzzle.  Here we have their world captured concisely, elegantly displayed and catalogued precisely for future reference once you have, of course, read it from cover to cover. It's been a while coming for a decent Trek technical manual and this is certainly one that fulfils all of fandom's wishes.

The Klingon Bird-of-Prey Owners' Workshop Manual ISBN 9780857332769 is available now from the Haynes website here priced at £15.99.

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