Friday, 30 May 2014

The Art of War - Klingon Style

"Well it's a hardback book."

So came the official review from my wonderful wife when I asked her to open the box and tell me what had arrived.

I expected a thin, quirky little volume akin to the recent A Very Klingon Khristmas and was pleasantly surprised to find that this is so much more than a gimmick and from the very start you can see there is genuine research and time taken in producing this book. Drawing extensively from episodes such as Rightful Heir, Firstborn, Apocalypse Rising and Soldiers of the Empire, Keith R A DeCandido has delved deep into Klingon heritage, separating the principles of how to prove yourself in the way of the warrior with ten distinctive principles. Covering everything from how to choose your enemy, to face them in battle through to die in a manner appropriate (avoiding imprisonment of course) it's the most thorough reference material into what makes a Klingon tick since Marc Okrand created their language. 

Each section relates a "real" event in-universe to the teachings to be put into practice. Linking those events in alongside numerous references to episodic material from every generation allows readers very easy access to the principles. The tragedy is that some of the material explaining historical events might not exactly be from the onscreen universe which means I did tend to read each page with a pinch of salt or might have indicated that I've forgotten a lot of things we've been told about the Klingons in the last 50 years.

In line with the historic narrative is a commentary from the supposed "modern-day" Klingon editor, K'Ratak which explains how each of the sections should be implemented in the life of a Klingon and this makes it much more than a Klingon storybook if you will.  Ok, so from time to time I got utterly lost and/or engrossed in the text and lost my way completely. It's not the easiest book to follow, I can say that, but I absolutely loved it because it is utterly different from any other Star Trek book out there today.

Rightful Heir from The Next Generation's sixth season might not make many people's favourites list but it did give us Kahless in a more believable form than we saw in The Original Series' The Savage Curtain. DeCandido has clearly based his materials around this more philosophical version of the esteemed Klingon, turning the qeS'a (that's the Klingon name for The Art of War) into something resembling a biography of the famed father of Klingon society. We learn of his victories, his travels and his one love with each section, becoming more aware of how the building blocks of this society were put together.

Reviewing is a difficult task at times and it was in a car park that I got to read the Fifth Precept which dealt with aspects of the Klingon people referred to in both Birthright, Part II and By Inferno's Light. Not only do you end up occasionally having a memory-jog of "That Klingon Moment" but suddenly it all seems to make a ton more sense than you realised. Here in this section we learn about Klingon games and their significance in the culture beyond the narrative of the episode while tying it into things we are familiar with. Honour does pop up a lot here - and I do mean a lot as you would expect but its repeated appearances are always justified and linked into the narrative. It might be to do with ensuring your death is worthy of a warrior's life or choosing when and how to strike a foe or perhaps even when to raise a challenge either towards a wrongdoer or when seeking to take command - in every instance the detail and process is meticulously discussed leaving you clear as to how to proceed.

The more I went into the Precepts the more I found it a fascinating read, essentially defining what makes a Klingon a Klingon - and then not necessarily a warrior. The qeS'a, we are told, can be applied to any walk of life in Klingon society - it is much more a guide for all than just those heading off for battle. Honour, as we've said, is absolutely key but there are ways in which an honourable Klingon needs to act and can be used in every Klingon's life not just those intending to fight.

Adding instances relating to Kor and Kang do add depth to the book and even manage to draw in threads from their appearances in Deep Space Nine and Voyager which I didn't expect. The latter series is not only responsible for references to Kang's mission during the events of Star Trek VI but also the Barge of the Dead experienced by B'Elanna Torres. Clearly the research is extensive and footnotes throughout do help a little to keep track of the Klingon terms and their significance outside the context. Don't think that it's all limited to the 1990's shows though as DeCandido has pulled in material relating to the Gorkon assassination covering General Chang and also the subsequent succession of Azetbur to head of the High Council. While her on screen appearance did little to flesh out the role, the text here certainly does, even going as far as helping us understand the line from Gorkon, through his daughter down to K'mpec, Gowron and most recently Martok as Chancellor.

That said, DeCandido has stepped outside "official" canon to some degree throughout, referencing the Typhon Pact and Quo'noS' near destruction at the hands of the Borg to name but two. I found that this was one of those things fans will either love or hate - it links in the other publications that come from Simon and Schuster but might confuse those whose experience with Star Trek stops at on-screen appearances and anything that's linked to those filmed stories. Perhaps in another sense it is confirming for us, the fans, that Star Trek in the Prime Universe at least will only continue to exist in the literature of fans rather than the small or big screen.

One thing that's also worth noting here are the illustrations which open each of the Precepts - covering images relating to material within each chapter we have recreated pictures featuring a younger, fully-forehead endowed Kor, Azetbur, as well as images relating to the chapter content. The style of these is very much in keeping with the Klingon Khristmas book from last year although slightly more focused on the warrior aspects of these people.

Rounding off the text are a couple of appendices which cover some ground regarding weapons of the Empire as well as two narratives regarding a case study of a battle and also the search for the historical Kahless. Again, not expected but engrossing reads none the less.

Cards on the table this will be an acquired taste and if you're not fussed with the Klingons or learning about their background in a decent amount of depth then I would point you elsewhere. Long-term fans will find a lot of superb material here. How much is "accurate" should be taken with at least a pinch of salt I guess but I don't think there's a finer example of non-Federation background literature available at the moment than The Klingon Art of War. Keith R A DeCandido should be proud of his achievement here. As both a casual read and an ongoing reference book he's done a top job.

The Klingon Art of War is available now from Simon and Schuster priced £17.99 ISBN 9781476757391

All sample images from

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