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Star Trek – In the Name of Honour by Dayton Ward (Review)

This August, to celebrate the upcoming release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on DVD and blu ray, we’re taking a look at the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast. Movie reviews are every Tuesday and Thursday.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the movies with tie-ins around (and related to) the films. We’ll be doing one of these every week day. This is one such article.

The Klingons changed rather dramatically, between the classic Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Part of the changes were physical – most obviously, advances in make-up allowed Klingon characters to be shown with their now-iconic forehead ridges. However, there was another interesting change. Somewhere between The Turnabout Intruder and Encounter at Farpoint, the Klingons went from generic communist stand-ins to a fully-formed alien culture with a wealth of ritual and tradition.

To a large extent, this shift took place during the movie era. Klingons wound up being the focus of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and were a significant presence in each of the films that followed. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, produced at the same time as the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, suggested that it wasn’t necessary for the Federation and the Klingon Empires to be mortal enemies. The final movie featuring the original cast, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, tied up Kirk’s adventures with the promise of galactic peace.

Still, it’s hard to reconcile the differences in characterisation between the Klingons seen in the classic Star Trek television show and those from the later spin-offs. With In the Name of Honour, Dayton Ward tries to explore this radical shift and also to bridge The Final Frontier and The Undiscovered Country. He does the former much better than the latter.

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To be fair, the evolution of the Klingons can be traced to two behind-the-scenes events. John M. Ford wrote The Final Reflection in 1984, a novel dedicated to exploring Klingon culture as something internally logical and consistent, rather than as a thinly-veiled stand-in for communism. The Final Reflection is rightly regarded as one of the classic Star Trek novels, one of the most enduring pieces of tie-in fiction ever written for the franchise.

Despite the fact that The Final Reflection was the kind of book that would never have seen print after Richard Arnold assumed control of the publishing line, it endures. It’s a constant touchstone for Star Trek fans and writers. Ronald D. Moore, the writer most singularly responsible for developing the Klingons of the Next Generation era cites Ford’s work as a clear influence on his Star Trek writing, even if he ultimately went a different direction. Ford’s characterisation of the Klingons treated them as a fully-formed society, and – along with Diane Duane’s My Enemy, My Ally – was important in developing how writers viewed the alien races inhabiting this particular sandbox.

However, arguably more influential was the decision to feature the Klingons as the antagonists in The Search for Spock. this almost didn’t happen, and – according to I am Spock – it was only the interference of director Leonard Nimoy that led to the use of the Klingons in the film:

Originally, Harve’s outline featured the Romulans as the heavies. But I’ve always been more intrigued by the Klingons, so I suggested the switch, which Harve readily embraced. To this day, I wish I could have done a serious study of Klingon culture in one of our films; I think they’re marvelous “dark side” adversaries.

In many ways, it seems like the Romulans were replaced with the Klingons quite late in the cycle. The iconic Klingon ship – the “Bird of Prey” – is named for the vessels the Romulans used in the show. The red design faintly visible under the wings recalls the design of Romulan vessels for the classic Star Trek.

Indeed, early versions of the script suggested that Kruge had stolen the ship from the Romulans, somewhat ironic given how iconic and recognisably Klingon the vessel would become. The prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise rather consciously modelled the design of the Klingon ships on the iconic Bird of Prey, rather than on the ships that actually appeared on the original Star Trek television show. However, watching The Search for Spock, it seems like the Bird of Prey was not the only thing the species inherited from the Romulans.

The Romulans of the original Star Trek were defined as an honourable civilisation. Although we never got to know their names, the two Romulan commanders in Balance of Terror and The Enterprise Incident were treated with a measure of dignity and respect – they were Kirk’s enemies by virtue of politics instead of some inherent evil. In contrast, the Klingons tended to be portrayed as a bunch of scheming and under-handed foes, often bending and breaking the rules to threaten the Federation.

While Kruge is very clearly the villain of The Search for Spock, the movie allows him some hint of reasonable justification for his action. McCoy was horrified by the implications of Genesis, so it makes sense that the Federation’s neighbours would be concerned with the development of a warhead that can make planets. Kruge is brutal and ruthless, but he’s also defined by duty. The movie offers him a hint of development by showing his willingness to sacrifice his lover for what he deems the greater good, and by allowing him to keep a pet.

Obviously, Kruge was only the tip of the iceberg. Various Klingon characters emerged. John Schuck’s Klingon Ambassador, for example, hinted that the Empire was more than just a roving band of Viking bikers. Schuck himself noted that there was a clear evolution in process by the time he took the role in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home:

It seemed to me that in the minds of the creators, the Klingons had matured. Gene Roddenberry was on the set the first time we did out big opening scene (in ST IV) and I asked him about it. He said it was time for the Klingons to take on a dimension which showed that the culture had changed. Alliances change. There can be progress.

Things happened fairly quickly. Kirk’s stolen Bird of Prey was the starship used for The Voyage Home. During the development of The Next Generation, a Klingon was placed on the bridge of the new Enterprise. The Final Frontier gave us Kirk collaborating with the Klingons. When Denise Crosby opted to leave The Next Generation, actor Michael Dorn got room to develop the Klingon Worf as a character.

All these factors pointed to Klingons becoming a larger part of the Star Trek canvas behind-the-scenes, accounting for changes a lot more significant than the addition of eye-catching ridges. Dayton Ward, who had contributed several well-received stories to the Strange New Worlds anthologies, made his debut with In the Name of Honour, a book that tries to reconcile the difference in Klingon culture between the classic Star Trek and The Next Generation.

Set during the gap between The Final Frontier and The Undiscovered CountryIn the Name of Honour explores the social changes taking place within the Klingon Empire shortly before The Undiscovered Country. Although he never directly appears, Gorkon is a major player here. In the Name of Honour sees the Klingon chancellor rising to power, and helping to make the possibility of peace between the Federation and the Klingons more tangible than it might otherwise have been.

Ward handles the Klingon stuff very well. Although he doesn’t directly address the issue of ridges, he rather deftly links the ridges with the rise of the honour culture within the Klingon Empire. Kirk notes that the depictions of Kahless on Koloth’s ship all have ridges, and Koloth speaks nostalgically of a desire to return to the core values that Kahless espoused. Ward is shrewd enough not to get too tied down. After all, the issue of Klingon ridges is something of a continuity bugbear for Star Trek fans.

Roddenberry himself made several arguments about the ridges. On the one hand, he suggested that Klingons had always had ridges, but that the show lacked the make-up techniques necessary to pull off that design. On the other, he suggested that the Klingon Empire might actually be made up of multiple races – similar to those that comprise the Federation. Of the three sequel series to Star Trek, only Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ever raised it as an issue.

Recruiting three original series guest actors to return for Blood Oath, it drew attention to the whole thing by giving the older versions of Kang, Kor and Koloth bumpy foreheads. This despite the fact that none of the characters had had forehead make-up during their original guest spots in the sixties. In Trials and Tribble-ations, travelling back to the Kirk era, the show turned the smooth foreheads of the sixties actors into a joke. “We do not talk about it with outsiders,” Worf glowered.

Things got even more compounded when Star Trek: Enterprise debuted in 2001 with an episode centring on Klingons. Despite the fact that it was a prequel to the original Star Trek, Broken Bow featured bumpy-headed Klingons. Although Rick Berman alluded to the possibility of exploring reason for this, the show only offered an explanation in its final season. Affliction and Divergence aired in early 2005, three years after Ward published In the Name of Honour. It’s surprising how well In the Name of Honour holds up, avoiding a continuity conflict with an explanation offered three years later.

Indeed, Ward has a great deal of fun with the ridges, playing around with various teasing references and allusions, well aware of how these ridges have become a source of fascination for long-term Star Trek fans. Kirk and Koloth even banter about it in a manner that seems intentionally coy:

“Koloth,” he said, “the Klingons down there, and the ones we ran into on Don’zali, are they another race that joined the Empire at some point?”

“If it satisfies you to think so, then so be it,” Koloth replied sharply. Nothing else followed the simple statement.

Even Kirk concedes, “You have to admit, it’s an intriguing mystery. There are a lot of theories floating around out…”

Perhaps aware of the limitations of tie-in fiction to determine the answer to relatively high-profile questions, Ward allows Koloth to fall back on Worf’s refrain from Trials and Tribble-ations. “You will not receive any other answer from me,” Koloth offers. “It is not something discussed with those who are not of the Empire.” You know, outsiders.

However, the smartest thing that Ward does with In the Name of Honour is to tie the change in the appearance of Klingons to the shift in the presentation of Klingon culture. Here, a bunch of flat-headed Klingons from the original show secretly run a forced labour camp using prisoners captured in dishonourable raids. It’s hardly out-of-character for the Klingons from the original Star Trek show. This understandably offends the honour of the more modern Klingons.

There are repeated allusions to the shift in Klingon culture. Toiling inside a prison camp, the original series guest star Garrovick observes the change from his own perspective. We’re told that “notions of honour and valour hadn’t been hallmarks of Klingon behavior in Garrovick’s experience.” Ward cleverly contextualises this with the cultural shift within the Empire the opening chapter, one character notes “the high cranial ridges she’d seen with increasing frequency during the past several years.”

The implication is that the ridges are a respresentation of the Klingons’ attempts to reconnect with the legacy of Kahless. On a more meta-textual level, they represent actual growth and development. Far from being convenient human-esque bad guys in yellow face who happen to represent the enemies of contemporary America, the ridges allow Klingons to grow into something a bit more distinct and unique. Something that is genuinely alien rather than a personification of a nation’s insecurities.

It’s interesting that Ward uses Koloth as the focal point of this novel, teaming up with Kirk to rescue the POWs. there are several possible reasons. Given the number of in-jokes and references that Ward slips into the text (referencing Taggard from Galaxy Quest as one of Kirk’s heroes, for example), it’s quite possible that Ward is referencing the fact that Gene L. Coon apparently original envisaged Koloth as a recurring adversary and foil for Kirk.

However, it’s also worth noting that – of the “big three” iconic Klingons from the classic Star Trek (Kor, Koloth, Kang) – Koloth is easily the most cunning and sneaky. Of the three characters to reappear in Deep Space Nine, Koloth is the one who most resembles the typical original Star Trek Klingon. Kor might be willing to torture prisoners and order summary execution, but he seems to respect Kirk and to thirst for battle in Errand of Mercy. In The Day of the Dove, Kang actively teams up with Kirk to defeat the show’s villain.

Koloth, on the other hand, is introduced trying to poison an entire planet. The Trouble with Tribbles is a comedy episode, but it features an attempt by the Klingons to undermine the Federation by tainting grain supplies. Had Koloth’s plan succeeded, he would have been a mass murderer of innocent women and children. Thanks to William Campbell’s delightfully smarmy portrayal, Koloth seems positively slippery. He’s fun to watch, and he’s clearly very sharp, but the word “honourable” doesn’t enter into the equation.

Ward has Koloth admit this, making the character’s redemption a symbolic redemption for the species as a whole:

“It may interest you to know that I did not always embrace the teachings of Kahless as I do now. There was a time when such beliefs were largely unpopular. You might say that the Empire went through a time of social and political upheaval. Everything held in high regard until that time was questioned if not dismissed as being old, obsolete. That was the age I was born into.”

After all, Koloth went from being a schemer in The Trouble With Tribbles to a hero in Blood Oath. There’s an obvious journey there, and Ward very cleverly overlaps Koloth’s personal enlightenment with that of the Klingon Empire.

I like Ward’s use of Korax, the smooth-headed first officer from The Trouble With Tribbles. He runs the prison camp, but Ward doesn’t turn him into a moustache-twirling villain. There’s something almost tragic about the Klingon left behind, unredeemed by follow-up appearances in Star Trek: The Animated Series or Deep Space Nine. It’s hard not to pity the forgotten secondary character mourning as “his chances for redemption” fade further and further from view.

That said, In the Name of Honour isn’t perfect. The attempt to link the two characterisations of Klingons is fascinating, and – mostly – effective. However, the character work with Kirk is less so. Ward suffers for trying to reconcile the version of Kirk from The Final Frontier with the Kirk of The Undiscovered Country. In the former, Kirk teams up with the Klingons to kill a being posing as God. In the later, Kirk remarks that he’s willing stand by and let the race die.

Ward has to somehow connect those dots, tracing a line from the murder of his son in The Search for Spock through to his discomfort in The Undiscovered Country, but also accounting for the fact that none of this comes up in The Final Frontier. Truth be told, I don’t envy Ward this task. Any writer trying to work the threads of The Final Frontier into their story is going to run into trouble, particularly the film’s decidedly retro approach to characterisation.

I’m going to be controversial here. I have no problem with Kirk being racist in The Undiscovered Country. The beautiful thing about The Undiscovered Country is that it actively calls the franchise out on some of the questionable racial undertones of they way it portrays Klingons. When Kirk yells that the Klingons are animals, he’s making a very clear point. In Kirk’s experience, they are animals. By and large, the television show portrayed them as violent savages, unfortunate ethnic stereotypes not helped by the script’s decision to call them “Oriental” or John Colicos’ request that he be made up to resemble Genghis Khan.

The Klingons presented in the original Star Trek were generally little more than monsters. The Day of the Dove is the exception that proves the rule, but they were generally violent thugs capable of brutally and mass-murder to get what they wanted. For a show about tolerance and acceptance, the decision to treat an entire species this way was somewhat troubling. By making Kirk – and the crew of the Enterprise – racist, The Undiscovered Country draws attention to that.

Despite how obvious it is to the viewer at home, nobody inside the story suspects Admiral Cartwright of organising a genocidal conspiracy when he suggests bringing the Empire to its knees. You get the sense that that sort of rhetoric was not uncommon inside Starfleet briefings. After all, the wonderfully subversive point of Gene L. Coon’s Errand of Mercy was that the Federation was just as imperialist as the Klingons. Its methods are just cleaner.

Indeed, Ward touches on this by pointing out that the Federation has the luxury of existing in a post-scarcity economy, making it easy to champion liberal democratic values. Like Diane Duane’s exploration of Romulan foreign policy in My Enemy, My Ally, ward suggests Klingon expansionism is driven by need:

The Federation, regardless of how differently they viewed the universe they occupied, had at their command far greater reserves of materiel with which to increase their sphere of influence. The Empire, on the other hand, was greatly restricted, territorially speaking. Cosmic Fate had seen fit to position both the Federation and the Romulan Empire in such a manner that Klingon boundaries could only be expanded away from the galactic center and into a desolate region of the Beta Quadrant. Very few suitable star systems had been found in that area of space, with even fewer planets that could be populated or mined for vital resources.

It makes the use of the Klingons as a subversive rival power block slightly more nuanced.

However, In the Name of Honour stumbles when it tries to explain Kirk’s shift in attitudes towards the Klingons. Ward suggests that Kirk had a mental block on the pain of David’s loss which got him through his alliance with the Klingons in The Final Frontier. Given the nature of the story – Kirk teams up with a Klingon to save lives – the natural arc of the story points to Kirk becoming more trusting and accepting by the end of the story.

After all, Ward has Kirk effectively preemptively complete his character arc from The Undiscovered Country the moment that he decides to trust Koloth. The big question of The Undiscovered Country is whether Kirk can ever trust a Klingon. The problem is that In the Name of Honour awkwardly slots in front of that film so as to alter that question. Now it’s whether Kirk can ever trust a Klingon again. Indeed, the entire subplot with the Enterprise and the Klingons serves to undermine the awkwardness of the interactions in The Undiscovered Country.

In order to fit into continuity, Ward has to pull a sharp left-turn in the final few chapters and effectively de-rail Kirk’s obvious character arc. It feels more than a little contrived and convenient. Reading In the Name of Honour, I can’t help but wonder if it might have worked better set in the immediate wake of The Undiscovered Country, after the Enterprise-A is decommissioned but before the Enterprise-B is launched. That way, the Enterprise subplot could be cut, but most of the rest could be maintained.

The only rela problem would be Kirk’s character arc, but that’s hardly the strongest aspect of In the Name of Honour. Obviously, Kirk would have overcome his prejudice by saving the peace process in The Undiscovered Country. However, thwarting an intergalactic conspiracy is still radically different to teaming up with a former enemy. It’s easy to see In the Name of Honour fitting quite snuggly in a part of the Star Trek canon that is relatively under-explored.

Even beside the problems with Kirk’s arc, there’s an unfortunate undertone to the suggestion that the Klingons have evolved to the point where the Federation can negotiate with them. A diplomatic aide, talking with Spock, concedes:

“That may not have always appeared so, Captain, but rest assured that the Empire has grown beyond the warlike band of savages that the Federation first encountered many years ago. We too have evolved as a species. While there is still much work to be done, many of us believe we have progressed far enough to make this effort at negotiation worthwhile.”

There’s something uncomfortable with having a Klingon character describe his own race as “savages.” It implies some absolute value, as if the Federation’s perception of the Klingons has always been entirely accurate and uncoloured by prejudice.

Indeed, it undermines one of the stronger hooks of The Undiscovered Country. Yes, the Klingons from the original Star Trek were less obsessed by honour than those in The Next Generation, and they were also more antagonist and scheming. However, The Undiscovered Country implies that this portrayal is somewhat shallow – it’s only the Klingons as seen from a human perspective, as Azetbur points out over dinner.

Having the Klingons themselves suggest that they were too “savage” to properly interact with the Federation in past feels a little unquestioning. It suggests that Federation was entirely in the right, and that there was no degree of cultural relativism at play. That’s much less interesting than a well-formed culture with values opposed to all those the Federation holds dear. It lets the franchise off the hook for its portrayal of a shallow alien culture as a stand-in for “the enemy.”

Still, these are relatively minor problems. In the Name of Honour works surprisingly well as a bridge between two very different eras of Klingon portrayals, doing a fine job of continuing the novel-verse trend of weaving connections between various errant strands of continuity and characterisation. It’s a pretty fine debut from a promising author.

Check out our reviews of the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast:

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