"No, Captain," said Colonel Rabinowitz, "Max Grandisson doesn't like me for a reason I thought was extinct until I was twenty-eight years old. Unto the tenth generation, and then some. Shalom aleichem, Captain Krenn, Commander Akhil."
"Aleichem shalom," Krenn said, and as the Colonel's mouth opened in surprise, and then a grin, Krenn caught Dr. Tagore's nod in the corner of his eye.
The Final Reflection is a novel in the Star Trek: TOS universe, published in 1991. As such, it is dismissed by many as 'trashy sci-fi' - even by readers of sci-fi who should know better from the author's name. John M. Ford is a serious writer, as are many of the writers of the early Star Trek novels. This one is one of the best of that lot.
Although the book itself is prefaced and afterworded by a few pages set in the familiar corridors of the Starship Enterprise, as she orbits Earth during a brief refit stopover, it is presented as a book that is published inside the Star Trek universe; a piece of investigative journalism about the actual story of the 'first contact' (well, first diplomatic contact) between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire. As such, the events of the book take place some forty-plus years prior to the events of Star Trek: TOS, which lends the story much of its freshness; this is not a familiar world, populated with people we know and machines we understand. In this world, Warp 4 is the absolute maximum, rendering long journeys years-long or more; lasers are the primary ship-to-ship weapon, and the story is told entirely from the Klingon point of view.
The tale follows the life of a particular Klingon - one who begins life as Vrenn Gensa, an orphan in House Gensa - a House of the Lineless Ones. He comes to the attention of a famous Klingon strategist, and is adopted into that one's family, or Line - to take his line-name and thus win a place in the Navy and possibly a ship command of his own, someday. In so doing, he becomes swept up into a wide-ranging and deadly internecine covert battle among powerful leaders of the Klingon Empire over what to do about the Empire's relationship with the newly-discovered Federation - and despite his record and reputation as the consummate warrior, Krenn (as he is known once he has a commission) may have to follow a path that takes him into conflict not only with some within the Federation but with his own Navy and Imperial Government to save the Federation from itself - and from his Empire.
One of the best parts of this book is its depiction of the Klingon society. It actually predates the 'standard, canon' Klingons of Marc Okrand's work - the ones from Star Trek: TNG. Ford has his own Klingon language, his own mythos, his own attitudes, his own racial traits - and damned if I don't like his much, much better. I wish we'd gotten his instead of Okrand's. It may be true that Okrand built a working language for the Klingons, but Ford built a people - and it's a shame we never got to see them on the screen.
We have one who is not forgotten. His name was Kahless. When his ship was dying, he had his hand bound to his Chair, that no one could say he left it, or that another had been in the Chair at the ship's death. Then all his crew could escape without suspicion, because Kahless had taken on all the ship's destiny. Kahless'te ka'ase, we say. Kahless's Hand.
One key piece of structure in the book is the Game. Ford builds much of the Klingon way around the playing of the Game; it is called Klin'zha, and is played on a pyramidal field, with several types of pieces (the Flyer, the Fencer, the Blocker, the Lancer). There are variants of the Game, of course, that permeate the Empire. At the opening of the book, Vrenn attracts the attention of his future patron while serving as a Lancer in a game of Klin'zha kinta - the Game With Live Pieces. Notable (and noble) members of Klingon society play Klin'zha using members of the Houses of the Lineless as pieces; those pieces fight live combat in the game arena, and it is a high honor to play for a Thought Master or Admiral of high standing. There is the Reflective Game, where there is only one set of pieces, and players take turns moving them - and they belong to each player each turn, so that for example leaving the Goal vulnerable to one of the pieces is not allowed, because the next turn the other player will simply take it.
In a nod to philosophy of life, there is a debate among the Klingons - that of the Perpetual Game. Is life a game? Do you Deny the Perpetual Game? One's stance on this question has some import in political maneuvering. Klingons, in this book (well, some of them) are serious analysts of their own and other cultures using those culture's games as a window. The Romulans have a Game. The humans have a Game, "chess" - although the Klingons discover that there are others.
"I am Koth, Koth of the Vengeance. And this ship is my prize."
-Captain Koth, Battlecruiser Vengeance
"There are some famous fictions about our history that I should not like an alien ambassador to take learning from...though I confess I have become quite fond of Battlecruiser Vengeance. Is it still in production?"
Throw in rollickingly good starship combat, intrigue, culture shock, and some good humor moments, spice with Mike Ford's viscerally good prose, and you have an excellent book - one which can be picked up at this point for one cent used on amazon.com. It can also at this time be purchased in electronic book format from mobipocket's online bookstore, although I cannot recommend this as they utilize DRM.