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Monday, July 7, 2014

Kobayashi Maru

As I’ve mentioned in many posts—either here or as a guest elsewhere—the movies Star Wars and Star Trek led to my love of science fiction and science fiction romance. Whether it’s the romance between a man and woman or the romance of space exploration, I’m in love with adventure and how characters deal with challenges.

A scenario meant to test those in command positions on Star Trek is the Kobayashi Maru, the no-win situation where rescuing a crew from a dying ship means going into a forbidden zone.

When writing adventure stories, we're supposed to put our characters in situations where they have to choose between the sucky and suckier. Another way to put it is to drive the character up a tree and then throw rocks at her. Each challenge is harder, escalating the danger. But the true test of the character is how she reacts to the no-win situation. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Isn’t this also true of life? It would be great if everything was clear cut, black and white, no variations of gray. Too often it isn’t. It could be something as small as “does this dress make me look fat?” Every husband’s worse nightmare. Tell the truth and hurt her feelings or lie. A worse situation could be to speed and get your wife to the hospital in time to have the baby or obey the speed limit and have the baby born in the car.

What about rescuing your family from a fire? You can only save one, your spouse or your child. What a choice?

In the latest episode of The Last Ship, a scientist makes a terrible choice to give up a deadly virus and his boss who can produce a vaccine. If he does, the enemy will hold the world hostage. If he doesn’t, his family will be killed. Either way he loses.

I’d like to think I would never have to make that kind of decision. World good versus the safety of my family. A no-win scenario.

In my sci-fi romance The Chameleon, Jileena has to choose between pressuring a tribal chief to allow mining in a certain area. If she wins, she’ll prove to her father she is worthy of running his company. But the area is sacred to the tribe. Mining will desecrate a burial ground. If she returns home without the lease, she can kiss her promotion good-by. Sucky versus suckier. A choice not easily made.

What no-win situations have you come across (in books, movies, or real life)?


  1. Those lose-lose situations are definitely what demonstrate a character's ... character. :) Sometimes I feel sorry for the things I put my characters through!

  2. Hunger Games. The whole premise is a no-win situation. I think I finally got on board that train for my sequel, but man was it tough to write my characters into lose-it-all situations--even knowing how it would play out.

    1. Good one, Crystal. When I got to the part in the book where they changed to rules back to one winner only, my heart stopped. I agree it's hard to put our characters into such a horrible position.


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