The Kzin Question

Star Trek fandom today seems divided over the question of the canonicity of the Animated Series produced in 1973 and 1974 and many fans discount the Animated Series. I don’t because I have a long-standing affection for the Animated Series. I liked those 22 episodes, just as much as I liked the 79 live action episodes, and it’s likely that were it not for those 22 episodes I would not be a Star Trek fan today. I don’t care about the slipshod animation on a massive scale; to me, those episodes are simply more adventures of my 23rd-century heroes. My own opinion is that the Animated Series should be considered a genuine part of Star Trek canon, yet I also understand and sympathize with those fans who disagree. I’ve found in talking with fans on the question that those fans who came to Star Trek in the 1980s when Star Trek: The Next Generation began and those that came after are the ones most likely to reject the Animated Series as a part of Star Trek canon.

A Kzin singleship under attack by a Federation fleetI’ve long wondered why that should be. It’s often said that Gene Roddenberry disliked the Animated Series, that he regretted some of the things that the series did in its limited run, yet I’ve long felt that the Animated Series successfully recaptured the sense of the original Star Trek, doing the kinds of stories that would have been filmed in live-action six or seven years before. The Animated Series did have one advantage over the original series: it was not limited to what the special effects department or costuming department of Desilu could produce; with animation any effects, any aliens were possible.

The Animated Series took advantage of that ability with the Kzin with “The Slaver Weapon,” written by well-known science fiction author Larry Niven and adapted from his original short story “The Soft Weapon,” found in his collection Neutron Star. If the Kzin exist in the Star Trek universe, then where are they? How can you fit them into the Star Trek timeline? I wouldn’t suggest merging Star Trek and Larry Niven’s Known Space; that would be impractical, and outside of fanfiction there’s really no call for it. However, Niven inserted the Kzin into the Star Trek universe in the Animated Series episode “The Slaver Weapon,” a rewritten version of his novella “The Soft Weapon.” With that episode, felinoid aliens stepped forward to challenge the Federation and its Starfleet.

Felinoid aliens had long been a staple of science fiction, yet none had appeared in Star Trek, likely due to the expense of creating the make-up and special effects necessary to transform a Hollywood actor into a walking tiger. Animation, though, had no such difficulties; no make-up budgets had to be consulted when the stroke of an animator’s pen would be all that was necessary to create any number of felinoid aliens.

Should the Kzin be considered part of the Star Trek universe? It is true that the Kzin have not appeared in subsequent Treks or any of the myriad Star Trek novels published, but that doesn’t prove that the Niven’s approval of the Kzin in the Trek universe has been disavowed. On the contrary, Niven wrote in his anthology Playgrounds of the Mind, “I thought hard before giving the Kzinti to the Star Trek universe. I did it because I thought it would be fun to see what others would do with them. And I was right!” And yet, it’s been argued that because the Kzin have an existence outside of Star Trek, that they shouldn’t count, Animated Series or not.

In principle, you shouldn’t mix elements from one sci-fi universe into another universe unless you have a really good reason to do so. In the case of the Kzin, however, it was Niven himself who put the Kzin into the Trek universe with “The Slaver Weapon.” Trek Kzin are going to be different from Known Space Kzin, because different forces shaped the two universes, different histories on the galactic scale. Those cosmic differences mean that human history and Kzin history differ between the two universes, so while there may be parallels between the universes, most events occurred in a far different manner in the two universes. The major difference is that the Star Trek Kzin would make contact with humanity about two centuries before they do in Known Space.

Absent evidence, I think it makes sense to assume that parallels exist between Known Space Kzin and Star Trek Kzin. It makes some sense to place the Patriarchy in the same location in both universes. If the forces of evolution led to the creation of the Kzin in Known Space, then if we take that solar system and drop it into the Star Trek universe when as that system developed, then perhaps we would get the Kzin in the Trek universe as well. Granted that we don’t know quite where that system is in Known Space, but we can make some guesses, that it lies in the direction of Alpha Centauri. Not exactly, perhaps, but off that way. So, I would put the Trek Kzin in the same direction, the same location.

I would also give the Kzin the gravity polarizer as their drive unit. Fly around space on warped gravitons. It’s a different technology than what we usually see in Trek, and I like the idea of there being more technologies out there than what we see. If Scotty can talk about "ion drives" in "Spock’s Brain," if the Romulans can power their ships through artificial singularities, then that goes to show that other ways of traversing space exist than warp drive and impulse engines. The end result would be the same, but the method of getting there is slightly different, the same way that an airplane is different than a blimp.

Sulu mentions in "The Slaver Weapon" that four Kzin wars were fought between the Kzin and humanity two hundred years before the episode. Placing the Animated Series after the third season of The Original Series and before Star Trek: The Motion Picture, that would fix the date of "The Slaver Weapon" to approximately 2269 or 2270, setting the Man-Kzin Wars no later than 2070. Even allowing for inexactness in Sulu’s line, these wars would not have lasted into the 22nd century. Early Star Trek fandom would date these from 2049 through 2064, but there is no evidence of any face-to-face contact (more likely space-to-space combat, much like with the Romulans in the Romulan Wars: neither side having seen the other face to face until much later).

Then we have Star Trek First Contact to contend with. There, Picard states that the arrival of the Vulcans in Montana in April 2063 was humanity’s "first contact" with an extraterrestrial intelligence. If Sulu’s line in "The Slaver Weapon" was exact, then that allows only six or seven years of conflict between humanity and the Kzin, following hard on the heels of humanity’s first contact with another intelligence. This would seem to preclude the possibility of Man-Kzin Wars in the Star Trek universe.

Then we have the UNSS Icarus. The Icarus is not canon, but it’s been a part of fanlore for two decades, and several novels make reference to the Icarus mission. This mission was one of humanity’s earliest interstellar journeys, a manned mission to Alpha Centauri in the 2040s. James Dixon’s fan chronology dates the departure of the Icarus in 2042, with a six-year transit time. The novel Strangers From The Sky, set in 2045, relates the accidental contact between Earth and Vulcan, three years prior to the Icarus discovering a humanoid civilization in the Alpha Centauri system.

How can these disparate events be reconciled? Which contact matters most? Which contact was first? It’s all a question of perspective, how we choose to interpret the various data Trek has given us over the years.

As a functional definition, First Contact means just that: the first contact with another race. Whether or not there’s a deeper meaning, the first First Contact, depends upon the context in which the term is used. The implication in First Contact was that the Vulcan First Contact was the first First Contact, though it is never explicitly stated in the film that this is the first. There is evidence from previous Trek incarnations (such as Deep Space Nine’s "Little Green Men") that there were contacts prior to the Vulcan contact, and then that Vulcan contact might not even be so clear-cut (witness Margaret Wander Bonanno’s novel Strangers From The Sky.)

The early contacts can be played around with, despite what we saw in First Contact. The simplest method of putting the Kzin into Star Trek would simply dispense with First Contact and pretend it didn’t happen, but my inclination is to try and keep as much of the movie (though I dislike it so) and work it into a coherent background with the other novel sources on the 21st century. Having a massive war right in the midst of the early sublight interstellar exploration can actually serve to “hide” some of the “first” contacts, so that what happened in Montana has the significance that Picard ascribes to it, without being the literal “first contact.” It’s only later, when humanity is pulling itself together, that the other contacts are rediscovered and their implications considered, creating some historical questioning in later centuries over which contact has the most psychological pull.

Even a non-communicating contact would be a contact; the simple knowledge that there’s an unknown assailant flying around in ships the like of which you’ve never seen would have a psychological effect on humanity. While James Kirk may have been the first human to communicate face-to-face with a Romulan, I would say that First Contact between humanity and the Romulans came prior to the Romulans Wars, and those Wars certainly were Contact of some kind.

This would be so much easier had Picard said something about “First peaceful Contact,” instead of making such a blanket statement that the Vulcan Contact was the first First Contact, or certainly the most important. World War III does well in “masking” the Icarus contact with the Alpha Centaurans; when the Icarus returned to Earth humanity was in the midst of bombing itself back a few thousand years and had other considerations. An attack by the Kzin into the Sol System, however, would be more difficult to hide; an attack on Earth outposts in the Sol System would likely serve to unite humanity against the new foe, and the internecine quarrels that provoked World War III would pale against the knowledge that an enemy from the stars was knocking hard at the gate.

Two scenarios exist to deal with the problem of reconciling the Kzin wars with Picard’s admittedly vague dialogue in First Contact. The first would move the Kzin contact and wars to the AlphaCent system. The second would move World War III back in time, for the same reason as its use in regards to the Icarus contact: to mask the First Contact.

Here’s how the first works. In Known Space the Kzin pounced first on the human colony at AlphaCent, Wunderland, because it was closer to their forward bases than Earth, and from Wunderland they staged several attacks on Earth before Wunderland was liberated by an Earth FTL-fleet. In the Star Trek universe, however, Wunderland is replaced by a thriving native civilization (native being relative, given that the Centaurans might be Preserver-transplanted humans). I would have the Kzin attacking the Centaurans, the first attack coinciding roughly with the arrival of Icarus in the AlphaCent system, and receiving a nasty shock; the Centaurans are able to repel the Kzin raids fairly easily. If we treat the Centaurans as a transplanted human society, it makes this scenario–the Kzin attack on the AlphaCent system–easier to accept; the Centaurans were, despite being off-planet, humanity in a very real sense, so a war between the Kzin and the Centaurans would be a “Man-Kzin War.”

The second scenario has its advantages. There’s no magical reason why World War III is fixed in 2053; Okuda simply chose that date for his chronology without any particular justification saying, if memory serves, that a decade between WWIII and the Phoenix seemed about right. There’s no dialogue in First Contact, as I can recall, that says specifically that World War III occurred ten years prior to the film; the best fixing of the date is Riker’s comment that Earth was in the midst of rebuilding from the war. Here, the vagueness of the dialogue leaves some wiggle room, and World War III could be pushed back or forward in time as necessary. Pushing World War III to 2048 or 2049 has the advantage of masking the Kzin attacks on outer system colonies in 2049 and would leave intact the Icarus contact. World War III left humanity with a number of concerns other than listening for the Icarus. Or, the deep space listening network might have been heavily damaged or destroyed. Either way, it’s my theory that the results of the Icarus contact got lost in the midst of Earth’s attempt at self-destruction. Messages were sent, but those messages weren’t heard.

The wars in the second scenario would probably amount to Kzin raids on asteroid settlements and the like. If there were off-world settlements (and by the 2050s there likely were), they likely would not have been affected overly much by World War III except in a psychological sense. These colonies would be aware that Mother Earth was in the midst of an attempted suicide, that they might well be all that remained of humanity, and suddenly the Kzin attack and start slaughtering settlement after settlement. I don’t think the Kzin wars would be of the same scale as in Known Space; those wars ranged for decades, and these wars would be much smaller, probably nothing more than a raid of a few ships at a time. This would answer a potential question First Contact raised: why didn’t the off-world colonies assist in the rebuilding efforts after World War III? Simple, they were licking their own wounds, which by 2063 might well have been considerable.

Unfortunately, I can’t accept the Kzinti wars when "The Slaver Weapon" has them occurring in the Sol system, because these contacts would be difficult to hide, and Cochrane surely would have known of them by 2063, no matter what Earth’s condition. At least, I can’t accept them being in the Sol System. Thus, I tend towards the first scenario as explained above, setting the Man-Kzin contact in the Alpha Centauri system and transplanting the wars to there.

If we assume that the Icarus was a Bussard ramscoop (which would be needed to bring the travel time from Earth to AlphaCent down to six years), then we have to look at what that means. A ramscoop would be blindly obvious in the x-ray radiation bands. It would be like a cosmic event, flying through space. Analog had an article on the subject some years ago, and it mentioned that a Bussard ramscoop could be detected at a distance of fifty light-years from the exhaust. You couldn’t hide it.

So, the Kzin track the ramscoop down to where it ends up, because the ramscoop would have to do a turnaround to brake into the AlphaCent system. The Kzin, using gravity polarizers to travel the stars, descend on the AlphaCent system, and the wars between man and Kzin occur there. While not perfect, the timeline could look like this:

2048: The UNSS Icarus makes contact with the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri VII. This is Earth’s first official extraterrestrial contact. The Centaurans are quite humanoid, descendants of Greeks transported from Earth in the 3rd Century.

2049: The Kzinti appear in the AlphaCent system. The Icarus crew proves instrumental in defeating the Kzin. This marks humanity’s second contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence, and the first that is clearly not of human stock.

2054: Second Kzin attack on AlphaCent.

2058: Third Kzin attack on AlphaCent.

2063: The flight of the Phoenix.

2064: The Kzinti make one more attack. The Kzinti are once and for all defeated by Earth forces, travelling to AlphaCent in converted DY-500 ships equipped with warp drives.

For me, then, it makes some sense to have the Kzin attack AlphaCent first because AlphaCent would be closer to their forward bases than Earth. But what Sulu described as “wars” I would consider being more akin to the successive fleets that attacked Earth in Known Space. I see four waves of Kzin fleets approaching the AlphaCent system and descending upon the Centaurans. Unlike Known Space, however, they wouldn’t be attacking the relatively weak Wunderlander civilization, a human colony deprogrammed for war by the manipulations of ARM. Instead, the Kzin would find a thriving Centauran population which had been through a number of wars of their own and had a long martial tradition (taking the version of AlphaCent history from Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens’ novel Memory Prime.) As a result, the Kzin lose, but not as badly as they did in Known Space.

I doubt this would bring things to any kind of conclusion with the Kzin, though. There would probably have to be a large Earth-Kzin War at some point within the next twenty, thirty years, if only to drive the Kzin from their forward bases. Because the limited Kzin “Wars” in the Star Trek universe were not as extensive as those in Known Space, the Kzin would not have lost as many of their aggressive males in the wars, and thus their genes would continue in the Kzin gene pool. So, in Star Trek universe the Kzin would be bottled up more for military and technological reasons than due to the psychological defanging the Puppeteers committed through their remote manipulations of the Man-Kzin Wars.

This is one suggestion as to how to fit the Kzin contacts around the first Vulcan contact as chronicled in Star Trek: First Contact. After that, we know the Kzin fight four indecisive wars against humanity and as a result get bottled up for two centuries. After those wars, what becomes of the Star Trek Kzin? I would like to think that by the 24th-century the Kzin have settled down and fought alongside the Federation, Klingons, and Romulans against the Dominion and the Cardassians. Or in darker moments, perhaps like the Cardassians, the Kzin are always meant to be on the losing side of history.

Too much of Star Trek depends on several assumptions: (1) that spacefaring races are humanoid in nature, (2) that such races achieved roughly the same level of technology at roughly the same time, and (3) humanity is the decisive historical force in the cosmos. The first two elements are explained by Star Trek in two ways, first the Preservers, then the seeders of “The Chase” (unless you assume that these two races are the same, an assumption I don’t make). The third is a function of Trek‘s perspective; we see the Trek universe through the eyes of Starfleet, which emphasizes humanity’s role in the galaxy and minimizes the perspective of other races. Adding the Kzin to Star Trek broadens the mythology of that universe, putting in the “weird shit” that Gene Roddenberry wanted, non-humanoid intelligences, and a sense of deep history, that humanity is a relatively new (and in cosmic and historical terms, minor) player on the galactic stage. I like the idea that the galaxy develops in stages, that civilizations rise and fall, that there are ancient races coexisting with newly emergent civilizations. I think bringing in elements of Known Space (or other sf milieus) can, done properly, add a sense of reality to Trek.

Ultimately it comes down to a personal choice, what to keep and what to remove from one’s personal view of the Star Trek universe and its continuity. The more you keep the harder it becomes for the pieces to fit, but the more you dismiss the duller the playground toys become. Many fans would question the wisdom of inserting the Kzin into the Star Trek universe. Reviewing the evidence, there is every possibility that room for them exists within the framework that First Contact established. While this might not be the best solution to the Kzin Question, this is a possible solution. Perhaps even a likely solution. There isn’t a balance to strike, though, and definitely no right answers. How can there be a right answer when no answer is wrong?

7 June 2001

4 Replies to “The Kzin Question”

  1. Wouldn’t it just be easier to assume that the felinoids in “The Slaver Weapon” were Caitians, a long-established Trek species, and not Kzin? I mean, we even see Kirk toss a Caitian around in Star Trek V.

  2. ZC, the problem is that we already know about the Caitians, and M’ress served on the Enterprise in TAS. So making the Kzin into Caitians means you suddenly have the same species that look nothing like each other.

  3. Actually, it was stated that FC was the first – Troi specifically mentions the positive effects of Humanity finding out they weren’t alone in the universe.

  4. If you look at real history between about 1480 and 1520, you will realize that the state of matters regarding the European discovery of America was very confused. Numerous voyages from various nations were arriving in various places in the New World, and many of these cases were poorly documented or kept low-profile. At times even the experts are hard-pressed to say which nation did what, and when, or even if some of the supposed voyages were not lies. Additionally, Basque, Spanish and other fishermen had been visiting the American coasts for many years but not broadcasting it, because they wanted to keep their fishing grounds secret. And what about Leif Ericson and the Vikings? Possibly the South Sea Islanders discovered America before anybody (not counting the Native Americans themselves, who it now seems were not the first to colonize the New World after all). Anyway, in the Star Trek universe, the first contacts between humans and aliens really took place between prehistoric humans and the various different aliens who visited Earth, such as the Preservers; and possibly there were others in even more ancient times.

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