Did a pulp science fiction story — Cosmic Checkmate by Charles V. de Vet — inspire the creation of Star Trek’s Klingon culture?
How would one describe Klingon culture? Cosmic Checkmate showcases a warrior culture — the Veldians — based on honor and pride.
Klingons feature aggression and don’t cotton to the weak. In fact, all signs of weakness usually prompt an attack.
We see this exact culture in Cosmic Checkmate by Charles V. de Vet. The book, published as a double-story sci-fi paperback in 1962, tells the tale of a diplomat/intelligence officer Robert O. Lang.
Mr. Lang represents “The Federation,” a grouping of 10,000 worlds. His mission involves studying and engaging the Veldians after they have refused all attempted of contact and destroyed a diplomatic armada.
In a Kirk-like mission, Lang smuggles himself onto the Veldian home world and sets up shop in the marketplace as an expert in the Veldian’s version of chess aka “The Game.”
Thanks to an impressive memory and some hard wiring via “the annotator” in his brain, Lang offers the local natives two chances to defeat him with the second counting as the money match. He typically used the first game to determine a weakness in his opponent before closing them out in the second game.
Lang beats all comers and develops a local following. One day he struggles to defeat a man name Trobt. As he concludes his second-game victory, Trobt fingers Lang as an off-worlder and politely takes him under arrest.
The men develop an instant respect and chemistry, but on the way to Trobt’s quarters, Lang learns he will die for his transgressions. It appears as though the Federation’s envoy flotilla of military ships did not intimidate the Veldians. In fact, it insulted them, and one Veldian ship destroyed the massive Federation fleet.
The Veldians see the Federation as rude imperialists and aim to conquer them.
As Lang awaits his trial and fate, he undergoes interrogation, is allowed to escape and live in the city for several days before being recaptured.
He wins a street fight against a Veldian who offered a duel merely for bumping into him in the street. Lang doesn’t realize it, but each time a citizen says “I will see you die,” he’s been afforded the ultimate in respect.
By the end of the story it appears Lang is preparing to meet his fate, but he delivers a solution that rescues the Federation and ultimately causes the Veldians long-term damage.
You see, Veldian women come into season once every eight years. Veldian men prefer humanoid women. As part of the Federation’s unconditional surrender, the Veldians inter-marry humanoid females. In several generations their species becomes watered down through cross-breeding.
Tobt visits Lang and relates his revelation of how Lang used his game strategy to sucker the Veldians into losing through victory.
In this story, we see similarities in the Klingon culture with blood feuds, duels and the acceptance of death as honorable.
But in the end, the Veldians become like the group they’ve conquered. In Star Trek the Federation and Klingons evolve into an alliance. We see the Klingons evolve as a society through Star Trek: Next Generation.
What’re the chances Gene Roddenberry or one of the writers on Star Trek TOS had read this book?