Robot Commando

“Screw jaegers! Screw kaiju! This is the real deal right here!”

Robot Commando by American Steve Jackson

Cover: David Martin

Illustrations: Gary Mayes

I know, I know. You think this book is about being a robot and going on a commando mission. Well, sorry, no. The book is about…

Holy crap!

Holy crap!

Hell yes! Piloting giant robots and fighting dinosaurs! I think there’s a plot. Who knows? WHO CARES?

Statistics

Skill: 11
Stamina: 16 (this not a problem, I’m spending most of the book in a giant robot) Luck: 11

Equipment: I have a sword (The hell?) and 5 medkits which heal… ONE STAMINA? Oooookay, so in this futuristic setting full of giant robots medical science isn’t as good as a sandwich.

Oh yes… I get robots, So I should tell you about robots. Okay let me see… Robots have Armour, which is how much damage they can take, Speed (slow, medium, fast, very fast) which means if you’re faster you get a bonus, Combat Bonus which adds or subtracts from my skill score. Right, what’s next? I guess its…

Onward to Adventure!

I’m a rancher in the land of Thalos. Our civilization has giant robots, because they’re so good for mining, transport, construction – construction is a popular job now we’ve turned it into playing with Lego – and of course, punching dinosaurs. Stop looking at me like that, it’s part of our cultural tradition of… okay, all right. We don’t have an excuse for this, it’s just cool.

I am having breakfast one morning on the old family dinosaur ranch, where I uphold the time-worn Thalosian tradition of piloting giant robots to herd dinosaurs, and I notice everyone who works on the ranch is keeling over, asleep. I raise an eyebrow and turn on the radio. All I get is the announcer muttering something about the evil Karossean’s sedating the population before starting to snore. I fiddle with the radio for a bit and pick up the Karossean military communications: They’re invading with an army of a thousand giant robots.

I was going to be really sarcastic about the dated technology, but then I realised radio is not that silly in this scenario.

I was going to be really sarcastic about the dated technology, but then I realised radio is not that silly in this scenario.

All right then, I suppose I’m the lone rebel standing in the way of an army of evil invaders. I guess that means I better load up. I grab the best weapon I can find – a sword – and head out to grab a robot.

Yes, this will do nicely against all those dinosaurs and giant robots.

Yes, this will do nicely against all those dinosaurs and giant robots.

I have a choice of the dragonfly flyer, which looks pretty but is only marginally more durable than a hang glider made of tinfoil, or the Mark 5a “Cowboy” Utility Robot. What the hell? Some of the ranch hands must have taken the other, tougher robots off to the underground giant robot fighting circuit last night.

Robot fighting game? ROBOT FIGHTING GAME!

Like all fighting games this one has a contrived reason to smash opponents, when really people would just buy it for the whole robot fighting thing. Who needs a plot?

I choose the robot that isn’t going to die if a bug hits the windscreen and head off to save the nation. I have two choices of destination: The City of Knowledge, and the City of Industry. This is difficult, because I have no idea what useful things I could find at these locations. What could possibly be found in the City of Knowledge? What could possibly be useful to my aims in the City of Industry? I’m at the gate to my dinosaur ranch and already I’m faced with an impossible decision to make, no idea what the outcomes of either choice might be. The pressure is astounding, and I feel I may not be up to the task. I contemplate going back inside and pretending to be asleep so I don’t have to deal with these difficult obfuscated choices.

Just kidding, I head to the City of Knowledge. Seriously, who would name a city “City of Industry”?

Let's all take a moment to laugh at America. Hahahahaha. What's next? Naming islands after cardinal compass points?

Let’s all take a moment to laugh at America. Hahahahaha. What’s next? Naming islands after cardinal compass points?

So I’m cruising along. I’m piloting a giant robot. I’m going to fight some dinosaurs with it, on my way to saving the country from fascist invaders. Life is pretty good, you know? Then a pteranodon attacks, and I knock it down after it bites my robot. Afterwards I stop off at a village and find an abandoned digger robot. This thing looks like something made by Martians, but it’s probably handy. Despite the slow speed it can attack with an excavator scoop, so it’s more like a tank armed with a shovel. I trade up, since my rubbish robot got damaged by a flying reptile that isn’t even a real dinosaur.

I drive my totally sweet excavator robot into the city and then head to the College of Medicine. I start looking through books for an answer. Once I have find a text that tells me what to do, I take the book over to the deserted research lab which is full of ominous squeaking, and mix up what the book calls the Blue Potion. All one litre of it.

A thrilling time was had by all.

A thrilling time was had by all.

So I have one litre of Blue Potion and no way to administer it to the entire population in one go. The ingredients are wildly rare, and one of them has probably gone off and comes from a carnivorous plant, and there’s some weird squeaking noises somewhere around here. Through this door, in fact. I know, I know, if I open it there will be some kind of monsters. But if I don’t open it then they will just jump out at me later. I opt for fighting them now, and kick open the door.

Wait, they’re giant lizards? The whole planet is full of giant lizards, and by the standards of dinosaurs these ones lurking the dark are pretty small. I wrangle dinosaurs for a living, so this turns out to be no problem. I get out of there in case there’s something worse than large lizards, and drive my digging robot over to the museum. The museum has an information robot, which points me towards the exhibition on the Karosseans. I spend some time trying to find out anything useful, and all I get is that these war-mad lunatics will actually settle their disputes with duels between leaders. On the way out of the museum I notice there were some Karosseans here, and they’ve been blown up by something which then walked through the wall. Why do I get the feeling I’m not going to like this? I grab a uniform from one of the dead soldiers to use as a disguise, and get out of there.

I head for the College of War, and bluff my way past the lone enemy sentry. I don’t have much time, because more Karosseans arrive in robots that can change into a fighter and back. I manage to grab a map reference to the Thalosian military base and then run out a side door. The Karosseans left the keys in their robots, so I steal one and head for the Dinosaur Preserve.

Admit it, you're wishing Jurassic Park had giant robots now, aren't you?

Admit it, you’re wishing Jurassic Park had giant robots now, aren’t you?

There’s not much there of use, other than some upgraded dinosaur wrangling robots which don’t turn into a plane and are therefore rubbish. I decide I have dredged the murky depths of Thalosian knowledge enough for this invasion, and decide to head off to another city. Let’s see, I can go to the City of Industry, City of the Jungle, City of Storms, or City of Worship. I feel like some variety, so City of the Jungle it is.

The City of the Jungle is more an outpost for crazed explorers who think that there’s not enough excitement as it is with all the dinosaurs and giant robots. I explore the city and find a fantastic robot called a Serpent VII. It’s a giant robot python that can constrict enemy robots and dinosaurs. Okay that seems way cooler than the one I’ve got, so I trade up and slither off into the jungle.

The jungle is relatively boring, but I find a sign that says a mantrap plant is nearby. Oh, good, this is that plant I need. Thankfully, having a giant robot means I can steal a flower from it easily. Unsure what to do with the flower, I just chuck it in the Blue Potion – which turns into a Lavender Potion. Right, now I have to figure out how to distribute a litre of easily-evaporated Lavender Potion to the entire nation. I’m sure that won’t be a problem. This, however, is a problem:

Must we constantly talk about Biollante?

Must we constantly talk about Biollante?

Drat. I was so very much hoping to get out of here without having to have a fight with a carnivorous plant. Thankfully I crush it into paste with ease and slither out of the jungle, to the The City of the Jungle. The jungle city is by now being patrolled heavily so I decide to make for the City of Industry. The City of Industry is a bit rubbish, with nothing really worth looking at, so I decide to head for the secret military base. The secret military base that was so secret they kept the information in a book, on a shelf, in a relatively easy to access building. The City of the Guardians has an automated system which won’t let me inside, but will let me take a robot. That’s secure, isn’t it? I grab a plane/robot transforming one – it’s a Thalossian model called a Trouper XI, clearly designed for endeavours both military and thespian – and zoom off to the City of Storms. It’s really an entire city devoted to weather services. Not nifty ones like weather control, but just boring old weather prediction. They use high-tech devices, such as flags on the top of buildings, to show there’s a storm coming.

The Thalosian robot obsession has driven our society to such lows. No wonder the Karosseans think we’re easy pickings.

Inside, a printout tells me that the storm is going to make landfall at the City of Worship, which means I might be able to distribute my Lavender Potion there. I might pull this off without any more trouble! I fly at speed to the City of Worship and fly right into the heart of the oncoming storm. I am briefly thrown about in the cockpit but I manage to get to the middle of the tempest and throw the potion out. When I land everyone has woken up and the day is saved. Unfortunately no-one knows I saved them from a fate worse than death.

Wrapup

There’s so much to do! Most of it actually interesting! The best part is the multiple paths to victory: The relatively peaceful (or possibly boring) one, the one where you manage to exploit the Karossean cultural values to duel their leader, and the one with an epic robot battle. It’s also possible to smash the enemy army, defeat their leader, and die in the process. I think that should be a victory.

There are a lot of robots. In fact, most of the time swapping robots is there purely for the sake of having new ones (which is needed, the robots don’t get fixed often). There’s also the ability to backtrack between cities (and get back ditched robots), which I think makes for a good experience reading this book.

The really silly names for the cure for the sedative poison are like that because you have to add the number of letters together, so that looks silly but has a purpose. If I have one complaint, it’s the rubbish names for the cities. But we can’t have everything.

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: Gee, I don’t know. Could it be the cure for sleeping sickness is called Lavender Potion? No, probably the worst is how it’s easy to find the College of War because it’s a large, five-sided building.

Times I Typoed “Dinosaur” While Writing This: 8

Number of Times I Fought an Actual Dinosaur: 0

Ridiculous Battle: Minos, leader of the Karosseans, is Skill 12, Stamina 12, so he’s not a pushover. To fight him you have to go through an office who is Skill 11, Stamina 11.

On the robot front, I saw a Robot Tyrannosaurus which is Skill 10, Armour 11. But that’s nothing compared to Minos’ ridiculously powerful Supertank, which is barely even a robot but with Skill 12 and Armour 16 and the ability to deal 1 damage even in losing rounds, is not really a fair fight.

Oh, and of course our friend the Tyrannosaurus Rex is in the book, but is only Skill 9, Armour 8. That’s no Pit Fiend.

Victory: In all three endings, you win and are the hero of the land. In one of them you get a national holiday named after you, so I guess that’s the best ending. It’s the one where you duel the evil Minos and then according to the cultural mores of Kaross you run everything so you tell them to pack up and go home.

What Was I Thinking? I feel like I cheated myself by not having massive amounts of dinosaur battles, or robot battles. That’s what the book is for!

Fighting Fantasy Christmas Gift Ideas

So, it’s the season of buying gifts for people. What to buy? What does one get the adventurer who has everything? More importantly, what do you get the adventurer who had everything but blew it all on a week-long binge in Port Blacksand and now has to go off and find a wizard to kill and rob so they can pay their tavern bill? Well fear not, for I have some excellent gift ideas for this holiday season, straight from the pages of the Allansian Adventurer Catalogue!

Bird Hat

A bird hat is a stunning item, part accessory, part headgear. It’s stylish, it’s intriguing, it’s a bird on your head that won’t shit all over your hair and down your back. Just look at how great it looks:

Woman with fangs and bird hat. Looks angry. Possibly because someone made fun of her hat

“I got resurrected for THIS?”

They’re not just for the ladies, and not just birds!

At this point it's a Luck test to nail him with the silver arrow. That's why I took that potion at the start.

I’d come back from the dead, – um, I mean redead – for that hat too.

As you can see, our model is wearing the classic bat hat, which is suave and sophisticated and very slimming. There are hats made from flappy airborne things available for everyone’s tastes and everyone’s head, even Zanbar Bone!

Zanbar Bone appears out of nowhere to scythe you up!

Muahahahahahaha!

Your loved one will be the talk of the Allansian Bird Hat Society for months after they show up wearing one of these!

Garlic Wreath

All adventurers know that when you see garlic, there’s a vampire somewhere near. Why not save the adventurer in your life the trouble of having to search through every storeroom and visit every market stall by buying them this inexpensive yet festive garland of garlic? They’ll be ready for any number of insidious blood-sucking freaks, and the best thing is, it doesn’t matter how old the garlic is, it’s just gotta be garlic! It’s so essential that if you were an adventurer yourself you’d have bought this already. This year there’ll be no more excuses about how it’s too dangerous to go on holiday to Mauristatia!

Fire Sword

The Lizard King is a total badass and it's best not to try and sell him Amway.

No-one can ever have enough fire swords.

Nothing says hot stuff like a fire sword! It’s not just good for killing enemies; it’s also handy for clearing a snowed-in driveway, and it radiates enough heat that the wielder won’t even need clothes to walk their pet lion! On top of that, when barbecue season rolls around it won’t just cut the steak, it grills it too! It’s also handy for dealing with those pesky gonchongs that make summer vacations a drag.

SPECIAL OFFER: Buy a Fire Sword from this catalogue and we’ll throw in a theft proofing illusion that makes this valuable flaming sword look like a rusty knife. That’s an illusion worth 30gp for FREE! Just make sure no-one forgets the rusty knife on the sideboard is really a flaming blade of fiery death!

Gravity Bomb

“But what about the space-faring adventurer in the family,” you ask? Fear not, you can always get them a gravity bomb! This little beauty creates a small, localised black hole. It sucks in everything it touches and then fizzles out of existence, so there’s no chance the kids will fall into it and be crushed like an incompetent starship captain. If you don’t know any intrepid Space Assassins who may need one of these, then there’s always the option of using it to clean up the wrapping paper after the gifts have been opened!

Black hole comes in any colour you want as long as it’s black. No refunds. Gravity bomb not for human consumption.

Single-Use Magic Item Gift Basket

Every adventurer knows that having the right item on hand can be the difference between a gentle walk in the forest or a deadly struggle with a deadly monster. Well, with this gift basket of Yaztromotm brand single-use magic items your favourite adventurer will have everything they need to trek through the most wild and dangerous wilderness! The gift basket includes nose plugs, glove of missile dexterity, armband of strength, fire seeds, holy water, potion of plant control, potion of anti-poison, headband of concentration, boots of leaping, and of course everyone’s favourite; a y-shaped stick!

Rebel Planet

“Oh great, it’s hunt the keys… in space!”

Rebel Planet by Robin Waterfield

Cover: Alan Craddock

Illustrations: Gary Mayes

Lizard man with sword. Did you think we'd get away from that in The Future? Hah!

I appear to have fallen through a wormhole into a fantasy universe.

Yes, the word planet in the title means the book is set in The Future and there is space travel and also that this is science fiction and I’m probably going to get killed by a robot.

This is a really good science fiction story, what with all the flavour and future technology and different human cultures that science fiction is supposed to be about. Oh sure, the technology is sometimes stunted in that old sci-fi way, but never so much so that it isn’t reasonable. The various planets are human colonies with different cultures, and the way the evil aliens fit in is interesting. I enjoyed it as a sci fi story. I also enjoyed it as a gamebook, except… well, you’ll see.

Okay, so, evil aliens: So by 2453 the planet, in fact all the planets humans colonized, have been conquered by some alien reptiles who are bastards. This is what happens when you give aliens the secret of space travel. After giving the human race an arse kicking that is more than a little embarrassing, they decided that this running a galactic empire thing was tricky, so they built a massive computer on their home planet. The Arcadians (they come in three varieties due to divergent evolution) decided to turn themselves into a group mind just so they could have an easier time running their empire. Yes, they are a bit stupid. But there’s a plan to free the human race from the yoke of the oppressor, and it’s an incredibly dangerous task.

Why yes, you’re right, the person being sent to do this seemingly impossible, certain death task is me. So basically the human race is screwed. But SAROS (Search And Research Of Space, they’ve had a bit of a shift in focus since we were conquered) has trained me up in martial arts and science, and has managed to whack an Arcadian over the head for a weapon, and they’re going to send me off undercover as a merchant, which is the only space travelling humans are allowed to do between our colony worlds. My mission is to blow up their computer.

Oh wait, no, that would be too easy! My mission is to find the rebel leaders who each have part of the code to the front door of the computer complex, and then get to Arcadion, and then blow up the computer. I guess if I don’t have all the pieces of the code when I get there, I get to sit down on the steps outside and have a bit of a cry or something.

Oh, and this was one of the Fighting Fantasy books which was turned into a computer game back in the distant past of the 1980s. It’s a bit different, having been turned into a text adventure instead of the slaughterfest these books usually are, but it sounds interesting enough.

48 kilobytes! 48!

Not pictured: Reel-to-reel version. Hey, and what’s with this “All-American” rubbish?

Statistics

Skill: 11 (haha!)
Stamina: 18 (whaaat?)
Luck: 12 (screw this secret mission, time to hit the casinos!)

Equipment: Laser sword, 2000 credits, anti-grav pack (it’s a backpack which is weightless).

Special: When I hit someone in unarmed combat, I have a 1 in 6 chance of killing them outright, because I am that much of a badass. Also I can only carry six other items. So I’m a poorly equipped badass.

Onward to Adventure!

Well, blue is a change from white.

Let me think… the only people who have spaceships are Arcadians, and me. So… no.

After an uneventful trip involving a lot of space chess – it’s like normal chess but the computer throws every third game so I don’t feel so bad – I arrive on Tropos, the planet otherwise known as retro world. For some reason the fashions of 21st Century Earth have become sort of a national dress here, so since the entire planet Earth turned into one big permanent retro costume party in the 1990’s, this means I’m moving through crowds of people dressed in fashion from the 20th century. But there’s no time for me to reflect on the sartorial history of Earth. First I have to find Bellatrix, rebel leader, who hangs out at a club called Fission Chips. Ugh, they kept all the old puns, too.

First things first, I have to go to the hostel for offworld humans to maintain my cover. The receptionist is unresponsive, possibly because Arcadians have no need nor desire to be respectful to us, so I go upstairs and find someone crying because he’s been made homeless by the Arcadians. They suspected him of being one of the rebels and naturally figured the best way to deal with this problem was to kill his family and burn his house down while leaving him free to go about his life. Then one of the guards downstairs comes running up to the dormitory floor and wants to slaughter us because the receptionist is dead, on the basis of some kind of ten-for-one deal they have going to make sure no-one tries anything funny. Well, I suppose this is what the super-secret rebel leaders gave me my laser sword for: Hilarity ensues. After I kill the guard, throw the other intended victim out the window to safety, and make my escape. Unfortunately I don’t have an address for this nightclub, so I wander about until I find a store and buy some gear. Rope, can of oil, klaxon. Thankfully the shopkeeper is an Arcadian so I don’t have to make any excuses to her. I then ask for directions, which she gives me in typical Southern Arcadian fashion – which means a cryptic statement that seems more than a little bizarre. But thankfully I figure out where to go with no trouble at all whatsoever.

At the Fission Chips, I am quietly told that I probably want to make a call from the visiphone booth. As I step inside I get gassed and dropped down a chute, because apparently the people in charge of the Tropos cell decided Get Smart! was the best bit of Earth nostalgia to base their secret rebellion tactics on. I wake up in the dark, being questioned by three people I can’t see. I manage to figure out that the woman in the group is indeed Bellatrix, and she tells me that the only information she has is that the Northern Arcadians, who are the warlike sub-species of our oppressors, have encoded part of the secret door code in a marching song. Apparently they think an acrostic poem is the height of clever encryption.

The next day I board my space ship and head for Radix, which is a decadent planet with slightly lower gravity, lots of robots, and I have no idea who my contact is or how to find them. Good thing the Arcadians on this world are as prone to lazing about as the humans, then. I make for a low-rent hotel and find out from the manager that the Arcadians aren’t so much slacking off on the oppression front as they are outsourcing it to robots – they have a machine that can destroy whole city blocks to deal with student protests. Oh, right. A giant death robot. Called the Street Fighter. Riiiight. I head to the university despite the risk of being attacked by a robot, and decide on a whim to check out the archaeology museum next door first. It’s not very exciting, apart from the shocking revelation that the original inhabitants of this planet were entirely wiped out by the human colonists before the Arcadians took over from the humans. So this whole situation is probably the universe handing down some karma on us. Okay then. The Arcadian on guard offers to show me around the basement archives, where I see a grenade which has been labelled as a religious artefact. In the fine traditions of my ancestors, I am overcome with desire for this destructive weapon. I could sneakily pocket it but instead, inspired by the destructive history of the human race I witnessed above, I decide to slice up the security guard so I can steal it. The human way is the violent way, after all. Then I get lost in a maze of passageways. But there’s stuff to loot, so that’s okay. What’s not okay is that there’s people chasing me. I dodge around the passageways stealing priceless artefacts and then finally find a hatch I can unlock with the keys I stole from the guard. Then it’s on to the university.

I wander about until a kindly student, seeing me feeling dejected because I’m all alone, asks me what’s wrong. I vaguely hint at needing to meet someone who is vaguely near the fringe of the vaguely revolutionary vaguely scene. She sends me to meet a Professor Zacharias, who is in a bit of a rush, so I attend his space history lecture. It’s more than a little boring, and I fall asleep in what I will insist later was a brilliant tactical move. I realise I’ll have to come back tomorrow and leave. On my way back to the seedy and cheap hotel I’m staying at, I run into the evil giant cylinder that’s going to try and collapse a building on top of me. Literally: It stomps the ground so that pieces of falling masonry come crashing down. I, however, have a grenade. One smithereened robot later, it’s back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep. The people of Radix can sleep easier… at least, until the Arcadians come up with a Street Fighter 2.

In the morning I head to the university, only to find that Zacharias has been arrested for being the head of the underground. Oh, dear. But maybe the clutter on his desk cunningly hides a clue? Or maybe I’m clutching at straws. But my straw clutching takes too long, and some Arcadians turn up and arrest me on the basis that anyone staring at a known rebel’s desk is also a rebel. As opposed to someone who considers disorganised clutter to be found art. Given a choice between death and no chance to continue my mission, and selling out the rebels on Radix and getting set free – oh how hopefully optimistic I must be to take that seriously – I decide that selling out the rebellion is the only option. Then the guards decide to be colossal wankers and give me a choice between a certain death door and a maybe death door.

“So, where are the two guards for the doors?” I ask.

“What guards for the doors?” replies the commandant.

“You know. One who tells the truth, and one who lies.”

“What?”

“Sorry, I must have been a bit confused for a moment,” I say. Which isn’t a lie, I genuinely thought there would be two guards and a logic puzzle for me. Oh well, left it is.

The left door leads to a darkened corridor, which leads to a door with a grille next to it. One of the Arcadians is on the other side and seems pleased to see me, presumably because they prefer to have an excuse for gladiatorial games, rather than just abducting people. I’m allowed to sleep and then in the morning the guard tells me how to beat one of the monsters, and gives me a new laser sword. I do my thing and then am allowed to leave, which goes to show that the Arcadians aren’t all bad. Just 99% bad.

I set off, with a spare anti-grav pack from my ship, but no equipment. Thankfully I still have my money. Halmuris turns out to be the worst dump of a planet I have ever seen. Well, okay, I’ve only ever seen Mercury and Venus before this trip, so this planet is probably a bit of an improvement. It’s covered in volcanoes, has massive and dangerous tides, and the only people here are Arcadians and researchers. I’m looking for an assistant at an agricultural research station. But of course the first thing I need is a sword, so I ask someone if they can help me get one. This is probably the silliest idea I’ve had on this whole mission. But the technician leads me to a black marketeer who sells me a new laser sword for a thousand credits. Then he has two of his thugs block the door and tells me to cut him in on whatever scheme he thinks I have going on.

“Sure,” I say, activating my new sword. “I can cut you in on the action,” and proceed to kill him. What kind of fool tries to menace a woman he’s just sold a laser sword to? Especially one as good at dicing people up as me. Unfortunately I’m so shit-hot at swordplay that I’ve started a fire, and have to run away from the scene of destruction. I only have time to grab a pair of wire cutters before leaving. I sneak up to the starport’s high-tech boundary barrier – a wire fence – hack it open, and then make for the research station.

One set of mountains, flipped for the other side.

Hey, I bet this planet is a nice holiday spot. Why are you looking at me like that?

I have to spend the night in a cave and then the next day try to find the research facility. Of course, seeing a rock buzzard with something shiny clutched in a vicious talon as it glides to its aerie sidetracks me. I climb up to kill it and then shove my hand in one of two conveniently dark and spooky holes in the rock to see what I can find. I come out with some kind of weird alien staff, some credits, and… no! Not a mind probe!

I return to the ground and continue onwards, taking a side path where I meet a shadow roving about on the ground with nothing visible to cast it. Then it turns into some kind of hazy form. It’s life, but not as we know it. I call it Lamont. Lamont wants something but can only speak in 1950’s sci-fi alien speak, but thankfully I know that quite well. I have a sneaking suspicion what he wants is the staff I hauled out of the crevice, which turns out to be an incredibly impractically-shaped battery. With Lamont’s power restored he can speak properly, and he offers me a favour. I ask for the name of the rebel leader, and Lamont tells me to look for someone called Dorado, gives me the secret password, and then vanishes away to his home in a galaxy, far, far away.

I press on to the agricultural research facility and head for the fields to find this Dorado person. Unfortunately a flyer spots me, and they start incinerating the genetically engineered super shrubs that are being created to terraform this planet. As I run for some rocks the flyer follows, but it crashes into the cliff face and thanks to my space helmet I am merely knocked unconscious thanks to the falling debris instead of being outright killed. I come around almost an hour later and have been found by the rebel leader for this planet.

That staff is not really keeping in character as an agricultural worker.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

He tells me that the passcode for the computer facility is a palindrome, and gives me some gear, including a disguise so I can get back in to the starport (yeah, it’s a jumpsuit), and sends me on my way.

I decide to simply wire cutter my way back in, purely for amusement. Once there, I get ready for the last leg of my trip. Unfortunately my trip to Arcadion is not a simple cargo delivery. This time I’m delivering a passenger… no… it turns out there’s two of them. Crap. I set the ship in flight and settle down to an uneventful journey. At least, it should have been. Instead I have someone trying to break into my cabin. I throw the door open and find an Arcadian looking confused. I manage to get some information out of him: His name is Mucsa and his brain implant has started to fail, due to the amount of decision making he has to engage in in various administrative positions. This is slowly giving him back free will, but is causing terrible migraines and also wracking guilt. Before I can learn anything else, he’s taken away by the other Arcadian. Who is armed with a phaser. This is not typical at all. So I go and kick their door in and kill the armed one, and interrogate the other. I don’t learn much, but find out there’s an arsenal under the computer building and he also gives me the code.

Right then.

Arriving on Arcadion I head off on the pretence of doing some sightseeing. There’s actually a few humans around, who are clearly fanatically loyal to the Arcadians. The building housing Friend Computer is… well, it’s a building. There’s a keypad by the door, with two buttons. Arcadians, having only two fingers, think in binary. That must mean there’s little amusement to be had with an Arcadian pocket calculator. Inside, I quickly go to the armoury and grab a tube of some kind of explosive and a grenade.

Guard with gun gazing grimly.

I don’t remember this guard. I suppose the Arcadians are more organised in computer game world.

The grenade turns out to be useful for killing the patrol I meet when I come out. No problem there, now for Skynet. The computer turns out to be a bunch of sub-components linked together, which is not that thrilling. They don’t even have reel-to-reel tape spooling away. I separate the tube of explosive in to three parts, one for each of the largest units, and then get the hell out of there Outside I run into a platoon of Arcadians. They look a bit angry, right up until the sound of the explosion is heard. Then they just stand there. I walk up and give the on in the front a gentle push, and the whole group topple down like dominoes.

Well, here I am, at the centre of an evil galactic empire and in need of a quick trip home. I hope those loyalists aren’t pissed, because I’m going to need some help refuelling my ship.

Wrapup

Okay so that bit with the password to talk to the rebel leader on the third planet was horrible, since there’s no logical way to get it without deviating from a clearly defined mission. In the fantasy stories it’s more sensible to go clambering up hill and down dale to see what’s out there, but in this case it seems slightly unreasonable that the super agent on a mission to save humanity would deviate from their mission.

There’s a shock twist near the end of the book which you can, unfortunately, miss: The two passengers are not an implant failure case and a guard. They are someone who has developed a brain implant that works in Arcadians and humans, and their Arcadian test subject. The mission goes from important to vital, with failure not even remotely an option.

Oh and I just effectively committed genocide there when I won, since the Arcadians are totally dependent on the computer to function. So that’s two races of aliens the humans wiped out. I suppose this is the book with the highest overall body count for the reader.

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: I need a weapon so my first idea is to go and ask some stranger. Yeah, that makes sense.

Ridiculous Battle: The Street Fighter (sk 9 st 16) seems reasonable, except each round it does more and more damage. Luckily there’s a way to outright thrash it, as well as a chance to figure out a way to reduce its Skill score. Otherwise, this book is rather kind.

Victory: Well, pretty much like I said: You run outside, there’s some Northern Arcadians, the computer is destroyed, you’ve reduced all Arcadians everywhere into vegetables. They were sort of evil thanks to their culture of ruthlessness, but this is a bit bleak, really. Good book, though.

What Was I Thinking? Um, pass? I don’t know if I did anything stupid or not. It’s a reasonably forgiving book, apart from that password thing and all the other 50-50 situations.

Space Assassin

“Oh right, I’ll just kick the octopus in the head or something.”

Space Assassin by Andrew Chapman

Cover: Christos Achilleos

Illustrations: Geoffrey Senior

The screaming dagger is a bit out of place on a sci fi cover.

The guards hastily switched the channel from a cooking programme. A dystopian cooking programme.

Space Assassin is another sci-fi book, this time it’s about… oh you can figure it out, I’m sure. The idea is to break into a starship – which is like a dungeon, really – and kill a scientist, who are sort of like the wizards of space. It’s very bizarre and also very fun. There’s not much more else to say about it, really. Time to roll some stats.

Oh, and this book contains the phrase “You fire at Cyrus’s Waldo.” I promise it’s less amusing than you think.

Statistics

Skill: 10 (woo!)
Stamina: 22 (yeah!)
Luck: 8 (argh!)

Armour: 11 (1d6+6 and every time I get shot I have to test it like luck to see if I get hurt or not)

Credits: 6

What’s this, money as a stat? Yes, you roll it up on one die (it’s really called “points” and doesn’t really represent money but whatever I’m abstracting it a bit) and then get to buy gear, which is a nice idea. I can buy things like an electric lash (which sounds like a fun toy), an assault blaster (which sounds good to me), grenades, extra armour, and gravity bombs. The latter being a small black hole that sucks in everything in a ten foot radius. Unfortunately those cost 3 credits each so I might have to go without the most amusing item in the book.

Equipment:Assault blaster, 3 grenades, 4 pep-pills (they restore 5 Stamina each and probably taste like cheese), sensomatic armoured pressure suit, and five empty spaces for things I find on the way.

Onward to Adventure!

Cyrus, colossal jerk and scientist-dictator of the local space sector, Od (we couldn’t afford a second ‘d’), has been completely messing up my home planet. Aside from the robots and mutants, he likes to abduct people and experiment on them. So naturally it’s the last straw when someone finds out about his latest space experiment: Raining viruses and radioactive waste down on our planet to see what happens. I think the hypothesis is that we will all die. In response to this, whoever is in charge of the planet has hired the Assassin’s Guild to stop him. They chose me to sneak on board his starship, the Vandervecken, and capture him. Wait, capture? I’m an assassin, not a kidnapper! What use are my high-tech weapons, fancy space armour, and mastery of twenty-seven alien martial arts? Absolutely none if I have to capture him. Damn it. Stupid guild. They still haven’t put the death-only clause in the space assassin’s space assassination contract.

I set out anyway, since turning down a job is probably not a good idea when I belong to a professional association crammed to the rim with people who consider any dispute to be best solved by sudden and surprising death. So I set out, travel around the sector for a while, and eventually find the Vandervecken taking on supplies. So I sneak on board the space delivery shuttle. It’s kind of cramped but I can always steal some of the space chocolate for later. Rather than sneak on board while the shuttle is being unloaded, I decide to opt for the totally unnecessary but thoroughly cool trick where I use the airlock to blast myself into space and skim along the side of the starship looking for a way in. Luckily I find a hatch. Good thing that panned out, and I didn’t end up gliding off into space.

Look, it's a spaceship, okay?

What is with evil spaceships and the pointless spiky bits? I bet they write angsty poetry and dye their hair black too.

Inside the hatch I loot a corpse that conveniently has some broken electronics on it. I don’t know why, but the first broken gadget you find on a mission always turns out to be useful. Then it’s onward into the ship. One dead guard robot later I have some vague information from a space prisoner, rob some rat people who are probably scientists, steal some food from a space kitchen, and then run into another robot, and find a gravity bomb. After that it’s off for a trip to a science lab! The laboratory I walked into has all manner of interesting – that is, completely horrifying – equipment, and also a cannister of nerve gas. Which I take, because I’m an assassin, not a goodwill ambassador for Od. Interplanetary warfare conventions do not apply to me. I also grab a large dead space crab, because if I lose my weapons I can always throw the crab at an enemy and in the confusion run up and space assassinate them. A space assassin is always prepared! To throw a crab in someone’s face!

As I travel further into the dark, dank, and deadly starship I come across a library of sorts, and have a quick look at a book about molluscs. I know from space assassin training that a mad scientist always has a giant squid stuffed into a space locker somewhere, and I have no doubt in my mind that I’ll find it by accident. Of course I should really stop opening all these side doors… Except when they say “CEPHALO SQUIRRELS: HANDLE WITH CARE” in which case I can’t help but check things out. The squirrels are terribly cute, with their six legs and black fur and screeching and carrying on. I try to get one out of their space cage but they all escape. The one I grab wants some food, so I grab some squirrel fruit out of a space crate and continue on my mission with a furry sidekick on my shoulder. How can I fail now?

That same gleeful overconfidence promptly saw me dropped onto a torus-shaped planetoid, thanks to my pressing all the buttons in sight on a door. I wind up on a plain, and decide to head north. Or where I think north is, anyway. I eventually find some pretty red shrubs… which explode when I brush against them. Okay, so the mad scientist has bred an explosive shrubbery. I walk around the least effective minefield in the history of sneaky munitions, and eventually find a chasm which I gingerly sneak into via some stairs, which nearly fall apart as I go down. Following the floor of the chasm east I come across a lake. You know what the best part of wearing a suit of space assassin space armour that also doubles as a space suit is? I can go space swimming in it!

The lake is calm and placid, and I’m not in any danger. So I decide to swim down to see what that glinting object down the bottom is. It’s a submarine. Of course. And the thing grabbing one of my legs is a giant octopus-type thing.

Try not to think too hard about what it's going to do with that tentacle.

Unfortunately I cannot wait 12 months for it to die of old age, since it’s trying to eat me.

Luckily for me I read that book on molluscs, and now have an edge in the martial arts battle that ensues. I am using an intricate and precise form learned through years of practice from an ancient master. The octopus is employing a traditional style called Grab a Second Limb and Wrench in Half. Somehow I win, and then use the submarine to get out of the lake via an underwater exit, and then end up on a pathway suspended above the alien world, which eventually takes me to a security room. I can tell because the space guards are watching what a broadcast of one of those zero-gravity spiky ball sports, and only security mooks would be watching sports when on duty. They look up and ask me who I am, and I respond by throwing a grenade into the room, splattering them across the walls.

Space assassins: Stealthy as FUCK.

After blasting the security guards to smithereens I steal all their cheese sandwiches from the break room and head onwards into the ship. The first thing I find is a pool full of octopus/human hybrids, who actually manage to hurt me before I dispatch them, and then I meet an alien who has a disintegrator, and wants to ask me a riddle. Thankfully I know the answer. On my way through I consider space assassinating the Zark to steal the disintegrator, but maybe that would be taking one too many chances. I pass through one of the three doors, and find a room full of gadgetry and fancy seats. I sit down and a simulation launches. I have to pilot a space tank and blow up another space tank. This isn’t exactly turning out to be the simple assassination mission I expected. However, my tank-battle skills are up to the task because as a space assassin I have to be ready for anything.

Wireframe tanks are the best tanks.

Just to be entirely clear here, you cannot drive to the volcano, okay?

Afterwards I am rewarded by being thrown towards a huge space monster, maw agape. It does not like the gravity bomb I throw at it. In fact, I bet it thought that gravity bomb really sucked. Further on I find the bridge, where the ship’s robot pilot asks me a bunch of questions about existentialism. I could just blast it into a pile of slag but I figure, how bad could it be? Not bad at all, as it turns out, and I get sent onwards. I pass through the astonishingly primitive mainframe computer and into an opulent room which contains a lot of nice furnishings, and also one mad scientist.

Cyrus is really not that cool. He doesn’t have any cybernetic eyes or limbs. He’s not confined to a wheelchair with many devices sustaining his withered husk of a body, seemingly helpless but deceptively so, the same technology keeping him alive also making him one of the most dangerous individuals in the galaxy when cornered. No, he’s just some old guy. This is a bit of a let-down. In fact, I’m left wondering what the hell motivated him to kidnap people for experiments and rain destruction down on our planet. Oh, right, he’s run off while I was standing there looking confused. I give chase, and eventually find a private shuttle bay, which will facilitate my escape. I also find the villain, inside some power armour and wielding an industrial laser. Of course, since he’s a scientist who spends all his time grafting tentacles to people and not a trained space assassin, he wasn’t smart enough to ambush me. I disable the exoskeleton easily and drag him out of it, giving him a good kicking in the process. Space mission space accomplished. Now all I have to do is get off this ship somehow…

Wrapup

This book is great, what with it being all mad fun in space and delightfully bonkers scenarios. Tank battles, alien worlds, martial arts fighting a squid, squirrels, it’s just completely mad and so much fun. There’s also a lot of ways to get through the book, various solutions to problems, and also a chance to overload the reactor of the ship and blow it to pieces. That counts as a failure, though, since the virus payload of the ship gets strewn through space.

The Vandervecken having an old mainframe is part of the joke in the book. I think there’s something to be said for an author who can guess that depictions of futuristic computers at the time would look woefully dated in the actual future.

The actual ending is, I think, the second most abrupt in the series, which is a bit unfortunate. Oh and at one point the book genders the protagonist as male. Damn, it was nearly perfect.

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: I’m ninja fighting a octopoid the size of a house? Underwater? And it’s already grabbed me? And I haven’t had all the blood and bones wrung out of me yet? Uhuh, suuuure.

Ridiculous Battle: At one point there’s a six-armed insect with six different weapons, which is uses at random each round. The 6th is a disintegrator. Though the Skill score with each is progressively lower, there’s a 3% chance of instant death each attack round.

Victory: I hauled Cyrus out of his exoskeleton and then uh… won? I guess? It’s not the most evocative ending paragraph. Hey, there’s also the hilarious idea of triggering the self destruct on the ship…which is a failure even if you escape due to seeding the entire sector of Od with the deadly viruses. Which is a pity because having a second way to win would have been pretty cool.

What Was I Thinking? In future, when presented with a door that has two buttons, or levers, or whatever, and I’m given the option to manipulate either the left or right one, or both… Don’t pick both. Just go with left!

Appointment with FEAR

“Right, fisticuffs with a shark it is.”

Appointment with F.E.A.R. by Steve Jackson

Cover: Brian Bolland

Illustrations: Declan Considine

When fighting superpowered cyborgs, beware of eye beams.

The dragon banner cover has the best colouring. Also, this guy is the baddest motherfucker in these books.

Hot damn, this is the superhero book. It’s unique for Fighting Fantasy, and it’s also huge, giving different side quests depending on the chosen superpower. The goal is to find an evil supervillain terrorist syndicate, and mess them up good and proper.

This is the first book to be reprinted with the original cover art, which has always been pretty cool. Unfortunately the shiny silver title takes away from the experience. If they were going to make a change, they should have put a proper comic book font on, sort of like the original cover had. I picked the dragon banner version because it has the most vivid colours, which seems right for a superhero story. The interior illustrations are multi-panel, like a comic book. I think that works quote well in this story.

Since it’s set in the “real” world, or at least a world without orcs and goblins, the protagonist needs a name. The main character has reasonably ambiguous moniker Jean Lafayette. The hero is called the Silver Crusader.

Oh, and I’ve never read it before. So this should be loads of fun.

Statistics

Skill: 10
Stamina: 20
Luck: 9

Hero Points: 0

This is effectively a scoring system to see how good the reader is at the book.

Superpowers, or, The Things That Make This Fun: So it’s a superhero story. The book offers a choice of four powers with different starting clues. The powers are: Superstrength, Psi-powers, Enhanced Technological Skill, and Energy Blast. Since I asked people to vote on what power I should use, I’ve been given… the techno-skills. Okay. So. If anything bad happens to me, it’s not my fault this time.

Equipment: Crimewatch. It’s a watch that has a communicator built in. So it’s sort of like… a phone I wear on my wrist. Due to the power the erstwhile readers picked, I also have an “accessory belt” because some rodent-themed superhero has copyrighted “utility belt” I presume I also have a very tight fitting costume of some sort.

Oh, and I’m not allowed to kill anyone. Instead combat ends when the villains Stamina drops to 2.

Onward to Adventure!

So I’m the perfectly ordinary result of a genetic experiment with the amazing power to make really cool gadgets. Despite the obvious true calling of supervillainy, I am instead a crime fighter, which just goes to show that it never pays to stereotype. I live in a place called Titan City and have an undercover agent who can fill me in on shady dealings. For example, I’ve heard that a gang called The Alchemists are planning on robbing some banks, and some kid called the Brain Child is having precognitive dreams. That’s not a big deal compared to the fact that the Titanium Cyborg, Vladimir Utoshski, is having a convention for the Federation of Euro-American Rebels today.

But who cares? I’m going to work. Fighting crime doesn’t pay the bills. I notice that the people in the street seem on edge, but this is a world full of superheroes and super villains, so it’s probably normal that all the everyday people are living in a state of constant paranoia, fear, and post-traumatic stress. It’s no wonder that businessman is threatening to strangle that woman’s poopy dog. This looks like a job for… Jean Lafayette, since I don’t think being the Silver Crusader is really required here. Of course the crowd of people joining in the bickering just jostle me and I fall down, hurting myself and also landing in some dog shit.

Right, since the police are breaking up the Great Dogshit Riot I decide I’m going to suit up and go investigate that bank robbery this morning. It turns out I have no devices that will open the vault the guard is sealed inside, and the bank manager is unwilling to tell me anything about the safety deposit boxes that were stolen. However, my keen crimefighter eyes spot the discarded contents of one, and apparently Silvia Frost, The Ice Queen, has just bought an abattoir. So I suppose I can always go and investigate her sometime. But right now, I’m off to confront the Alchemists at their next target.

Once I get there I decide not to leap into the bank and start punching the lab coat wearing jerk holding a vial of nerve gas, because that might possibly have unfortunate side effects. Instead I wait outside, shooing away autograph hunters. Unfortunately my only device for incapacitating villains emits a sonic shriek that will hurt everyone around, so I have to resort to more mundane methods such as punching them until the surrender. Thankfully they’re not just disguised as scientists, they are scientists, and go down easily. Next it’s off to the beach to save people from a giant shark. It turns out that despite the known threat of a giant killer shark that will eat anyone in sight, everyone is still at the beach, in the water, and not caring in the world that they can, for some reason, hear ominous music slowly building up to something. But when the shark is sighted they all scarper… except for one lone straggler.

Nothing makes a shark angrier than the phrase "jump the shark".

Sharks are our cuddly friends from the ocean.

Now, you’d think that like all super-prepared crime fighters with a belt full of gadgets, I’d have some shark repellent. But I don’t. I do have an Omnidirectional Electrifier, but there’s a slight problem with that… that one straggler in the water. I could take the shark out, but that would involve collateral damage, which always makes people complain. Er, I mean, it would be unthinkable to kill innocent bystanders while superheroing. I sigh and wade out into the water to punch the shark a few times. Unfortunately all that happens is it bites me a few times and then gets away and goes and kills the lone straggler who was for some reason still in the water. I drag my sodden spandex clad self out of the sea and head home.

The next day I get a message on the Crimewatch that there’s something going down at Radd Square. I head on over, and find that there’s a giant lizard thing in the fountain, and it’s just started to devour a bystander. Once again my array of devices is utterly useless, so I have to try and fight it the traditional superhero way. Eventually I hit it enough that it just disappears. I feel rather put out that my ultragadgets are always useless. Someone says something that suggests I should go check out that precognitive dream having brat. It turns out he not only predicts the future, but his dreams come true. Damn, that’s a problem. I tell his mother to take him to the hospital and finally go to work for the first time in two days. I promptly get told to take the afternoon off without pay and then consider a change in career if I don’t come in tomorrow.

Ungrateful wretches! After everything I’ve done for this cit- no, no. I mustn’t start ranting. That way supervillainy lies. Such an easy path for one with my skills. I must fight my natural inclination to turn to invention-fuelled evil and keep working to better the world.

The next day nothing exciting happens, which is a change. But I do hear about a mysterious attack in the park, and a death at the museum. I go to the museum and on a hunch check out the stuffed mammals. One of the tigers has blood on its claws. That’s suspicious. So is an alert about another museum that hold Egyptian antiquities. But nothing is going on there. Clearly I’m not good at crimefighting. I go and shake down my informant, and head home. The next day there’s an alert at a nuclear laboratory and I take out the mutated psychic power having jerk who is destroying stuff, getting a toy called a Circuit Jammer for my trouble.

Then I’m called to a swimming pool, where the water has turned to ice and a couple of women are trapped. Finally! A problem I have a gadget for! I unfreeze the pool and then think for a minute… Let’s see, a frozen swimming pool, and the other day I heard about someone who just possibly might have ice powers. Time to pay that abattoir a visit. The Ice Queen is there, and she tries to brain me with a carcass.

“Look,” I say, “I’m sorry I made fun of your crown the first time we met.”

“You must pay for daring to mock my royal attire!”

“Oh please, can’t we just sit down and talk?”

“No teamups, superhero!” and with that she takes aim to unleash a ray of cold, so I pull out a suitable device. My portable heat ray. It’s time for the usual showdown: Like all rays and beams and energy bolts, they clash and then veer back and forth until one wins. That one is mine. The ordinarily harmless heat ray causes her extreme pain due to her much colder body temperature. I tie up the Ice Queen, while she insists a little too much that she doesn’t like it, and get some information out of her about the F.E.A.R. meeting.

I actually have very little information about F.E.A.R. so I decide to go and talk to the general who runs the local military base. He doesn’t know anything either. But maybe whoever is heading up the twenty helicopter assault on the base does. It’s a very stealthy raid, what with the F.E.A.R. logos on the side of the helicopters. The F.E.A.R. troops are led by the evil genius known as the Macro Brain.

I still have no idea why they attacked the military base.

More like macho brain.

He’s obviously not that much of a genius because he’s not realised his overgrown brain would be subceptible to an Alpha Wave Emitter. Muhahahahahahaha! I mean… Take that, evildoer! In exchange for my turning off the incredibly painful device – it just sort of turned out that way by accident, honest – he gives me the location of the F.E.A.R. meeting: a Chinese laundry. How wonderfully clichéd.

Unfortunately I don’t actually know the street address, so I catch a taxi and hear on the radio that the nefarious villains have taken over a weapons satellite and will be holding the world hostage. To prove their power they’re going to blow up… Titan City? But they’re in Titan City! Typical supervillains, give them a laser satellite and they blow up the very city they’re in. I would be so much better at the villainy thing than the rest of those clowns… Except I’m about to die in an explosion.

Wrapup

Well I am clearly the most rubbish crimefighter ever. I scored 26 Hero Points but failed to save the city and the world. But that’s okay, this book is tremendous fun, and it’s probably the one that’s most fair since a low Skill score can be negated by taking Super Strength, which gives a Skill of 13 in combat.

It’s very silver age of comics, but that’s okay because it’s more about capturing the feel of comics and being a trip through some generic scenarios. It’s not meant to be more than a fun story, so the villainy of the criminals is kept in the background. They murder, perform bizarre medical experiments, but so far as I saw, it’s all off to the side. I also found it astonishingly easy to not mess up terribly, common sense decisions ruling the day most of the time.

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: They want to blow up the city their secret meeting is in? I mean, okay, the Titanium Cyborg will probably survive, but still…

Ridiculous Battle: I didn’t reach him, and had the item that lets you avoid the combat, but Vladimir Utoshski, the Titanium Cyborg, has a Skill score of EIGHTEEN. I think he has a Stamina score, but who cares what it is? It’s not like you stand a shit show in hell of damaging him… and after three rounds he kills you with his eye lasers. He’s actually the toughest villain in these books, though he’s a lot weaker if you have the circuit jammer.

Victory: The Titanium Cyborg and his minions get taken away to prison, well done Silver Crusader, pity you lost your job. At least with the ETS skill you can make a fortune in the electronics industry.

What Was I Thinking? Letting the readers decide my superpower. No, only joking! I think my biggest mistake was… well… Check this out: There’s so many gadgets! Basically, I missed most of the fun by employing my real life superpower of Missing All The Good Bits In This Book.

Freeway Fighter

“I don’t even have a pithy comment about the book.”

Freeway Fighter by Ian Livingstone

Freeway Fighter is one I approach with trepidation, since I could never get into it. It’s basically Mad Max, and thus is closely aligned with a genre that had never been generified out in the the way fantasy RPGs had made a good go – and that’s not much back then, but things are much better – of turning medieval society into a no-holds-barred anything-you-like-is-valid venue for people to jump in and have fun.

The other problem is I have no idea how to drive a car, and so I have no idea what I’m talking about.

The background for this particular apocalypse is that in 2022 a plague wipes out 85% of the world population in four days. No-one knows why, and no-one cares because they’re too busy trying to fight for survival as half the population that’s left flips the fuck out. More interesting is that there’s no world war, no evil genius, it just happened. The world was a utopia, with wars averted, hunger eradicated, increased access to travel allowing people to get along just fine, solar energy powering almost all homes and most industries, a three-day working week, the US using the metric system, and England was in the finals for the World Cup.

In the fine tradition of British science fiction, the more optimistic the future, the harsher the fall. I love British science fiction.

Statistics

Skill: 11 (badass)
Stamina: 27 (it’s 2d6 + 24 so this is a rubbish score)
Luck: 12 (hooray!)

Firepower: 12 (1d6+6, and averages out weapons and engine power – huh?)

Armour: Okay have to confess something: I threw out the character sheet for this book before I finished the writeup. It’s 2d6 + 24 and my score was high enough that I wasn’t too worried.

Equipment: Map, flashlight, compass, instant puncture repair device, tools, food, water, 10 medkits (they restore 4 Stamina each), revolver (I guess automatics are hard to find), unspecified bullets, and a knife. Oh yeah, and a leather jacket: what kind of apocalypse would this be if everyone didn’t have one of those?

I also have a (surprise!) Dodge Interceptor. It’s armed with machine guns, unlimited ammo (fuck yeah), 4 rockets (instant kill: double fuck yeah), 2 oil slicks, 3 spike droppers, and two spare wheels. Also has a CB radio, loudspeaker, various armour plating, bulletproof windows, and a pretty good stereo.

Special Rules: Hand-to-hand combat only does 1 damage due to it being a bare fisted punch, but brass knuckles increase that, and weapons deal damage as ruled. 6 damage knocks someone out, but if Stamina is low enough that it reaches zero, then I’m dead. Gun and vehicle combat is the same as usual, but 1d6 damage is dealt on a hit.

Onward to Adventure!

It’s one thing to live in a fortified settlement in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it’s another to have to drive a few sacks of seeds to an oil refinery to swap it for 10,000 litres of petrol. The only reason I’m doing this is because no-one else will. After a few days, where the car is modified and I get in some practice at being cynical and world weary (not hard), I roll out the gate and blast along the highway. There’s a small town nearby, which I decide to explore. I’m in need of supplies already – I’m tired of all the music I brought with me. I run into someone headed to New Hope, who is grateful for the news that it’s not far. I get advised to avoid the garage on the way out of town, and then we part ways.

Out on the highway I run into the first heavily armed raider vehicle of the trip. I take them out with ease and then get a radio message – apparently one of the town leaders has been kidnapped by a gang of marauders. To make matters worse, I’m running out of fuel. I should have opted for a more economical vehicle. On top of that the highway is blocked by a mass of abandoned cars, so I have to go onto a side road.

Nothing is ever easy. There’s a partially-open drawbridge in the way. I think for a moment. Cop motor, a 440 cubic inch plant, cop tyres, cop suspension, cop shocks, it’s a model made before catalytic con… yeah, fuck it, I’ve always wanted to try this. I back up, and then drive at the bridge full-tilt. I make it over, avoid crashing into a truck at the bottom on the other side, and drive off. Further up the road, I see someone in a motorcycle helmet waving me down. I step out of the car to see what he wants, and I’m ambushed – via grenade. Since I’m the luckiest woman in the world, I escape this with only a scratch, and then shoot it out with the biker and their sidekick, killing them and taking their stuff.

I drive onwards, passing someone wearing a blue jumpsuit with the number 13 on the back, and some time later find my route blocked by more cars. Instead of just driving off I decide to loot the vehicles. I find a crowbar, and continue down the line of vehicles opening each boot in turn – and come up with a full can of petrol. Things are looking up! Well, except for the fact I have to use it almost right away. It’s like there’s some sort of law of the universe that says all petrol will be used as soon as it is found. Eventually the sun sets, and I decide to park off the road and sleep in the car. As I drift off to sleep I wonder if there’s any other bizarre natural laws no-one noticed before the plague because they never applied?

The next day I drive along, music blaring, but unbeknownst to me the road is mined. Well… I say unbeknownst, but when one goes off under the car I beknownst for sure. Thankfully, I can get out of there before whatever mine-happy hillbilly laid them can come and fire an anti-tank rocket at me. Further on I find a bunch of maniacs having crazy races. The prize is petrol, so I figure I might as well do this. I win, in spite of the fact that my infinite ammo feed is not allowed to be used – what kind of road warriors are these clowns if they won’t use machine guns in races? I speed further south, and find an overturned Dodge. I steal the one good spare wheel, then poke around inside it. Naturally, overturned cars make for good places for things like snakes to live, but I manage to inject myself with antivenom and then kill the damn thing. All for what? A plastic tube. Now, this might seem like a useless item, but in the post-apocalyptic wasteland being able to syphon petrol is pretty much the number one survival skill.

I drive onwards, fighting duels, killing people for their tyres, and generally having to be more and more violent because my journey has become a parable about the veneer of decent behaviour that society prefers being stripped away due to an extreme situation, and we’re all monsters underneath, and it only takes a little bit of disruption to turn people into violent lunatics. It’s like I’m living in one of those post-apocalyptic films that people used to watch before the collapse of society.

Further along on my trip I come across a burning car, with an armed woman standing nearby. Her name is Amber, and she’s from the San Anglo refinery. She was out on patrol to provide an escort but one of the numberless gangs in the desert destroyed her vehicle. It turns out the refinery is surrounded by the Doom Dogs, and they want to kill everyone for the petrol. Like I said, the world is basically a B-movie now. Amber has a plan to sneak into their camp and sabotage all their vehicles.

After much crawling through the dirt Amber starts fixing limpet mines to the vehicles. As we run away, they detonate… all but one. The villains pursue us in their remaining car, somehow knowing which way to go despite it being completely dark. I manage to reach my car, and take on their station wagon (which they no doubt borrowed from someone’s mother) until it rams my car and we’re stuck. A quick shootout later, and the leader of the gang steps out of the car to attack me – and I’m mysteriously out of bullets.

“Hey, hang on, wait… I challenge you to Thunderdome!”

“What the fuck is Thunderdome?” says the leader of the Doom Dogs, giving Amber time to clock him in the back of the head with a wrench.

So, Amber and I drive off to the refinery and I pick up the tanker. I assume it is weighed down with a shitload of armour plating, since bullet holes in the tank would be a bad thing. Unfortunately before I leave the crazed gang of post-apocalyptic maniacs (read: anyone who does not live behind a fortified wall) attack the refinery, blowing up the gates and charging in. I fuck their shit up because that’s how this goes. After the gang surrender and leave – what a bunch of flakes – I get to drive the tanker out of the refinery. Amber opts to stay behind, which means no gunner on the return trip.

An extremely quick day passes, and I then explore an abandoned motel, only to meet a lunatic throwing rats at me. Ouch, ow, rats are better projective weapons than I thought! I kill him and go back to the truck to sleep in the cab, since a motel full of rats is probably not the most super-great place to spend the night. The next day I drive on. I’m just thinking how lucky it is I haven’t been attacked by raiders because this truck is not very well armed. There’s just a turret-mounted machine-gun on the roof of the cab, and no way to deal with anyone attacking from behind. What kind of idiot built this thing? The next day a couple of biker bandits ride up alongside and shoot out the tyres with crossbows. This is ridiculous. I manage to get one but the other challenges me to a duel. I jump out with my gun drawn and shoot the fucker while he’s standing around trying to look tough. Duel? What kind of idiot challenges someone to a duel?

Only everyone in this stupid, plague-ravaged, god-forsaken desert.

I drive on, and eventually the walls of New Hope come into view. My smug sense of self-satisfaction is cancelled out by the fact I’m starting to shake and am feeling feverish. Oh, great, those rats had the plague. You know what? This was bound to happen. No adventure in a post apocalyptic desert ever ends well for the protagonist. I write a quick note about my having the plague, and telling the people of New Hope that they should spend some time figuring out how to make a vaccine for the plague, and also that they should really save some petrol for the round trip since there’s no gas stations in the desert. Then I stagger off into the desert to die. Because apparently the world had one last post apocalypse cliché for me. Damn.

Wrapup

The high Stamina scores make combat quite tiresome. In fact, this book is boring! It is so boring. Bored, bored, bored. All the interesting bits involve not being in the car. It’s really an exercise in making up vehicle mechanics for RPGs. That’s mildly interesting from a game design perspective, but it’s not really exciting. I just don’t think the post apocalyptic road warrior setting makes for a good gamebook.

There’s a line of books called Car Wars, based on the vehicle combat game published by Steve Jackson Games. I read the first two of those when I was 12, and they were a bit more interesting, particularly the second one. But then, they’re not post apocalyptic, just dystopian. In that setting, cars are powered by electricity, a development in response to the oil running out. Freeway Fighter just makes the player find cans of petrol every so often, or be stranded on the side of the road. It would be more interesting to have settlements to stop and explore, with a couple of different encounters that each provide the means to carry on.

One of the good things was the encounters were varied, including modern-day chariot gladiators and cowboys. The notion that half the survivors of the plague are cutting loose and taking the opportunity to revel in mayhem is sold much better with the characters clearly trying to live their own pseudo-historical thrillseeking fantasies.

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: Where are the dead bodies? Why are there no skeletons lying in the streets? At one point the book suggests people dropped dead at the wheel of their cars causing accidents, so why aren’t there desiccated corpses in cars? It’s the cheeriest apocalypse ever. It’s more like the rapture happened.

Ridiculous Battle: The leader of the raiders is kind of tough and will kill you in three rounds. Under normal circumstances you have to put him down in six. There’s no climactic vehicle combat in the book. It felt like the entire premise was abandoned.

Victory: The actual final paragraph victory is a few short sentences congratulating the reader. More interestingly, it’s possible to get the plague from rats, and then break out just within sight of the walls, and thus the ending is abandoning the tanker within sight of the walls and walking off to die alone in the wilderness. That would be a more fitting paragraph 400 for this type of story (except there’s only 380 paragraphs).

What Was I Thinking? Not getting into the violent road race the first time through. It’s fairly obvious that violent variations on racing would be required parts of the plot.

Space Bingo

I give you…

SPACE BINGO

Dome-Headed Telepathic Alien Alien Virus Makes People Crazy Planet Covered in Metal Militaristic Alien Race Planet About to be Destroyed
Deserted Post-Apocalyptic World Tiny Craft Battles Starship Primitive Race Worships Someone From Advanced Race Need Special Fuel Crystals Crewmember’s Evil Double
Forced to Participate in Science Experiment Hopelessly Literal Robot Free Square: Sucked Through Black Hole Aliens Worship Creature from Earth Planet That is Covered in Water
Gladiatorial Games Planet Where Children Rule Wheel-shaped Space Station Security Guards Are Hopeless Lethal Alien Virus
Aliens Are Really Robots Transporter Accident Merges Two People Yet Another Alien Virus Asteroid Field Alien Mining Colony

Starship Traveller

“Rocks? I win rocks?!”

Starship Traveller by Steve Jackson

Cover: Peter Andrew Jones

Illustrations: Peter Andrew Jones

"...it doesn't have a vulnerable spot!"

Gladiatorial combat is a common hazard of outer space.

This is the first science fiction themed Fighting Fantasy book, and also the first one I owned. I never finished it as it is hard, having two essential items to find and nothing to go on but trial and error. It’s also rather suspiciously similar to a certain television franchise, what with the multiple ship specialists, and phasers, and transporters, and so on. I suppose then it’s fair enough that the plot of this ended up in Star Trek: Voyager. Yes, the titular starship, Traveller, winds up in an alternate universe and the reader, being the captain, has to get the crew home.

The artwork is a little bit minimalist, but that’s okay. They were trying to get a different feel for this book, and it worked out well. The other important point is that there’s only 340 entries (plus three for combat rules). That is not many – the usual count is 400 – yet there’s a lot going on in this book, and it’s a shame there wasn’t more.

There’s a lot of stats to roll up. Player; ship; science, medical, engineering, and security officers; and of course two disposable bungling security guards (I’ll call them Steve and Ian, for reasons that may or may not be apparent). I best get to it, then.

Statistics

Captain (Me)
Skill: 10
Stamina: 16
Luck: 8

Science Officer (Professor Maximillian Ziegenhagen)
Skill: 8
Stamina: 21

Medical Officer (Dr. Natasha Natasha)
Skill: 11
Stamina: 22

Engineering Officer (James Miles Scott-O’Brien)
Skill: 11
Stamina: 19

Security Officer (Ms. Not Appearing In This Adventure)
Skill: 9
Stamina: 17

Guard 1 (Steve)
Skill: 7
Stamina: 14

Guard 2 (Ian)
Skill: 7
Stamina: 14

The dice just came up all ones for the security guards. I can’t imagine the odds.

The Traveller
Weapons Strength: 7 (oh no, it’s a research vessel)
Shields: 14 (A research vessel made out of cardboard!)

Equipment: A bloody great starship, assorted phasers, shuttles, and disposable crew members.

Special: The limits of medical science in the future have been reached, and thus only 2 points of stamina can be healed, and only when getting back from an alien planet, and only if the original medical officer is alive (if dead, you get one point instead). In other words: We’re all going to die!

Onward to Adventure!

Stardate: Who knows? I’m asleep in the captain’s chair when alarms go off and I’m told that the engines have possibly locked into acceleration mode, and maybe they’re going to overload, and there’s a smidgen of a possibility they might explode, and perhaps it will take longer to fix this than it takes for the ship to blow itself to smithereens, and there’s a teensy, tiny chance that we’re also flying straight for a black hole called the Seltsian Void. Science officer Ziegenhagen has a brilliant plan to fly as close as we can to the black hole to have it slow us down. Since I’m still groggy from my nap, I agree to this plan. Amazingly, it does work. The ship slows down… and then goes backwards… into the black hole. I shrug and hit the red alert button, figuring we might as well have the mood lighting if we’re all going to die. I fall asleep again as we get crushed by the black hole.

After surivving this, I bought a lottery ticket.

Scribble. The final frontier.

Against all expectations to the contrary I wake up, and find out that the Seltsian Void is an actual hole instead of a vast amount of matter squashed into a tiny amount of space. I pretend I passed out instead of dozing off. Really, this sort of thing happens to starship captains every week, why should I worry? The science officer says we’re now in a parallel universe, which just so happens to match his crackpot theories about dimensional warps that got him kicked out of Space University when he applied for funding to build a massive ship and fly it into a black hole. I eye him suspiciously. It’s funny how the scientist with the theory about dimensional warps would suggest flying dangerously close to a black hole when the engines lock up, and that they would lock up right when we’re near a black hole… I recall that time he claimed lobotomising the crew would be cheaper than building robots, and make a note in his personnel file.

The engineering officer, who insists in speaking in a faux Scottish accent, informs me that a couple of guards were keeping a still in the engine core, and it sprang a leak which caused the malfunction. Typical. After repairs have been made, we use our long range space scanners to look around. I decide to head to a barren and desolate star system, because as that’s the least logical place for help to be, we will probably find it on every planet there. The ship is not halfway to our destination when the engineering officer tells me, still refusing to stop doing that accent, that we’re running out of “dilibrium” crystals. Apparently they can be refined into nuclear fuel for our warp engines. I ask him what happened to our supply, and I’m told it was something to do with a couple of security guards, a bet, a forklift, and an airlock. I close my eyes and lean heavily on my hand. My quiet contemplation of the peaceful life farming small, furry, self-replicating blobs that I left behind to become a starship captain is interrupted be someone saying they’ve spotted some some asteroids.

Asteroid clusters in this universe certainly aren’t boring and tiresome expanses of space with some rocks vaguely grouped together at distances apart further than the naked eye can see. Asteroid clusters in this universe are basically big space blenders. Dilibrium prospecting in such an asteroid field is dangerous and potentially deadly work, so I order Steve the security guard to suit up, grab a jetpack, and get out there and find us some crystals. He might die, he might find some dilibrium, either way we’re ahead. If he dies we can just fly in, rotate the ship on the spot and shoot any asteroids that get too close into pieces. It turns out that there is no dilibrium to be had on the boring fringes of the asteroid cluster, and so Steve proceeds to the dangerous and chaotic centre. Surprisingly, our bungling security guard doesn’t die, and returns with enough crystals (in a space sack) to fuel the ship.

We journey onwards, and I amuse myself by making up stardates. On finding a nice blue-green planet, the Traveller is attacked by a tiny spaceship. A thrilling ship-to-ship battle ensues, with flashing lights, consoles exploding, and the ship listing violently as the enemy craft scores a hit, throwing everyone around. An effect ruined because while we all lean port, bungling security guard Ian leans starboard. Afterwards, I insist on going down there and having it out with whoever sent that woefully under-classed ship to attack us. All we find is a blasted landscape, and a river that gives strange readings on our handy portable magical analysing everything device. Before I can stop him, bungling security guard Ian drinks some of the water. The Science officer decides to grab some yellow powder too, and then we get out of there. I give the order to head for a double star system, and then there’s an emergency in the space canteen. It’s probably that fool security guard, who has no doubt ingested alien nanotechnology, or a crazy virus that takes people over, or something equally stupid. In space, no one can hear me scream “don’t drink the water!”

It's more exciting in the book.

I only just noticed the incredibly cheesy stars on their boots. Deary, deary me.

Naturally, I’m right about the whole crazy virus. It’s funny how this turns out. I order the raving madman sedated, and he manages to smack his co-worker Steve across the head in the resulting Three Stooges routine. Dr Natasha administers space antibiotics and this alien virus that conveniently can interact with human biology dies. Dr Natasha then recommends muzzling the security guards when they go down to alien planets. As I return to the bridge, I notice that the crew have made bingo cards which contain space exploration clichés. Trust the human race to turn exploring a new universe into cheap entertainment. I put some credits in the pool and get myself a bingo card anyway, telling myself that it’s good for morale. I notice that the card is unimaginatively titled “space bingo”.

We proceed to a double star system and make contact with the people there. They seem friendly enough, so I beam down to say hello, get knocked out, and then wake up to find they’re cloning me. It’s almost perfect, except the clone has an eye patch. I suppose she is a parallel universe copy of me, after all. I struggle to reach my bingo card, but can’t quite get it. Then Dilane, Extraterrestrial Communications Officer and Chief Deceptive Bitch, explains that the planet Macommon is being torn apart by the gravity of the twin suns and they have a year to find a way to escape. I cheerily ask them if they have a plan, and then the reason for the cloning becomes clear. I sigh and employ the only plan I can attempt. I concentrate on things that will give away that the clone is fake. Namely, I think hard about a horrible planet which no-one would visit, and how Steve and Ian are our star employees. When the clone says Macommon is as nice as that craphole in our home universe, someone gets suspicious and grills the doppelgänger, who gives the game away when asked who the most efficient, skilled, and generally not causing disasters members of the crew are. The crew boldly threaten to annihilate the planet unless I am set free. I wait with bated breath until the Macommons agree. This is one of those stupid plans, since people who have nothing to lose because they will be wiped out in a year’s time might opt for a quick and relatively painless death from above. On returning to the ship I ask the crew why they didn’t just beam me out of there. They sheepishly admit that the security guards had been playing with the transporters and the space electrician only just fixed them.

We arrive at a red planet, called Dar-Vil. On beaming down following a friendly invitation, the locals and my crew are amused to find I’ve been interwoven via a transporter accident with a Dar-Villian. Oh, bloody great. The science officer suggests we all go up to the ship, and once there comes up with a harebrained scheme involving finding my missing body. I point out that this isn’t, in fact, a mind swap, because I can hear the alien mind in my own. Alas, since the bingo card is on my actual body, I can’t check to see if being merged in a transporter accident is on there. The Dar-Villian commander proposes using transporters to disintegrate and reconstruct myself and the alien. The science officer agrees with that, but he would: this is the same clown who thought flying into a black hole would be a good idea. Unfortunately, no-one has a better plan and they all seem rather keen to smash me to atoms. So I am disintegrated, and by some amazing providence come out alive, whole, and most importantly, in my own body.

I order the ship to proceed to a spaceport which refuses to let us dock. I’m not taking that, and insist on having the Traveller repaired while the station commander splutters and wheezes. I recall that everyone else I passed in the corridors was similarly infected, and have a sudden and shocking realisation that I’ve probably just caught space plague. Amazingly, it’s only the security guards who get sick. Unfortunately, Dr. Natasha manages to find a cure.

Onwards, through the uncharted by us (as per Federation Directive 324/a/119/d/11 I am required to add “by us” to all statements about uncharted or undiscovered territories, galaxies, planets, asteroids, black holes, ribbons of transcendental energy that act as gateways to paradise universes, political alliances, and any other as-yet undetermined things that may be encountered by a member of the Federation for the first time) void! We find a mining colony, and are invited by someone to go down and check out their contests which serve as entertainment for the miners. I order my bungling security guards to beam down with me, and materialise in the office of the local greeter, who suddenly gets called away to “the arena” – I wonder what kind of entertainment they have on? Possibly some kind of sporting event. As we wait, a hovering robot comes in and asks us to go with it. I figure, why not? We are left in another waiting room. Space has a lot of waiting rooms. This is really what space exploration is about: waiting around, reading old magazines, staring at the chronometer on the wall and wondering what their time translates to in our time system, and generally being bored out of my skull. Some other strange aliens come in and ask us if we’re here to enter the “contests”. I explain that I’m not really the athletic type, and I tell them about the whole flying through a black hole thing, which they have a little trouble believing. I can’t imagine why. Eventually they find the alien who I talked to earlier, who suggests we should be given the “best seats in the house”. That sounds good to me… up until my landing party and I are shoved into a changing room and told to get ready. Oh dear. I’m not keen to play whatever weird alien sport they… hang on they gave me a weapon, so it’s more “fight” and “in gladiatorial combat”.

We are shoved out into the arena, and there I find an enormous and heavily armed robot. It stands there and does nothing. I poke it a bit with my electro-pike and it does not respond, the single dull red ball it uses for an eye bouncing backwards and forwards in the visual sensor field. I wonder what is going on. Then I notice it’s got a brand name on it. It’s a Manslayer 4000 model. I smirk at it and take a large step to the right, revealing the imbecilic security guards. The dull red eye pinging backwards and forwards across what should be the robot’s face lights up brightly, a rather dated synthesised voice booms out, “Targets acquired!” and it attacks the security guards while I cross off the “hopelessly literal robot” square on my bingo card.

I lean on my electro-pike and watch with amusement as Steve and Ian are minced by the robot. I eventually start to feel guilty and demolish the robot for them, because while I’m fairly certain the core officers will have a good laugh about this, the HR officer will have me reprimanded if we ever get back home. As a prize for defeating the savage robot, hauled all the way from the jungles of Killbots Inc, I win freedom and a big pile of the bizarre metal they mine here. Oh good, rocks. I ask for something useful, and get some galactic coordinates where there’s a black hole that could get my ship home.

Teleporting back up to the ship, I decide we should boldly go to a large, wheel shaped structure. It turns out that my hard-won rocks are considered valuable currency and I can pay the docking fee with them. I decide to go and chat with their dome-headed executive officer who, when I ask about the means to get home, turns out to be one of those telepathic aliens. Behind me, one of the away team shouts “Bingo!” and I have to make up a story about that being a traditional Earth phrase for expressing thanks, and certainly not a sign that we’ve turned their entire reality into an opportunity to amuse ourselves.

Back on board the starship, my crew start sulking about the fact we haven’t found a way home yet. I try to point out that there’s really a lot of space to explore, and we could look around a bit longer for suitable coordinates. They don’t think this is good enough, and insist that we try the coordinates we have. “But,” I say, “we have no idea these coordinates are right.” They insist, and with more suicides, so I give in to their demands. We plot our course for the black hole we need to travel through, and I ask the navigation officer if she’s sure of what she’s doing “Oh sure,” she says, “We just fly into the gravity well and everything will be okay.”

As she hits the button marked GO I just have time to say “What do you mean, well?” before the ship is stretched into an extremely thin, extremely long strand of tinfoil spaghetti, and then crushed into a tiny speck in the black hole.

Wrapup

The first thing to point out is, there’s hardly any need for combat. In fact, being a pacifist is usually safer: Phaser battles are one hit kill affairs and the aliens seldom set phasers to stun. Ship to ship combat is interesting, since the more you get hit, the more likely your ship will take more damage if hit again. The rules really make combat unpleasant and something to avoid. Thus it’s also less satisfying to play through, since there’s no good reason to get into a fight (and this is probably why it was so tiresome for me as a child). I suppose Deathtrap Dungeon will make up for the lack of combat in spades. There’s also no climactic final encounter, so it’s more

It’s also a bit annoying that there’s only one female crew member. In fact, unless it’s specified that it’s the Medical Officer being referred to, away teams are assumed to be all male. She also has a scripted death if she fails a skill check, though I suppose you can avoid that if you’re quick thinking. The Science Officer is there to solve almost all problems, and the Engineering Officer gets something to do once or twice. The Security Officer is completely redundant, and never turned up. None of the NPCs on the ship have names, which might be because readers are supposed to name them, like I did, or might be because it’s hard making up half a dozen names on the spot. Which I also experienced.

I honestly think it’s a good book, especially given the ambitious theme and plot. The fact that it’s entirely possible to miss out on the excitement is on one hand annoying given what line of books it’s from, on the other it’s nice to play a book where the plot really is exploration and meeting people, and the actual villains are often desperate or misguided. I think it could do with a sequel. Nowhere in the victory paragraph does it say that it’s the right universe, just one with a space station you recognise. The normal AstroNavy adventures of the crew in their home universe, or further parallel universe exploration? Anything would be welcome, so long as there’s more battles.

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: Well if I wanted to be truthful, I’d say it was when the ship flew through a black hole, but I can forgive a lot of retro sci-fi imaginings. I’ll have to go with the fact that no-one in the book thinks to just go and round up some people with spaceships to save the population of Macommon.

Victory: You find out you’re in the “real” universe thanks to a handy deep space outpost right near the place where the ship gets back.

What Was I Thinking? I should have just let that robot kill the security guards. They had it coming.

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