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 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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