Star Quest by Robert E. Mills
Tower Publications, 1978
Price I paid: none
In a distant universe far, far, far into the future, the Great Peace was shattered by the evil forces of the Dark Empire. Out of the hell of the planet Flaigon, Lord Blorg, of the reptiloid race Ysss, ripped across the galaxies creating evil, pain, and death. Red Rian and the crew of the starship Hazard joined the League of Free Worlds to oppose Blorg’s Death Legion. But could Red Rian do it alone, or would the proud space pirate need the help of the ancient Brotherhood of Light?
This week’s review is brought to you by reader Philip Stiff, who contacted me a few weeks ago asking if I’d be interested in copies of the Star Quest trilogy. I took one look at the Amazon page and was just YES!
Give Mr. Stiff’s blog a look-see whenever you’re done here. He’s got some great stuff to say on the topic of classic role-playing games, something I’m sure that at least some of you are interested in as much as I am. I realize that might actually look like I’m being sarcastic. I assure you I am not.
So this book. This trilogy of books. I’m going to do them all in a row because I think they deserve it. They’re special. They’re also a bit…familiar:
Does that back text remind you of anything? Something that should be, I dunno, scrolling up the screen? Maybe set to some epic John Williams score? And then the screen pans down and you see a big spaceship? Maybe just a little?
Believe me, this is one of the more subtle parts of the book when it comes to ripping off Star Wars. I could make this whole review just a big list of things that are straight out of the George Lucas epic. It’s hard to believe that a C&D order wasn’t issued at some point in the publication of this novel. It’s that blatant.
I guess it’s the same idea that keeps The Asylum in business. I’d call it a spiritual forebear if it weren’t for the fact that this is just one of a very large number of books that grabbed hold of Star Wars‘s coattails and hung on for all it was worth.
Which is an interesting thought. Sure, it’s also one of the most successful brands ever made, but there are other successful science fiction franchises that I don’t see get stolen quite as much. I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen a really blatant Star Trek ripoff. I’m sure they exist, but I guess I’ve just been lucky.
What’s also interesting is that the Star Quest trilogy beat Star Wars to being a trilogy. All three of these books were published in 1978. That’s a lot of output on the part of Robert E. Mills, who, as I understand it, only wrote four science fiction books, three of which were this trilogy. I believe he is mainly known for writing westerns.
There’s a lot of crossover between those two genres when it comes to authors. I was browsing through the westerns at the library a few weeks ago and saw several names I recognized from science fiction that I can’t exactly remember right now, except for Damon Knight and Fredric Brown. I find that very interesting.
“Dammit, Thomas, get to the Star Wars ripoff!” I heard you crying. Okay, then. Your cries will not go unanswered.
Dann Oryzon is an orphan who grew up on the planet of Aquaea. First point of divergence: Aquaea is a water planet instead of a desert planet. It still has two suns, though.
Dann, whose name I kept reading as “Damn,” was left on this planet by his mother, who then died. He was brought up by a humble family on this backwater planet. The planet, however, also has intelligent dolphins, one of which all but adopted him and taught him their ways of universal love and self-discipline. Dann has no idea who his real father is.
Dann’s idyllic life comes to an end when his planet is attacked by the Dark Empire. Apparently the Dark Empire is from another galaxy. Galaxies in this book are what neighboring towns are to us—people are just zipping back and forth across the entire universe with nary a thought to how staggeringly large the distances are.
Dann is taken as a slave, where he meets a dude named Callix and his beautiful daughter Nila, both of the planet Aurea Solis, which is apparently the center of culture in this galaxy and also the planet Dann remembers his mom coming from. They tell Dann about their mission: to contact that Fellowship of Light, a secret order of mystical warriors, who once served and protected the galaxy before it entered the 200-year era of the Great Peace or whatever.
A meeting with Lord Blorg, a reptilian guy who wears a helmet and breathes funny (Haaaas…haaaaas, I believe it goes), proves that Dann is pretty tough and spunky, but it leaves Callix nearly dead after Blorg does a very familiar choking move. Also, Lord Blorg doesn’t talk, he communicates with people telepathically. His telepathic “talk” was rendered in italics, but so were his (and everyone else’s) regular old internal monologue. This often made things confusing.
Just as things are looking grim, a ship pops out of hyperspace and just starts blowing away Dark Empire ships, which I think are actually called Destroyers. There’s a lot of “Wow, such piloting skills” and “How did they manage to fit that many weapons on a ship that size” and so forth. The ship destroys the escort vessels and captures the slave transport that Dann, Nila, and Callix are on. Lord Blorg apparently left at some point. It’s at this point we meet the real hero of the story, Ron Rolo.
Just kidding, his name is Red Rian. He has a giant furry pal named Purpur, who, you might expect, is a cat person. He is sometimes just called Purr. Unlike the Millenium Falcon, Red Rian’s ship, the Hazard, is actually crewed by more than two people. We meet some members of this crew, such as the tech-genius kid Ween Leever and his robot pal O-V-1. O-V-1, or Ovie, stands out because he is both a rolling garbage can full of gadgets and he talks too much. Combining two characters into one is a creative choice I would not have expected, mainly on the grounds that it was a creative choice.
Red Rian is a space pirate who doesn’t care about anything but himself and his ship and the people on his ship, but all of that comes after such concepts as being a pirate and getting stuff.
Callix dies, which is sad. Nila reveals that their mission is to contact the Fellowship of Light, and reveals how to do that. They have to take a certain gemstone to a certain android and utter a certain phrase. The android they need to find is named Altektu, who Dann recognizes as the name of the android who brought his mother to Aquaea oh my god will the wonders ever cease
In the meantime, we get to have some point-of-view cuts to Lord Blorg and his evil master, the Emperor Ylang-Ylang.
Are these names supposed to be menacing?
It took me a long time to recognize something as a feature of bad writing, but now I end up seeing it everywhere and this book does an amazing job of it. It concerns points-of-view. Good books tend to have a few POV characters and stick with them consistently, giving us their stories and then tying them all together into the larger narrative. This book—and plenty of others I’ve read—tends to jump the POV all over the place. We’ll get a short section from the eyes of the main protagonist, then a few from a side-character, a section from the perspective of the villain, and then one of the villain’s henchmen, then a totally random guy we’ve never met before, and so on. I feel like this arises because the author can’t trust him- or herself to fully explain the situation from the eyes of just one character and needs to fill us in on what everybody is seeing or thinking so that nothing gets missed.
This is different from writers like Harry Turtledove or George R.R. Martin, who do have lots of POV characters, but that’s because they tell a lot of different stories in one book. When it’s done badly, it’s because we have a bunch of characters all giving different perspectives—often once and never again—on the same situation.
Ylang-Ylang has a pretty interesting motivation. He’s not concerned with conquest or power or any of that stuff. He’s concerned with a much more subtle idea:
Dude just likes spreading fear and chaos and evil and all that jazz. It’s his thing. I think he actually eats it.
The android Altektu takes our heroes to the Fellowship of Light, where we learn all about these warrior mystics who will also come save the day. We meet Garthane, the leader, who takes a shine to Dann. Dann is selected to train, because of course he is, but in a shocking twist we learn that Garthane is Dann’s father all along.
We actually lose track of Dann for most of the rest of the book. Red Rian and Nila, who are falling in love, head back to the world of Aurea Solis to help fight the fleet of the Dark Empire. The Fellowship’s plan is basically to abandon the rest of the galaxy and mass the entire defensive force around Aurea Solis for one last-ditch effort. They don’t mention the fact that they are sacrificing billions, maybe trillions, of people to save one planet, but there you go.
Red Rian’s turnaround from space pirate to a hero of the League of Free Worlds is so quick it made my head spin. He agrees to train pilots, considering that he’s the best one ever, and sets his crew to helping out around the place as well. Ween and Ovie help with weapon development, for instance.
Red Rian eventually ends up in a duel with a guy named Albart. Albart is some kind of aristocrat or something, but more importantly he has his eyes on Nila. After Albart puts his moves on Nila (he grabs her ass), she gives him a good solid punch in the face, after which Red Rian kicks him in the butt for good measure. So there’s a duel.
It’s the only instance we get akin to lightsabers (they’re called flash-beamers), and it’s not great. The whole duel goes about like this:
- Albart attacks.
- Red Rian gets out of the way.
- Albart is confused.
- Red Rian wins.
Red Rian spares Albart’s life, which is the ultimate dishonor. It’s then revealed that Albart is a traitor, who kidnaps Nila and takes her to Lord Blorg on the planet Flaigon. Red Rian and the crew of the Hazard give chase.
They come face-to-face with Lord Blorg and his dark master, Ylang-Ylang. Red Rian challenges Blorg to a duel for everyone’s lives. Blorg accepts. The fight goes just about as well as the other one. Red Rian’s brilliant maneuvers and agile moves come down, basically, to getting out of the way at the last minute and then hitting the other guy. In this case I think Red Rian hit Blorg in the junk, which is odd, because if he’s a lizard person then his junk wouldn’t be that exposed, would it?
It’s really hard to write fights, I understand.
Apparently beating Blorg sends Ylang-Ylang into a frenzy. At the last moment, Dann, Garthane, and some other member of the Fellowship show up and start assaulting him with psychic powers. Ylang-Ylang is a load-bearing boss, so when he starts to go down, so does his citadel. Everybody escapes except for Garthane and that other guy and they all head back to Aurea Solis yet again for the final space fleet showdown.
It seems that the space battle isn’t going all that well until the Hazard shows up and saves the day and everybody celebrates.
Oh, but it turns out that Garthane isn’t actually dead. He and whatshisface escaped at the last second.
So there you go. That’s part the first of this amazingly stupid Star Wars ripoff, although to be fair, I can’t imagine that there were an awful lot of really great Star Wars ripoffs. If there are any, I beg you to let me know.
There’s an awful lot going on in this book, and not all of it is a straight copy/paste from A New Hope, so that’s pretty neat, but wow, the sheer lack of imagination that went into this book astounds me. I imagine that our author got a letter from the publisher saying “Write this according to this checklist and we’ll cut you a check” and the author said “I need the money.” I don’t blame the author for that one bit. I understand needing the money. This book is a prime example of how scummy the publishing industry can be when it’s at its worst.
The book also had huge segments that didn’t contribute to the story one bit. There’s this long scene where Dann gets to watch his dolphin godfather back on Aquaea fight some of the invading forces. It just goes on and on, and most of it is just this dolphin shooting through the water until he makes the fighter jet hit a rock or an outcropping or something. This happens at least twice.
The book didn’t have any kind of analogue to The Force, which I find interesting. The Fellowship of Light follows a concept just called The Infinite, which is an energy field that binds the universe together or something, but it’s not, as far as I can tell, something they manipulate to make the magic happen. Their abilities are apparently just regular old psychic powers, which they use to…umm…talk? That seemed to be most of it. They did pull the “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for” trick once, though.
Stay tuned next week as the epic trilogy continues in…Star Fighters.