Star Fighters by Robert E. Mills
Tower Publications, 1978
Price I paid: none
Picking up where STAR QUEST left off, STAR FIGHTERS, second in the “Star Quest Series,” once again finds Red Rian, Lady Nila, and Dann Oryzon locked in mortal combat with the Dark Emperor and his evil captain, Lord Blorg.
In a last great assault on the dreaded Death Legion, the three spacefighters find unexpected friends—and enemies!—out among the stars.
Can they break the Dark Emperor’s power over the universe, or are they just expendable toys in Ylang-Ylang’s vicious galactic game?
And so here we are, back for another round of wonderful Star Quest action. What new things will we learn to detest in the thrilling sequel?
A few things to kick off the review, though:
Two people, including Philip, who sent me this book, have pointed out that Ylang-Ylang is an actual word. Specifically it’s a plant. Now, I know you’d expect a plant that has lent its name to the Dark Emperor to be poisonous or carnivorous or something, but no, it’s pretty and it smells nice. It’s used in aromatherapy and as an ice cream flavoring (although Wikipedia has a  on that last fact).
The other thing that came up was in the comments on the last review, by a fellow or lady calling him- or herself Drusus, who asked if the silliness and ridiculousness of Star Quest might mean that it’s a stealth parody.
I’ll have to admit, I hadn’t considered that idea while I was reading the book. I put a little thought into it while reading Star Fighters and I’ve come to the conclusion that while the book wasn’t meant as a parody on the publisher’s side, I feel like the author had an ax to grind with the science fiction community. The more I think about it, the more I feel like these books were written as a mockery of science fiction by somebody who knows nothing about the genre and/or actively dislikes the genre but still needed to collect a check.
So Star Fighters has a few interesting things of its own going for it. It lost the Star Wars scroll effect on the back cover, but it brought in something else that I thought was interesting.
That’s emblazoned across the top of the back cover, and I know what you’re thinking, but let me stop you for a second. This book has a copyright date of 1978 (as do the other two books in the series). The Empire Strikes Back was released in 1980.
I did some research to see if it were possible that somebody somewhere could have known what the Star Wars sequel was to be called, and I’m still not sure. I see on Wookieepedia that Leigh Brackett turned in her first draft of the script to Lucas in early 1978, but I don’t know if by that point the script was even named The Empire Strikes Back and, if it was, if anybody outside 20th Century Fox could possibly have known about it.
So what we have here is a mystery. Intentional reference to something that wasn’t even out yet, or weird coincidence? I’m leaning toward the latter.
The front cover, on the other hand, is anything but coincidence. It’s far more blatant than the cover for Star Quest, that much is certain. Jesus is totally dressed up like a Jedi/Tatooine farmboy, and the guy on the right is definitely a Rebel soldier. I don’t know if he’s supposed to be Red Rian. If he is, that’s a pretty big fail, because Red Rian is, well, red. His hair and beard are, that is. We’re told this about three and a half million times.
Lady Nila’s got some cleavage going, though. Wowza. We’re pretty close to being able to see her bellybutton.
So the inside of the book, as you might expect, is really substandard. It’s even worse than Star Quest.
For the first half of the book, nothing of importance happens. It’s basically our heroes standing around thinking about how awesome things are now that Lord Blorg has been defeated. Some stuff happens in the background. Red Rian’s home galaxy gets liberated, and there are plans to liberate yet another galaxy, one called Havanal, a name that looks like Hávamál and might, based on the way things go later, be a reference. But I don’t know. That’s a pretty obscure reference to make.
The main thing that happens with our trio of protagonists is that there’s a love triangle going on, but one so mild that it’s hardly even there. It basically goes like this:
- Red Rian loves Nila
- Dann Oryzon loves Nila
- Nila loves them both and can’t decide
So after some super-gentle but maybe-still-a-little-creepy prodding from the both of them to make up her damn mind, she finally just goes “I’ll have an answer for you later, I promise.”
Ugh. I don’t need this crap.
Meanwhile, it turns out that Lord Blorg survived the last book. It didn’t actually feel like anything happened that would have threatened him, so I didn’t know he was supposed to be dead for him to turn out to be alive. That’s usually the opposite of how things work in real life for me. For instance, did you know that Charley Pride is still alive? I didn’t until just now when I looked him up to make this example.
So Blorg returns to his Dark Master, Ylang-Ylang, and discovers that the Emperor has got some plans going.
What’s frustrating about this plot is that Ylang-Ylang has something like three or four plans going that don’t really intersect. I guess this makes more sense than throwing all the eggs into one Death Star, but it doesn’t make the plot easy to follow.
One plan involves resurrecting his own dead race. See, Ylang-Ylang is the last of the Mordlings, a highly-advanced race that was super into evil. Evil was their jam. They all died out because they kept fighting each other. Ylang-Ylang was the sole survivor, and later on he found a way to ascend himself into a creature of pure malevolent energy, as is common.
He makes clones of the Mordlings, who are supposed to be helping him create new technologies. They do for a while, but more than anything they just chase people around the planet Flaigon for Ylang-Ylang’s amusement.
One of the things they do invent is a super-shield that will protect ships from all laser and missile weapons as well as the telekinetic powers of the Fellowship of Light. This latter power is supposed to be the scary one, but it turns out to be hilariously ineffective. See, in the final battle our Fellowship guys go, “Oh no, we can’t crush the ships with our mind powers, so I guess we’ll try another thing.” So they do. They mind-control a guy on the bridge of the ship they’re fighting and force him to explode the ship. There’s not even a hint of danger.
The third plan involves cloning Red Rian, Nila, and Dann and using them as bait to kill Garthane, who you’ll remember is the head of the Fellowship and Dann’s dad. Ylang-Ylang also builds a replica of Red Rian’s ship, the Hazard, for this purpose. It does not go well.
So the first half of the book is more or less setup where Ylang-Ylang unveils his mighty evil plans while our heroes moon over each other. It is boring and dumb.
But don’t worry, it gets dumber.
After our heroes find out that Lord Blorg is still alive they go after him again. By this point Blorg’s ship has the advanced shielding on it, so not even the Hazard can take it down. The Hazard gets critically damaged and goes down on a planet called X-8. They meet the natives, who call themselves the Azitlin more often than not.
This book suffers a lot from bad editing. There are lots of typos, especially when it comes to character and place names that wouldn’t make any sense out of context. It’s more funny than anything.
So the Azitlin are Aztec people, but they don’t play much of a role because the other people on this planet are the Valsings and they are Space Vikings. They’re natives of some galaxy or another, I think Havanal, that fell under the Dark Empires rule and they lost their planet and so now they have a blood debt against Lord Blorg.
This is interesting because it’s exactly the same story as Red Rian and his crew, except for the fact that Red Rian and the crew are good guys and the Valsings are antiheroes.
So there’s tension.
Oh, one other thing I forgot to mention because it’s pretty forgettable except for the fact that it dictates the entire rest of the book:
Just after landing on planet X-8, Red Rian discovers that the ship’s communications are down, so they’re going to have to figure out another way to let the rest of the fleet know where they are. Dann Oryzon, the member of the Fellowship of Light and all that jazz, says “No prob, Bob. I got this,” and starts to send out a telepathic call for help to his dad.
He is randomly hit on the head by a rock and is out for the ENTIRE REST OF THE BOOK.
Authors, here’s a way to make sure that your hero with superpowers doesn’t ruin the drama in your book by making things too easy. Just hit them in the head with a rock and put them in a coma that they conveniently come out of at the very end of the narrative.
And, of course, this means that Lady Nila gets to postpone her big decision, the one I’m sure we’re all waiting for, until after he wakes up.
Garthane has his run-in with the clones and overcomes them quite easily because he can read minds and all that stuff. He takes them to planet X-8. Lord Blorg is also there and ends up killing the clones and thinks that he actually killed Red Rian for good and that’s all funny or whatever.
There’s a lot of mistrust between our heroes and the Valsings, but they patch things up eventually. One of the Valsings gets Blorg caught in a snake pit trap, which is honestly amusing when Blorg thinks of the venomous snakes the way we think of kittens.
The rest of the League of Free Worlds launch an attack on the Havanal galaxy and are turned back when it turns out that some of the Dark Empire’s ships have those shields that make them impervious. One of the Fellowship guys does manage to take out a ship by means of the mind control I mentioned earlier, but it’s not enough. In a way, having a major battle end in defeat is also an interesting future callback to Empire.
The heroes escape from X-8 and regroup with the fleet. We get the news that the fleet has retreated because the Dark Empire has some kind of devastating new defense. All hope is lost…or is it?
Nope, it’s not, because the plan now is just to fly to the Emperor’s homeworld and blow it the hell up.
How, exactly, somebody makes that leap in strategy is beyond me. This is General Custer territory right here.
And you know what? It works. It works just fine. There is nothing wrong with the plan and everybody is happy. The fleet turns up at Flaigon and starts shooting the planet until it explodes.
But wait, what’s that very large spaceship leaving the planet just before it explodes?
Never mind that, just keep firing at the planet until we kill the Dark Emperor!
We get this long fight scene where Red Rian fights Lord Blorg for what I guess we’re supposed to think is the last time. It’s a much better fight than we got in the first book, mainly in that it lasts more than a paragraph. It actually takes several pages to finish, and along the way there are some decent action bits that I enjoyed. So score one for this book.
That score one is IMMEDIATELY TAKEN BACK.
Because here’s what happens.
Red Rian wins and leaves Lord Blorg a barely-living mess.
But barely-living is still living.
Red Rian is like “I should kill you now, but I won’t. You’ll live just long enough to think about the evil things you’ve done before you die anyway.”
AND THEN HE LEAVES
GODDAMMIT I HATE YOU BOOK
The last thing we learn is that there was YET ANOTHER PLOT BY YLANG-YLANG
It turns out that in some other galaxy there are some people that even Ylang-Ylang won’t try to conquer. He sent an envoy, though, to see if he could ally himself with them. These folks don’t have the Emperor’s secret of immortality, so that’s the Emperor’s bargaining chip, although what they do have are
MIND POWERS EQUIVALENT TO THOSE OF THE FELLOWSHIP OF LIGHT
And that, my friends, is where we leave off until the final book, Star Force.
One thing I want to leave you with is the fact that on page 166 we get the phrase
…the bright ships were slicing through the first wave of enemy ships like a microwave blade through soft, Malian cheese.
I think that sums up a lot about the style of this book and why I hate it so much. But to add to that, I’m pretty sure that at an earlier spot in the book we got something compared to a hot knife through butter, which is just great, because now we know they have both things, and that it would likely be a catastrophe if you used a microwave blade to cut butter or a hot knife to cut soft, Malian cheese. Just don’t do it.