Star Trek: Phaser Fight
Which Way Books #24
by Barbara Siegel and Scott Siegel
Pocket Books, 1986
Price I paid: $3.50 + S&H
Welcome aboard, ensign! You’ve been assigned to duty on the Starship Enterprise. Your mission: Investigate a mysterious meteor belt with Captain Kirk…or help Bones combat a deadly disease…or fight an alien race with Mr. Spock. You choose—you can beam over to a phantom ship overrun with fierce mirror creatures, or match wits with a giant alien who wants to crush the Enterprise like a bug. But choose carefully, or the Enterprise and you could be lost forever!
Reading children’s books again, Thomas? I hear you say.
And the answer is, uh, yeah! And I’m glad I did it!
Props to my Facebook bud Willie for bringing this to my attention, after which I set out at Warp 2 to Abebooks and snagged this volume like a Tarbaxian Snag-beast.
What we’ve got here is a Chooseable Path Adventure book from a series called Which Way Books. Note that these are not to be generically referred to as Choose Your Own Adventure because that’s a trademark of Chooseco and they are very protective of that trademark. Longtime readers, or those who just like digging through inexpertly-sorted archives, might remember that I did a similar Chooseable Path Adventure book once, long ago, from the Sniper! series. That book had the interesting twist of requiring dice.
Which Way ran for twenty-four volumes, most of which, based on the titles, look like generic fantasy adventure stories and were written by someone named R.G. Austin. Several others are written by Stephen Mooser, with only two by the authors of this one, Barbara and Scott Siegel. Their other one, The Champ of T.V. Wrestling, looks fun.
But two of the books, this one and #15, are not generic fantasy adventures. They are both licensed Star Trek works, and before you ask, yes, I do own the other one now as well. It’s called Voyage to Adventure and it’s by Michael J. Dodge and I promise I’ll read it, too, and maybe do something special with it. I haven’t decided what yet.
So for this one, I started reading it and completed one cycle of the story. It was at that point that I realized how quickly that went, and I had an idea. I’m basically gonna live-blog this book. I’ve never tried this before so it might be a big mistake. We’ll see? Okay, let’s go.
This is the one I did before I had this live-blogging idea, so I’m working from notes here.
You begin the book by being introduced to the main idea, that you are a new ensign assigned to the Enterprise to receive “special training” on the best ship in the fleet. That’s an interesting writing decision, authors! I wonder why they didn’t just run with the reader being a new crewmember?
Right off the bat you are offered three choices: Do you want to hang around with Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, or Mr. Spock?
I went with Spock first, because Spock.
There’s not a lot more exposition before something wild happens. You’re walking down the corridor, having a chat, when there’s an explosion! Spock waves his tricorder around a bit and then declares that there’s an invisible ship somewhere outside, and that someone needs to beam over to it.
Oh, and it’s right around this point that Spock looks at his readings, raises an eyebrow, and utters that immortal and essential Spock line:
HOW CAN YOU
Anyway Spock heads for the transporter room and you follow him, where you are faced with your second choice. Will you beam over to the invisible ship, or let Spock do it? Being the brave and intrepid ensign that I know I’d really be in that situation, I chose to beam over myself. Spock tried to argue with me, of course, but I out-logic’d him by saying something like “Hey, I’m supposed to be here to learn stuff, so I might as well learn by doing,” at which point Spock ought to have told me that learning isn’t all that useful if I’m dead, but instead he lets me do it.
I just realized I totally changed from second-person to first-person narration here, and I think I’m fine with that.
I beam over, but instead of finding myself on an alien ship, I find myself on the bridge of the Enterprise? I figure that this must be a mirror universe or something and yell that they need to stop attacking the Enterprise, at which I’m declared crazy and dragged off to sickbay. Just then I realize that the other ship must have bounced me back, and I try to explain that to Dr. McCoy, at which point I’m given another choice: Do I think Bones believes me or not? I chose yes, which was the wrong answer. Dr. McCoy gave me a sedative and I slept through the rest of the adventure. Boo.
Well, since I ended with Dr. McCoy last time, let’s hang out with him from the start this time and see what happens. We head to sick bay and discover that it’s full of rapidly aging people? This is some classic Star Trek stuff I guess. Dr. McCoy does his regular thing and creates a serum that ought to fix the situation. I bravely volunteer to drink it, whereupon I pass out and have a strange dream about a giant green hand flying through space toward the ship?
I’m given the choice of thinking that this is a vision or just a dream. I ran with just a dream and then, on the next page, the ship is destroyed by a giant green hand flying through space.
Might as well hang with Captain Kirk this time. There’s never any indication of my character’s gender—I assume it’s supposed to match mine—and most of the time I figure it wouldn’t matter. Dr. McCoy and Spock would not act any differently toward a new ensign if they were a woman. But Kirk? I dunno about that.
I have to remind myself occasionally that this is a children’s book.
So Kirk and I go to the bridge, when stuff begins to happen! We wind up in an asteroid belt, except the book keeps calling them meteors and that bugs me. Kirk says he has an idea and my choice now is to trust the Captain and follow orders or to act on my instincts. Flying in the face of everything Kird himself would do, I decided to wait for his orders. This paid off and the ship survived, only to discover a strange planet nearby. My choice now is how to best approach it: by passing through Klingon territory or by flying close to a black hole. I chose Klingons over singularities and sure enough, I end up face-to-face with some battlecruisers.
Another choice: Raise shields or evasive maneuvers? I chose shields. Again, the right answer.
Kirk asks if we ought to evade these guys by flying back to the asteroid belt, or to the black hole? I decide to play it safe and go back to familiar territory. The Klingon ships follow me to the asteroid belt, where they are destroyed. And then I get a one-page ending where we fly to the planet and discover a Klingon base, which we destroy.
Oh my god, really? I just…murdered a bunch of Klingons. Is that supposed to be the victory condition?
Okay, so first off, some thoughts on the previous three runs. It seems that my initial choice of Kirk, Spock, or Bones, leads to three completely different scenarios that are completely unconnected? Dang, that bothers me on a sort of metaphysical level. There’s nothing that indicates that if you choose Spock the ship flies one way and if you choose Kirk you go a completely different direction in Space. In fact, everything starts to happen as soon as you choose your colleague. Your choice of whom to hang out with defines the universe oh nooooooo I hate it
So now that I’ve made those first three choices, I’m cheating a bit and going back to previous branches in established story. I went back to Spock, and instead of beaming myself over to the enemy ship, I let him go. He reports back but it’s scrambled, so I have to pick whether I jam the transporter or beam myself over after him. I chose the latter, and discovered that the aliens are some kind of shape-shifters who all look like Spock! They carry off the real Spock to interrogate him, and I have to decide whether I want to wait for him or take the initiative and try something myself. I chose to wait for him, at which point the aliens destroyed the Enterprise. Oops.
Dammit, I’m gonna get a good Spock ending. Instead of waiting for Spock this time, I took the initiative. Spock comes back and gives me a big ole grin and says I did a great job, but of course I see right through that. I don’t even get a choice to not see right through it. I do some kung fu moves that, no joke, I learned from watching “centuries-old Chuck Norris films,” so that’s cool. I kick some alien asses and then notice that the aliens are using some kind of duplicator to siphon energy from the Enterprise and copy it at the same time? So my choice turns out to be whether I tell the ship to turn of all their power or to boost power and overload the enemy duplicator. I choose the latter option.
It works! The real Spock shows up and I say we run to the transporter room in time to see a boarding party leave. I say we need to beam over ourselves, but Spock notices a blinking light on the transporter saying it might break if we use it. I say it “might” break means we might as well risk it, and Spock says something about how I must be part Vulcan in a way that I choose to believe is sarcastic, because it turns out that I just talked him into letting us disperse our component atoms across the cosmos.
Okay, Spock again. This time I jumped to the bit where I had to decide if Bones believed me or thought I’d gone crazy, which ended my first run. This time I was able to fight back against Dr. McCoy and escape the sickbay. I headed straight for the transporter room just in time to see some mirror aliens beaming in. I’m given the option to phaser them or to phaser the lights out in the room, which seemed like the obvious choice. I did that and defeated them because apparently mirrors are powered by light? That’s a thing Spock says. It doesn’t really make any sense, but he gives me a medal anyway. I’m calling that a Spock victory.
Okay, I’m gonna get a Dr. McCoy good ending and call it, even though I feel like there’s so much more to explore in this book. At first I was thinking that this book was fairly linear, that all of the paths that take you off the main three are just bad endings, but I honestly feel like there’s a surprising amount of depth to this book? Like, the Spock track went at least two directions. And the book only has 118 pages!
So I followed the same path as in Run 2, until I got to the point where I wondered if the giant green hand was a dream or a vision. I opted for vision this time, and sure enough, it was real! This is where things get really weird, and I actually have a lot of respect for this book for telling a pretty original and wild tale even though its target audience is, like maybe nine or ten years old.
The giant green hand shows up and, in what is a weird twist, it turns out I can communicate with it because of the serum that Dr. McCoy created. I do so and it turns out that this isn’t just a random hand flying through space, it’s actually connected to an arm that stretches out across the cosmos, into what the book says is another galaxy.
It tells me that it is the last of its species, which was destroyed by the very disease that is affecting the crew of the Enterprise. If it destroys the ship, it destroys the last vestiges of the disease and will have completed its mission. I choose to stall for time, which gives Bones long enough to complete the serum, except now he’s ancient and can’t remember if the last step is to heat the serum or cool it. I’m not super fond of the fact that there’s no way for me to know what the possible results are for either option. I don’t like that I basically have to choose at random. Anyway, I pick heat, and it turns out that’s the right answer. The disease is cured and the giant hand goes back to its home.
Just for giggles I went back and chose cool. The result is that I trip and fall on my way to the refrigerator and run out of time. Lame.
Okay so I’ve been at this for several hours and I had a lot of fun with it, but I think I’m gonna call it there. This book was surprisingly fun! I kind of want to fiddle with it a few more times just to see more endings, but this review has already gone on long enough and I’m tired. I might do that later, and maybe I can update with interesting discoveries in the comments.
It’s worth mentioning that this book is illustrated by Gordon Tomei, and they’re pretty good!
I had to crop this one a little bit because I couldn’t get a good straight scan, but this is the illustration of the ending where I thought that the giant hand was just a dream and the Enterprise gets smooshed by it. Isn’t that great?
It really seems to me like our authors had a good time writing this. I don’t know if they were bigtime Star Trek fans or if they just studied up after accepting the job, but they did a fine job anyway. The characters felt genuine enough, considering the target age range. There’s that one little bit where Spock says the wrong word, but whatever. He doesn’t have to say “Fascinating” about everything.
I looked them up on the ISFDB and it appears that the majority of their oeuvre is in the YA sector, with a few Dragonlance novels and some other Chooseable Path Adventures in various series, as well as some tales called Fire Brats and Ghostworld. The cover art for the Ghostworld novels looks extremely nineties in a way that gives me legit flashbacks to elementary school. I don’t know that I ever saw those books specifically, but it’s a style that was the main thing at the time.
Anyway, this was fun and I hope I can do something like it again! Maybe one day if I don’t have anything better to do I can find some other endings and talk about them. Until then, have a great day, and thanks for dropping by!