Thursday, June 17, 2021

Star Fighters by Robert E. Mills

Star Fighters
Star Quest 2
by Robert E. Mills
1978 Belmont Tower

The second in the series. I haven't read the first but the lengthy recap made me feel like I'd somehow seen it a thousand times. An orphan, a princess, a space pirate, and his animal-like copilot join a space wizard to oppose an evil emperor and his  henchman lord.

I can't complain about this being a blatant Star Wars rip off since that was what I was in the market for.  I'm a sucker for films like Starcrash or The Humanoid and I'm disappointed there aren't more action oriented science-fantasy novels out there.

Conceptually there's a lot I like better than Star Wars here.  The dark emperor Ylang-Ylang is an incorporeal evil force, a bit like Sauron, who absorbs and psychically tortures those around him, include his masochistic followers such as the four armed reptilian Lord Blorg.  The Fellowship of Light are overpowered Jedi, capable of mind controlling enemy captains to self-destruct entire fleets.  And the chosen one orphan, Dann Oryzon, was raised by dolphins rather than moisture farmers.

The first novel had the advantage of being able to copy the plot as well as the characters. The Empire Strikes Back didn't come out for two more years, and Belmont Tower probably barely had time to rip off the title for the back cover before printing - I believe the first teasers with the Empire title were from August, 1978.

Weirdly, there are a handful of elements that were similar to Empire: the Luke character gets seriously injured, a love triangle rivalry is developed with the Princess (Lady Nila), the Han character (Red Rian) has to land his Millennium Falcon on a hostile planet for repairs after being chased by overwhelming Imperial forces, the team is seemingly double-crossed by a loveable rogue who is actually on their side all along.

Of course this is just coincidence and requires a bit of intellectual stretching. Empire was still being written and Lucas stole his ideas from classier fare like Kurosawa and Far Out Space Nuts.

There is almost no plot and almost nothing happens.  There's a lengthy recap, page after page of folks just hanging out, until finally almost something happens. The baddies develop advanced shielding which makes their fleet invulnerable. They shoot down the Hazard, which crash lands for emergency repairs.

The heroes land on a planet with an Aztec like society, including human sacrifice. They fix the ship, develop a workaround for the shields, and blow stuff up.  The sparse action was confusing, to the point where fights went from spaceship battles to fisticuffs with no sense that anybody landed and disembarked their craft.

The original Star Wars trilogy excelled at having an ensemble cast, a smart move given how unlikeable the lead was. To the extent that anything happened, it happened to Red Rian and a character without an analogue to Star Wars, young engineer Ween Leever. Dann is in a coma most of the time, Lady Nila only pops in to tease which point of the triangle she's going to choose, and the two robots are only in the first part of the book to shame Red Rian for his space racism.

Some interesting concepts, but botches the execution.

Paperback from AbeBooks

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