Saturday, 8 March 2008

#4 - Starship Traveller

Boldly going where no previous Fighting Fantasy book had gone before, Steve Jackson wasted no time in blurring the line between fantasy and science fiction in setting the fourth installment not only in outer space, but another universe altogether.

You're the hapless captain of a starship named Traveller (if you want to be super-nerdy, you can pretend it's Voyager, though the book came a decade before) whose Scotty analogue has messed up and allowed the warp drives to malfunction. Traveller is speeding ever faster towards a black hole, and your Spock equivalent suggests using its gravitational pull to slow the ship down.

So far, so Star Trekkin'. ("Boldly going forward 'cause we can't find reverse... Still can't find reverse... Totally going forward and things are getting worse...")

Anyway, the otherwise logical plan didn't work (else there'd be no book) and you now have to get back to Earth - the problem being, you're in a different universe altogether.

I began with a pretty averagely-skilled crew, not bad, but the dice weren't overly generous. Something different about this particular book is the fact you have a crew to look after - it's not just you and your Tardis-like rucksack (and 10 proportionally-similar provisions, of course). Something else is that unlike in Star Trek, unless otherwise noted, all aliens have phasers set to kill (we'll never know if stormtroopers have the same policy, seeing as they never hit anything).

Another departure I found was that unlike previous books, rolling within your skill/luck often had a bad outcome, as opposed to the expected positive. My very own Dr McCoy saved an entire medieval planet from a deadly fever, rolled dice to prove his luck, and died. Another time I successfully rolled within my skill level to convince some prison guards I wasn't a proverbial Christian to be thrown to the lions for their entertainment - they didn't believe me and made me fight the 'Manslayer Robot' anyway.

What kind of messed-up alien society would build a robot specifically designed to kill a species from a different universe? It's as if they knew a species calling itself 'man' would arrive and, through a grave misunderstanding, be thrown to the mechanical lions.

Anwyay... soon after beginning my journey, I found myself at a blue planet, descended and found myself "in a wide street of some kind, which is completely deserted. Buildings, of sorts, line the street and behind you a large building stands at the end of the road. The buildings are strange structures. They are a multitude of shapes and sizes and all look incomplete."

In other words, I was on the main street of Tirau. (Cue a ba-da-bing drum roll of sorts for the Kiwis reading this...)

Okay, the planet I was on, I can't recall its name but it was a libertarian paradise (of which Tirau most certainly is not, and besides, 'libertarian paradise'? There's an oxymoron to dwell on...) with a history akin to that of an early, albeit interplanetary United States. Races from all different worlds had fled there to escape problems at home, and decided on their new planet there would be no laws, no rules and no hierarchy (obviously Id' stumbled across this planet in around their equivalent of the 1880, not 2008). They had 'guards' though, which intrigued... turns out, as anyone is allowed to rob/beat/kill anyone they like, what with no rules and all, those planning to rob/beat/kill you are at least courteous enough to dress up as guards - to warn passers-by to be 'on guard'.

Muahaha. Cheesy puns are awesome. I particularly like the fact I managed to find a planet called Malini, whose primary income was mining, in particular the mineral Malinite. Mining Malini for Malinite. (Almost makes you wish for less subtle naming conventions, such as the Mon Calamari. Yes, two different links, I'm trying to make a point here...)

I also came across a planet stuck in the middle ages, whose weather was controlled by an Oz-esque man-behind-the-curtain - in this case, a man-behind-the-computer.

Eventually my crew got tired of re-enacting Dr Who and Star Trek episodes, and decided to force the issue of getting home. I'd collected a bunch of possible locations-of, stardates-to-arrive-at and speeds-at-which-to-approach some black holes, and tried out one - we all died, but the text made clear we would never have known it, which was such a relief.

I never managed to finish this book as a youngster, and after tonight, I'm still zero/roll-a-six-sided-die-and-multiply-the-result-by-a-million. It's fiendishly difficult - at one point I found myself in a Warlock-esque maze whose structure seemed random and the only guide I had was always turning to pages whose numbers I didn't immediately recognise or that I hadn't read yet. The kicker was that when checking, out of morbid, un-sportsmanlike interest where a couple of the pages I hadn't chosen (honest!) led, they were to death. Random death. This, in a sequence which if you survive, provides you with (possibly) one of the details you need to get home. Grrr.

Anyway... the version I have of the book is similar to the one above, same artwork, but with the serrated green strip at the top, and without the big '4' at the bottom. Obviously, its not an original pressing, but inside it still only says there are five books - so it was early, but not early enough to have the original, soon-to-be-dropped presentation style. Unless they changed all the covers without updating the pressing info and whatnot, which is unlikely.

I imagine that thing on the cover is the Manslayer Robot. In my humble opinion, it's one of the few original designs which is scarier and more futuristic than the newer, 21st century reissue re-imaginings.

The Wikipedia article on Starship Traveller (which has both covers displayed) claims the book can be completed without ever having to roll any dice. I find this hard to believe - then again, I never got into any ship-to-ship combat, of which I was led to believe there would be plenty. I obviously went the wrong way - at one point, being down to a single stamina point.

The back cover of the book asks, "Will you be able to discover the way back to Earth from the alien peoples and planets you encounter, or will the starship be doomed to roam uncharted space forever?" It's a rhetorical question in the end, as once your crew get suitably annoyed at a lack of inter-dimensional-homeward-bound travel they force the Traveller into the nearest black hole regardless of your research. You will not be floating in space for longer than an hour, in your time, to be honest.

0 from 4. It would seem I'm not so sharp with the blaster or the sword nowadays.


Deb Clague said...

This is the one book I've never managed to finish. It's matter what sequence of paragraphs I read, I can't find the proper ending. I'm also not a big fan of the sci-fi genre, so I'm not even motivated to cheat.

Ed said...

The green spines and cover redesigns started after the publication of book 7, so it would appear that they did update the cover of Starship Traveller without changing the contents.

Dan said...

I wonder if they updated the text from 'Appointment With FEAR' so not to include references to Boy George, I mean, Georgie Boy...

Anonymous said...

It's actually possible to complete ST without rolling dice once (except before you begin)

dan duran said...

I don't even think it's possible to complete ST, let alone do it without rolling dice!

Aussiesmurf said...

I have completed Starship Traveller, and it is technically possible to do so without touching the dice.

I admire the idea of Starship Traveller, although I discovered the book long before I had any read familiarity with the tropes of Star Trek.

I dislike the way in which after a certain period of exploration you are essentially told that 'Time's up!' and that you must go through a black hole NOW. It would be preferable to let the reader know at the start that you can only go to xxx number of planets before the time is up, and have more of a 'sand-box' approach.

The other annoying 'bug' in the book is that at one stage you are informed as to a particular speed that you must travel in order to go through the final black hole correctly, but if I recall correctly, this knowledge is never called upon.

Anonymous said...

"The other annoying 'bug' in the book is that at one stage you are informed as to a particular speed that you must travel in order to go through the final black hole correctly, but if I recall correctly, this knowledge is never called upon."

This isn't a bug, but a story device that represents reality.