Saturday, 10 May 2008

#12 - Space Assassin

Space Assassin, the second sci-fi themed book in the Fighting Fantasy series is much-maligned, going by the review sites linked from Wikipedia. I think it is unfair, really - I quite enjoyed the book, even if I finished it without too much difficulty.

You're an assassin (duh) sent onboard a spaceship known to house Cyrus, the evil leader of this part of the galaxy who wants to use your planet for a gruesome, genocidal experiment. Being a member of the Assassins' Guild (you can take Fighting Fantasy out of the middle ages, but you can't take the middle ages out of Fighting Fantasy) with training in 27 different kinds of martial arts (but not a single one you'd need in space), you're selected for the job.

I rolled some pretty damn fine skill, stamina, luck, armour and extra-shit scores, so decided I'd pretty much try and fight my way through. Space Assassin has a pretty cool blaster-fighting system that isn't too complex and means you're not continually stopping to eat food eight times a day, as can happen in some other FF books. It also has an inventory limit, not that I really needed to pick up anything on my journey - not a single item I retrieved came in handy at all. I ate one of the energy bars, but only in lieu of a pep pill (like provisions, but you can pop them during fights!).

Soon after arriving on board, I found a dead creature, just left by the airlock, and some dodgy wiring that almost electrocuted me. Making a mental note I was in a dystopian future, my resolve to blast my way through hardened. I threatened scientists and got away with it, brazenly attacked guards and opened random doors for fun.

The armour concept of the book made fighting ridiculously easy. I rolled an 11 initially, then used some of my extra-shit roll to add armour on, so I began with an armour rating of 17 - mean I'd have to be hit six times before I even had a chance of being injured. The enemies I came across were uniformly weak, and it was never an issue. The only time I had concern for my fighting-safety came during a hand-to-hand battle with an octopus-like thing.

So after a few rooms of things the book tells me were specifically designed to be difficult for humans to use (you'd think they'd design things specifically for themselves, but no, they're more interested in making things hard for everyone else), I came across a library with microfiche. At first I thought, 'ha! Something designed by, and for, humans!' Then I remembered what a bitch it is already to use microfiche, that any society still using it in a world of spaceships and blasters is doing it for the inconvenience factor, surely.

Anyway, all the rooms I came across were at least interesting, and my plan of shooting my way through was coming along fine, till I came across a door with a plaque announcing squirrels. I passed on that one, figuring squirrels were not what I needed to bother with. In space.

The book after this took a rather surreal turn. I came across some buttons, pressed both, and was ejected into some kind of lush grassland - no explanation was really ever given, I went for a swim (in my spacesuit because apparently wearing it meant 'zero-risk' of drowning?!), and was soon back on the ship. Must've been the future space-drugs.

But then I came across something I never recalled any FF gamebook having - a real-life logic puzzle of sorts. I had to work out which letter came next in the sequence, then turn to that letter's position in the alphabet, times 10. The sequence was OTTFFSS. I got it in about 30 seconds, I'll leave it up to you what you think it is.

But I thought that was cool, a non-dice roll-related skill puzzle that relied on real-world smarts. Okay, that's pushing it, it wasn't that hard really, but I got a bit of a buzz from it.

Mentally, the effort required was nothing compared to the next couple of encounters though. I found myself in some kind of tank battle simulator thing that had a bizarre set of rules, complete with its own rule set and adventure page sheet. I've no idea how it worked - I can only assume each 'status' position of yours was accompanied by a particular position on the gameboard by the enemy, who must've followed some kind of pattern that was too long to be recognised in the short space of time the game took. I couldn't work it out, but luck got me through, just.

The next was a Goonies or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade-style 'step on the wrong tile and die' scenario, except you had to add up the numbers of the tiles you wanted to stand on, and turn to that page. If it didn't make sense, you died. If not, you got through. Now, this page pissed me off. Firstly, because in the picture, the intro and outro to the room didn't make it clear if you had to stand on the middle tile or not - it seemed so, but wasn't entirely apparent. This meant there were about a billion zillion options, all based on luck. I'd been told earlier in the game by a friendly character to always take the middle, so I did, and it didn't work.

Instead of condemning my character to death over what I felt was something patently unfair, I worked out what the correct path was and continued. Cheating? Technically, yeah. But only in that way where there's a bug in the game you're playing and the only past it is to use a cheat code from Gamespot or something.

So I came across Cyrus, and he was a chicken. I threatened him, he begged for mercy, asked me to play cards, then ran away. I chased him, and found him wearing a giant bionic robot suit like Homer Simpson (didn't) that time, except the book called it a 'Waldo'. Yeah, Wikipedia has nothing (nor anything on why Where's Wally? is called Where's Waldo? in the US - probably an FCC thing).

Still, he was weak as hell, and I dispatched him coldly, and was met with a page-400 victory of "Congratulations." Woah. Is that it? I save the world, and all I get is, "Congratulations"? Could you imagine if, after blowing up the Death Star, all Luke got was a one-word recognition of his efforts? Actually, I don't think there's a single word spoken in that scene, and Chewie doesn't even get a medal, so yeah.

Anyway, I enjoyed Space Assassin, it was quite different, even to Starship Traveller, and dare I say it, a little more enjoyable. Perhaps a little easy? Only if you ignore the random, bizarre asides, which I suppose give the book, at least this early in the series, a certain distinctiveness. I'd no idea what to expect going in, as I don't think I had this one as a kid, but it was worth it.

And it was mercifully quicker than Talisman of Death! 4/12 I'm at now. 33% win rate. Not bad? We'll see.


Rowan Lipkovits said...

the book called it a 'Waldo'. Yeah, Wikipedia has nothing

The first link in the top two sections describe "remote manipulator"s, which is what this interpretation of the word refers to, from a Heinlein story and used to describe robot arms controlled by a nearby human to do things the human (for whatever reason) can't. Some SF writers get lazy, as seems to be the case here, and just use it as a gloss for "powered exoskeleton".

Dan said...

It's a pretty huge leap from 'robot arms' to 'powered exoskeleton'! I could do with both though. My inner skeleton doesn't have nearly enough power, nor do my arms.

Anonymous said...

I remember an interview with the author in which he revealed that the 'step on the wrong tile and die' bit was added by someone else, and the first he knew of it was when he got a copy of the book. One of the worst editorial blunders in the series (though there's also an atrocious one in book 47).

Unknown said...

I did NOT like this one, and I thought a lot of the ideas in it were lame - yes, even at the age of 11 or so. I thought the villain was lackluster, I thought the traps were boring, and I remember in particular the lack of real atmosphere. The paragraphs were generally terse and to the point, and it never really captured the idea of moving through a spaceship.

And the final 'win' paragraph?? THREE LINES??? What the --?

Unknown said...

This was one of the first FF books I had as a kid, and I have very fond memories of it. It reminded me a lot of Lynch's "Dune" which I saw around the same time. Crazy weapons- black hole bombs, disintegrators, and as I recall there was some sort of sixpack of robot drones- I think they were called "pillboxes" or something. I ended up using those in the RPGs my friends and I made up before we discovered actual D&D rules. So yeah, I like "Space Assassin", and I remember calling remote manipulators Waldos for a long time until I figured out that was not their real name. ;)

KC said...

just got it today! excited to dig in, i'm likely to do an updated version