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A novel by John Whitman (1998, Bantam Skylark)
Galaxy of Fear, Book 10
2 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

The kids and their guardian take a cruise on a luxury liner, which promptly suffers several malicious malfunctions.



3 stars

Read on September 8th, 2004  
    A fun, if standard, adventure.

We seem to be rid of the "Hoole doesn't believe the kids" storyline, and I am much happier for it. In this story, Zak is led astray because he doesn't trust humanoid species any more, and I don't blame him. The entire beginning of the book seems to play into the implausibility of the series as a whole. These kids have encountered so many threats and dire consequences that it's impossible to believe it has really happened. Zak thinks that by staying away from people, he can avoid the life-threatening adventures that they have encountered nine times in the last several months!

Of course, he is wrong, but he doesn't realize that until halfway through the book. The author does a good job at misleading the readers, until it becomes obvious who is taking control of the ship, much later.

The guest star in this book is Dash Rendar, from Shadows of the Empire. I didn't like him in that book, and I don't really like him here, either. At least he was written consistently! When the alarms call for people to evacuate the ship, he stayed behind (he later claims that he wanted to steal the ship, but was trumped by the one who did take control). We never do find out, though, what Hoole was talking to him about. I liked Hoole's way of taking charge of the situation when everyone started panicking over the escape pods: shape-shift into a Hutt and start giving orders! He successfully got everybody off the ship.

Of course, aside from Rendar, Zak and Tash were left behind, stranded in a utility closet after reuniting a mother and her young daughter, and losing their place in line due to a very annoyed man. The ship predictably does not explode, and the kids try to get to the docking bay, where Hoole's ship is located, then to the communications center, to send a distress call. They meet up with Rendar, then the captain of the ship with some deck hands. These last save them from reprogrammed gardening droids in the menagerie, a zoo with some ferocious animals, including a vornskr. Interestingly, later in the tale, the Force-hunting vornskr takes an interest in Tash, who has some latent Force sensitivity.

One by one, the deck hands, then the captain, are killed, and Dash and Tash are incapacitated, leaving Zak all alone. By the way, the combination of names Dash and Tash is a terrible coincidence, given that the author wanted to use that character! As they get closer to the communications center, they are either attacked by droids or pummelled by falling debris. Turbolifts fall to their doom, and doors crush bodies.

My initial thought was that Malik, the disgruntled technician who the captain was forced to hire, was responsible for everything. He had Imperial connections, and it turns out that he was in fact partly responsible. When the artificial intelligence SIM, who had befriended Zak, implicated Dash in the emergency, I was ready to believe that Malik was controlling SIM. As time went on, however, and things got more complicated, I figured that Malik was too easy a target. I then figured it had to be SIM. Malik had integrated SIM into the luxury liner's computer system as a test of an Imperial design that would take over ships' computers. But SIM didn't want to let go, and it wanted to go farther. So it took over the ship. Malik was the only one keeping it under control.

However, SIM gained Zak's complete trust, so Zak was able to help it gain complete control of the ship, inadvertently, of course. The way this was done was plausible enough. SIM seemed so innocent, and Zak was wary of people. He really thought everything would be okay when he input those codes into the computer.

Then, SIM turned on him, enjoying the thrill of murder. Hoole arrives back on the ship at that point, having travelled from the escape pod as a mynock! I am still not thrilled with the way his shape-shifting seems to be so powerful. He needs to breathe, so the faux-mynock should also need to breathe. How could he possibly transform himself into a true mynock? His brain capacity, to say the least, would diminish. And since mynocks don't have the ability to change shape, if he was truly a mynock, with all of its abilities, how could he change back?

Regardless, his only contribution to the rest of the story is his strength as other aliens. He frees Tash from the sealed room, and battles a couple of creatures from the zoo. When SIM taunts them by opening the door to the docking bay, he shifts into a speedy alien and gets through before it closes again. He gets to his ship and bores a hole through the door, allowing everybody to escape. I suppose Malik is now on board Hoole's ship. We'll see in the next book if they drop him off somewhere.

SIM seems like a child, which I suppose it really is. As Zak said, the computer required input, and couldn't really function without it, no matter what it threatened. It was a reactionary program, not one that took initiative on its own. Even at the end, when it transferred itself to another ship (space station, actually), it was reacting to the destruction of the ship, thanks to Dash. (By the way, Dash's ship was named the Outrider, not the Outrunner, as here.)

Now I wonder what is in store for these people. Zak, especially, will likely become a hermit. He doesn't trust people, and he has lost confidence in computers! He only trusts his uncle and his sister, and I'm not sure he is always comfortable with them, either.

I read this book from one end to the other, straight. This is because there were no real breaks in the text. Each of the chapters ended, yet again, with a cliff-hanger, and the next chapter picked up with a sentence that continued the previous one seamlessly. The author's style seems to have grown as the series has progressed, or perhaps I've just become used to it. I still cringe when Zak or Tash yell something obviously alarmist, which turns out to be false, like the first words in the book. However, the characters have evolved nicely, and the narrative style is rather enjoyable much of the time. The author successfully uses events or items given near the beginning of the book later on, and usually to good effect. Particularly good in this book were the uses of Hoole's Dejarik game, which prompted Zak's thought of computer inputs, or the spray bottle from the gardening droid that attacked them, used to fend off the zoo animals.

Although this series isn't as good as other young reader books out there, especially the Jedi Apprentice series, it is still relatively well written.


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