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A novel by John Whitman (1997, Bantam Skylark)
Galaxy of Fear, Book 1
Soon after Star Wars: A New Hope

While exploring a strange planet, two young orphans find an Imperial experiment that went wrong, and is causing people to disappear.




Read on December 7th, 2002  
    Full of nearly every cliché possible, this book was also written for readers very much younger than the target audience. It was really the style of the book that I objected to, because the characters were pretty well drawn out, and everything seemed to be well explained.

While I understand that this series of books is aimed at young readers, I think the author talks down to them way too often. The book was really written in a juvenile manner, and when compared with the Jedi Apprentice books, also written for young readers, this must be written for five year olds. It may be the publishers that created the problem, though, as the story of Ken was also written with Bantam, while the Jedi Apprentice series is under the new Star Wars relationship with Ballantine and Scholastic. Still, I do not accept that as an excuse.

The author starts off relatively well, introducing us to Tash, who appears to be Force-sensitive, and her brother Zak, a year younger at twelve-years old. But soon, he goes into so much exposition, so much backstory, about everything, from the Empire to the Rebellion, the planet D'vouran (an obvious play on the word devour, considering the nature of the planet), and so on. Every book has exposition of some sort, but the good ones do not stop the story to give it.

The most frustrating part, however, is the way everybody stops what they are doing, especially when Smada the Hutt and his henchmen are about to kill somebody, when a noise suddenly erupts from somewhere. If they were as professional as they were supposed to be, they would have shot Zak (or whoever they were aiming at), then ran for their lives. This is a cliché that so many movies and TV shows use to get the characters out of a nasty situation, and it doesn't make sense.

Other clichés abound, as well. There was a good explanation to bring the prisoners to the heart of the planet's appetite (which sounded too much like the Sarlaac), but did Chood and the other Enzeen have to explain their evil plans? We also get the last-minute rescue by the Millennium Falcon.

Strangely enough, Han Solo was fairly well written. I find it strange to think that they could all meet on some strange planet that nobody has heard of before or since, but perhaps Luke, Leia and the others were actually studying Imperial superweapons.

Tash and Zak were orphaned when the Empire destroyed Alderaan. They are young, but know enough to hate the Imperials. Their Uncle Hoole is a Shi'ido, able to shape-shift into any creature. He remains mysterious throughout the book, in anticipation of future books. Presumably, he is an Alliance intelligence agent, but he could just as easily be an Imperial agent. However, since he doesn't seem to mind Tash's obsession with the Jedi, I doubt it.

Hoole's current assignment sends him to a newly-discovered planet which has started being settled recently. People are disappearing there, though nobody seems to know about it except the crazy man Bebo, who was captain of the ship that first crashed on D'vouran.

It was truly gross to learn what the Enzeen did, sucking up nutrients from the surface of the planet, after it had eaten people. I suspected they were evil when presented with their constant smiles. But why would they have Tash sentenced to death for seeing them feed? That in itself doesn't make them evil. Surely other species eat from the surface instead of cooking their meals?

When Bebo finally leads Tash to the abandoned Imperial laboratory, she seems to think that she has enough proof to present to the rest of the settlers. But when she tries to draw on the Force, an earthquake occurs (it is unclear whether or not she caused this, but I suspect not), and all the settlers disappear, eaten alive by the planet.

Zak was a much less interesting character than Tash. His contribution to the story was his skimboard, similar to what we saw in the second Back to the Future film. It first nearly causes his capture by the Hutt, but allows them to escape the Hutt after being captured later, and at the end of the book, when the planet is about to swallow everything on the surface, including their spaceship. I suppose the skimboard was introduced because the target audience for this book would also enjoy skateboarding. Zak did get to give young people a lesson by not breaking his neck because he was wearing a helmet and pads -the author goes out of his way to mention them, like a grave but well-meaning councilor.

I think the story would have been passable if it had been written better. Everything seemed to be well explained, in terms of plot -there were no plot holes that I noticed- and the characters were consistent. The dialog and commentary, however, was quite stilted, even for a young-reader book.

I like the cover of this book, with a cool hologram of an Enzeen, with its long tongue sticking out and an evil smile on its face.

I will not abandon the series, however, and am committed to eventually reading the whole thing. I suspect the stories will get better as I get to know the characters more, and as we learn more about Hoole. I wonder if we will see more of these planets, as the epilogue implies, or if that is meant to simply scare us. The Hutt is dead, eaten by the planet, so there is no other consistent identified bad guys yet.


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