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A novel by John Whitman (1997, Bantam Skylark)
Galaxy of Fear, Book 4
Soon after Star Wars: A New Hope

Zak and Tash go from nightmare to nightmare as Hologram Fun World becomes dangerous.



3 stars

Read December 12th to 13th, 2002  
    Better written than all the other Galaxy of Fear novels, but a sloppy ending requires a demotion in the ranking.

After reading the first six books, I want to stress that this book is the best of them. It really does deserve a demotion due to the sloppy nature of the ending, but after reading the rest of the books in this segment, I really need to keep it at a higher ranking.

Once again, the story was fairly predictable, but somehow it was more enjoyable than the previous adventures. As in the three other stories so far, there is a visitor from the Classic Trilogy, this time Lando (I was joking when I mentioned him in my review of Planet Plague). We also meet yet another untrustworthy local, the administrator of the park. In this case, however, the author doesn't care to tell us whether this is the real administrator or if he was replaced by the evil scientist, as in Planet Plague.

We finally get a name for the evil scientist, Borborygmus Gog, whose first name I will not likely be repeating again! Yet Hoole doesn't see fit to reveal any more to the youngsters. He discovers that they are in more danger than he thought, so sends Tash and Zak on a vacation to Hologram Fun World. I believe this is the same place where Han and Leia got married in the non-continuity books that recount the story of Ken, grandson of the Emperor.

Like a Star Trek holodeck, everything here is made of holograms, from the rides even to so many other people visiting the place. The rancor that greeted them upon arrival was so obviously a hologram, just like the giant Jaws in the second Back to the Future movie. It was also very predictable that it would return in a non-hologram function later in the book. The largest question was why didn't Deevee say anything before the kids were scared by it? Contrived suspense, obviously.

It really looks like this is the first time Zak has seen many of these types of rides, like a Hall of Mirrors. I don't understand why he would be so freaked out by it. But that's when they meet Lando, who eventually teaches Zak a little about Sabaac. Unfortunately, this is not the Sabaac that we see in all the other Star Wars novels. Why do they need a traditional card shuffler (which comes in handy later as an escape device), when Sabaac cards don't hold their face value? Where was the randomizer, which would have made it unimportant that Lando show his hand to Dengar -the cards would have shifted face by that time. Sabaac is treated as a normal Earth card game, which is very sloppy on the writer's part.

Lando is thinking of investing in Hologram Fun World, and asks Tash and Zak for their opinions on various rides. Zak tries out The Nightmare Machine, a new haunted-house type attraction that has not opened yet. The administrator of the theme park shows them how it reads their minds and forces the participants through their own nightmares. Maybe I've watched too much Star Trek, but I knew right away that Zak and Tash hadn't left the Nightmare Machine, especially since things seemed a little strange. When Lando was eaten by the Rancor, it simply confirmed my suspicions.

As they went from nightmare to nightmare, I was just more and more sure that I was right. The machine seemed to be more of a hero maker, though, since every time they faced death, one of the kids got to be a hero and remove them from the situation (with help from the holographic Deevee, of course).

I couldn't figure out why we could see Tash's thoughts (for example, about the lightsaber) if we were in Zak's dream, until they found their way out of the device, and it was shown that they were attached through that mind-reading creature. Also shown were many other "participants", though they were never encountered. If attached to the same creature, wouldn't they be in the same dream? So what happened to them after Lando finally destroyed the creature? This was very sloppy plotting.

Strangely enough, the dream sequence was very well written, and quite exciting, and I enjoyed it thoroughly, especially knowing that it was a dream. Unlike many other "it was all a dream" types of stories, this one made sense. I thought the author went on a little too long in the dream world, though, since I figured it out so early. I liked the little touch of Tash's Force intuition knowing the solution to the Nightmare Machine: that one of them must die to get out.

As usual, Hoole reappears just at the right time, this time in the guise of a stormtrooper in Gog's army (how did he replicate the radios troopers use to communicate?). I still think that Shi'ido should be able to recognize one another, even in shape-shifted form, if they grew up with their own species. Gog should have known that Hoole was there.

The ending was also typical, in that Tash and Zak escape, but the author instills some sort of cliff-hanger ending, having Hoole tell them that their danger is really just beginning! At least now, they will be wary. Lando, who was not part of the dream sequence (and thus didn't get eaten by the rancor), escapes with them. But there is no way I can believe that he is just now going to check out Cloud City. How the heck can he check it out, decide to invest, work his way to Baron Administrator, and become so powerful, respected, and influential by the time of The Empire Strikes Back?!

The evil scientist Gog only has two stages left in his Starscream project, and I hope he disappears after that. While it's interesting for a short time to have a recurring villain, I think this one's time is up. Hopefully we can put him to rest in the next couple of books.


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