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A novel by John Whitman (1998, Bantam Skylark)
Galaxy of Fear, Book 9
1 year after Star Wars: A New Hope

A genetically created group consciousness attempts to take over the planet of Ithor.



3 stars

Read on July 26th, 2003  
    While not so much a character story as the previous book, the plot was rather enjoyable, and seemed to be thought out better than most of the others in this series.

This story starts on Ithor, planet of the so-called Hammerheads, of which Momaw Nadon, the one seen in the Mos Eisley cantina in Star Wars, is the most famous. I don't understand the point of having Zak and Tash go down to the surface of the planet, since they didn't even get into trouble for it. As Zak said, he doesn't want to keep secrets any more, after what happened in the last book. It doesn't figure into the plot, except to acquaint the kids with Baffor trees and the other one which ties them up. They could have done this in any number of gardens on the herd-ship. Besides, don't the Ithorians have alarms that alert their patrols that somebody is trying to land on the planet?

Once that escapade is over, they make their way to an asteroid cluster near the planet, most likely a series of closely-knit Trojans, in search of some mineral for their engines. This seems to be an excuse to give an Empire Strikes Back feel to the book, but since everyone in this book can race through virtually unharmed, including Tash and a free-floating Zak, it seems strange that C3PO gave such poor odds for navigation in the movie.

The title, and plot, revolves around a genetically created being called Spore, which has a hive-like mind, and is driven to put every intelligent creature under its control. The miners on the asteroids have found a strange cavern, with warnings all around it. For some reason that is never explained, the warnings were mostly scraped off from the tunnel walls. They decide it should be left undisturbed, until an Imperial Star Destroyer shows up, after which the chief miner, Hodge, decides that he should find the "treasure" before they do.

The Imperial in charge of this is Jerec, the Dark Jedi from the Dark Forces illustrated stories. At least he was better here, since he didn't have that much to do.

Spore infects Hodge, though how, I cannot figure out, since Hodge had to wear his spacesuit in the cave, and Spore needs contact -that is stated explicitly, since Hodge's companion was killed. The Ithorian who is their guide knows about Spore, however, since she was mated to Nadon, a High Priest. She sabotages the mining station, so that everybody had to remain in their space suits (thus avoiding the spread of Spore). It is never mentioned that they change air canisters, but I imagine they have to at some point.

She pilots the group back to Ithor, where she crashes the ship, obviously intending to incinerate it in the atmosphere, since Spore is on-board. Hoole and the others manage to secure a controlled crash, and everybody survives.

In a neat twist, everybody except Tash and her guide are infected at this point -even Hoole and Zak! I definitely wasn't ready for that to happen. It seems strange that the Ithorian guide had to "find out" about Spore, since every other Ithorian seems to know, as well, even though it was erased from the historical database. The Ithorian medics are infected when they arrive, but their ship is sabotaged before Spore can use it to get off of Ithor's surface.

Another unexpected twist comes from Jerec, who wants Spore for his own purposes. He wants the being to make the Imperial soldiers loyal to him, instead of the Emperor. So he and Spore make a deal, and go up to the Star Destroyer to begin the process. Tash sneaks on board, and tries to use her Force powers to free Hoole and Zak, unsuccessfully. She manages to rescue them from the Star Destroyer before luring it into the asteroid cluster, where it is attacked by hundreds of space slugs! I don't know how likely this is, but it made for a cool mental image.

Jerec manages to escape, but the ship is opened to the vacuum of space, which we were told makes Spore go dormant. This begs the question about why it took a hundred years to get rid of Spore, when all they had to do was destroy the Prime, and all the other infected people return to normal. With all the bodies available to him in the Star Destroyer, one would think that they would force their prime into an escape pod or to a TIE Fighter, or something, to save him. Hodge, at least, must have known about his own weakness in space.

One of the keys to the story was the set of tractor-beam boots that Tash was wearing. I liked the idea quite a bit, but I wonder why they removed the boots at any time, especially inside the complex. It also seems that they would need similar equipment to hold their ships in place in the hangar, and any other supplies. The boots allowed Tash to climb a Baffor tree to escape her pursuers. The Baffor trees, being semi-sentient, spoke to her through her budding Force-powers, and guided her to safety.

Tash made a big deal about the lack of gravity on the asteroid, which was mostly well-used here. The only exception came when the block dropped from the ceiling, though I expect that it was mechanically lowered, instead. A lot of that passage was confusing, as I couldn't visualize where the shaft was that Tash climbed. It also made me wonder why the passage wasn't simply blocked by the rock to begin with -it seems much safer than a bunch of warnings.

On an unrelated note, after talking so much about preserving life, and in other books, at how the Ithorians object to people being on the surface of their planet, I think they would be rather upset at the group for the large gauge in their land caused by the crash...

There was not much character work in this book, but I enjoyed this plot much more than most of the others. The main reason is that Zak and Tash had nothing to do with discovering it. The miner brought Hoole to the area, and things spiralled out of control because of the curiosity of others -not because Hoole refused to believe the kids. Let's have more of that.


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