Friday 4 May 2018

FF does SF

Apart from a few notable exceptions, Fighting Fantasy’s various forays into the realms of science fiction were not the most successful gamebooks Puffin produced, but the company still published nine of them over the course of half a decade.

But setting an adventure in the far-flung vastness of space was still a tempting prospect for an author. “I liked to try new things out,” says Steve Jackson. “Sorcery! had a new magic system, Starship Traveller was the first SF adventure.”

Set in the distant future, Starship Traveller had the hero become the commander of the eponymous starship and its crew. After his interstellar vessel is sucked through a black hole into an unknown quadrant of space, the hero has to search the local star systems for the coordinates to another black hole and the way home.

Jackson: “I was a big Star Trek fan. Always preferred it to Doctor Who. Mr Spock was my hero. I liked the episodes where Kirk & Co landed on a planet where they encountered alien races and philosophies. Never liked the deep space battle episodes. Starship Traveller was unashamedly based on Star Trek."

Starship Traveller was originally going to be included among the second tranche of FF gamebooks put out by Scholastic but it can still be enjoyed in an updated format thanks to Tin Man Games' app of the same name.

The next FF SF adventure to come along was Andrew Chapman's Space Assassin. The hero was the assassin of the title, his mission: to stop the crazed scientist Cyrus from unleashing a gruesome mutation experiment upon his homeworld from the vast hulk of the starship Vandervecken in orbit above it.

Then came Ian Livingstone's Freeway Fighter, which you can read more about here, and a prequel to which is now available as a graphic novel from Titan Comics.

The Rings of Kether, also by Andrew Chapman, casts the hero in the role of a narcotics officer attempting to break up a drug ring on the planet Kether.

Unusually, the hero is given some degree of freedom in regards to where he can travel between various locations on the planet’s surface, and in orbit as well, which in turn means that there are multiple paths leading to the final confrontation with the leaders of the drug cartel.

Next came Steve Jackson's Appointment with F.E.A.R., which is back in print, thanks to Scholastic Books, and also exists in the form of an app from Tin Man Games.

Rebel Planet was Robin Waterfield’s first contribution to the gamebook line as writer, having already edited a number of titles in the series. In the adventure, the leaders of SAROS (a secret Earth organization) are fighting to overthrow the alien Arcadian Empire. Having gathered together their last few resources, they send the hero on one last daring, and foolhardy, mission to strike at the heart of the Arcadian homeworld.

Wrapped inside a powerful Transformers meets Jurassic Park cover, Robot Commando was written by the other Steve Jackson (the US author behind Scorpion Swamp and Demons of the Deep). “It was inspired by the mecha genre,” explains US Steve, “of which Transformers was the first big-deal popularization in English.”

The hero of Robot Commando is a dinosaur rancher in the country of Thalos, on a distant planet, who finds himself in the middle of an attack by the militaristic Karosseans. An unknown weapon is activated which causes everyone, save the protagonist, to fall into a deep sleep, leaving Thalos free to be invaded. During the course of the book the hero uses a number of different giant robots to battle both the dinosaurs and the Karosseans while searching for a way to wake his fellow countrymen. 

Robot Commando is also one of the books under consideration to be the next release for Tin Man Games' Fighting Fantasy Classic library app.

The next SF FF title came out over a year later. Inspired by the movies Bladder Runner and Escape From New York, Star Strider is notable for being the first of what would become four FF titles by Luke Sharp.

“I have to confess that I didn’t read FF before I started writing for FF," says Sharp. "Well I did read Rebel Planet by Robin Waterfield before I submitted a proposal for what I called Rogue Tracer, which eventually became Star Strider. That’s why my first book is SF. It was pure luck that I got a commission. I was working with Dave Robins a well-known writer who had books published by Penguin Books and I had helped him with a book he had written on movies. His agent suggested he submit a proposal for FF because there was little work around at the time and Puffin needed writers for FF. It was Dave who suggested I put in a proposal in the envelope along with his. I got the gig and he didn’t.”

The thirty-third FF adventure, and the ninth science fiction title, was the first and only solo gamebook written by Martin Allen, who had already co-written the Clash of the Princes double-header with Andrew Chapman. In Sky Lord, the hero is Jang Mistral, a four-armed soldier from the planet Ensulina. His mission is to travel to a lawless artificial planet and capture a scientist named L'Bastin, who has created a species of dog-headed humanoids (called the Prefectas) to be the ultimate warriors in the universe.

Although some later FF adventures would feature some SF elements - most notably Spectral Stalkers - Sky Lord remains the last space-set Fighting Fantasy gamebook to date.

However, role-players can still enjoy new space-set adventures, with Arion Games' Advanced Fighting Fantasy Stellar Adventures.

Which is your favourite SF FF adventure? And would you like to see new gamebooks set in distant galaxies? Let us know in the comments below.

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