(I challenge serious literature to try this approach, by the way - e.g. I want to see an edition of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian retitled as "Bad Cowboys", with depicted on the cover, some bad cowboys throwing donkeys off the side of a mountain. And sorry if that was a spoiler for anyone who hasn't read it.)
Now this is a pretty cool cover and no-one will disagree that it definitely pops but I think it is only showing a couple of Space Mallcops instead of a Space Assassin so I guess that's a 1 out of 2, which is just 50%. My favourite thing about this picture though is that the mallcops have a game of some kind of space football up on the big screens, having worked in similar environments in the past I can tell you this is exactly what really happens. They are supposed to be watching out for intruders at the T-junction but they have the footie on instead. If you examine the image closely you can see that the football is all spikey which probably means this future is pretty dystopian, maaaaan.
This book was written by an Australian, Andrew Chapman, interestingly he wrote the first draft after reading Warlock and after a few years in publication limbo it was picked up for the Fighting Fantasy series, though that was not his original intention. The book was born from the fertile desperation that only working a soul-crushing public service job can bring - he relates it all over at his blog.
So yeah, Andrew wrote the earlier drafts of this book after reading his little brother's copy of Warlock, before any other books in the series had been published. Interestingly, he hit upon a similar premise and structure as the second book in the series, Citadel of Chaos, still yet to published. Presumably this is a natural place for your mind to go as you sit on a treasure chest, wiping snotty tears from your chin - why couldn't this just be about killing the Warlock? So this is basically another case of get in the castle, murder the wizard, only it's in spaaaaaaaaace, and therefore rather than a buff sorcerer your target for space assassination is "Cyrus, the tyrannical ruling scientist of Od (your local sector)".
He has been causing bad trouble all up in your planet by various methods that lean pretty heavily on robots and "evil creatures almost certainly of mutant origin", henceforth referred to only as "mutants". Kidnapping citizens for experimental surgery is, we are told, his "most usual crime".
This is just a thing that most everyone has resigned themselves to, but then word reaches the unspecified bigwigs of your nameless planet that his next crime will be at the less usual end of the spectrum: "he intends to use your entire world for one gruesome biological experiment in which he will cover the surface of the planet in radioactive isotopes while showering deadly viruses on all living creatures".
Let me say that as an experimental method this is unforgivably imprecise - I don't know what conclusions Dr. Cyrus believes he will be able to draw from this. Anyway the folks in charge decide that the best way to head this off is to have Cyrus assassinated, which is where YOU come in, in your capacity as a Space Assassin.
So! While we don't know much about your home planet we can conclude it's the sort of backwater where this type of experiment can go ahead without anyone beyond the resident yokels being overmuch concerned - this is reinforced by the fact that the "planetary Assassin's Guild" is a rinky-dink outfit that provides the sole hope for the planet's survival with 1d6 credits and tells him to make sure he stays in budget and, for fuck's sake, hang on to the goddamn receipts.
Rolling Up My Dude
SKILL - 10
STAMINA - 20
LUCK - 7
Okay rolls. Because we're in a high-tech yet dystopian future there are some more attributes to determine (and you get "pep pills" to restore your STAMINA instead of my beloved PROVISIONS).
ARMOUR comes into play during firefights, if you get hit you roll two dice vs. ARMOUR and if you roll lower than your armour, the damage is prevented. ARMOUR is like LUCK in that it decreases by one point any time you Test it.
ARMOUR - 8
A lowish roll, but hey, you only need armour if you gonna get hit right? I resolved not to get hit. Next up I needed to determine my equipment. You get 1d6 space credits to invest in weapons and other equipment. You can buy extra points of armour and neato gravity bombs and assault blasters and whatnot.
BUDGET - 1
...however if you roll a snake's wink like Yours Truly all you can afford is the electric lash, described as - "a small hand-gun which projects an electric pulse"
There's a few explanations I can imagine that would justify this randomly crappy budget in story terms:
1) The electric lash is the best technology available in your shitty backwater planet.
2) No-one in charge really believes the rumours about Cyrus' evil science experiment but they hired a local night-club bouncer just to appease the paranoid fringe within the electorate. "Quick mate put on this here Space Assassin armour" they hiss as you are hastily stripped of your yellowing wife-beater. The cardboard box labelled "REAL Space Assassin Armour!" is hastily kicked under a desk.
3) Planet Dumb-Dumb is more or less okay with the radioactive virus shower thing.
"Caint harm us none mo then sixty gennerations of inbreedin', right bro?"
"Thess right, bro."
Actually on reflection, none of these theories exclude each other, so I have chosen to believe all of them.
Okay so what you got here is not a morbidly obese ghetto blaster but in fact the mighty starship Vandervecken:
|Aye, she looks a fat turd of a shippe, but she cuts through spaaaaaace like a razor!|
You find yourself on the wrong side of an impassable security door with maintenance hatches to the right and left (T-junction alert!). Both are labelled "CAUTION". Better funded space assassins can try blowing up the door with a gravity bomb, but not I. You also have the option to sift through "a small pile of what seems to be organic refuse".
Inviting, I thought to myself, but I don't wanna go back to punching drunk space-bikies at the roadhouse - this is my big chance to make good as a Spaaaaaace Assassin. I gotta be 100% focused on the mission. Reluctantly, I turned aside from the pile of shit on the floor, and popped open the right-hand maintenance hatch.
Clambering down the maintenance shaft you stop and listen at the hatches you pass, which is an under-utilised idea in the series - adding a bit of flavour to the direction-choosing is always a good idea. I bypassed the first side-hatch which had a creepy gurgling noise audible from the other side, but took the second one which was quiet but "rather warm". Hope this doesn't lead to some elaborate and needlessly dangerous apparatus for venting waste gases, I thought. They're kind of a big deal in dystopian futures. But I needn't have feared, the hatch just lead to moderately warm room, from where I could spy upon some space aliens - two Fossniks, disarmingly described as follows:
Seated, reading from electronic resource sheets, are two rodent-like Fossniks, their white lab coats and tiny pince-nez betray them as being technical types.
|Here's what they look like after you kill them.|
"Where's Cyrus!" I barked.
"I dunno, man, sorry man!" pleaded one Fossnik, "we only work in this one lab, he could be anywhere on the ship though."
"Yeah have you seen the size of this fukken place," said the second, "there's one room wit' a whole dang old forest in it and there's a lost tribe in it and giant scorpions flyin' around in it."
"Oh yeah and they got that canyon with the lake with all the Loch Ness monsters and whatnot," Fossnik #1 chimed in enthusiastically.
"What?! What?!" I bellowed, forgetting the need for stealth in my confusion.
"It's a science experiment!", they said, nodding gleefully. "Dr. Cyrus has a very inquisitive mind".
"He basically never comes to see us though," said the first, remorsefully, "I've been waiting three months to report that we completed our assigned tasks and scientifically determined that when you stab a dog in the liver, it dies."
"Well, usually," said the second. "It's statistically significant anyway."
"Shut up!" I howled, hoping very much that I sounded like someone who needs to be taken seriously.
Then I forced them to strip and tied them up. HOLD ON A MINUTE WHAT DID I JUST DO. No, there it is in the book - "You force them to strip and tie them up." - the option said I could threaten the funny rat-men, now I got them stripping at (admittedly tiny) gunpoint? I am uncomfortable with treating the rat-men in this degrading way, it is not what I had in mind at all! Yet here my Space Assassin is, wishing there were more Fossnicks to "threaten" so he could stack them in a Abu Ghraib style pyramid of hench-beings.
This moment serves to illustrate a basic issue of agency in Fighting Fantasy, YOU are not in fact the hero, YOU are just one tiny Eddie Murphy inside the hero's giant Eddie Murphy head, tipping his impulses one way or t'other at certain opportune moments, but otherwise just along for the ride, one tiny Eddie Murphy among so many others. It is a matter than I have given some philosophical consideration.
|This giant Eddie Murphy head car is being driven by Eddie Murphy, whose own head is in turn full of tiny Eddie Murphies each representing one of his foibles, quirks and desires.|
Anyway. "While they are stripping", you notice that they each have an electronic key-card around their neck so you pilfer one of those and swipe yourself through to the next corridor, leaving the disgraced and violated Fossnicks to recover from their trauma as best they may. I elected to duck into a cafeteria along the way - "once again everything is decorated in an alien style designed to make human behaviour difficult" - how lamentably chauvinist! I'm sure the decor is in fact designed to make alien behaviour extremely comfortable and easy - update your perspective, buddy, you are like a cat complaining that the car windscreen doesn't have a cat-flap. Anyway the protagonist follows up this unreconstructed blunder by mouthing off to himself about the stinky foreign muck that those aliens eat before happily stumbling upon some muesli bars. And of course they have those miraculous healing powers beloved of ill-fated heroes everywhere, result! Next time someone burns a hole through my torso with a high-powered laser I shall remember to gnaw on them bad boys.
Exiting the break room, I continued down the corridor.
Failure, and Death
So, the method by which I died.... is pretty crazy. Let me tell you about it.
At the end of the corridor is a T-junction and standing there is a GUARD ROBOT "with a pair of electric lashes protruding from its chest" like murderous little zappy nipples. You have an option to "bluff the robot".
"What's up," said the ROBOT.
"Say, ah, I'm, ah, inspecting IDs," said I. "You a robot though, you don't need no ID. I'm a let you just cool out for now. Okay seeya."
"Hold up my mans," that crafty ROBOT interrupted, "let me get at the base, they might coulda forgot and tell me about clearance for inbred-looking-ass hayseed mah'fukking denim-overalls-havin' ID inspectors creepin' up on my T-junction with they dick-fronts poking out they flyyyyyyyyyyyy... oversight like stands to be noted, you would agree."
"Well sure if you wanna waste they time you go right on aheed," I said sounding super pissy and not really nervous, (cos' I was pretty much nailing this bluff).
A long pause, punctuated only by the screech of a 14.4k modem negotiating a connection.
"This ID thing is a problem though," I volunteered, "lotta the aliens gettin' sloppy with they IDs, got 'em all dog-eared and what-not. Even some of the proper folks, too. Dirty thumbprints on the face part of the ID and that. Photo peeling up at the corner and what have you. HQ is havin' a fit, man, they pissed. Sent me down to bust some heads, tell y'all to get right with your IDs, straighten out them shits, yew know."
The ROBOT opened fire and zapped one point of my armour off.
|There's no illustration of the crappy shooty-nippled robot that I fought, so here's a sick drawing of a way cooler robot from some much cooler part of the starship.|
So whut wuz thet somnbitch guardin' anyhoo, my character thought. Set into the floor beneath its smouldering wreck was a safe with a three button combination lock - red button, blue button, green button. Now, I know a little bit about security because I used to live in a building where any attentive intruder could figure out the door code because microbes from a hundred greasy fingertips had grown into ring-shaped colonies around the only numbers on the keypad that ever got pressed. So I know that a safe with a three button lock is pretty fukken easy to crack. I felt pretty suspicious about this safe, and I kind of wanted to leave it alone - the protagonist however, is enraptured the moment he notices the shiny buttons, and he simple must press them, even as I, tiny Eddie Murphy (i.e. the reader), pound my fists ineffectually against the inside curve of his cranium. If you know about the safe there is no option but to meddle with it.
Oh, that was okay! Alright how about the blue butto--
As you depress the button, your world falls apart in a soundless explosion - you never see what the safe had hidden. You have failed.
|If an idiot dies in an explosion, and his ears are the first things that blow up, did it really make a sound?|
Notable EncountersActually no, pardon me but I'm going to talk a bit more about how I died though.
- There is a safe set in the floor operated by three buttons.
- Pressing them in the wrong order blows up the safe.
- The safe actually only contains the bomb that blows it up (confirmed by cheating - if you guess the combo you can waltz off with the bomb and use it to blow up a door or a baddy or something)
- The safe is set into the floor in the middle of a goddamn corridor where any little rat-scientist or whatever can step on the buttons while rushing towards the superbly ergonomic dining area.
- This is in a spaceship that's in space, by the way.
Notable EncountersI didn't get very far but there is a great jumble of fun stuff in this book. The massive on-ship wilderness zone I referred to in the dialogue with the Fossnicks is really in the book and all of the stuff mentioned in said dialogue is also really in the book:
|From left to right - towering cliffs (note also the lake full of Nessies), tribe of lozenge-shaped Stone Age aliens, flying scorpion soaring over plains that stretch to the horizon - all aboard ship. NOT. EVEN. JOKING.|
|Another of Dr. Cyrus' experiments (possibly the control condition for the planetary radiation/virus bombardment)|
'I say...' you say, to attract its attention. Before you can finish however, the robot spins, aims and fires - the blast smashes into the tunnel behind you and showers the area with molten metal. You will have to fight it. Turn to 228
Having our Space Assassin launch his bad idea for a conversation with the stereotypically upper crust "I say!" is a stroke of comedic genius, it cracked me up.
And reprising his award-winning role from Starship Traveller, here we have the "No Skeletons, Dummy, It's Sci-Fi" SKELETON:
I don't think there will ever be any SKELETONS in any of the science-fiction books. Maybe for the sci-fi books I should try counting laser swords instead or something instead, I dunno. Jury's out on that one.
I think I like this book, from as much as I've read of it at least. Andrew Chapman brings a comedic and slightly lunatic tone to the book that is amusing without throwing things outside the narrative world, if that makes sense.
The prose is pretty good and quite evocative... except when suddenly it isn't, occasionally lapsing into inexcusable briskness. I'm gonna go ahead and call it for the whole series right now - Space Assassin has to the flattest, most unrewarding, paragraph 400 in all of Fighting Fantasy, perhaps even in all of numbered-paragraph literature:
You drag the unconscious Cyrus from the Waldo. Your mission is a complete success. Congratulations.
Andrew Chapman has gone on the record as apologising "now and forever" for this ending, which I feel is completely appropriate and should probably also be followed up with a small compensatory payment to all readers. It's odd to consider that it was also he who penned my favourite paragraph 400, which is at the end of book 16, Seas of Blood - but we'll get to that in about eight months.
|I actually reeled backwards in my chair when I opened this page as the memories of a cascade of recurring childhood nightmares starring this loathsome hench-being flooded back to me.|