Already this book is failing the quality test I established in my review of Space Assassin by the same author - i.e. that the title and cover should tell us everything about the book. I don't have a damn clue about this situation.
I get that it's in space. That much is conveyed. But the title - The Rings of Kether. For years I thought it was like "the rings of Saturn", an astronomical feature. NOPE! Maybe it's like "Shang Tsung and the Legend of the Ten Rings" and the doughy fellow staring us down is Lord Kether the Kantankerous, final boss of the book but his magic rings aren't pictured for some reason. Maybe they are covered by his elbow-length pinstripe gloves; which I would comment on, but, if I get started on homeboy's wardrobe: WE'LL BE HERE A WHILE.
So anyway I'll stop dancing around it - it's drug rings! There's a planet called Kether (in space), and there's just a bunch of drugs coming out of there, I guess somebody's gotta go bust these rings man! By which I mean "drug rings"! Go get it! (that's the plot)
I went looking for the U. S. cover of this book but sadly for the first time in 1985 they realised they could just use the same artwork as the UK - the bloke who always drew all those weirdos in the background was I suppose, let go, and in an immeasurable loss to the art world it seems he set down his pencil evermore.
Hence, here is my alternative cover for The Rings of Kether, which I believe improves on the original by hewing much closer to the book's actual content.
|At its peak, Miami Vice had so much influence on men's fashion that they probably COULD have got this skullcaps & pauldrons thing started, had they only tried.|
The "mission briefing" is extremely prosaic so let's hustle through it. We're in space, there's a Galactic Federation comprising hundreds of worlds, they have a bunch of laws including certain drugs being banned. Presumably they have other laws too about how fast you can fly your spaceship and whatnot, but in the heavily implied but not actual words of Andrew Chapman: who gives a fuck, you don't need to know any of that.
A large supply of the illicit drug "satophil-D" is emerging from the Aleph Cygni system. YOU are a "Grade 1 Investigator" in the "Federal Central (Vice)" department of the "Federal Police Force" and you get assigned to go to Aleph Cygni undercover as a travelling salesman and BUST DEM RINGS. In true Fighting Fantasy fashion, you will have zero support from anyone else!
Rolling Up My Dude
WEAPON STRENGTH - 9
|Yeah, I'll just get on the microfiche and look at every photo in the last ten years' issues of The Kether Star-Herald on the off-chance that I recognise the SPACE ASSASSIN I glimpsed last night.|
|DELICIOUS! ... DIVINE! ... SUGAR CRUSH!|
|I'm picturing something like the giant building from Rogue One wot had all the tapes in it. |
Sadly, the State Computer File Centre is mostly inaccessible to the public, and I don't appear to have any official authority. So I wait 'til nightfall, climb a drainpipe up on the roof and drop through a skylight. "Teehee", I think to myself, "what if the precinct captain could see me now! 'You're a real loose cannon mate, you better straighten up and do things by the bloody book or whatever': I bet that's what he'd say!"
|SECURITY GUARD, SKILL 10, STAMINA 8. |
He has some sick Oakleys and a little pew-pew gun.
|Oh no! No, no no. Nope. Noooooooo thank you. |
If that awful image were to be animated, you would see that the abberation also turns blue and keeps sprouting new appendages in front of your gaping eyes.
THIS. SHIT. REALLY. TOOK. A. TURN. HUH.
You can shoot at it or talk to it. I don't like my chances drawing down on this fucking Lovecraft monster, so I wrack my brain for a suitable question to ask. The book gives you 3 options:
1) ARGH OH NO WHAT IS IT WHAT IS IT, PLEASE GOD PROTECT ME FROM THIS THING, WHAT IS IT
2) HOLD UP WHAT THE HELL KIND OF SPACE STATION IS THIS EVEN
3) Hi there! Know anything about the "Rings of Kether"? By which I mean drug rings, I'm looking for them. I appear to have taken a wrong turn, sorry!
Question #1 seems like the most relatable and best role-playing option, however at this point I very clearly need a lot of help with my detective work so I went with Question #3. And against all expectation, the unimaginable cosmic Thing rocks back on its maggot-like haunches, thinks for a moment and busts out a dubious Yoda impression.
In the wrong place, you are.
Misled, you have been.
With the Customs officials, you should be.
Then it telekentically hurtles you out of the room and slams the door. "Well sir," I think to myself as I gingerly rub the bruises on my butt, "this is about the darnedest police investigation I ever did embark upon."
Seems like this particular eldritch blashpemy is now my star informant though - remember those dodgy Customs guys who confiscated my super cool spy raywhen I arrived on Kether? The ones I didn't give a second thought? In retrospect: that was kind of suspicious, wasn't it?
You can further explore the space station but I didn't see much point and headed back to the airport (again), wondering if these little jaunts out to the asteroid belt were taking weeks or months, as they might in any realistic space travel scenario. Maybe that's why I packed so many space bananas. The book gives no indication.
Before I push this narrative into its final, unedifying phase, I bet you're wondering WTF that monster was. Me too, so I took a peek at the answers to the other questions. What is it? In its own words: a mind parasite, one of the great old ones from ancient Kyth, so yeah, very much an surprise veer into Lovecraft homage in this sci-fi gumshoe story. And the space station itself is a monastery dedicated to the merciless Thuvald of Kyth, which is scarcely information worth getting Jazzy Jeffed out the door. Thus I'm glad I asked for a clue instead (but probably could have ask for the bloody Lotto numbers am I right??!?!)
To investigation Customs, you have options of intimidation, bribery or sneaking about eavesdropping. Stealth has pretty much been established as my character's MO at this point so I slink into the freight depot and hide in a locker. Conveniently, a group of corrupt officials take receipt of a consignment of Satophil-D right in front of me, loudly proclaiming things like "This must be the stuff - you know, Satophil-D - dope, stuff, dust" before stamping the crates as approved for export. I spring forth brandishing a blaster and enact an on-the-spot interrogation.
"Who's in charge of this racket?" I bellow, holding my little pew-pew gun sideways in a gangsta grip for added intimidation points. My fearsome posture is too effective, if anything, and they respond in a series of mangled sentence fragments that I reproduce here:
'The Isosceles Tower...' says one Customs official.
'...in the city...' says another.
'...top floor...' says the last.
'...and don't forget the communications satellite in the L16 orbit...' gasps (?!) the helicopter pilot.
'No... we won't,' say the others.
I then arrest the group - or is the better word kidnap? - locking them up in my spaceship, without troubling with any follow-up questions or further clarification of that string of nonsense. I have the option of going to Isosceles Tower or checking out the satellite. It seems I have an unerring instinct for wasting my time in this adventure, so I fly up to the satellite, risk my life in a spacewalk over to it (couple of SKILL checks you need to pass), and learn that it's a comms uplink, basically a clue that points directly back to Isosceles Tower again!
Incidentally, you can choose to blow up the satellite instead of spacewalking to it, which results in a failure ending because you have "destroyed your last clue" - seems like a flaw in the book since I already knew about Isosceles Tower. Anyway the satellite was pointless so I head off to Isosceles Tower just a little bit older and stupider than I would have been otherwise.
Failure, and Death
Well, an isosceles triangle is where two lines of equal length meet in an acute angle, but the Isosceles Tower is where Yours Truly meets an obtuse fate. On the 50th floor I find the office of "Z. Gross & Associates, Import/Export" - Z. Gross being the person charged alongside "Blaster" Babbet in the old court records I found earlier. The office is unlocked, and venturing inside I am confronted with the first and only T-junction of my adventure - truly a sign of what an unusual FF gamebook this one is. I head right, entering a room where two "brutish-looking characters" are shredding paper files and chucking magnetic tapes into an incinerator. "This must be a museum showcasing office technologies of the late 20th Century", I think to myself before hitting the deck cos these naughty boys are drawing down on me. I finally get to have a shoot-out and I drop them without difficulty thanks to my excellent but underutilised SKILL score. One of them had a pew-pew gun with full-auto mode, which I get to keep (for the remaining few seconds of my lifespan).
Heading into the next room, I am ambushed by a "tall, gangly bureaucrat" who brains me with a paperweight (another of the museum's exhibits I suppose). Instakill on a failed Luck test - that's all she wrote :(
Who could forget the mind-parasite from ancient Kith? What the hell was it doing in this book? Other than that, most of the encounters are vanilla henchmen, security guards and the like. So not too much to say here. But flicking through the book, there is this guy, ARCTURIAN VANQUE:
|Wait, is that.... electrified underpants that he's holding???|
There's also a robot dog that someone has loving pasted fur onto...
|I suppose the gross hole in its neck is where the charging cable plugs in. |
...and TV's Richard Karn makes a cameo as "Mr. Samuel", a beleaguered member of Kether's Vice Squad and the only straight cop in Kether.
|Mr. Sammy shows up if you attempt to contact the local authorities in the beginning.|
The SKELETON Count
You wouldn't expect SKELETONS in a sci-fi book about busting drug-runners, but then you wouldn't expect a giant fiery snake with the face of a middle-aged school-teacher and spindly little chitinous arms poking out of its neck either, and we sure as shit got one of those. But sadly, the author's derangement did not extend so far as to have SKELETON GUARDS at Blaster Babbet's stash house or anything like that.
The idea at the heart of Rings is interesting, in that you are working through an investigation rather than exploring a dungeon or similar adventure location. Conceptually, the "map" of this gamebook is a bunch of investigative options, which have "exits" towards other leads that may put you closer or further away to closing in on the drug ring. Certain sections, such as the "GO TO THE LIBRARY" bit seem to be fall-backs for when you've made the wrong decisions elsewhere. The book feels very rushed in many areas and as such the concept doesn't quite come together, especially if you take a very sub-optimal path as I did. Make no mistake - my investigation was a real dog's fukken breakfast. Let's recap it quickly:
- turned up on Kether with five thousand kopecks, ten thousand space bananas, and zero fucking clues
- went to a bar, embarassed myself talking some shit about "underworld largesse", then bribed a waitress with some ridiculous amount amount of money (like, she probably would have done it for HALF what I offered)
- guy she introduced me to immediately made me for a narc, then got killed before I could learn anything from him
- went to the library to (apparently) "research" the killer I saw leaving the hotel room (?!?)
- found a couple of random names in the court records, looked them up in the phone book but ignored what I found
- broke into government archives, possibly murdered a guard, looked up the space traffic records and found something faintly dodgy, but totally unconnected to the drug trade
- broke into the office of the Chief of Air Traffic Control and found references to some random asteriod in connection with the same bum lead
- went to said asteroid, which turned out to be a freaky space monastery somehow parachuted in from a different genre
- met a Cthulhu monster who took pity on me and dropped a hint that I should be investigating Customs
- hid in a locker in the Customs freight depot for a while, then jumped out and scared some guys with my gun (BTW we must assume these guys are dead from starvation now because I locked them up on my starship and never came back)
- acting immediately on the first mangled garbage that dropped from their mouths, I fly up to a satellite and risk my life doing EVAs to learn nothing new whatsoever
- go to Isosceles tower, kill two guys in a shoot-out and then get my skull renovated by some pencil-neck from the Accounts Payable department of a front company
- die miserably
It doesn't exactly read like one of Sam Spade's finest. At this point, I have to ask - was I even really a cop??? I had no support, seemingly no official authority - looking at the things I did, several of them were actual crimes and I could very reasonably have been sent to jail myself. Basically the only smart thing I did was ask the non-Euclidean ululating space menace to tell me what to do, and that bitch might have been a hallucination all along. Could it be... in true Fighting Fantasy fashion... I was just another wandering, homicidal lunatic???
|Makes ya think. |