[Where I Read] The Robotech Novels!

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Robotech was always kind of an odd duck. Forged by Carl Macek at Harmony Gold from three completely unrelated anime series and crammed together (with some hefty storyline and character rewrites) into one single more-or-less coherent storyline, by all rights it should have been a long-forgotten flop like his other attempt at squishing together unrelated anime for US TV, Captain Harlock and the Queen of a Thousand Years.

But Robotech was a surprising success, being for most fans of my generation the first real exposure to anime, and certainly the first anime to retain all the depth and darkness that later drove the big anime boom of the 90's and early 00's. Robotech had complex character relationships, soap-opera-esque love triangles, and a plot that was all at once personal and epic in scope. Even more remarkably, it kept virtually all the death and sexuality of the three original series, an accomplishment that still hasn't been fully equaled by anime shown on broadcast TV even now. It was less a cartoon and more an epic miniseries akin to the live-action ones being shown on TV at the time (such as Harmony Gold's own Shaka Zulu).

Given this more mature bent of Robotech, it's probably no surprise that a lot of early spinoff material wasn't aimed at the kids who were ostensibly the show's primary audience, but at the older viewers who had latched onto the series, the college kids and young adults. One of these spinoffs was a series of novelizations authored by one Jack McKinney, released by Ballantine/Del Rey.

These weren't kiddie novels, however, but straight-up sci-fi novels, expanding on all the politics, relationships, battles, and history of the series. They were basically targeted at the same audience (in terms of age level and attitude) that the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels are targeted at. That's also not surprising, since one Jack MicKinney was actually two people, longtime friends and collaborators Brian Daley and James Luceno. Daley authored the Adventures of Han Solo trilogy, one of the first (and probably still among the best) novel spinoffs of George Lucas' films, and wrote all three of the NPR radio drama adaptations. Luceno also gained fame as a Star Wars author, albeit much later, during the New Jedi Order novel series.

Daley and Luceno wrote 18 Robotech novels together, covering all three generations of the series plus an adaptation of the never-filmed Sentinels sequel and a last novel wrapping the whole epic saga up. Sadly, Brian Daley passed away from pancreatic cancer in 1996. James Luceno wrote an additional three wholly-original novels in the Robotech series under the Jack McKinney name, covering the events that happened "offscreen" during the various timeline jumps in the cartoon.

That Del Rey spent money to do this is pretty remarkable in itself, hiring real established sci-fi authors to do hardcore mature novel adaptations of a kid's cartoon. For comparison, imagine that Aaron Allston and Matthew Stover were asked to write utterly non-kiddified novel adaptations of the Avatar: the Last Airbender series, and you have a bit of an idea how unusual this whole thing was.

Recently, while going through old boxes of stuff, I found my original copies of these novels, bought right when they came out back when I was a budding preteen anime fan. And so, I figured I'd give them a re-read, and tell you all about my thoughts and experiences as I do so. I have 19 of the 21 novels, and if by some incredible miracle this thread actually gets to the end of my collection, I'll actually go out and buy the last two (which I've never read at all).

And so, without further ado, I present Robotech Novel #1 - Genesis, by Jack McKinney, first published in March 1987 (two years to the month after the Robotech series was first broadcast, and the month I turned 12 years old).

Prologue

We open this book with a sort of prequel section, a brief account of events that happened before the first episode of the TV series. I vaguely recall that Comico, the comic book company that published comic adaptations of the TV series (usually with some pretty heinous art) released a graphic novel adapting these events, but I lost my copy of that about 20 years ago, and I don't know whether the novel or the comic came first.

Anyway, we open on an unnamed planet, where bishie prettyboy Zor (seriously, he's described as "tall and slender, with a lean, ageless face and a thick shock of bright starlight hair") is busy angsting, no doubt prettily, about his role in the creation of the Masters' Empire and their main enemies, the Invid, while he stares out a window as his personal starship, a dimensional fortress, flees the planet without him. It seems Zor has been taking his dimensional fortress and its attendant Zentradi escort around to lifeless planets to seed them with the Flower of Life. The Flower of Life attracts the Invid, however, so it's vital that they plant their plants and then vamoose before they can show up.

Unfortunately, they weren't quite fast enough this time. Dolza, leader of the Zentradi (and part of Zor's escort) chews Zor out a bit for lollygagging enough for the Invid to come calling, but Zor blows him off. Zor also blows off Dolza's bitching about the dimensional fortress being sent away, despite the fact that Dolza kind of wants to swat Zor like a fly for basically ditching the only source of Protoculture (and all of the attendant knowledge of Zor's crowning achievements in creating and developing Protoculture) off somewhere and not telling Dolza just where it all went.

Their tete-a-tete is interrupted by the Invid busting in and shooting everything in sight. Despite Dolza's shouted order to protect Zor, Zor's faithful companion (*coughcough*) Vard takes an annihilation disc right in the breadbasket, and explodes messily. The leftover blast is enough to mortally wound Zor. We get a few scenes of Zentradi battling the Invid, with some pretty gruesome descriptions (one Invid mecha tears open a damaged battlepod with its metal claws, then "dismembered the wounded Zentradi inside."). Things aren't looking good for the Zentradi forces, but the cavalry in the form of Breetai arrives to save the day, and the Invid are beaten back. Victory comes at a cost, however, with Breetai hit by shrapnel in the head and dropping, "skull aflame".

A few days after the battle, Dolza is talking to some rather pissed-off Masters, who order him to find Zor's fortress at all costs (it has all their stuff, man!), and to transport Zor's body to them so they can try and extract some of his knowledge from what's left of his cellular structure. Dolza immediately shows what a good manager he is by delegating the fortress-finding duties to a recovered Breetai, now with his familiar metal head-cowl and cyber-eye making up for that whole flaming skull thing.

Chapter 1

This chapter features the first of what quickly became one of the coolest trademarks of this novel series - every single chapter header featured a short quote from some fictional work in the Robotech universe, similar to the ones used in the Dune novels. The works cited are an eclectic mix of personal memoirs, giant scholarly histories of the Robotech Wars, amusingly overblown academic treatises on aspects of technology, psychology, or sociology, or strange esoteric new-agey books.

This chapter features a quote attributed to one Lieutenant (jg) Roy Fokker about how he first started to like the idea of the SDF-1 when he saw how it "scared hell outta the politicians", as cited in Doomsday: A History of the Global Civil War, by Malachai Cain.

That's appropriate, since the chapter opens with a condensed history of the Global Civil War, basically a big everyone-fights-everyone conflict that had started in 1990, escalated in 1994, and now, in 1999, looks to end with everyone who has The Button deciding to push it. That is, until a giant spacecraft tears through the space-time continuum, makes a powered approach to earth (its shockwave destroying a few cities along the way), and finally crashes on uninhabited Macross Island in the South Pacific, formerly a site for French atomic bomb testing.

All the belligerents in the Global Civil War freak out a bit. Well, everyone freaks out a bit:

Its approach rattled the world. The mosques were crowded to capacity and beyond, as were the temples and the churches. Many people committed suicide, and, curiously enough, the three most notable high-casualty-rate categories were, in this order: fundamentalist clergy, certain elected politicians, and major figures in the entertainment world. Speculation about their motives - that the thing they had in common was that they felt diminished by the arrival of the alien spacecraft - remained just that: speculation.
Heh.

Anyway, an expedition is soon arranged by the two biggest rival factions, the World Unification Alliance, and the Northeast Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. The expedition chopper lifts off from the deck of the Alliance Gibraltar-class aircraft carrier Kenosha, so apparently whoever makes up this Alliance, Wisconsin is seemingly a powerful and influential member. But I digress.

Aboard the chopper are a squad of marines, the brilliant scientist Dr. Emil Lang, the Kenosha's skipper Captain Henry Gloval, NEACPS mercenary ace TR Edwards, and the Kenosha's own hotshot pilot, Lieutenant (jg) Roy Fokker. Roy is described as flying a Z-9A Peregrine fighter in the war. Considering Daley's Han Solo novels featured the Z-95 Headhunter, I wonder if that's an intentional callback, or if Daley just liked Z's and 9's in his fighter names. During the journey, Roy and Edwards, whose interaction prior to this mainly consisted of trying to shoot each other down, trade barbs about their respective employers. Edwards thinks Roy is naive, since he gets paid more by NEACPS in a week than Roy makes in a year. Roy thinks Edwards has sold his soul for a few coins in order to fly for fascists. Yeah, this is the start of a beautiful friendship. As a side note, we also get what I still think is the best description of pipe smoke I've ever heard: "like a soap factory on fire".

The expedition chopper makes a few passes over the heavily-damaged wreck of the alien ship (which everyone calls "the Visitor"), then lands once its determined that it's not full of radiation or giant firebreathing lizards or anything. Things immediately start to go wrong when a Marine named Murphy (with a name like that, he might as well have been wearing a red shirt) gets a bit too close to the ship. Despite Gloval's shout of "You jackass! Get away from there!", a hatch opens, and metal tentacles reach out and yoink Murphy deep into the ship.

After a brief bit of panic, Lang sends a bipedal robot up to the hatch (because Marines don't grow on trees and they only have so many of 'em). The robot stops right in front of the hatch, the hatch opens...and then nothing. Nothing comes out, and the robot, to Lang's confusion, refuses to go inside.

Well, big spooky tentacle-filled alien starships aren't gonna investigate themselves, so they have no choice but to go in personally. Once inside, they're confronted by a dark series of corridors, so naturally they decide to split up. Roy and four Marines will go that way, Gloval and the rest will go this way. Meet back here in an hour, barring anything like metal tentacles. Outside, no one notices the robot start up again and walk inside after them, all on its own. Uh oh...

Roy's team is busy exploring corridors when one of them suddenly notices that a Marine named Caruthers is missing. No worries, though, there he is...being dangled like a marionette from the giant armored fist of a huge mecha. They immediately open fire, to no avail, as a beam lashes out from the mecha's other hand and fries another Marine "like a zapped bug". D'oh!

Chapter 2

The chapter quote here is from Lang's Technical Recordings and Notes, talking about how the arrival of the alien starship gave him the opportunity to be a scientist as remembered as Einstein...or as Faust.

We pick up right where the last chapter ended, with Roy and his surviving team hosing down the giant mecha that just killed two of their number. Another Marine, Hersch, gets incinerated, and Roy reflects gloomily that this turn of events will make it hard to call the other team for help, since the radio was in Hersch's backpack. All is not lost, though, since in the scuffle for their very lives, one of the Marines had dropped an RPG. Roy scoops it up and fires, managing to blow the mecha in half. That's not quite the victory it seems, since the various parts of the mecha are still moving and shooting, though being bisected fortunately hampers its accuracy enough that Roy and the surviving Marine can make a run for it...at least until they start sinking into the deck of the ship itself!

Cut to the other team, which has so far been untroubled by giant plasma-firing mechas, though they are getting a bit queasy because all the walls and decking are shifting around and stuff. Then their stomachs are really in for it, as Edwards finds Murphy...sort of. He's apparently been cut up and placed in a tank full of a strange liquid. As the various disconnected parts of Murphy drift about lazily in the tank, tiny amoebalike globules flock back and forth among the parts, apparently keeping his cells alive by providing nutrients and removing wastes.

Gross.

Lang smacks a Marine who wants to retrieve his buddy, telling him not to touch the stuff, lest he end up pickled in there too. They continue on into the ship, and run into Roy's old friends, the giant mecha. More Marines die horribly by having all the moisture in their bodies turned to steam and exploding their tissues, but TR Edwards and/or Gloval was a dick and kept all the good weapons for themselves, since their squad has heavy weapons Roy's didn't, and manage to disable the mecha long enough to escape into a secure room. Said secure room suddenly turns out to be not so secure, as it turns into an elevator, threatening to squash them against the ceiling...until they pass right through the deck plates. Roy and his lone Marine are there to greet them.

The spot they've ended up in turns out to be Zor's old quarters. Lang finds a computer and switches it on, revealing a sort of "welcome" message left by Zor himself, though naturally they can't understand the language he's speaking. Everyone is first shocked at just how human Zor looks in the recording, and then again when they see images of the Invid mecha in action.

The deck ripples again, and suddenly the biped robot from before rises up into the room. It doesn't do the obvious and attack or anything, instead just standing there. Gloval thinks they can use its radio to call back to base, but when Lang approaches it, he's freaked out to see that all its internal parts and circuits are moving and sliding around, constantly rearranging themselves. For a lack of any other option, they decide to follow the robot in the hopes that it will lead them out, though their plan is interrupted by Lang messing with Zor's computer and getting zapped by something coming from it.

Before Edwards or Roy can knock Lang away from it like a man getting zapped by an electric fence, Lang collapses unconscious. Roy scoops him up just as the robot starts walking out, and they all follow it out of Zor's room and down a corridor...and right past a colossal skeleton. A colossal human skeleton, that looks like it was shot in the back by something really nasty. Lang wakes up, and his eyes have apparently been transformed by whatever Zor's computer did to him, now looking like they're all iris and no white. "Yes, yes, I see!" he exclaims, mysteriously, before the gang encounters yet more mecha, and the firing starts up again. End of chapter!

Interlude

The chapter header here is Senator Russo saying something very impolitic about being a politician.

This chapter is Admiral Hayes briefing Senator Russo about the expedition, mentioning that Gloval's group finally managed to fight their way out of the ship. And when they compared watches with the Marines left outside the ship, it turns out that while Gloval and the Gang were fighting giant mecha for some six hours, as far as the outside world is concerned, they were gone just 15 minutes. Jodie Foster nods sagely.

Russo is too busy being pleased as punch to really care about stuff like that, though. He and his fellow politicos had been planning to create an artificial crisis in order to end the war and unify everyone, under their rule, of course. And now, with the arrival of "the Visitor", all the hard work is already done for them! He's also all for rebuilding the starship, practically rubbing his hands gleefully at the thought of getting his icky political mitts all over the largest defense contract in human history. Dick Cheney nods sagely.

As Russo ponders who best to lead the rebuilding project, he recalls that Admiral Hayes has a teenage daughter, Lisa, a "rather plain, withdrawn little thing", thus proving he's also a bit of a douchebag in addition to being venal and corrupt. Russo finally settles on Lang to lead the project, but Lang, while eager to get his own icky altered-eyeball scientist mitts on the alien technology in the starship, quotes Gloval as a bit of a warning: "This will save the human race from destroying itself, Doctor, and that makes it a kind of miracle. But history and legend tell us that miracles bear a heavy price."

Ominous!
 
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Patrick Y.

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Interesting. Just finished reading these again, myself. Found them in the closet about a month ago, and went through the whole series in a few days.
 

Evil Midnight Lurker

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On the one hand, I sort of like the Robotech novels.

On the other? They were kind of a waste of Brian Daley's career, and if he hadn't spent the last ten years of his life working on them we might have seen more adventures of Hobart Floyt and Alacrity Fitzhugh. :(
 

ANT Pogo

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On the one hand, I sort of like the Robotech novels.

On the other? They were kind of a waste of Brian Daley's career, and if he hadn't spent the last ten years of his life working on them we might have seen more adventures of Hobart Floyt and Alacrity Fitzhugh. :(
I personally wish we had gotten more Coramonde, which are still my all-time favorite Daley books.
 

Lee Casebolt

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Goddamn it, now you've got me wanting Allston/Stover Avatar novels, which I know I'll never get.

(Also, it turns out ANT Pogo and I share a birth month and year. I'm on the 12th.)
 

Evil Midnight Lurker

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I personally wish we had gotten more Coramonde, which are still my all-time favorite Daley books.
Coramonde had a pretty definite Good Ending, though. I'd like to leave it at that, since for a new plot to start up, something would have to go horribly wrong with the world. Again. ^.^
 

anowack

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I never watched the TV show as a kid, for whatever reason, but these books are fondly remembered.
 

ANT Pogo

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Goddamn it, now you've got me wanting Allston/Stover Avatar novels, which I know I'll never get.

(Also, it turns out ANT Pogo and I share a birth month and year. I'm on the 12th.)
Mine's the 27th, making you the Elder Statesman!

Coramonde had a pretty definite Good Ending, though. I'd like to leave it at that, since for a new plot to start up, something would have to go horribly wrong with the world. Again. ^.^
Yeah, but that seemed to be the kind of world where stuff went horribly wrong on a regular basis.

At the very least, he could have given us a "historical" novel. I'd have loved to have learned more about the Great Blow and the history of how Coramonde was established.
 

Jack

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Interesting. Just finished reading these again, myself. Found them in the closet about a month ago, and went through the whole series in a few days.
Huh, that's funny...I just read them at the beginning of the year or end of last.
 
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