Robot Battle Cry!
If you want to check out the book for yourself.
Battlecry: Genesis / Battlecry / Homecoming by Jack McKinney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
With the exceptions of the and the occasional Drizzt books, I make it a point to keep far away from media tie-in books. Mostly because, at the very worst of times, they read like really horrid fan fiction. And while Robotech is one of these exceptions, I have very conflicted opinions about the books that are kind of hard to articulate. Obviously, I'm a huge fan of the TV show these books are based on, and I have the the four collected editions of the twelve books that retell the plot of the show. And I even have some of the other out of print books (like the five or so books that tell the story of the canceled sequel Robotech: The Sentinels). So for me, it's not that Robotech has a bad story, far from it. The characters are great, the story is intoxicating, the music is awesome (if a bit limited) and the action scenes are fun to watch, and overall, it's a damn good piece of Science Fiction that deserves a place in the pantheon of great sci-fi TV shows, the fact that it's an anime be damned. The books on the other hand...well that's another story. For our purposes, because we don't want to be here all day, I'm only going to talk about the first collected edition (which has the first three novels in the series), Battlecry. Star Wars novel
Battlecry covers the first half of the show's first season. And for the most part, James Luceno and the late Brian Daley (writing under the pseudonym Jack McKinney) adapt the story pretty faithfully, including every major scene, dialogue lifted straight from the show and what have you. But they also attempted to expand upon it and fill in some of the shows plot holes. For example there is an entire section of the book that shows how the SDF-1 was sent to earth, and it also details the first expedition sent in to explore the ship after it crashed on Earth. There is also a scene added that explains why the governments of the world decided to rebuild an alien warship in the first place. Of all the new scenes created for the book, this one I felt was kinda pointless. In the show they do it because of the possible threat of an alien invasion, but in the book the politicians are so cartoonily corrupt and greedy that they decide to do it solely for propaganda purposes. Never mind that the aliens who made the darn thing might be hostile, way more technologically advanced and might want their warship back. Nope, it's best used for propaganda. Sure, politics plays a huge part of the plot of the show, but in this scene it's just laughable.
Anyway, what the book is much more successful at is expanding on the backstories of some of the key characters such as the SDF-1's creator Zor (who didn't even make an appearance until season two) and fan favorite Roy Fokker. They even expanded the back stories of some of the minor characters which was, admittedly, kinda cool. And in doing this they also explained how humans were able to rebuild an alien warship, by taking Dr. Lang, a very minor character who only showed up in one or two episodes, and making it so that he was the one who made rebuilding the SDF-1 possible, by absorbing alien knowledge from the SDF-1 computer directly into his brain...somehow. But anyway, the added details do their job fairly well and expand on the Robotech universe and fill in some of the shows plot holes. It still has its fair share of continuity screw ups, though. The most infamous being the 'thinking cap' concept, where the mechs the human characters use are partly controlled by the pilot's thoughts; something that was never in the show. A lot of fans didn't like this, but it didn't really bother me that much.
What did bother me with this novel and the other books is the prose. Mind you, I wasn't expecting anything award winning; but what we got so insultingly awful that there were actually times when I forgot that the authors were two professional writers. I'm not even joking. This is especially true with the parts that were written by James Luceno. He's not a good writer to start with, but here it's like he's not even trying. Entire scenes are rushed through (some of which are actually kind of important to the plot) as if all he wants to do is write the big space battles...which he then proceeds to fail at writing. The parts that were written by Delay are a little better, but not by much. Delay regularly breaks the rule of "show, not tell" and his narration style stinks to high heaven of disinterest, as if he's telling us the story with a deep resounding monotone. And his description is often melodramatic and rushed. For example when one of the female leads is being attacked by an alien machine he writes a few lines that basically says that she realizes that insignificant her life is, gets saved, and then acts like nothing happened. Either this is the world's lightest flake or I'm a duck bill platypus. I know that this is essentially what happens in the show, but the point is that Delay doesn't convince us that she just escaped death by the skin of her teeth. That and its a missed opportunity to further explore the inner workings of the character. How will this affect her, how does this change her perception of the protagonists or life in general, things like that. The prose of both authors is full of moments like this and the result is that even the parts that are supposed to dramatic are as unconvincing to watch as the Garbage Pail Kids performing Shakespeare.
But to be fair, even though it annoys me, I really can't complain. Because I read somewhere that Harmony Gold, the company that owns Robotech, had a ridiculous publishing schedule of a new book every month (literally) and that Luceno and Daley had to rush through the revision process in order to meet the deadline. It wasn't until after the first twelve books were published and Daley's unfortunate death that Luceno was finally given more time. Now, I'm not suggesting that a good book can't be written in month, I know that it can, but I'm saying that its extremely difficult. So in that sense, I have a lot of respect for what they were able to accomplish. And it only makes wonder how much better the books might have been if they had had more time in the incubator.
Anyway, as much as I love Robotech, I can only really recommend the novels for Robotech fans. For everyone else, I say just go watch the anime.
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© 2013 Will English.