December 23, 2016

Star Wars Galaxy of Fear #1: Eaten Alive

Wait, what's this? I'm reviewing a Star Wars book instead of Goosebumps? What is going on? Has the world gone topsy-turvy? Fear not reader, this book is related, albeit only slightly, to Goosebumps. You see when I was a boy in the 90s RL Stine started a whole wave of kid based fright. As he was raking in millions everybody wanted a piece of his horror pie. Now I'm not saying Stine invented the concept of spooky kids books, but he sure made it hella popular at the time.

So what does Star Wars have to do with it? Well the merchandising behemoth wasn't going to let that kind of money slip away from them, no sir. If there was cash to grab from kiddo's pockets just by giving them a little fright, then by gosh they were going to get it. Cue Star Wars Galaxy of Fear. Horror for kids ABOUT STAR WARS. What could be better? Well as we'll come to find out, a lot of things I'm sure, but still. Maybe there will be a werewookiee. A ewokula? Sith ghosts? Who knows!

Anyway, the fact is I don't remember a ton about this series. I only had the one book, which thankfully is the first but I never moved on from there. I feel like I probably got it right as I was losing interest in Goosebumps and I was probably trying to chase that high again. Fact is, I think I was just losing interest in these kind of books in general. But now I'm 30 and for some reason the thought of reading books mean to scare 10 year olds is appealing again. So now that Star Wars movies are back in full force (haha get it, like the force that jedi use?) with Episode 7 and now this very month Rogue One I figure what better time to haul this old book out and see what it has to offer? Lets take a look.

Judging a Book by its Cover

Holy hologram batman! This has one of those images that looks like one thing when you hold it one way, but another thing another way. I think it's called a lenticular image? I may be wrong about that. Anyway at one angle you see a grinning alien visage holding an open hand out to you. The other, however, shows the same being with his mouth open presenting a long snake tongue and rows of razor-sharp teeth. A fitting image for a book named "Eaten Alive." While the effect is kind of cool the fact that it has to be grayish with a bit of weird prismatics in color is kind of a bummer. It would be nice to have a good ol' full color image of that guy. But at least this is a "limited collector's edition" so I'll be able to retire young when I sell this. I am sure by limited they totally don't mean that it was limited to the entirety of their printing and that this is the only edition available with a limit of millions of copies. Star Wars would never mislead me like that!

So I did a very basic amount of research into this series so I would know a few things. For starters, all these books cover the same characters, unlike Goosebumps which tends to feature new ones each time. Also I was curious what timeline I'd be getting into. It seems we'll be delving into the world at about the time of the original trilogy. Thankfully these were released shortly before Phantom Menace existed or they could be teaming with gungans and dining with Dexter Jettser.

What kind of frights will these people face? Supernatural ones? Force ghosts? Sith Spirits? Hutt Zombies? Or will they be more sci-fi maintstays. Obviously there will be aliens, it is Star Wars. Will they lurk in a bog with one of those weird tentacle eyeball things from the trash compactor scene? Will their computer become haunted? Perhaps a droid that is secretly evil? Only one way to find out, lets dive in.

Getting Goosebumps Galaxy of Feared

Holy crap there is a prologue and DARTH VADER IS IN IT! I wasn't sure if any main characters from the movies would appear and right off the bat we have Vader. There is a convo between him and a mysterious scientist. They discuss the "ultimate weapon." Where the Death Star failed this scientist shall succeed he claims, using life instead of machines. Darthy Boy of course has to assert that the ultimate weapon is in fact the force. Before we fade out him torturing some poor creature the scientist reveals that he intends to use this weapon to snuff Darth Vader and become the Emperor's right hand man. This begs the question, if your weapon is indeed the ultimate power in the world why settle for being #2. Couldn't he kill Vader AND the Emperor. Think big science man!

And now we begin with a breathtaking dogfight between an X-Wing and a Tie Fighter which turns out to be a holographic video game stopped by a droid who doesn't seem to appreciate being made a baby sitter. Meet DV-9 or "Deevee" who is currently watching Tash and her brother Zak Arranda who will be our tween protagonists for this novel. They are aboard the Lightrunner. And Deevee the science droid gets to play schoolmarm to the children instead of helping out his master Hoole, the children's uncle, with his anthropology research. Instead of doing her homework, Tash is reading banned info about Jedi Knights on the internet holonet. Don't they have parental control on that thing?

After their time spent supposed to be studying we found out that they are from Alderaan. If this
doesn't trigger something for you let me give you some spoilers for Episode IV: A New Hope (christ it's been over 30 years do I have to give a spoiler warning?) ALDERAAN GETS ALL KINDS OF BLOWED UP BY DARTH VADER AND THE DEATH STAR. Tash and Zak were off planet but their parents are space dust now which is why they are traveling with uncle Hoole and his grumpy droid. Thing is, Hoole doesn't seem too keen on being a parent. The kids don't seem to trust him completely, in fact Zak snoops into his room to check it out and gets grabbed out of nowhere by a chapter ending cliffhanger! Oh my god, these really are Goosebumps rip offs!

Don't worry though, it's just Uncle Hoole upset at these damn kids and their shenanigans. Oh, also Hoole is a Shi'ido which is an alien that can change shape. Think Odo from Deep Space 9. Wait, I am crossing my sci-fi... Oh well. Well ol changey Hoole is on his way to D'vouran, a newly discovered planet populated by the Enzeen. Why is this planet of note? Well because it is right next to one of the busiest damn parts of outer space and yet it was only just recently discovered. How did all of outer space miss seeing this planet? Weird!

Just then the ship starts to go crazy. Tash was messing around in the cockpit but swears it wasn't her. Damn lying kids! The ship was on auto pilot set to jump out of hyperspace when they were close but they arrived 15 minutes too early. Did the planet move? Or is Tash a lying liar that lies? After a bumpy ride to the space port they exit the plane. Tash gets the shit scared out of her by a guy trying to put a flower necklace around her because it was the end of the chapter and they needed a scare cliffhanger.

Chood (the Enzeen who was getting them all lai'd) says he'll take them to some starpilots who can help them fix their ship which was damaged in the fiasco. Tash thinks she has a "bad feeling about this" which is a line that is always appearing in Star Wars. All in all the Enzeen seem pretty nice though. They encourage people to move to or visit their planet. They offer free food for guests. And Chood himself offers to wash Tash and Zak while Uncle Hoole conducts business. The only downer so far seems to be this maniac Bebo who was thrown out of the cantina for raving about his friends disappearing.

Inside said cantina there are all sorts of creatures including a Gank mercenary who doesn't seem to fond of their uncle judging by the fact that he is holding a blaster at him. Turns out he works for a Hutt. Smada the Hutt. Smada wants Hoole to work as an assassin for him, figuring that his shape shifting abilities will come in handy. Seems the old scientist has an interesting past. Well the whole scene gets interrupted by the appearance of 2 guys, a girl and a pizza place Wookiee. Yup, Han, Luke, Leia, and Chewie appear in this very book! Even R2 and C3PO are there, oh boy! They introduce themselves but as former citizens of Alderaan Leia needs needs no introduction what with being their princess and all. 3PO and Deevee had some fun droid conversation with the fore being excitable and the latter being bored out of his cyber mind. Tash and Luke share some words about the Jedi.

Outside! A Scream! It's our chapter cliffhanger! That weirdo Bebo had another friend disappear on him. The citizens don't seem very sympathetic to his plight. It is explained that Bebo was on the ship that first accidentally discovered the planet. They crashed and there seems to be a disagreement over what happened. The Enzeen say he is the sole survivor. Bebo on the other hand claims they all lived but have been slowly disappearing on him. Oh well, I'm sure this will all get sorted out.

Han and Chewie agree to help fix their ship. Zak insults the Millennium Falcon. Luke tells Tash to Falcon's computer. Unfortunately an alert goes off because the cyber police back traced their shit. Oh noes! The Empire doesn't want anyone to know much about D'vouran it seems. Chewbecca soups up Zak's skimboard before they leave. I think it's some kind of hoverboard? Probably.
trust her feelings. Luke helps her search for D'vouran info the net on the

Off to Chood's house.  Hoole leaves the kids with him. It's always advisable to leave your kids with a complete stranger you've only just met on a strange planet no one knows anything about. Great parenting. Anyway Tash wakes up in the middle of the night to some strange slurping sounds. I'm not going insinuate it's sexual. I'm not going to insinuate it's sexual. I'm not going to insinuate it's sexual... Ok. Chood creepily appears from the darkness and tells her it must be stray animals. Then he says he's gotta leave. Wait so Hoole leaves the kids under the guardianship of some weird alien guy and then said alien guy just ditches them in the middle of the night? Does the Empire have child protective services?

Fortunately for them murderous thugs don't have a grudge against their caretaker. Oops, nevermind. Gank thugs show up in the middle of the night. The kids run straight to the Cantina. Great idea, best way to escape thugs is to go to the last place you saw their leader. Anyway when they get there the Ganks are no where to be seen. Hoole shows up and seems mad at the kids for inventing these stories. Hey asshole, you don't want your kids to wake up in the middle of the night screaming about intruders try not leaving them all alone on some crazy planet where there is literally someone out to kill you!

Zak decides to chill out by skimboarding. He skimboards right into Smada the Hutt. His plan to murder the boy gets interrupted by Bebo who is yelling about their dooms. Gank attempts to murder the strange man get thwarted by the fact that they just can't fucking hit him. Hoole arrives with armed citizens to put a stop to it then IMMEDIATELY LEAVES TASH WITH THE DROID WITHOUT PLANNING FOR HER PROTECTION. Seriously this guy is the worst parent ever. Tash talks to Bebo and then gets pushed into a hole. Yup. So she's alone in a dark hole with this guy. I WILL NOT INSINUATE THIS IS SEXUAL. The place they are in seems to be a laboratory built by the Empire. Inside Bebo tells her the story of their crash. How his friends have gone missing 2 or 3 at a time. He believes he is safe because he has a pendant that gives off some sort of force field. He gives it to the girl and after she leaves is immediately murdered by one of Smada's goons.

Tash and the droid start walking back but are interrupted by slurping. They stumbled upon Enzeens including Chood who were sticking their long gross tongues into the ground and sucking. They don't take kindly to being spied on and start a chase. Deevee gets tackled by the aliens. An Enzeen catches Tash. What is a kid to do? Try to use the force, why the fuck not. Cue an earthquake that may or may not have been caused by her. The village is deserted. At the space port she finds Zak's skimboard and some discarded eels that Smada must have been snacking on. She takes the board with her and heads to Smada's stronghold because seriously why the fuck not. Believe it or not, showing up to your enemy unarmed makes it really really really easy to kidnap you. So being the nice Hutt Smada is he threatens to kill her brother unless she tells him where Uncle Hoole is. This is inconvenient because she genuinely doesn't know.

Deevee enters with a distraction and tosses the kids the skimboard. They escape with the droid hanging off the bottom but they crash when one of the blasters hits the board. The Ganks and Hutt catch up to them but oddly the thugs start to be eaten by the ground. They even shout out the name of the book, "I'm being EATEN ALIVE." Soon Smada and a lone Gank are all that survive, finding shelter on his hoversled. The Enzeen emerge and reveal something startling. The beast killing everyone is not some creature tunneling beneath the earth. The earth itself is attacking them. The planet itself is alive! The Hutt tries bargaining for his life to no avail, instead enduring a lecture about how the Enzeen are parasites tolerated by the living planet as they provide food. The children will be taken to the heart of the planet where they will be most completely digested. I would think you would bring them to the stomach of the planet for that to happen, but oh well.

Back to the laboratory! It's explained that created by the Empire as a weapon, their planetary beast turned on them and ate the scientists. Chood gets El-Kabong'd by Zak using his skimboard. One of the Enzeen reveals itself to be Uncle Hoole. He appeared as a Wookie and battles the Enzeen. In a struggle Chood gets the force field pendant but falls down the feeding pit with it in his clutches. They struggle with Smada to skimboard out of there and ultimately the planet devours the Hutt. Off they go, as the planet has trouble digesting the force field pendant it has swallowed.

They get to their spaceship in the nick of time but can't seem to get off the planet. Millenium Fucking Falcon to the rescue! Awww yeah, punch it Chewie. As they try to leave the planet Han has a "bad feeling about this." Two bad feelings in one book! How Star Wars! Anyway, the planet is following them. Some fancy flying on Han's part gets them away and then the planet.... eats itself? Ok.

Epilogue! Hoole reveals that he almost let them fucking die so he could find out what's going on. Then they fucking rehash everything we already know about D'vouran. It was engineered was a weapon by the Empire, the Enzeen were parasites. Thank god it's gone! Meanwhile in another part of the galaxy a ship drops out of hyperspace early. How strange that this uncharted planet is here...

What I Thought

I was wondering before I started this just how much like Goosebumps this would be. Now obviously it can't be too similar. I mean it's got to fit in the Star Wars world and have sci-fi tropes. You can only make the characters so relate-able. Still they did try to ground them a bit. They did some usual kid stuff. They played video games (albeit holo games) they skateboarded (or skimboarded.) Still, average Joe 11 year old probably doesn't dream too much about being a Jedi. Actually maybe they do, because that would be fucking sweet. The average kid just doesn't have much of a shot at it.

Actually I think I liked this book all the more because of it's unrelate-able sci-fi trappings. Sure I might not have felt the biggest connection with Tash and Zak but they got to do awesome stuff. Fly a space ship! Talk to robots! Meet a Wookiee! I am all for fantastical things in books.

You know what else? This book was a lot better written than a Goosebumps book too. Now I'm not saying it was a masterpiece but there actual literary things in there. For example, they used for shadowing. In the beginning their school lessons taught them all about parasitic creatures in symbiotic relationships. This paved the way for them to learn about the Enzeen's relationship to D'vouran. Another example, of stuff that would pay of later is Zak and his skimboarder. He was earlier practicing a complicated maneuver that would later end up saving their lives. There were a fair share of clues to what was really going on in the story as well. When I first read it, it was a quick read where I didn't attempt to think ahead or anything. When I read it again to write stuff down I noticed clues that made sense and would make it possible to deduce what was happening if you were really paying attention. I feel like Goosebumps never has stuff like that.

Really this book just felt like a lot of fun. You got to meet characters from the movies. There was the very tangible threat of a greedy Hutt and his Gank killers to cause problems while the greater threat of the carnivorous planet remained unknown. It kept things moving and provided a little bit of a red herring.

Still, the book is not perfect. I am not entirely sure if it would have been quite as enjoyable if I had never seen a Star Wars movie. That said, how many people who have never seen Star Wars would be reading this book? Not many I assume.

Beyond that, there were some questionable things going on that my adult brain couldn't handle. Why is Hoole such a shitty parent? Why would he trust the Enzeen he has just met to take care of his kids? Why would he leave them alone so often when he knows there are a bunch of murderous thugs after his family? How does Smada intend to control Hoole to be his assassin? If he can shape shift into anything he could easily kill the Hutt himself, shifting himself to be one of his private guards, his family members, a slave girl, literally anything. How Smada ever trust him to be an assassin for him? Also, how does a creature the size of a planet survive on just a few human beings a day? Planets, even small ones are fucking huge! Think about how much energy it must take to move around in outer space (and let's not even ask the question about how it manages that.) It would have to eat so many freaking people! The Empire would have to start emptying their prisons out onto the planet to keep it sustained.

But hey, kids don't worry about this stuff. Plus it is science fiction so maybe I'm not picking. D'vouran may not follow logical laws of existence. I mean I am talking about a galaxy that has a planet that is entirely desert, a planet that is entirely tundra a moon that is entirely forest. I guess this place just doesn't follow natural laws.

Ultimately though, this book is better written than Goosebumps. I think if you like sci-fi tropes and/or Star Wars you might just enjoy it more than Goosebumps too. Sure sci-fi "monsters" give you a little different fright than classics like werewolves or ghosts but after plowing through about 30 or so Goosebumps I was probably ready for a change.

Rating: 4 out of 5 pieces of merchandising

Final Thoughts

I would have liked to get this review out on the release day of Rogue One, but I am lazy. At least it is still in theaters? I guess I got it out by Christmas and that is good enough. Let me know if you liked me reviewing a non Goosebumps book or if you think I have committed heresy. I hope you enjoyed this. Thanks for reading it regardless. If you read it close to it's release, Merry Christmas. If you are reading any time else, Merry Whatever Day It Is. Check back next time when I'll be back to the main Goosebumps series.