Rogue Planet: Fortress at the Top of the World (review)

I asked Ian Harac of Lizard’s Gaming and Geekery site if he’d send me a free ebook in return for a review. He did, so here it is.

Ian Harac has written several RPG products, the most relevant being Tales of the Solar Patrol for GURPS, and Iron Lords of Jupiter for d20 Modern.

Rogue Planet: Fortress at the Top of the World (link to Amazon) was written as the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign.

His stated aim was to write a ‘sword and planet’ story – not a parody or deconstruction of the genre, but an unironic example of it.

‘Sword and planet’ is a sub-genre of science fiction dominated by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter or Barsoom books, which were an influence on Star Wars (the words ‘jedi’, ‘bantha’, ‘sith’ and ‘padawan’ all seem to be derived from words in the John Carter books).

The genre generally has a male from Earth as the hero, but takes place on an alien world (usually a single world- there’s very little space travel). The world tends to have lots of species, and a mixture of advanced and archaic technology and society. Thus on Barsoom you have princesses and sword-wielding heroes with a chivalrous code of honour, along with an atmosphere plant that generates oxygen to keep the planet liveable. The stories tend to be simple adventures, with very good goodies and very bad baddies.

If Star Wars took place on a single planet, Luke Skywalker was from Kansas, and the Force was a fraud which he unmasked, then that would be pretty much sword and planet.

Ian Harac succeeds in his stated aim. The book is a fast-moving and readable example of the sub-genre, which ‘ticks the boxes’- as Harac puts it, it has “Swords! Rayguns! Airships! Strange vistas, odd civilizations, lost secrets, brightly colored princesses!”

I think it has some problems. For example, at the start of the book it seems like the hero is deeply troubled- and, indeed, goes along with the mission as a form of suicide. However at other times he seems like a wise-cracking adventurer of the Han Solo or Indiana Jones type.

There are also some places where the writing could be more clear. For example, he says that there could only be one reason why his family hasn’t told him something- but I wasn’t sure whether this meant that the military had kept the news from him, or his relatives hated him. Similarly, he describes the same body as both an artificial sun and an artificial moon, and I wasn’t clear whether it’s entirely bright like the sun, or has spots of brightness like a city at night (which one passage seemed to say).

Finally, one character seems very out of place- they’re very close to being the ‘grumpy dwarf’ character seen in the Lord of the Rings films and many D&D games.

These flaws might derive from time constraints, and pressure to deliver a product, that Harac talks about here. Perhaps it would be a good idea to take some time and do a new edition?

In any case, this is an enjoyable example of a type of story that, these days, is more often seen in films or TV than books.

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