Thursday, February 24, 2011

Exfanding Review: The Space Quest Companion

If a particular hobby or fandom lasts nearly a decade before fading into obscurity, there's usually some trace of the fandom left behind in another medium. I'm talking about officially sanctioned memorabilia and merchandise that some corporate bigwig somewhere signed off on. I'm talking about celebrity action figures, or novelty songs like "Pac-Man Fever," or licensed breakfast cereals. I'm talking about The Space Quest Companion.

Fans of the Space Quest series have been given six games, a remake, and a handful of fan-created games to keep them happy, but Space Quest in any other medium is virtually unheard of, save for the fan-designed creations such as the t-shirts on CafePress that say, "I lost all my Buckazoids in Ulence Flats."

That's part of why The Space Quest Companion is such a treasure for SQ fans--it is a comprehensive hint book that was once sold in actual stores, containing novelizations of the first five games, and authorized by Sierra. Whoa.

The other part of why The Space Quest Companion is such a treasure for SQ fans is the high quality of the content. The screenshot-filled game walkthroughs are detailed and clear, the maps are easy to read, and the point lists tell you exactly what you forgot to do the first time around. Despite all this, the real selling point of the book is the fictional account of hero Roger Wilco's progression from lowly janitor to five-time savior of the galaxy.

The Roger we know from the games is not the brightest or most eloquent bulb in the knife drawer, but the Roger who narrates this book is highly articulate and tells stories as though he's getting paid by the SAT word. Impressively, the father/son duo who wrote the book managed to capture Roger's character perfectly by making him a very human character who just happens to have extraordinarily spectacular Dumb Luck(TM) at all the right moments. Roger is just a guy who's devoted to his work and has spent way too much time watching holovids, and the things he's experienced often give him the inspiration and knowledge to figure out how to survive against impossible odds.

There's a deliberate atmosphere of vintage pulp sci-fi novel throughout much of the book: The term "puny human" is bandied about liberally, and each game's story starts off with a daydream of some thrilling heroics involving a space vixen and some dastardly aliens and an appropriately pulp-styled illustration to go with it. The book honors its source material by keeping a sense of humor at all times, yet the absurdity of the Space Quest universe almost begins to make perfect sense when Roger begins spinning his yarns.

It's entertaining to read the explanations for how this klutzy space guy who used to trip over thickly painted lines suddenly became coordinated enough to leap into the air off of a conveyor belt and pull himself up on top of an overhanging beam in the garbage freighter of SQIII. It's also fun to get a first-person perspective on how some of the more ridiculous puzzle solutions (especially in SQII) are rationalized by someone who's living out these situations.

Though there's a little bit of "fudging" here and there, the stories are utterly faithful retellings of Roger's exploits--you can actually use the novelizations as hint books and not miss a single point. There's a lot of backstory that is inferred or extrapolated from what the games tell us, and some things are entirely made up, but it all works. Just like the Mega Man fan movie, The Space Quest Companion stays faithful to the spirit of the games while offering a fresh take on the universe.

All in all, The Space Quest Collection is almost certainly the single greatest purchase a Space Quest fan can make (outside of the games themselves, of course). Well, that, or possibly a mug featuring the Two Guys from Andromeda.

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