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Literature / Star Challenge

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Star Challenge is a collection of 10 Science Fiction Gamebooks written by Christopher Black and published by Dell in United States in The '80s, on the wave of the success of the famous Choose Your Own Adventure books, and later in the United Kingdom as well as translated to other languages.

The setting of these books is the year 2525, when mankind is able to travel across the stars and have met other alien races, eventually forming an alliance known as the "Network of Worlds". You are an operative in the space station "Nebula", and under the command of Captain Polaris, you'll be tasked with solving troubles across the Milky Way.

As help in your mission, you're accompanied by a Task/Operational Robot Model 2 "(2-Tor)", that can "warp" you anywhere in the known galaxy and talk directly with your mind. You can also pilot a shuttle named "Challenger", that more often that not will end destroyed, and — if the book's choices allow you — you can call the "Nebula" for reinforcements.

The books' unique gimmick is a score system, that determines how well you've fared and that is divided into five ranks, from the best ("Congratulations. You're a space ace!") to the worst ("Go back to the Space Academy!")... assuming, of course, that you survived and were able to report back to "Nebula". Because, as in the Choose Your Own Adventure books, mortality (or worse) is pretty high and comes in often funny ways, in which case instead of a text with "Mission Accomplished" you'll simply have a "ZAP!".

To take a small glance to them (covers, etc) go here.

Spoilers ahoy. Beware.

Star Challenge provides examples of:

  • Age Without Youth: A bad ending in Dimension of Doom: instead of entering into a Negative Space Wedgie, you can decide to warp out of a warp, which you are explicitly warned no one has ever survived. Four hundred years later, with your robot having been out of service for a long time, you reappear to find the Network of Worlds has found the aliens that wanted to establish contact with it, your biological support suit having been the only reason you did not die — and at last it wears out, leaving you to die right then and there.
  • All Just a Dream: A very cruel example in Dimension of Doom. You end up in orbit around a big, green, asteroid, after abandoning ship and falling sleep. Polaris' voice asks to you to awake and find yourself again in the Nebula, just for 2-Tor to really wake you and find you were just dreaming.
  • And I Must Scream: Quite a number of examples. One of the best ones is in Mysterious Moons, where all that remains of you are just your brain and your eyes installed in a powered armor (brains of heroes are far easier to maintain than entire heroes).
  • Animorphism: In Planets in Peril, a winged mutant thing may sting you transforming you into a creature identical to it.
  • Another Dimension: Dimension of Doom is entirely about exploring another universe. Just you and your robot.
  • Artificial Human: Mentioned in The Android Invasion. In one bad ending you are that.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence. However this pretty much means a bad ending:
    • In one of the Lost Planet endings you can merge with a hive mind if you wish so. However, if you become one with it you lose your memories and become unable to think by (or for) yourself.
    • In The Android Invasion, you can discover an habitable world inside a black hole. If you decide to explore it, you discover it's just an illusion. However, an entity living inside the hole saves your mind and the two of you stay there... forever.
    • Yet even another example in The Exploding Suns, when after stopping the plans of the villain his mind, yours, and the one of your robot merge "with the energy of 1000 suns" to form a supermassive star.
  • Asteroid Thicket: Several examples across the series.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: In those occasions with a villain, this is going to be invoked. Up to several times and including a future encounter.
  • Batman Can Breathe in Space: Averted as well as Explosive Decompression. If you end in space without your biological support suit, you're in for yet another ZAP!
  • Bittersweet Ending: Some of the "good" endings merely consists in you surviving or stopping the Big Bad temporarily, or implying that perhaps you will have success in the future.
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: Not only is your ship capable of warping across the galaxy, the technology exists for you to just warp to distant worlds without it.
  • Conveniently Close Planet: Generally averted in the text. Nonetheless, it's hard to find an illustration of outer space (or even one from the surface of a planet) where one does not see planets and moons as big spheres, often pretty crowded.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: In Mysterious Moons, plant-like aliens of the Andromeda Galaxy can transform you into one of them forcing you to stay there forever.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: The series indulged in a few instances of this. For example, in The Weird Zone 2-Tor possesses another, more advanced enemy robot that has captured you, and it looks like you're about to be freed... only for 2-Tor to kill you in the spot, as he likes the ideas of the other robot and thinks the plan must continue.
  • Deader than Dead: In some endings you're destroyed to the atomic level or even become pure energynote , In others, you're sucked by a black hole, including the one that forms in the Big Crunch the text in the latter narrates that you feel how you disintegrate and merge with the black hole to vanish forever.
  • Deflector Shields: A common defense system in this setting.
  • Deus ex Machina/Diabolus ex Machina: As typical of this kind of book, endings may come from nowhere.
  • Do-Anything Robot: 2-Tor. Besides what has been mentioned above, he can send subspace transmissions, has a sound system, chemical analyzers, and many more stuff.
  • Downer Ending: Aside from The Many Deaths of You, a lot of the low-scoring endings have you technically accomplishing your mission, but not without pulling a Nice Job Breaking It, Hero or some other negative outcome.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: Very few, although some of them implied to have happened in the past in some cases.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The Android Invasion, The Cosmic Funhouse, Galactic Raiders, The Lost Planet.
  • Face–Heel Turn:
    • In one course of The Exploding Suns, one scientist that the "Nebula" sends to help you is just an spy of the evil aliens.
    • In The Weird Zone, 2-Tor betraying you as stated above.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: In some cases in the books, the two given choices lead to death. And even those two deaths are pretty similar.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: Quite a lot for a series aimed at preteens.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Omnipresent.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Too many examples to count: becoming a spirit guarding during the next millions of years a ghost space station, stranded in the far future when all stars have burned out, isolated in orbit with no robot and in a ship whose controls have been destroyed, being transformed into a mindless android, being used as a test subject for alien students of Medicine...
  • Featureless Protagonist: You. The illustrations depict you as a blonde, caucasian youth, while the covers show a young guy with black hair. The text, however, never physically describes you at any point.
  • Gainax Ending:
  • The Federation: The Network of Worlds.
  • Grand Theft Me:
    • An alien that looks like black pudge attempts that to you in Galactic Raiders
    • Bad ending in Dimension of Doom, where the only lifeform of that Universe swaps your body with its, condemning you to stay there forever.
    • In Mysterious Moons you can swap your body with 2-Tor's robotic one. Oddly enough, you do not feel disoriented at all after that.
  • Guile Hero: As these gamebooks have no combat rules, the protagonist solves most problems with wits rather than violence.
  • Haunted House: The Haunted Planet.
  • Have a Nice Death/It's a Wonderful Failure: See The Many Deaths of You below. As in Choose Your Own Adventure, your demise is often described in all sorts of gruesome, gory detail.
  • Hive Mind: The Lost Planet features one of these that invites you to join them, and takes it very badly if you refuse.
  • Hover Bot: 2-Tor.
  • Human Aliens: A very few of the races you meet look quite human-like.
  • If My Calculations Are Correct: 2-Tor will often pull off probabilities of succeeding and failure, some of them being ridiculously low. Wherever you're lucky or not is up to the book.
  • Incredible Shrinking Man: Can happen in The Android Invasion and The Exploding Suns. In the former, you and your robot shrink to subatomic level.
  • Intangibility: The Haunted Planet mentions a sort of potion developed during the old XX Century in Earth, that was used by spies to pass through walls and gave them insanity, explaining why it was no longer used.
  • Invisibility: In The Haunted Planet, a bad ending leaves you both bodiless and invisible.
  • Kid Hero: All the books in the series have illustrations depicting the protagonist as a young teen (at oldest).
  • Last Words: In some bad endings, be them from you or from 2-Tor.
  • Logic Bomb: In The Cosmic Funhouse, 2-Tor breaks down a machine that is projecting illusions by telling it to project an image of the Universe before it existed, failing and self-destructing as consequence.
  • MacGuffin: The graviton in Planets in Peril.
  • The Many Deaths of You: A lot of them. In many different ways. Crushed, eaten, disintegrated, fading into nonexistence, and many more.
  • Meaningful Name: Captain Polaris, Commander of the "Nebula".
  • The Milky Way Is the Only Way: In Mysterious Moons, is implied that travelling to the Andromeda Galaxy would take hundreds of years even at high warp speeds.
    • Averted in The Cosmic Funhouse with the Brakhen, a race of humanoid plant aliens that come from the Magellanic Clouds.
  • Million to One Chance: In a few cases, while it's hard sometimes, the "safe" choice will kill you horribly, and the "unbelievably risky" choice will pay off big.
  • Multiple Endings: Obviously. The choices you make over the course of a story could lead you to the standard Happy Ending, a Downer Ending, or several different types of Non Standard Game Over.
  • Negative Space Wedgie: Several across the books.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: There are some endings that don't necessarily end with you dying, but you may still royally mess things up for everyone... or worse. For example, in The Weird Zone you can wreck all the work of those who are attempting to stop a plague of madness that is expanding across the galaxy, as you thought they were responsible of that. Polaris is not happy at all.
  • No Ending: Or rather Endless Game. After the scores, a blurb invites you to start again to live another adventure or to try the next book in the series. In the last one, it loops back to the first.
  • Noisy Robots: 2-Tor, complete with flashing red, green, blue, and yellow lights. Thankfully, this is just a book and cannot cause epileptic seizures.
  • Non-Standard Game Over:
    • Several endings have you alive at the end. How alive is a different story.
    • Also, a very few of those endings may count as mission accomplished even if you do not return to the "Nebula" (or encounter it much later), and other few (but still more) count as bad endings even if you return.
    • There are also a number of "Mission Accomplished" endings, even high-scoring ones, where you achieve something that was certainly good, but had nothing to do with your original mission (which remains unresolved).
  • Not the Fall That Kills You…: One bad ending in Planets In Peril has you falling into the (in vertical and separated by one line each) v o i d!
  • Oh, Crap!: Many of the illustrations that accompany deadly threats feature the protagonist with a suitably frightened expression.
  • Our Wormholes Are Different: Even if "warping" looks a lot like the classical teleport of Star Trek fame. Note that the term "warping" is used both for teleporting and Faster Than Light travel, suggesting that are similarnote .
  • Photoprotoneutron Torpedo: Among others, photon cannons and negatronnote  missiles.
  • Planet of Hats:
    • The Cosmic Funhouse.
    • Gameland in Dimension of Doom
  • Planet Spaceship:
    • The entire planet in which you are in the Cosmic Funhouse in one ending is an offensive version Things do not end well for it.
    • A moon-sized time machine/factory/space station in Mysterious Moons.
  • Plant Aliens: You can find those in the Andromeda Galaxy in Mysterious Moons. They're anything but friendly because you mined fuel on their planet.
  • Recurring Character: Among others, Captain Polaris, Commander of the "Nebula", or Ensign Janus, a woman who works in the warping section.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!:
    • Galactic Raiders is the Wild West In SPACE!, with pirates, space caravans, lawless planets, a futuristic equivalent of gold, and of course the equivalent of the Gold Fever (the latter is even mentioned at the very first). Funnily enough, it's stated there that gold are just Worthless Yellow Rocks, used only for kid toys.
    • One path in The Exploding Suns is Moby-Dick In SPACE!, complete with a futuristic Expy of Captain Ahab.
    • The Haunted Planet are ghosts and even magic In SPACE!.
  • Robot Buddy: 2-Tor.
  • Rubber-Forehead Aliens: Some of those that appear in the series at least according to the illustrations.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Too many examples to list.
  • Second-Person Narration: Like most gamebooks, the action is described in this way.
  • Shapeshifting: The Metamorph aliens in The Haunted Planet.
  • Space Battle: Surprisingly very few for the type of setting.
  • Starfish Aliens: A few, including one mentioned to look like a web with soft lights.
  • Starfish Robot: 2-Tor, that resembles a bit BB-8 of The Force Awakens famenote , or rather V.I.N.CENT from The Black Hole.
  • Star Killing: The central premise of The Exploding Suns, including to cause a star to collapse into a black hole simply by bombing it with "negatron missiles" and "anti-matter charges". Yeah, right.
  • Swirly Energy Thingy: Several across the series, all but the Andromeda Galaxy sort of space whirlpools.
  • Take a Third Option: Sometimes you'll get three or more choices as to how to proceed.
  • Taking You with Me: Several examples, some of them accidental and virtually all of them using the "Challenger" as projectile, but at least tend to work.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: Or "warping" as are called there — see also Our Wormholes Are Different — above. If you use it without the adequate precautions, you can suffer a Teleportation Misfire and/or a Teleporter Accident. The results tend not to be very pretty.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Quite a number of endings. With you, of course, in the receiving end.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: Some bad endings, but at least Explosive Decompression is averted.
  • Time Machine:
    • If you are not careful, "warping" can be used as an unintentional version of that. Emphasis on "not being careful".
    • A moon-sized ship in Mysterious Moons.
  • Time Travel: Several examples both forwards and backwards in time and space. They are unintentional, however, and tend to result as stated above in to end in places quite far away and sometimes not very pleasant, as the moment of the Big Crunch, or even worse.
  • Translator Microbes: Often lampshaded. The way to explain how you can understand even those aliens the Network of Worlds have never meet before and to explain how everyone, human or alien, seems to be speaking English or the language the books have been translated into.
  • Unrealistic Black Hole: Usually averted (illustrations are another topic, where they can look as a drainpipe In SPACE!). Falling into a black hole tends to be equal to death.
  • Void Between the Worlds: A bad ending in The Weird Zone, you end stuck that way between two universes.
  • Weird Moon: The little studied moon system of the planet Yoru, that you must explore in Mysterious Moons. Despite the chaotic orbits of its moons, including close approachs, they never collide between them.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In some bad endings 2-Tor could have saved you, even if it's not mentioned at all. Justified in the limitations that have 114 pages, some of them with half or even full-page illustrations, per book.
  • "What Now?" Ending: See the previous trope. If was not for the limitations of this format, some of what are trated as bad endings could have been resolved with some thought.
  • Would Hurt a Child: As the targeted demographic of this series is 10- to 14-year olds and – with its use of second-person pronouns to refer to the main protagonist – thus implied to be the reader, there are many graphic, highly disturbing and brutal endings to be read, all committed by people or aliens who have no qualms about hurting children. See Cruel and Unusual Death above for examples of these unconscionable acts.