Ghosts of Yesterday

Author: Alan Dean Foster
Titan Books
RRP: 6.99, US $6.99
ISBN-13: 978 1 8457 6602 3
ISBN-10: 1 84576 602 4
Available 25 May 2007

In the late eighties the
Transformers where at their height of their fame. 1986 saw the premier of the movie, which had the vocal talents of Orson Wells, no less. As a franchise, the television show continued and the toys, from Hasbro, were everywhere. Launched in eighty-four the line of toys was backed up by a comic from Marvel and an animated show from Sunbow Productions. The show, in its various incarnations, ran until recently making it one of the most successful shows to date. The show's popularity meant that it was only a matter of time and technology before a live action film went into production...

For those that missed the event, Transformers related the story of two robot races - the Decpeticons, lead by the evil Megatron, and the Autobots, lead by the more altruistic Optimus Prime - whose war had all but destroyed their home planet of Cybertron. The two races vie for power and position until their war spreads out from their own planet to engulf the Earth. Their name derived from their ability to literally transform their bodies into different configurations. You would have robots that became cars or planes; the only oddity with this is that often for an alien species the vehicles that they transformed into were decidedly earth-like.

This year (2007) sees the release of the Transformers film, whose trailer has been all over the net - and lets be honest the trailer looks great. Lets hope the actual film by Michael Bay (Armageddon, The Island) can live up to the hype. As is traditional with summer blockbusters a new slew of books and merchandise have been produced.

Transformers: Ghosts of Yesterday is a prequel novel from Alan Dean Foster, which sets up some of the back story for the movie, presumably aimed at those who were unaware of the original show or its rich mythology, Foster has set out to write an engaging and exciting story which will bring you up to speed.

In part the book succeeds in its remit; Foster is a well-known, multi-award winning, author of original works as well as genre novelisations, which means that you're expecting a certain level of story, which frankly just isn't delivered here:

It is the dawn of mans leap into space, whilst the relatively primitive Apollo reaches for the moon a far more secret launch has taken place. A ship, reverse engineered from a giant robot found frozen in the arctic wastes, launches itself into the unknown, the crew full of apprehension about what they might find. Following a fateful accident the crew find themselves in the middle of a war, a war between the Autobots and the Decepticons, a war they are unlikely to survive. Far from home the crew must protect themselves and the location of their home world, a home world already threatened by the reawakening of the frozen robot.

As plots go this is not a bad one, problem is that the book feels like it's two different things squashed together. On the one hand we have the quite interesting plot regarding the crew of Ghost 1, the reversed engineered ship and their encounter with alien intelligences. This part of the book is well written with good characterisation and plot development. On the other hand you have the Transformers themselves who are little more than two dimensional characters. You get the feeling that Foster already had a great little tale about meeting aliens and tacked on the Transformers to create the book.

As you would expect from a show that was pretty much based on the 'fight of the week' premise, there is a lot of action in the book, in fact pages and pages of the stuff, which should please some fans. The biggest problem for Foster is finding more interesting ways to describe something which was ultimately a single wow factor, the transformation.

In the end it's an ok novel, fit for purpose as one would say, but it doesn't really hang together as a book.

Charles Packer

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