Friday, 12 April 2013

To Pick the Broken Ruins up Again

As I explained before, I got into Smith & Thomson's Falcon gamebooks when I came across three of them at the Book Exchange. For some reason, Mechanon, the second book in the series, was not among those three. A copy did eventually turn up there, but by the time it did, that gap in my collection had already been filled. On several occasions my paternal grandparents included a random SF book in one of my Birthday presents, because they knew I was a fan of the genre, and one time the book they found turned out to be Mechanon. On another occasion, it was one of Michael Kring's intriguing but exasperatingly incomplete Space Mavericks series, which has nothing to do with gamebooks, but I mention it here on the off-chance that Mr. Kring might Google his name, find this post, and learn that there are people out there who still want to know what Fripp and Kohn would have discovered on the planet Charcoal, even after all these years.

Getting back to the point, I don't remember much about my first attempt at Mechanon, though I'm pretty sure my interaction with one character was influenced by my having read one of the later Falcon books which included an encounter with that character (time travel-related awkwardness making that the second occasion on which we met for the first time (though my reading the books out of order meant that for me the second first meeting came before the first one)). And I failed as a consequence of ignoring a trivial distraction that turned out to lead to the destruction of Earth in the mid-1980s.

The same subsequent book that affected my first reading of Mechanon also established that alternate timelines are part of the Falconverse, so I need have no qualms about shunting my unsuccessful attempt at the first book into a parallel reality. This playthrough takes place after the version of events in which Falcon thwarted the villain's attempts to rewrite history, killed the renegade Lord of TIME, and arrested the treacherous Commander Yelov, who got slightly disfigured in the process.

At the start of this new adventure, I'm enjoying some downtime with fellow TIME agents. We only have a little time for banter before section leader Jobanque contacts me with news of a new mission. Yelov, now a cyborg because there was no other remedy for the injuries I inflicted in the course of bringing him to justice, has escaped thanks to a malfunction in the device that was supposed to have suppressed his psionic abilities. He also stole a time machine, and there are strong indications that he's interfering in the past of the planet Mechanon, a fully automated world that manufactured robots and weapons until a nuclear accident melted it.

While preparing to get going, I research Mechanon, learning that it was created as a memorial by an ancient spacefaring race known as the Danikoi (and I've only just realised the pun on von Daniken). The robots decided to preserve the memorial by wiping out all other sentient races before any of them could become a threat to it, but some mishap with a reactor wiped them out before they could implement their genocidal plans. Well, that's what originally happened. Doubtless Yelov intends to avert that little disaster and exploit Mechanon's resources for his own ends.

I receive a list of all time trips carried out within the past half-dozen hours, which can only have been made by Yelov. Most of these are to Mechanon or Thrix, the latter being a planet rich in the mineral that fuels Time Machines, but there's also been a brief jaunt to Earth's Hundred Years War. I choose to investigate the anomalous journey first - and metaknowledge has stepped on the toes of in-game knowledge: if I'd done some research first, I'd know the most likely reason for Yelov's intervention, but because I remembered details from past attempts, and didn't waste time looking things up, technically I don't actually know that one of the combatants on the English side is probably an ancestor of mine. Nevertheless, I still have the option of seeking him out, so I do so.

Disguised as a man-at-arms, I mingle with the English troops. The fighting isn't pretty, but I stand my ground. Sir Thomas Chandos, my probable ancestor, confronts the French Count Louis de Nevers, and I let events take their course, watching as Chandos runs de Nevers through. Time seems to have a slightly malicious nature, and any interference on my part has a disproportionately high probability of leading to de Nevers surviving to become the ancestor of someone who'd get my job instead of me.

A mysterious black knight whose mace appears electrically charged prepares to attack Sir Thomas. Now is the time to intervene, and I take the risk of using my sword rather than adding further anachronisms to the battle. As I strike the knight's arm, deflecting his blow, smoke and sparks erupt from 'his' elbow. The knight turns to face me, and fires a laser from its helmet, but I dodge and try to hit something vital with the sword. I fail, and take a mighty blow from the mace. The knight returns its attention to Sir Thomas, who is busy dealing with human foes, and I try to compel one of them to attack the knight. An unlucky roll causes me to fail, the knight pulps Sir Thomas' skull, and history rewrites itself without every descendant Chandos would have had if he'd survived the battle. Including me.

That was disappointingly quick. The Falcon books can be a bit unforgiving of poor dice (though they're nowhere near the worst offenders in that regard). Well, I may wind up replaying all the books I failed at some point, so I won't give away the twist that comes much later on in the adventure. But it will be a long while before I get another go at this book.

Unless, that is, it proves a dark horse in the poll to determine what I replay for this blog's hundredth playthrough on Monday. There's still a day to go, so if you haven't yet voted, you can still make a difference.


  1. Mechanon is the only one of the series I've read, as a result of my brother stealing it from a local library when I was a child. I remember enjoying the time travel elements and also the art.

  2. Falcon is a brilliant series, right up there with the Way of the Tiger (also by Mark Smith / Jamie Thomson). That said, 'Mechanon' is one of the weaker books in the series, I feel - there's a long slew when you reach the planet Mechanon that's just dice roll, dice roll, dice roll, dice roll... No different to all the dice rolls you'd make playing through any one Fighting Fantasy combat, I suppose, but it gets tiring seeing them in every single paragraph.

    But, as I say, Falcon is still one of my favourite series of gamebooks.