Story: On the run from the evil Cylons, the human’s ragtag fleet of ships, led by the mighty Battlestar Galactica, find themselves boxed in by attack vessels that continually whittle away at their camoflage. All the while, the Cylons are nudging the fleet towards the hidden Cylon garrison on Tairac, where they hope to destroy the entire fleet in one swift stroke. But Commander Adama finds help from two unlikely sources: the ranks of Galactica’s prisons and a colony of humanoid clones enslaved to the Cylons on Tairac. But on the icy planet, Captain Apollo, Lt. Starbuck and the other members of the Galactica crew don’t know if they can trust any of their new allies or if there is a way to stop the Cylons before Galactica’s slow march to destruction reaches its end.
Review: Before I talk about the book, I need to clear up my position on the whole Galactica franchise. I have very fond memories of the original series, though I haven’t seen an episode in over a decade. (I will soon remedy this thanks to my recent purchase of the complete series DVD box set.) I also have a strong loathing for the “re-imagined” new series, which I feel strays as far away from the positive message of the original series as it possibly could.
Now, “The Cylon Death Machine” goes a long way towards illustrating why I think the original series is superior to the current one. It comes down to the nature of the humans and the Cylons. In the current series, the humans and Cylons are indistiguishable, and not just because they look alike. Cylons are simply different people. I suppose this is intended on the part of the series creators, but it makes the whole conflict dull and uninteresting to me. You see, I already have a gripping drama between opposing human factions that I can pay attention to, the real world. I don’t need or desire to have it re-created, in space, with some Hollywood-type’s personal take splattered all over it. In the original series, the Cylons were true aliens, with an entirely different view of life. This comes off very well in the book.
While the main focus is on Apollo, Starbuck and the others, there is also time spent with the Cylons’ Imperious Leader and First Centurion Vulpa, the commander on Tairac. We see Imperious Leader’s attempts to understand humanity through a simulacrum of Starbuck which, even filtered through the computer program that creates it, manages to show why humanity has proven so hard for the Cylons to stamp out. From Vulpa, we see what makes a rank-and-file Cylon tick and just how differently they are wired from humans.
The story itself, adapted from a two-part episode of the TV show (The Gun On Ice Planet Zero) isn’t exactly the most exciting and original. There are a lot of ideas here, but none that haven’t been done before. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t effective. The prisoners out for one last chance at redemption (or not), the clones learning to live for themselves, the fall of a rising military star… They are all vividly realised and engaging. I especially liked the look into the mind of Commander Adama, who finds the length of his career may have robbed him of a level of perspective.
This is all helped by the fact that the book is co-written by Galactica’s creator Glen A. Larson. He understands these characters and is able to make them come alive on the page. Without the hindrances of late 1970s television budgets, he’s also able to ramp up the spectacle a great deal, giving the story an epic scale difficult to achieve on the show. (Again, for all I know The Gun On Ice Planet Zero is a mini-epic for the ages. I simply don’t remember. I do remember that the show rarely had the visuals to match its ambitions.)
In the end, I can recommend “The Cylon Death Machine” to Galactica fans of any stripe. Fans of the old show will be pleased by an expanded take on a classic tale. Fans of the new can see what enormous potential the original series still had and how much more universal and timeless those characters were than the hopelessly-tied-to-current-day versions of the current show.
Authors: Glen A. Larson and Robert Thurston
Publisher: Berkley Medallion