Robotech: Before The Invid Storm

By James Luceno (as Jack McKinney)

published by Del Rey Books (April, 1996; 1st edition)

I was going to have this for next week but due to new events I finished it up this week. As usual I did a chapter by chapter review of the book for my other site, but with only the epilogue left and needing to take July off from said site due to a busy month and some “backstage” stuff I’ve been wanting to do I moved things up. So this week is the final review.

Robotech was a US TV series born of desperation. Originally Harmony Gold wanted to simply adapt the Japanese animated series Superdimensional Fortress Macross into an American dub but there weren’t enough episodes for a full weekday series (about 13-16 weeks worth at the time) and not enough for a weekend run without multiple seasons, if the show took off at all. So they grabbed two other anime, Superdimension Calvary Southern Cross (no connection) and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA, and created Robotech, using the name of a series of model kits by Revell that used Macross and other anime mecha as their product. Comico The Comic Company produced the comic adaptations back in the 1980s.

Ever since then comics and novels have continued the story when attempts by Harmony Gold to build on the lore producer and head writer Carl Macek came up with to merge the three shows as seamlessly as possible, trying to fill holes like where the heroes of the first war disappeared to or tying the three invading forces together through the alien Robotechnology and the protoculture power source that allows the pilot to handle transforming airplanes as well as other genetic experimentation. The biggest was Robotech II: The Sentinels, an attempt to explain what happened to the heroes of the first war among other elements important to the other two, as the Invid again became the threat. Due to various financial issues and some miscommunication it never got past five episodes but again comics and novels took Macek’s plans and ran with them. For our purposes the novels were handled by “Jack McKinney”, the pen name for the writing team of James Luceno and Brian Daley. They had previously worked on the novelization of the Robotech episodes (the books collecting a group of episodes to form a full-length novel) as well as making original stories and their own take on Sentinels, sometimes contradicting the comics I hear, but this was the only novel I picked up.

Robotech: Before The Invid Storm is an 18 chapter novel with a prologue and epilogue. It seeks to explain the fate of the heroes of the Second Robotech War and the transition Earth was going through as it awaited the coming of the Invid. By this point Daley had passed away from pancreatic cancer, just after finishing a series of audio adaptations of Return Of The Jedi. Luceno retained the pen name when working on this book and it’s his story alone. I’m assuming using the pen name was both (or either) a tribute to their joint friendship and working partner ship as well as making it easier for the long time readers to know at least one of the authors was the same “guy” from the previous novels and novelizations. I think that’s enough intro, though. Let’s get into the book itself.

Before The Invid Storm takes place some time after the events of the Second Robotech War, specifically the episode “Catastrophe” (collected by McKinney in the “Final Nightmare” novelization #9) and the beginning of the Third Robotech War with the episode “The Invid Invasion” (and the collected novelization of the same name, #10). Earth is covered with blooming Flowers Of Life, the source of protoculture for Robotechnology and the food source of the Invid. The Regis is coming with her Invid army but years before a group of heroes from the first Robotech War had gone to meet and hopefully make peace with the Robotech Masters, not knowing they were on their way to Earth. Instead this “Robotech Expeditionary Force” ended up fighting the Invid and the Regis’ husband, the Regent. Colonel Jonathan Wolff, hero from this REF team, returns to Earth to warn about the Invid’s arrival and make plans for their defeat. However, various factions are more interested in his ship.

The Shimada family, a Yakuza family because Luceno apparently doesn’t know the Yakuza are basically the Japanese version of the Mafia, thinks they can make peace with the Invid, something they should have tried with the Robotech Masters when they arrived. This is a bad idea to anyone who knows the Invid but few on Earth did at the time. The remains of the government want to destroy the Invid Sensor Nebula, which searches for the Flower Of Life seeded on other worlds, despite warnings that it’s not only impossible but too late. Some self-serving generals want to use it to flee the planet like cowards while the rest of the military thinks the crew and mecha are their best chance against the Invid. The Starchildren, a group dedicated to leaving the planet for the stars, see this as a chance to get their hands on hyperspace fold technology. Then there’s Dana Sterling and the members of the 15th ATAC, heroes of the second war and protectors of the refugees of civilians from the Robotech Masters’ flagship. With the refugees dying of essentially homesickness all she wants is to get them home. Wolff himself planned to go back with word of the current state of Earth as well as reconcile with his wife and son, but thanks to time dilation of extended space fold (that makes more sense when you have time to explain) that’s not happening. It’s a race to get to the ship first before the Invid arrive.

That’s the plot, and given the circumstances at that point in the saga it does make a form of sense. Robotech, for all it’s transforming piloted vehicles, mysterious plants, and various alien invaders, was a rather grounded series (or three separate grounded series merged together) for the most part. The theme was on how bad war is and coming together in the end, showcased by at least one human/alien romance, invaders switching to protectors against their own, and those who refused to accept the notion. These themes are admittedly absent but the various devastated parties trying to fight for their own personal future rather than the world itself, cynical as it is, isn’t entirely unlikely. Even Dana’s team, the most moral and least self-serving of the bunch, still has more self-interest than the future of the planet. In a story set between invasions it all makes a lot of sense and overall Luceno tells the story well.

There’s also a secondary goal of trying to explain what happened to the heroes of the Second Robotech War plus getting Jonathan Wolff, who originally appeared in one episode of the original show but was used as one of the heroes of Sentinels, to Earth and in the position we first find him in the episode “Eulogy”. It does make sense that Wolff is therefore one of the main players, but equally odd that Dana is missing for most of the book and only comes into play in the main events during the final act of the story. Occasionally she’ll pop up and do something but her main contributions don’t happen until well into the story. Some other characters are mentioned only in passing, with only Nova and Louie, main characters from the “Masters Saga” along with Dana, really being part of anything. Even then I’m not happy with Louie’s current standing. He’s working for the Shimada’s now, building a new mecha that doesn’t need protoculture (and of course it’s in Japan) but as the Shimadas are one of the more manipulative factions he doesn’t seem to mind being part of that, and even manipulating Dana at one point to achieve the Shimada’s goals by using Dana’s to get her to go along with things.

Fans of the spin-off media may also remember Terry Weston, who appeared in the comics and novels. He’s barely in this and they still feel the need to explain what happened to him, I guess for fans of the extended media. They also give him a girlfriend (who dumps him off-page in a bit of narration) who joins the Starchildren, a group that as far as this novel is concerned is pretty much unnecessary. Shimada tries to use them as well but as soon as they get a better idea they drop them and outside of a minor plot point later serve no purpose to the story as a whole. They could have been bypassed rather easily and nobody would notice their absence. The only factions that matter are the misguided Shimada, the remains of the Southern Cross and GMP forces who are fighting between themselves, the increasingly powerless government, and the barely there 15th and their refugee charges. And I don’t really care about any of them. I only have one comic thus far with Weston, Dana and Wolff I only care about from the show, and following the rest hold no real interest for me. It’s written just fine but this is not the kind of story I usually read. Political intrigue rarely holds my attention unless it’s done…not so much “right” as done in a way that keeps me invested. I have enough issues following the real world political stupidity and that actually affects me. The fictional stuff just doesn’t work for me.

That said, Luceno does a good job of painting locations, making each character unique to their role in the story, and it’s a story that would otherwise totally work for this situation. It’s not even bad for Robotech given that we’re between invasions. Someone more drawn to this than I am may totally enjoy this story. It’s just me personally that can’t get into it most of the time outside of the few scenes with Wolff, Dana, and Nova because they’re characters I already know. Seeing how Wolff got into the position he was by the show (though trying to “excuse” his actions in “Eulogy” the way the author did felt like he was trying to “repair” Wolff’s legacy or something) was the only part of the story that really interested me until Dana got to be a major player. And frankly her relationship with Wolff, without going into spoiler specifics, I could have done without.


Don’t get me wrong. Robotech: Before The Invid Storm is a good book. On the critics side if you going into the chapter by chapter reviews I linked to earlier, you’ll find all the nitpicks I have are on a personal preference level than a critical level. However, that site is about reviewing stories. This site is about me reducing clutter. In both cases, being a good story isn’t enough if it doesn’t interest me, and only parts of it does. I’m not sure I’d really be into reading this again so on that mark I’m not interested in keeping it. That’s a “me thing” because the book itself is quite good, just not what I’m into and that’s what counts here.