It perhaps does not bode well for this book, or for me, to observe that despite the fact that I have a law degree and a Ph.D, it took me 6 months to read a 117-page book. Despite a curious null zone when it comes to initial interest, however, Planet of the Dragons is a fairly solid Choose Your Own Adventure book with some interesting ideas. I guess I can only blame myself for the inexcusably long delay between this one and my last CYOA review, from September 2017.
Planet of the Dragons by Richard Brightfield (illustrated by Judith Mitchell)
Published: January 1988
Number in the CYOA Series: 75
Planet of the Dragons has a title that is perfectly developed for truth in advertising. Although nominally a science fiction story set on another world, what it really wants to be is a fantasy book. Indeed, its tropes and set-pieces belong generally more to high fantasy than science fiction, especially the depiction of a race of dwarf-like beings (the Derns), a race of bird people (the Hyskos), and, of course, the eponymous dragons. However (does this count as a spoiler alert?) it turns out the dragons are mechanical vehicles, not living beasts. I rather like that touch, and it makes for an interesting plot.
The book is loosely a sequel to Invaders of the Planet Earth, for it mentions that book’s alien protagonists, the Taurons. “You” are a space pilot fleeing from them when your ship is destroyed and you crash in an escape pod on an uncharted
island planet. As you survey your surroundings, you notice the landscape is seared with scorch marks and there are puffs of smoke and light rising from a spot far away. Your first choice is whether to investigate, or head for the hills. It doesn’t much matter which one you choose, for there are essentially three main plots you can become involved in: you can join forces with the dwarflike Derns, or help the sky-dwelling Hyskos their planet; or you wind up in the company of Millie, another Earth castaway, and her father, who are marooned on the planet and trying to get home. The thing is, their ship needs deuterium, which is distilled from water, and the dragons guard the nearest water sources.
Despite every fantasy artist on DeviantArt having a portfolio full of mediocre dragon illustrations, I couldn’t find any that clearly looked mechanical. Thus, this photo of a dragon toy will have to suffice as a depiction of the mechanical monsters in Planet of the Dragons.
Planet of the Dragon‘s adventures and choices are generally unremarkable, or at least standard for the series. You get in various scrapes and jams, often have to decide where to go to hide from the dragons or whether to fight them head-on or retreat, and there’s the usual shifting cast of relatively flatly-drawn sidekick characters, like Keesa (a Dern) or Millie herself. On the other hand, Richard Brightfield presents us with a fictional world that is drawn and filled out especially well for such a short book that necessarily lacks the room for a lot of exposition. I especially like how there’s sort of an ecological angle to the scenario. The dragons, which are machines, are apparently weapons built by an unknown alien race who were accidentally deployed on this planet, and have since wreaked havoc on its native species including the Derns. The eradication of the mechanical dragons is seen as a necessary step toward restoring ecological balance to the planet. This “machine in the garden” concept is pretty familiar to us environmental historians, but it’s unusual to see it in a CYOA book.
For my money, the best of the main plots is the series of adventures with Millie and her father. Though castaways, they’ve made a great little cottage for themselves in the forest, eating vegetables (another ecological message?) and generally surviving. The illustration of their hut on page 23 is especially evocative. I didn’t really find the Derns or the Hyskos that interesting, but kids reading this book probably would. I wished the Hyskos had been better fleshed out as a people. Given their name I wondered if Brightfield was making an allusion to the real-life ancient people called the Hyksos (name spelled slightly differently), who are said to have invaded Egypt around 1650 BCE. That has nothing to do with this book, but I’m always on the lookout for references in CYOA books that adults might understand but kids would probably not get.
The Hyksos are a mysterious people who invaded Egypt and established the Sixteenth Dynasty, though whether their invasion was in the form of military conflict, as depicted here, is debatable.
For all of its strengths, there’s a little bit that’s unsatisfying about Planet of the Dragons. I was expecting a plot where you discover how the dragons got here and meet the alien race that developed them; alas, aside from some chatter about the origin of the dragons, we never go there. The endings are fairly standard, perhaps too slanted toward the positive, and it’s almost too easy to “win.” And, as I mentioned before, it took me so long to read this book because it just didn’t look that interesting. I had to force myself to read it. For what it is, though, Planet of the Dragons is generally a good entry in the series. It probably won’t be anybody’s favorite, but I also don’t see any reason why a CYOA fan would dislike it.
Next up: Shannon Gilligan, wife of series co-founder R.A. Montgomery, serves up Terror in Australia. With a title like that, I have high hopes.