Originally published March 22, 2016
So the first, second, and third generations of Robotech were the result of rewriting three animated Japanese scifi series into one over-arcing and thirty year long story. In order to link those generations together and explain the differences (Where’s the RDF? Why do all the mecha look so different? Why aren’t Max and Miriya single handedly laying waste to Earth’s enemies?) Harmony Gold’s Carl Macek, the mastermind behind Robotech, devised a “Sequel” that was really more of a companion story: Robotech II: The Sentinels. Originally conceived as another long-arc TV series, a shift in the dollar to yen exchange rate caused investors to back out before more than a few episodes could be made. What was made was stitched together into a feature film, but, to be honest, not much happens in it besides the marriage of Rick Hunter and Lisa Hayes. It’s really just good for a glimpse at the world of the Sentinels, and seeing new takes on the Macross characters, and the mecha and Invid from Mospeada.
Fortunately, the Luceno-Daley amalgam had access to Carl Macek’s notes, and got the five Sentinels novels out of them, plus the ultimate conclusion of the Robotech novelizations, The End of the Circle.
The Sentinels picks up five or six years after Macross ends. The new dimensional fortress, the SDF-3, is finally complete. Its mission is to take the newly formed Robotech Expeditionary Force across the galaxy to Tirol, the home of the Robotech Masters, creators of the Zentraedi and the all-important Protoculture Matrix, and broker a peace before Earth finds itself facing another apocalyptic war. Aboard are the surviving heroes of the First Robotech War: Rick Hunter, Lisa Hayes-Hunter, Max and Miriya Sterling, the Zentreadi Exedore and Breetai. Between the SDF-3, the crew, and the REF’s new Alpha and Beta Veritechs (Along with Cyclones and the shiny new versions of the non-transformable destroids), the thought is that the REF will have a pretty good chance of surviving what ever the Robotech Masters might throw at them before they settle down for peace talks.
Unfortunately, as we know from the Southern Cross portions of Robotech, the Masters, desperately low on Protoculture, have left Tirol to retrieve the Matrix on their own. Their departure upsets the balance of power in the neighborhood, and the Invid– natives to the Master’s section of the galaxy– have taken the opportunity to conquer everything in sight. And unfortunately, these are not the relatively civilized Regis-controlled Invid that will eventually conquer Earth; this particular group, lead by the Regis’ former lover, are far more aggressive and quite a bit less friendly to the species under their control.
It is in this unstable situation that the REF meets the Sentinels. A ragtag group of aliens haling from worlds conquered by the Invid Regent, the Sentinels have cobbled together a battlecruiser from their own unique technologies and are waging war as they can to liberate their homeworlds. While it seems like the two would be natural allies, inter-military politics keep the REF from forming as strong of an alliance with the Sentinels as they maybe should have. They do, however, allow for a delegation from the REF to work with the Sentinels as they fight to overthrow the Invid.
One of the nice things about The Sentinels is that it gives us a glimpse of the universe of Robotech that isn’t Earth-centric. It opens up the story and gives it a breath of fresh air that it was probably needing after the Invid occupation arc of the main series; I like war stories as much as the next guy, but there’s only so long we can fight over one planet before the audience starts to roll its eyes and get bored. The Sentinels gives us half a dozen worlds or so under the Invid’s domination, each with their own issues and complications. It’s also pretty cool to see the REF act as a military, instead of as freedom fighters, and it’s wonderful to be back with our old friends from Macross.
On the other hand, coming back to characters we love is always dangerous from a reader’s stand point. Rick and Lisa are one of those fictional couples you’d like to see have a happy life, and life over on the SDF-3 turns out to be fraught with issues both personal and public, including a few that compromise the integrity of some beloved characters. But all in all, The Sentinels is a welcome addition that serves as a unifying thread in the Robotech narrative.
I’ve debated how to cover The End of the Circle. I don’t think that doing an entire blog post on the final novel of a series is a great idea; there’s no way to really delve into it without spoiling a lot of stuff that’s gone before, and I’ve tried my best to talk about each of these storylines without spoiling the others.
Suffice it to say, during the last stages of the Invid Occupation of Earth, the REF returns home to liberate the planet. Unfortunately, because nothing ever goes well when an SDF class ship tries to spacefold, the SDF-3 never actually arrives in Earth orbit. Instead, it folds into some sort of bizarre, featureless realm devoid of any stars, planets, or other astronomical bodies.
The End of the Circle is a little bit of a controversial novel. Some people hate it; others seem to feel that it’s fine, if a little lackluster. I rather enjoyed it myself, and at least a few scenes have stuck with me through the years– both good and bad. There’s one scene with Louis Nichols, one of Dana Sterling’s former hovertank pilots, who has begun experimenting with transhumanism, that has left a lingering horror for body augmentation that I’ve tried to recapture in my own writing; but there’s also a fairly cheesy sequence involving some highly evolved children. (On one hand, it answers the question “What happened to the SDF-1’s fold drives?” on the other hand, there’s an awful, shlocky chant/seance thing going on there.)
All that having been said, The End of the Circle functions, to me, fairly well, and far better than the official conclusion to the Robotech saga, 2006’s Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles feature film. Luceno-Daley tie the various storylines up neatly and give us a complete story– maybe, perhaps, a little too neatly and a little too completely.
But it’s stuck with me. It’s been twenty years since I first read these books, and I could talk endlessly about how they changed my life. (They really have, in quantifiable ways.) So much of what I love and so much of what I write was formed by Robotech. These days, I tend to prefer the official Macross continuity (Which I’ll look at next week) but Robotech is on the short list of books for which I’d love to write an official sequel.
A word about the final three Robotech novels: The Zentraedi Rebellion, The Master’s Gambit, and Before the Invid Storm: I didn’t like them. Out of 21 novels, these three (#19, #20, and #21) are the only ones I’ve only read once. Part of that stems from the fact that I hate mid-quels. When I read a giant, sweeping space opera, I very rarely care about the things that happen in between the important stuff (If it was important enough to tell me about it, why didn’t that happen the first time around?) and that is essentially what these three novels cover. They add very little to the over all continuity, and so unless you’re really desperate for another fix of Macross or really curious where Dana Sterling is during the Invid Occupation, I’d say skip ’em. Or unless you like mid-quels, I guess.