Before getting his entry into making computer games at Origin, Warren Spector had been working for several years in the world of tabletop role-playing games, first with Steve Jackson games and then moving to rival TSR in 1987. He worked on numerous projects while at TSR but what interested me particularly about his spell there was that he became a published author in 1988.
The book in question is “The Royal Pain/Hollow Earth Affair” which was published by TSR in 1988. It’s the second in a series of 3 novels based upon the Top Secret tabletop game, particularly it’s 1987 Special Intelligence revision. The game involved players taking the role of spies working for the Orion Foundation who would have to do battle with the evil Web.
All of the Double Agent novels were appropriately titled since they contained two stories featuring recurring secret agent characters. In the case of The Hollow Earth Affair, that character is Sebastian Cord, a gambling, womanizing secret agent of some experience who is now getting slightly past his prime. Basically it’s James Bond by another name, although he looks curiously like Bruce Campbell on the book cover. The Origin links to this character go further than just Warren Spector as the first entry in the series had been penned by Aaron Allston, who would go on to create the Claw Marks manual for Wing Commander.
The story starts in Nazi Germany where V2 scientists have to abandon work on their new super weapon at the end of the war but the lead scientist, Karl Unland, is given the opportunity to somehow carry on his work. Before we find out how, we jump forward to current day 1988 where Cord is trying to extract a defector from Web only for him to get sucked up into what appears to be a UFO.
None of Cord’s superiors believe this of course and he is put on forced leave. He ultimately recruits aid in the form of another agent, Rodrigo, a South American magician who does contract work for Orion + two of the backroom staff in an attempt to solve the mystery and in the course save the world.
I spare readers the entire plot but if you haven’t guessed by now, the Nazi superweapon was indeed a UFO. In true X-Files fashion this renders anyone without ear protection unconscious when it lands, although it hints elsewhere that they are rendered unconscious because of the large amounts of CFC gas it leaves behind while cooling the engines. The secret base where these were manufactured turns out to be underground at the South pole thus explaining the hole in the ozone layer because of all the CFC gas being released (yes, really).
There is much jetting around the world before reaching the South pole of course, including to Austin, Texas where a chunk of the novel is set. As well as being Cord’s home town, it’s the location for a secret base in the desert complete with UFO. Unland’s ultimate scheme involves using some sort of super CFC to entirely wipe out the ozone layer and destroy all life before repairing the damage with his CFC-be-gone chemical and taking over the cleansed world with his selected few.
To be blunt, The Hollow Earth Affair isn’t a great read. The story is ludicrous and the characters entirely unbelievable thanks to dialog that lies somewhere between Jeffrey Archer and George Lucas. There is a complete absence of any tension and the editing exacerbates this by doing its best to pull you out of the action at ever turn. It’s the literary equivalent of a Saturday morning kid’s cartoon.
It’s that editing that really got to me. In later stages, the narrative will swap between story threads so frequently there is no chance for the reader to get back into one before they have to start on another. This swapping happens several times on a single page in extreme cases.
The story is more or less a poor mans James Bond throughout, complete with the usual gadgets such as a spy watch which can communicate anywhere in the world via satellite, to the underground secret base which gets blown up at the end and a maniacal super villain intent on world domination. This is the Bond of the Roger Moore movies rather than the novels and I was never a fan of those in the first place.
I still can’t say I hated The Hollow Earth Affair for all that. I’m sure it was never meant to be serious literature and is bad enough to be fun most of the time. It did a decent enough job of passing the time on a long train journey. It’s not hard to see the mind that came up with this coming up with the premise for Martian Dreams as they are both equally far-fetched sci-fi tales. Martian Dreams may well have made an equally terrible novel but it was if nothing else much less derivative.
I’m certainly not going to recommend that anyone track this down. Any of the Ultima/Wing Commander novels that I’ve read through on this blog would be far better choices. It appears to be fairly readily available on abebooks for the curious though. I’ve not read the second novel in the book as of yet and will probably keep it that way.