‘Starships’ by Jeff Simons and Bruce Tatman

Starships by Jeff Simons and Bruce Tatman, 1983 Antioch Publishing Company

Starships was first published back in 1983 by Antioch Publishing, I got mine at a literal 5 and Dime store back in 1988 or so. I was five years old at the time and it captured my imagination sufficiently that 30 years later I sought out a shrink-wrapped copy that still contained the included stickers for my son.

The book features written descriptions and colored illustrations, plus black-and-white dorsal and lateral schematics, of 10 fantasy space vehicles. As this is a book made for kids, the book is light on pseudo-technical detail and makes no pretenses about being ‘hard’ SF, which I appreciate because ‘hard SF,’ which is neither hard science nor good fiction, is increasingly hateful to me. There is a bit of a Star Wars vibe to the aesthetics, but overall they are more reminiscent ’70s/early ’80s TV shows and movies like Buck Rogers, Battlestar Galactica, and even Robotech and Starcom (even though the latter two did not arrive until after this book was published). The interior shots, filled with myriads of glowing status lights and manual controls, have a distinctly retrofuturistic feel akin to Alien.

Viking space tug schematics from Starships by Jeff Simons and Bruce Tatman, 1983 Antioch Publishing Company

There are, of course, several military craft presented, but what I find particularly interesting about this book is that most of them are working and merchant vessels, including ore haulers, tugs, utility shuttles, and planetary survey/research vehicles. The final entry is for The Orion, an ‘Electra Series Space Station’ which is a central shaft with spoked ring sections reminiscent of the spacedock in the old Star Trek movies or, as I already mentioned, the Starcom space station. One can easily imagine Ellen Ripley or her crewmates on Nostromo having served a previous term on some of these vessels.

My personal favorite are the Zephyrs, a kind of winged flying saucer. Classified as ‘Class 00 Skywatchers’, they are like space P3 Orions, doing long duration patrols aloft, scanning for cloaked invaders and other emergencies, refueling by way of beamed power from ground or orbital energy stations.

Zephyr fighters escort an alien Phantom-class ship, from 'Starships' by Jeff Simons and Bruce Tatman

What does this have to do with wargames or role playing games? Allow me to extend the principle of playing with toys to mining old kids books. If you’re an adult now with kids of your own and you still fondly remember something like this, it’s probably worth picking up again to see what you can use in your games. ‘Starships’ provides a great starting point for interesting new ship types in your Traveller campaign. Many of them, including the fighter craft, would make good non-standard or local system equipment for a Star Wars game to cleanse the palate of endless X-Wings and TIE Fighters.

I intend that some of these vehicles will be mentioned in future battle reports from Xiandao, whether as background for standard missions or as set pieces in Stargrave games. I may, in the future, post some stats for them in Traveller or other systems.

In lieu of posting more pictures, I hope to do a video review of this book on the AttentionSpanLabs YouTube channel eventually.

This is such a charming book from a time when discount kids books were not all licensed pop-culture regurgitation. There is a show of real effort and imagination by artist and writer here. I wish I could find more books like this, and I’m sure they exist. If you have some suggestions, or a favorite from your childhood, I would like to know about them.

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