While award-winning author Terrance Dicks is probably best known for his work on on Doctor Who, he wrote much more – and one of his fondly-remembered series was Star Quest, three SF novels for younger readers, originally published in 1978, 1979, and 1981 under the Longbow and Target imprints, owned by WH Allen.
In the series, three young cousins get caught up in galactic events when two battling UFOs land near Stonehenge. But for Jan, Kevin and Anna it is only the beginning of their thrilling adventures.
Helping the League of Sentient Lifeforms in their fight against the ruthless and evil Kaldor, the trio meet friendly aliens and savage beasts, travel across the galaxy and come face to face with golden robots and dinosaurs.
While it also got a reprint in Sweden, the series, promoted alongside the Doctor Who novel range in catalogues released by Wyndham Books in 1979 and 1980, and Star Books in 1983, didn’t prove the success Terrance perhaps hoped, unlike other non-Who series, such as The Baker Street Irregulars, which ran to 10 books, his horror novel series, the first titled Cry Vampire! (6); his young readers series, T. R. Bear (13); or the very successful The Adventures of Goliath, Dicks’ longest series, at 18 books, about a golden retriever.
However, it should be noted another of his non-Who series, The Mounties, first published in 1976, also ran for just three books, so perhaps the trilogy was intended, which would also have echoed the Star Wars initial film trilogy that presumably prompted it, given the styling of the cover design.
But for some, it struck a chord with many young SF fans, among them SF and fantasy author Paul Magrs, who has hung on to his battered, signed copy of the first novel, Spacejack, to this day.
“Spacejack has a cinematic opening and the opening chapter reads at times like the pitch for an internationally co-produced television series,” Matthew Kilburn, feels, noting itv was “marketed as children’s science fiction for the age of Star Wars, but it has as much in common with a strand of children’s fantasy which had been prominent on ITV in the 1970s.
“From the point of view of the League of Sentient Life Forms, humanity is an old civilisation which has suffered a collapse, its highly advanced stellar civilisation devolving to savagery, and records lost until Earth was rediscovered and UFO visits began including the abduction of humans – ‘It was a disaster!’ – until this was forbidden by the League.”
“I was … very fond of the Star Quest series of books that he wrote for Target,” notes Doctor Who fan Paul Ferry in a tribute to Terrance back in 2019. “Timely cash-ins to the popularity of Star Wars, to be sure, but written with a style and panache that made them excellent reads.”
The team at Big Finish clearly also remembered it fondly, publishing a collection back in 2004, which is now out of print, but you can find copies online.
The Star Quest Stories
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First published in hardcover by WH Allen in 1978, and in paperback in 1979. Reprinted as Den okända planeten in Sweden in 1983
Cover by Jeff Cummins
In Spacejack, three young friends meet Tell, Osar and Garm, agents for the League of Sentient Lifeforms, an alliance of intelligent races from across the galaxy and come up against the Kaldor, who believe that only humans have the right to rule.
First published in hardcover in 1979, and in paperback in 1980. Reprinted as robotarnas våld? in Sweden in 1984.
Cover by Jeff Cummins
The cousins crashland on an asteroid infested with an army of killer robots.
Cover artist Jeff Cummins says of his covers for the series, “My favourite is the one where the giant robot balances the title on his head!”
First published in hardcover in 1981, and in paperback in 1983. Reprinted as Skräcködlornas rike in Sweden in 1985.
Jan, Kevin and Anna must search for their new friends who have gone missing whilst on patrol.
Terrance Dicks’s three Star Quest novels were published in a single volume by Big Finish in 2004, with a new introduction by the author
• Terrance Dicks created a huge number of other non-Who series, and wrote a number of standalone novels, catalogued here on Fantastic Fiction
With thanks to Paul Magrs for prompting this item, and Russell Cook for additional images