by Doug Chiang and Orson Scott Card (Chronicle)

S ay what you will about Star Wars Episode I, but at least it had some badass spaceships--all sleek and art deco-y. Those Episode I and II production designs were largely Doug Chiang's, a Lucasfilm artist who quit just in time to avoid Episode III. Either he was sick of getting teased about the Anakin/Padmé romance, or he wanted to work on Robota, his new book with noted sci-fi novelist Orson Scott Card.

Robota tells the story of Caps, an amnesiac who wakes up on Robota, a planet ruled by artificially intelligent robots. Caps (in addition to having a name apparently swiped from a keyboard) quickly meets two sidekicks--the surly warrior Juomes, a giant gorilla who would be more at home on the Planet of the Apes, and Rend, a tiny monkey who would be more at home on Sesame Street. They explore, ally themselves with tenacious human survivors/insurgents, and discover shocking revelations about their robot rulers.

The teaming of Card and Chiang is a promising one, and could have revitalized Card's lagging inspiration (he's written three "retellings" of his most famous work, Ender's Game) and established Chiang as a Lucas-independent artist. Unfortunately, in attempting both, the creators achieve neither. Chiang's paintings and sketches dominate Robota, and while his calligraphic style has never looked better (unfettered by the constraints of Star Wars' universe, he creates his own, with graceful and precise depictions of technology and landscapes--his robots are gorgeous, both menacing and delicate), it largely relegates Card's text to the margins. The text's brevity is indicative of the story as a whole--while it is unquestionably derivative, there's potentially cool stuff here, both stylistically and intellectually. Unfortunately, Card doesn't explore those elements until about 10 pages before the book's conclusion, and only then does he really begin to delve into some cool stuff, and, rather belatedly, the world of Robota starts to flesh out. Until that point, it's just a lot of pretty pictures, an unsatisfying story, and a nagging sense that Robota should have been much more than it ends up being. ERIK HENRIKSEN