You know an already-awful series has jumped the shark when it not only perpetuates its customary flaws but acknowledges them jokingly. The Doomsday Ship, tenth book in the Galaxy of Fear series, seems all too self-aware of its own idiocy. Zak Arranda, that puerile, "hey-dude" skaterboy who epitomizes every negative stereotype of adolescent boys, has clearly had it with his writer constantly pushing him into bizarre situations. Of course, so has the majority of Galaxy of Fear's longsuffering readership. But Zak is significantly dimmer than the average reader: it took him ten books to realize the glaring patterns of sci-fi schlock to which all of his adventures are so hopelessly shackled. Well, enough is enough, decides Zak. Aboard the luxury liner Star of the Empire, he resolves to avoid all disembodied brains, zombies, and fiendish Imperial plots. And from the moment he makes that resolution, you just know he's doomed. Careful hints from the other characters, dropped about as subtly as Fat Man and Little Boy, suggest that young Zak may be in for a rough ride unless he learns some important lessons about resilience. Thankfully, the supporting characters are basically plot devices with large mouths: they provide Zak with all the advice he could ever want, which has the incidental side effect of alerting the reader to every plot-twist pages in advance. Shadows of the Empire's Dash Rendar makes an appearance and fares slightly better than the regular series cast - his dialogue is actually hysterical (although it grasps too overtly for laughs). Nevertheless, Dash's presence is never satisfactorily justified and ultimately amounts to an arbitrary, video game-type cameo. Hey, at least Tash wants to be his friend (after ten books, her fascination with older men is becoming vaguely creepy). Speaking of Tash: she spends the entire novel prattling significantly about some cotton-swabbed Taoist ideal of detached action; when Zak has absorbed this important Galaxy of Fear Life Lesson of the Month, he immediately defeats a superhumanly intelligent computer by effectively sitting on his butt and waiting it out. After all of the dangerous convolutions of the plot, this resolution is miraculously easy. If only Zak had thought of just doing nothing earlier, he could have saved dozens of lives! You see, without any useful dialogue to deliver, the secondary characters lack job insurance. Just like any bad alien flik, The Doomsday Ship dispatches its minor players with capricious indifference. These Redshirt-type fall-guys are constantly ensnared by elaborately mechanized traps (you'd think someone could manufacture a luxury cruiser without so much random, lethal machinery for a robotic invader to exploit!), but their deaths elicit little response from the heroes or the reader. Even the most insignificant background characters are obviously nothing more than stepping-stones for plot development. Note, in particular, the mother who becomes separated from her baby at the exact moment necessary to distract the Arranda children from boarding their escape pod. SIM, the ostensibly benign computer program which maintains Star of the Empire's primary functions, is too exaggeratedly ominous a character to be anything but suspect from page one. Was anyone really surprised when it was revealed to be a sinister infiltration agent out to steal organic beings' jobs? Industrial Revolution anti-robotics paranoia strikes again... As a side note, it's unaccountably handy that SIM's acronymic designation corresponds to both its nominal title (Systems Integration Manager) and its actual title (Systems Infiltration Manager). Would Imperial Intelligence operatives really disguise their product so thinly as to only change the meaning of a single letter? Throughout the maddening length of this book, logic and artistic grace are constantly co-opted, the better to accommodate what the author obviously assumes is a spectacularly stupid audience. One inadvertently hilarious passage features Zak asking the cruiser's captain exactly how many decks it is to their destination. The captain replies that they are standing on Deck Three and must reach Deck Twenty. "That's seventeen decks!" Zak exclaims - useful information for readers who flunked grade-school subtraction. The Doomsday Ship's internal science is nothing short of baffling: Star of the Empire, hijacked by the SIM program, is said to have traveled "exactly three point six lightyears". At sublight speeds. Which would take a very, very long time. And poor Uncle Hoole was following in mynock form the whole way... At least, with The Doomsday Ship, John Whitman is striving to break his regular mold. Alas, all of his struggles serve only to drag him deeper into the predictable doldrums kiddie-horror. Maybe The Doomsday Ship could have been a good book. If only it hadn't labored quite so earnestly under the impression that all of its readers were complete idiots.