After the spacecraft SDF-1 is forced to flee the Earth in the wake of a disastrous attack by the giant Zentradi aliens on the day of its launch, young Rick Hunter, a pilot for a flying circus caught up in the ship's wake, must find his place in the intergalactic struggle. In the "distant future" of 1999 (the book was written in 1987), a global civil war on Earth is interrupted by the crash of an alien spacecraft. A boarding party is soon put together, including flying ace Roy Fokker, captain Gloval, and super-scientist Dr. Lang. They find traces of a dead civilization of giants, a few functional defense mechanisms, and a wonderous power source, dubbed Protoculture, capable of powering engines allowing the folding of space and time.
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A few years later, the Earth is at peace and the ship, now dubbed the SDF-1 (Super-Dimensional Fortress One) has been reconstructed and rigged for human usage. At the ceremony celebrating the ship's resurrection, the military shows off the other application they have made of Protoculture: the new Veritch Fighters, jets capable of transforming into robots (as well as an intermediate jet-with-arms-and-legs form). Lieutenant Fokker is one of the ship's assigned aces, and he has invited Rick Hunter, the son of one of Fokker's old friends, to the launch at the island of Macross. Others present include Captain Gloval, now the commander of the SDF-1, Lisa Hayes, the young executive officer, and Minmei, a beautiful civilian working at her parents' food stand.
Rick interrupts the Veritech demonstration with his own high-flying antics, to the simultaneous delight and dismay of Roy. On the ground, it becomes clear that Rick, and his father by proxy, think very little of war and are upset at Roy's decision to become a combat pilot in the civil war. Rick and Roy also briefly meet Minmei, who is wrangling her little brother Jason.
The festivities are marred when the SDF-1, in response to hidden programming, fires its main gun into seemingly empty space. But the space is, in fact, occupied by advance elements of the Zentradi, the "giants" who were the ship's original inhabitants. The ship's defenses were calibrated to fend off the aliens because the ship's master, scientist Zor, hide the secrets of Protoculture aboard the vessel to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Zentradi's rulers, the Robotech Masters. Unfortunately, the firing alerts the main of the alien fleet as to the final location of the ship, and the armada closes in.
Captain Gloval, smelling a trap, scrambles his command into a red alert. Civilians mill around helplessly with no idea as to what is happening. In the midst of the panic, the giant robot "Battlepod" craft of the Zentradi begin descending on Macross, intending to reclaim the ship. Rick, sleeping in a Veritech fighter, is caught up in the incident; trying to survive, he launches his fighter, much to the consternation of Lisa Hayes. With the guidance of Roy, Rick is able to shift his fighter into robot ("Battloid") form, and saves Minmei from a bombardment and some Battlepods. In the process, he catches a glimpse of the giant Zentradi themselves.
Rick guides his fighter into the bays of the SDF-1 and disembarks with Minmei. He takes the young woman with him in his fanjet, the Mockingbird, intending to return her to the island and leave the battleground behind. But, as the jet makes the flight, the SDF-1, in an attempt to draw the aliens away from the Earth, engages its untested "fold" engines. The ship ends up in the orbit of Pluto, overshooting its intended target of the moon by quite a distance. Also, the fold field carries away the island of Macross, and the Mockingbird, with it. Rick guides the rocket back towards the SDF-1, where it falls in to a disused bay; meanwhile, the ship's defense forces mop up the remnants of the Zentradi force, now cut off from the rest of their fleet, and take stock, beginning rescue operations to save as many of the people on Macross as possible.
The trapped Rick and Minmei try to survive in the inhospitable bowels of the fortress, growing closer in the process. Rick begins to fall in love with Minmei, although her only feelings in return are somewhat more mercurial. Just as it seems like they will draw closer together, they are rescued by developers, who are busy constructing a city, New Macross, in the depths of the SDF-1, which house the civilian population.
Out in the world, the two adjust to life again; Rick is dismayed to find Minmei pulling away from him. The personal drama is interrupted by another Zentradi attack, forcing the SDF-1 to undergo its own transformation into a tremendous robot, damaging the city in the process. Looking over the devastation, Rick decides that he needs to join the Robotech Defense Force to use his talents to protect those he cares about aboard the ship.
Best part of story, including ending:
McKinney (actually two authors writing together under a pen name) has his work cut out adapting an animated series (that, itself, was adapted from several Japanese animated series and strung together with a different plot), but is up to the task, using the novel form to expand the technology and motivations of Robotech's jerry-rigged plot beyond the animated original in interesting and unique ways and making what I could consider the definitive version of the franchise
Best scene in story:
The brief glance of Zor, the architect of the Robotech universe's Protoculture technology, showcases McKinney's efforts to use prose to expand the franchise in a way that would be too costly for the animated version, and creates a real sense of history.
Opinion about the main character:
Rick has an interesting character arc over the series, from a shallow young man to a responsible adult. In the first book, his time trapped with Minmei matures him a bit, but not too much.