Hot off the Thrawn Trilogy and still
thirsting for more Star Wars I picked up some copies of Michael
P. Kube-McDowells' Black Fleet Crisis. Why the Black Fleet
Crisis? Because it looked like the next chunk of significant
Extended Universe continuity after the Thrawn Trilogy from an
author that didn't actively turn me off. (By which I mean Kevin
VOLUME 1: BEFORE THE STORM
Unfortunately, despite doing my best to
avoid the dregs of Star Wars licensing, I found the first volume
of this trilogy to be very disappointing.
Why? Well, for starters, Princess Leia
doing her best impression of Neville Chamberlain is a bizarre
choice, and it quickly goes from simply not ringing true to
being painfully stupid. ("Hitler is such a nice guy, it's
just that his hands are tied by his government."
"Hitler might be hiding a massive military force? I can't
believe it, so it must not be true." "Hitler has
derailed the negotiations, slandered my name, and blamed me for
the deaths of a dozen people he killed? Then I must be to
blame!" "Hitler has killed 300,000 people in a
genocidal purge? Cover it up. It'll make me look bad if it comes
out.") Then she goes home to sulk for awhile before
accusing the people around her of being sexist because they've
been questioning her erratic and moronic behavior.
Kube-McDowell also seems to have some
difficulty in keeping his eye on the ball. This entire volume,
for example, actually consists of three entirely separate plot
lines which essentially never interact with each other. Each
plot is characterized by short little spurts of action
interrupted frequently by expository lumps, many of which have
only a tangential relationship to the action. Individual scenes
will often start just AFTER a major event, the details of which
will be backfilled a couple of paragraphs later through
The result is a completely dysfunctional
pacing. So when you're trying not to hurl the book across the
room in response to Leia's latest stupidity, you're being jerked
willy-nilly around the galaxy.
But, in some ways, this disjointed and
schizophrenic structure may have been the trilogy's salvation
for me. If the only thing the first volume had offered me was
Leia the Incompetent, I doubt I would have continued reading.
But the other two plots, one involving Luke's quest to find
himself and the other involving Lando's exploration of an alien
ghost ship, both had enough interesting elements in them to keep
me from completely disengaging from the novel.
(Even given that, though, if Leia hadn't
taken her brain off the shelf and put it back in her head where
it belongs during the last twenty pages or so of the book, I
probably would have given up on the trilogy.)
A few other thoughts here:
Unlike Zahn, Michael Kube-McDowell can't
quite capture the voices of the characters. The characters are
true to form, but the words don't quite sound right in their
mouths; the rhythm of the dialogue doesn't quite flow right.
(There are two exceptions to this: Leia, who, as noted, isn't
true to form in the slightest. But also Luke, in quite the
opposite direction: Kube-McDowell's realizing of a Luke fifteen
years older and possessed of a profound insight into the wisdom
of the Force is simply captivating. It's not the Luke of the
movies, but it's still Luke -- and that's a very
In reading this back-to-back with the
Thrawn Trilogy, some of the most interesting details are those
which conflict with one another: Zahn, for example, postulates
that Yoda hung out in the swamp on Dagobah because of the
proximity of the cave drenched in the energies of the dark side
-- a negative charge damping out his positive charge and
allowing him to stay hidden from the Emperor and Vader. But Kube-McDowell
chooses to focus, instead, on the common element between Yoda
and Obi-Wan: Their hermitage. And he reads a great depth of
meaning into that hermitage, and draws from it a philosophical
revelation of what it means to be a powerful user of the Force.
And watching Luke struggle with the
realization that he's truly outstripped the teachings of his
Masters and must now chart is own course is probably the
strongest thing about this first volume, and the thing most
responsible for getting me to crack the cover on volume two.
VOLUME 2: SHIELD OF LIES
And I'm really glad I did crack the cover on volume two,
because SHIELD OF LIES is a massive improvement over the first
The structural problems of the first novel
disappear as Kube-McDowell implements the simple expedient of
splitting each of this three plots (Leia, Luke, and Lando) into
separate parts and presenting them one at a time. The result
looks more like a collection of three novellas than a novel, but
if it makes for good reading, I'm not going to complain.
Most importantly, Leia's veil of stupidity
is lifted. And with Leia firing on full-thrusters, the political
thriller at the heart of the Black Fleet Crisis goes from
unrealized potential to page-turning intensity.
If this trilogy were published today, we'd
be hearing endless gripes from people complaining that Kube-McDowell
has tainted the Star Wars universe with an injection of modern
politics. The Black Fleet Crisis, particularly in this second
volume, looks an awful lot like the current war in
. And after a quick glance at the copyright date dispels any
suspicion of the novel's possible influences, you can only sit
back and appreciate the versimilitude and depth of Kube-McDowell's
Where I struggled through the first volume
in this trilogy, the second volume gave me a couple of
sleep-deprived nights of "just one more chapter"
reading. And when I finished the last page, I was immediatley
compelled to snatch up the third volume and continue reading.
VOLUME 3: TYRANT'S TEST
Nor was I disappointed. The third volume delivers on much the
same level as the second.
Perhaps the strangest thing about the
trilogy's third volume, however, is the revelation that one of
the three plot threads in the trilogy does not, in fact, have
any connection to the Black Fleet Crisis in any way, shape, or
form. It could be completely excised from the trilogy and
published as it's own novella without any negative effect upon
either itself or the rest of the trilogy. This is, needless to
say, pretty bizarre.
Not that I'm complaining about the content
of this particular sub-plot. It's a solid piece of storytelling,
and it manages to tell an honest-to-god science fiction story,
albeit with Star Wars style.
It's just odd that this novella, while it
may be interspersed throughout the trilogy, doesn't truly seem
to belong to the trilogy.
This third volume also delivers a
resounding and action-packed finale. Unfortunately, I can't
quite claim that it was an entirely satisfying finale, in
large part due to the fact that -- like Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy --
this conclusion seems to have large elements of deus ex machina
and liberal coincidence strewn around.
But, in the final analysis, I'm really glad
that I persevered through the tribulations of the first volume
here, because the second and third volumes provide some great
BEFORE THE STORM: C
SHIELD OF LIES: B
TYRANT'S TEST: B-