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THE BRAIN SPIDERS

A novel by John Whitman (1997, Bantam Skylark)
Galaxy of Fear, Book 7
1 year after Star Wars: A New Hope

Zak and Tash uncover a plot to transfer the brains of criminals into new bodies in Jabba's Palace.

 

 

2 stars

Read on July 24th, 2003  
    Another standard adventure in what is really shaping up to be a sub-standard series.

I think I'm insulted by the style of the book, or maybe I'm just too old for these ones. The author weaves a pretty good tale, but he doesn't allow his characters to be smart. They aren't even lucky. I can't call what they have "luck", because the plot seems to shape itself around them, instead.

The prime annoyance is the misdirection at the end of every single chapter. They all end on a cliff-hanger, but almost none of the perceived danger turns out to be real. When Zak is surprised by a brain spider early on, it simply scuttles out of the way at the beginning of the next chapter. Tash screams when she steps onto the coals, but we find out in the next chapter that she was bellowing in delight, because they were cool -can't Zak tell the difference?

The other annoyance, which continues through every book in this series so far, is that Hoole, the "uncle" and caretaker of these two kids, never believes that they were witness to something strange and dangerous. Even though they have been right about something being wrong in all six adventures that they have been on with him so far! Even with all the evidence stacked against them, Hoole should believe their word, anyway, from what he has seen. Yet he still treats them as if they were young, naive children. Sure, they should be, but because these adventures are theirs, he should be treating them like his peers, now.

In a young reader's book, there has to be some way for adventure to pop its head in, and it is usually something that no parent in their right mind would agree to. No matter how "inexperienced" Hoole is as a parent, common sense should tell him not to take the children into the palace of Jabba the Hutt! Yet this is a contrivance that I can handle, because adventures would be boring without the danger element, and they tend to be more dangerous, still, in the Star Wars universe.

What I wonder about is how anybody could roam Jabba's palace so freely? Hoole went to see Jabba because they are on the run from the Empire, for destroying the Ultimate Weapon in the first six books. He wants Jabba to remove their identities from the Imperial databases. In return, he will translate a scroll that is sacred to the B'omarr monks, who transplant their brains into jars that can be attached to robotic spiders to roam the palace. These are the spiders that we see at the beginning of Return of the Jedi, which have acquired a strange and terrific culture of their own. Because the palace used to be theirs, before Jabba took it over, they have all sorts of secret tunnels.

Once they are led to their rooms, which are presumably quiet and clean (which is something I can't imagine), Zak and Tash roam the palace at their leisure. Tash thinks the monks can teach her about using the Force, so she is brainwashed very easily. Too easily, I think, but I could never understand people who join cults, so I may be wrong on that detail. But just because she loves to read and study, doesn't mean she'll take things for granted, like she does here. It should mean the opposite, actually, with her searching for answers and uncovering the deception more quickly than anyone else.

Zak doesn't see the attraction of the monks, so he wanders aimlessly and alone! Through Jabba's palace! The place where people disappear so often and wind up dead! He is chased by a brain spider, which is obviously trying to get his attention, not hurt him, and he ends up in a cell in the dungeon. With no guards nearby, he is able to pick his way free fairly easily, somehow rescuing a fellow prisoner on his way out. How did he know the security code? Jabba would never have a simple lock/unlock keypad on something like this.

My chief complaint about this story in particular, is that I could see the clues that were right in front of Zak's eyes. It was obvious that the monks were transferring the brains of criminals into the bodies of other people, allowing them to go free. It was equally obvious that the monk they trusted most would end up being the one who was doing the transfers. I also figured out very early that Tash would end up being used as a host body, yet Zak didn't figure any of this out until the very end of the book. This, even though he followed her out in the night while she killed the Imperial Regent, leaving a K-mark on his forehead, just like the wanted criminal, Karkas (which is a funny play on words). The growing rift between the two of them was obviously meant to hide some of this, but I didn't believe it. The characters were suddenly behaving strangely for no reason except to serve the plot.

Some of the details behind the transference didn't make sense, either, but are consistent with the genre, nonetheless. There's no way Tash's body has nearly enough strength to kill the Imperial Regent, even if it was controlled by a different brain. Why would Monk Grimpen put Tash and Beidlo's brains in mobile spiders, when it would be much safer for him if they sat on a shelf, as Grimpen's would ultimately end up. As it was, that was the only clue that Zak figured out, because Tash was able to get the spider to spell her name. One would also think that the Imperial regent would figure out that all of the criminals that Jabba gave him were lobotomized, with the exact same scar on their heads. I suppose that as long as he got to give a body to his superiors, he was happy.

In the climax of the book, such as it is, Zak of course watches as Hoole goes under the operating table, but is able to change his shape and get out of the restraints and defeat their captors. I liked the thrill that Zak got, later, about being able to beat up his sister, since the brain wasn't hers! However, I cannot believe that Hoole's shape-changing abilities also give him the powers that those creatures have. Where would he get the actual muscle? How would he develop real poison on his tail? On a less serious note, how do his clothes still fit when he reverts back? I'm not sure shape-shifting in any venue is really well thought out.

The part that I did like about Hoole was his candid conversation with Zak about himself. When Jabba couldn't erase the data about him and the kids, they were offered new personalities altogether. Hoole had no choice but to refuse, because his species has to remember who they are inside at all times as they change their outward appearance.

In the end, Hoole buys Tash's brain back into her body with the scroll that Jabba wanted translated. With that betrayal, they must not only be running from the Empire in future books, but from Jabba's bounties, as well!

Speaking of Jabba, we know that he can speak Basic, since we've seen it in other books (which ones, I can't recall), yet he would never do so in a public audience. Speaking Huttese puts him at an advantage, and since he knows he is superior to the Imperial regent, he would stick to that. Even in the private conversations with Karkas, he wouldn't stoop so low.

There was something different about this book, compared to the ones that preceded it, in that there were no characters from the original trilogy to save the day! Boba Fett had a cameo, and Jabba was featured, so it wasn't completely without reference, yet both were featured in a previous book. I hope this is a permanent departure for the series.

There were definitely some good moments in this book, but they were dulled by the lack of reasoning that was required from the characters to complete the plot. For people who were supposed to be on the lookout, because Jabba's palace was "dangerous", they seemed pretty oblivious to any of the danger. I was surprised that they didn't end up in the droid torture chamber, as real "galaxy of fear" for droid-kind, especially their former baby-sitter, who was released from service after the havoc from their last adventures.

I wouldn't mind more mystery books along these lines, especially investigating other places we've visited in the movies, but I hope everybody is more alert, and that Hoole listens to the inevitable warnings that Tash and Zak will bring to him. I think this was something he promised to do in the last books, but I don't see it happening yet.

 
   

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