Ossus Library Index Star Wars Timeline




Short novels by L. Neil Smith (1983, Del Rey Books)
Contains The Mindharp of Sharu, The Flamewind of Oseon, and The Starcave of Thonboka
10 years before Star Wars: A New Hope

Lando travels through the galaxy, inadvertently restoring a civilization, getting ambushed, and running a blockade to save some space dwellers.



Read April 26th to May 8th, 1995
The following reviews were written in July 2001:


1 star

The Mindharp of Sharu  

Not a very interesting read, complete with another sassy droid owned by a gambler who doesn't like droids but seems to enjoy having this one around (like in the Han Solo Adventures).  Wizardry abounds, disguised as technology, and Lando spends almost the whole book smoking cigars and cigarettes -when did that happen?

Essentially, Lando is conned from the very start into making a very important discovery for the natives of the Raffa system.  He wins several games of sabaac, which sets him up with a robot, but he has to go to one of the planets to collect.  Once there, he is arrested and blackmailed on false charges to find the Mindharp of legends from the natives here.  He accepts, finds information from local bar patrons and a local native who calls himself the Singer of their people, and who tries to steal the "key" to the Mindharp.  The native finally guides Lando to the planet where the Mindharp is located, and after attacking him with bows and arrows from more natives there, they enter a pyramid, where they are trapped until they have viewed days worth of museum exhibits.  Once they acquire the Mindharp, they are transported back to the planet where the Governor blackmailed him, and the robot, Vuffi Raa, brings him and his prize back.  After Lando is sent to prison, Vuffi Raa then helps him to escape, and they take off as the planet goes through a great upheaval.  Just before they leave, the native Singer explains that his people are the Sharu of legend, and that their sentience was drained from them to save them from a threat to advanced cultures.  The Mindharp was a lure to get a foreigner to release their sentience back from the orchards of life crystals.  If the author has to explain his setup in several paragraphs of dialog, then I think he has failed at telling his story properly.  

Questions abound, like why did Mohs try to kill Lando if he was indeed required to bring him back to sentience.  If the Mindharp kills the person who uses it, why put them through the museum exhibit?  And why teleport them back to the original planet?  Wouldn't the user of the Mindharp be able to use it from anywhere?  

Lando doesn't act like Lando as we know him.  This book could have been about anybody in any non-Star Wars frame of reference.  The author had him spout strange dialog, especially when he tries to make one-liner jokes throughout, as when he constantly refers to Vuffi Ra as "my little toaster" and various other barbs.  It just felt strange.  The only time I liked Vuffi Raa was when the robot was shrunk to miniature size; this also helped Lando get out of the pyramid.  But it required pages and pages of boring exploration of the little robot's condition to do.  Yuck.

In short, while the plot wasn't too bad, the characterization and writing style left me exasperated.  Slightly enjoyable, but mostly annoying.  I hope the rest of the series gets better.



1 star+

The Flamewind of Oseon  

Boring, though marginally better written than the last book.  However, didn't we do all of this before?

Let's see...  Lando is set up in a card game, is about to be charged with something he doesn't know is illegal, but is blackmailed into doing something else to avoid punishment.  Once he tries to pull off this stunt, he is nearly killed.  At the end, the conspirator confesses his long history, giving us a reason for the story.  Yup, same thing, in different clothing.  At least this time Lando gets off rich.

He and Vuffi Raa (yes, the droid is still around) wonder why bombs are constantly going off outside their ship.  But they don't bother to scan their hull every time they leave a planet.  Lando seems to be doing very well at sabaac; he won several million credits at all the games he played here.  After an invitation to the Oseon system to play with the filthy rich inhabitants, Lando is lured into the trap.  But the trap doesn't make sense, because nobody could have prepared for it.

The trap is set by two different people.  One is the "Wizard of Tund" who tried to get his hands on the Mindharp of the last book.  Is he a precursor to the "wizard" that Anakin and Tahiri meet in Vader's Fortress?  They use the same methods, namely electronic devices to simulate magic.  Anyway, the guy has a grudge against Lando from the last book, so he makes a deal with the second person to place the bombs on the Millennium Falcon.  When they fail, he poses as a trillionaire drug addict to whom Lando is forced to deliver drugs.  When Lando arrives, he is taken prisoner, and it is only through Vuffi Raa's piloting that he gets away.  Oh, and the Wizard gets away too, so he will doubtless feature in the next boring book.

The second person involved in trying to destroy the Falcon is actually after Vuffi Raa.  Through the long oration at the end, it is explained that the droid was involved in an Imperial effort to subvert a planetary population, which was completely botched and covered up.  The people there remember the droid, however, and have spent the better part of a decade tracking him down.  They attack the Falcon again and again, but fail to destroy it.  In the end, it is not clear what happens to the man, and if he will hunt Vuffi Raa down again if he gets the chance.  I couldn't tell if he bought Lando's story about being a pacifist and being required to obey his master.  I don't even know if that is true.

The Flamewind of the title is a reference to the unique phenomenon that occurs in the Oseon system.  There are no planets in orbit around this sun, only asteroids, most of them quite small, and lots of dust.  So when the star flares, which is does once a year, the result is a terrific light show throughout the system.  This is used by smugglers as a cover to deliver contraband, such as the drug that Lando is coerced into transporting.

The trouble I have with the setup is that Gepta the Wizard could not have created the persona of the drug addict, yet everybody knows the man as such, including his cover of the Flamewind.  Did he murder the man to take his place, or did he just set up another asteroid for this purpose?  If so, why such an elaborate display, with all the books?

Unlike the first book, this one required some of the Star Wars universe, but not much.  But still, if we were to replace a few choice words, it could be from any other science fiction setting.  Hyperdrive and tyrannical Empires are not that uncommon in the science fiction field.

I feel mostly the same with this book as I did with the last.  Boring, for the most part, derivative throughout (and what's with Lando's smoking?), and not funny in the slightest where we could see the author laughing at his cleverness and jokes.  "My little canopener" as a reference to Vuffi Raa was not funny in the first book.  Less so here.



1 star+

The Starcave of Thonboka  
    Definitely better than the previous books, mostly, I think, because there was no quest involved. This was a tale of revenge, and helping out a previously-helpless species. However, I'm not sure this story takes place in the Star Wars Universe at all!

The only Star Wars things about this book were the use of Lando and the Millennium Falcon, and the title of the Imperial Navy. Lando could have been anybody, the Falcon could have been any ship, and the Navy was definitely not the one we know of from the movies or from any other books. 

There are three stories here, two of which are related, and the third one gets pulled in, too. Gepta, the Wizard of Tund, has returned from the last two books, as has the survivor of the planetary massacre from the last book. Both are bent on revenge, one on Lando, for daring to get in the way (in the way of what, I haven't the faintest idea), and the other on Vuffi Ra, who is considered the butcher of that planet. They spend the whole book plotting, arguing, and being insolent to each other. Some of this was actually entertaining, as I hate the character of Gepta, so I enjoyed seeing him verbally abused. 

Lando, on the other hand, meets up with the species of Oswaft, space-dwelling creatures who inhabit the Starcave (also known as Thonboka), a "cave" of gas and dust. I wondered throughout how such a cave was possible. It is stated that only one entrance is available -but there should be an infinite amount of entrances in 3D space. But a single entrance makes it easier for a blockade. For the Imperial Navy considers this new species a large threat, because they can hop through hyperspace, they are as large as a capital ship, and their screams can destroy a starship. So the Navy is destroying the "nutrients" that enter the Starcave, slowly starving these gentle people. 

Lando smuggles in some food. How he is able to smuggle enough for millions of these giant creatures is beyond me. He teaches them how to play Sabaac (!), and proposes a plan that includes hiding in the walls of the starcave, and creating fake Oswaft shells from their bodily excretions. The former I can believe would work; the latter not. The shells were placed between two capital ships so that the two ships would fire at it, and end up hitting the other member of the pair. Huh? These are obviously not Star Destroyers, because they are destroyed by a single shot. Would the gunners actually use such a forceful blast to try and kill the Oswaft that destroying the shell would leave enough energy to also destroy another capital ship? I don't think so.

Also, the Imperial Navy seems to be controlled by Gepta! Imagine. He even threatens at one point to bring in the entire fleet! Wow, such power is at his disposal, and both Vader and the Emperor put up with this? Prince Xizor must be so very jealous!

After much of the Navy is destroyed in this way, and many Oswaft also die, Lando surrenders to Gepta, and agrees to a duel. This is such a strange thing to ask for, and even stranger to agree to. This duel actually consists of three -Gepta vs. Lando and Vuffi Ra. Vuffi Ra starts strangling Gepta, and Lando accidentally shoots the wizard in the ankle, where the true Gepta is situated. For Gepta is really a snail! He can just alter his appearance to look like a human! Uh-huh. He also apparently has lived longer than the Old Republic, 20000 years! 

While Vuffi Ra reveals at long last to the people of the massacred planet that he actually is a robot, they realize the truth and fire upon the ship of the anthropologist who instigated the massacre in the first place, who just happens to be on hand, bent on destroying all evidence (namely Vuffi Ra) that he was involved in that planet at all. They destroy him, and end up as friends playing Sabaac. 

We also learn of Vuffi Ra's origins, something that seems to be of primary importance to the author, though I couldn't care less. That the droid could not remember his origins is not surprising, but everybody seems suspicious about this fact. Droids get memory wipes all the time. There is no reason for them to remember something like that. Even C3PO didn't remember that he was created by Anakin Skywalker, and I doubt R2D2 remembered that he was from Naboo.

The final book of the trilogy follows the same route as the previous books, but with a much smaller "explanation" chapter at the end. Vuffi Ra was created by the Oswaft (how coincidental) to introduce some unknown into their boring lives. Lando now had to smoke in every single chapter -because he doesn't know how to think without a cigar, and many of the other characters also smoke. And many of the little details were just pretty stupid or contrived. 

This has not been one of the better trilogies in the Star Wars saga, even considering that there were only a few books available at the time. I cannot recommend any of the books to a Star Wars fan (unless a completist, like me), and I couldn't wait to be finished with them myself. Goodbye, Lando. I am glad somebody brought you into the Star Wars universe and into real character in the later books.

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