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A novel by Greg Bear (2000, Del Rey)
29 years before Star Wars: A New Hope

Obi-Wan takes Anakin to a planet where they make personalized ships, which are desired by corrupt Republic forces, while trying to locate a missing Jedi.



1 star

Read September 20th to 25th, 2001  
    I don't think I've ever been so bored reading a Star Wars book before. There was nothing that really interested me at all. Combined with this is the author's propensity for divulging every fact about whatever he is discussing all at once, and a lackluster and unsatisfying conclusion.  This is a book that I am thankful I didn't buy, because it was barely worth borrowing from the library.

The author tries to be insightful into our characters, namely Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. Not much else matters, because we get inside their minds. And, from the author's point of view, at least, not much is going on in there. Anakin is always looking for adventure, he loves winning at things, especially racing, and most importantly, he is not stimulated enough. Obi-Wan is exasperated with his young Padawan. Perhaps he was not ready to take on such a responsibility. He has not grown; instead, he has floundered. He is still at the stage where he was three years ago, when Qui-Gon died, and if anything, he has gone deeper inside, withdrawing from the world around him. He meditates, but other than that, spends all his time chasing after Anakin. They both need a break.

And in this book, they get to do some soul searching, which is good. Unfortunately, there is not enough to work with, and the stupid story plot keeps getting in the way. So does the author's style. I have always hated the use of small chapters, or small sections of a chapter, which make the book seem to be cut like a movie. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the first chapter, which is ironically the longest in the book. The author spends just a few paragraphs describing Anakin's situation, about to enter a dangerous and illegal race, when we cut to Obi-Wan running through the Jedi Temple. Back to Anakin, who is about to get into a fight for a couple more paragraphs, when we cut over to Obi-Wan, still looking for his Padawan. We flip flop between the two, never getting more than two pages at a time, when we are thrust into the mind of the other. Often throughout the book I was not paying enough attention (not a good sign) and thought I was reading about Anakin when in fact I was reading about his master.

Anakin gets into the fight at the illegal race with a new species called a Blood Carver, who was charged by some unknown person to kill him. I never got the feeling that I knew why they wanted Anakin dead. At the end of The Phantom Menace, Palpatine said he would be watching Anakin's development with interest, and we know that he will take over the role of teacher in a later movie. So why single the young boy out for assassination? It would be better to send the Blood Carver after Obi-Wan, and force the boy to get a new master, which would create even more tumultuous feelings within him. Even later, when they meet with the Blood Carver again, everything seems muddled. With help from Obi-Wan at the race, Anakin defeats the Blood Carver, and they leave it for dead at the bottom of the garbage chute. The idea of the garbage chute is neat, but it conflicts with the rest of the books that deal with Coruscant, especially Dark Force Rising, where the council cannot let the planetary shield down for fear of Thrawn's cloaked asteroids. Did the garbage just accumulate? Or did they have a different system by then (which wouldn't make sense, either). 

Because of this altercation, the latest in a whole series of them, the Jedi Council, led by Mace Windu, and prodded along by another old Jedi (Thracia Cho Leem) who has a missing apprentice, sends the pair out to find the planet where the apprentice disappeared. This is not a reward, but a mission to test Anakin's limits, to test him in the field, to help him find himself.

Vergere had gone to a strange planet called Zonama Sekot, where they build great living spaceships which bond with their pilots. The planet was attacked by an unknown enemy, called the Far Outsiders, who appear to be the Yuuzhan Vong. Anakin finds messages from Vergere, but they never find the Jedi, because she went off with the aliens. She was intrigued by them and their living starships, and I would not be surprised if she appeared in some of the New Jedi Order books to help save the day at some point. It is interesting to note the advanced force for the Vong (if that's what they were) were in the galaxy sixty years before they made their invasion. That's a long time to do reconnaissance, and it makes me wonder why they bothered testing Mara Jade for weakness, when they must have tested other Jedi over the years, and watched the Emperor, and all the other battle fleets that tested the New Republic. And if the Jedi Council and others had some of Sekot's living ships, even dead ones, the technology would not be brand new, "unlike anything we have seen before" in Vector Prime. Though I expect the knowledge was lost at some point, the Emperor must have kept records somewhere. 

That is beside the point, because once they get to Sekot, the two Jedi quickly forget about Vergere, except to pay lip-service to her after every few chapters, as if the author had to remind himself why they were there.

In order to find information about Vergere, they ask the Sekotans (shouldn't that be Sekotians?) to build them a ship. And we spend long, laborious chapters taking part in the ship-building rituals, watching the spore-seeds attach themselves to Anakin and Obi-Wan, to the ship designer, a mental projection of the Magister of the planet (because the Magister is actually dead from the Vong invasion), to the spore-exploders (huh?) and the shapers and the builders. Boring......... We get to learn every person's name, and a little about them, which could have been neat, except for the author's propensity for divulging all the information at once. 

He starts this at the beginning, where we get reminded of Qui-Gon's defeat, Anakin's love of pod-racing, and other background material from The Phantom Menace. I would have preferred to remember the old stuff and learn the new stuff at a more leisurely pace, perhaps over several well-written chapters. Instead it is served on a huge platter, and we have to digest it all at once. There are also many inconsistencies within the book itself. At one point, the young girl says that they can let Anakin sleep for a long while, but Obi-Wan decides to wake him immediately. Then we are told that they are late! The author seems to have forgotten how much time he has reported in some chapters, as time occurs at a different scale at different times in the book and for different characters.

Anther main character includes an alien who taxis Jedi around, and who has a strange lifestyle, eating his young, who think it is an honor, after which he gives birth to their spawn, and so forth. I was so bored with this guy, and had no interest in learning Anakin's prejudices and Obi-Wan's acceptance of it. 

And then we have the main villains, who get the most terrible ending of a story I've seen in a Star Wars book. Raith Sienar, meets up with his old classmate, a man by the name of Tarkin. Sienar is undoubtedly the same man who would go on to create Sienar Fleet Systems, manufacturer of TIE Fighters, according to later books. Tarkin, of course, is the same man who would create the Death Star and all sorts of fearful legislation. At first, I thought it was a big conflict when Sienar mentions his idea for a Death Star, because it has been established that Bevel Lemelisk (see Jedi Search and Darksaber) was its designer. But designer doesn't mean that it was his brainchild. Tarkin takes the idea as his own, and Sienar doesn't complain. These two appear to be at each others' throats for most of the book, but then they deny being enemies. We only get inside Sienar's head, so we see his paranoia, and we don't really get to know exactly what Tarkin had planned. We do know that it was Tarkin who sent the Blood Carver after Anakin, but we don't really know why.

What is divulged to us in this mess of planning is that Tarkin wants the secrets of these living ships, which are much faster than ordinary ones. When their observation of the planet becomes too boring (for the reader, at least, and, apparently, Sienar), the Blood Carver is sent down to procure a ship, but the spores don't like it. So they decide to go out in force, and when Tarkin arrives, they take the planet to battle.

Fortunately, Anakin's ship has been made by then. He is kidnapped by the Blood Carver, and ends up killing the beast, using what we are led to believe is the Dark side of the Force, hate and anger. Unfortunately, there is very little follow-up on this; Anakin gets counseling by a Jedi Master at the end, for this was his first kill, but there is nothing told about Anakin's state after that. 

And the idea of a living planet manifested into a living being so that it can communicate with others? I have seen that idea before, though I don't remember where. I don't like it at all. I think it would have been much better if the trees, those huge hulks, had been the intelligence on the planet. Now, we have intelligent spores, hunter-gatherer trees, and other things, but they are all part of "Sekot", the planet. The Magister turns out to be a rogue Jedi, who believed much the way Jacen Solo believed in Vector Prime, that the Jedi should use their powers for introspection, and that the Jedi Council was not necessary. Unfortunately, we don't get any debates like we did between Jacen and his brother. 

I didn't like the idea of expelling somebody from the ranks of the Jedi in The Phantom Menace (or, in that case, not allowing a Force-sensitive being to become a Jedi), and I like it even less here. If they half-trained somebody, then expelled them, wouldn't they likely fall to the Dark Side? And isn't that dangerous? With one Dark Jedi, the galaxy could collapse, as it would with the Emperor. Certainly they have seen their fair share of Dark Jedi if they don't let everyone complete their training?

At least a couple of mysteries from The Phantom Menace were cleared up. The most important one was the stealth of the Sith. It is mentioned that the Jedi Council knows that the Sith can hide themselves from view, which explains why Palpatine was not known to the Council as a Sith Lord, even as they presided over him becoming Chancellor. Obi-Wan also knows that Jedi Masters can fade away, and that Qui-Gon didn't, and so he can't expect to hear from him in the afterlife. It is not explained how the Jedi could fade and come back in spirit form, but I expect to hear something about that in Attack of the Clones. 

One thing the author put in here just for the sake of pleasing the readers was Obi-Wan's desire to retire to a desert planet for a year when he was through with his Padawan. Surprise -he is going to spend more time in the desert than a single year! There were a couple of others scattered around, too, but I don't remember them at the moment, though I could point them out when they appeared. And each time, I thought to myself that it wasn't necessary to do this, but was kind of neat to see the reference.

The ending of the book is a complete fizzle. The planet fends off the attack, then they activate some huge hyperspace engines and disappear from the known galaxy! The idea of planetary engines and repulsors was explored in Showdown at Centerpoint, where I detested the idea. There, the author went into great detail, because they were integral to the plot, so it seemed like an even worse idea. At least they don't play a huge role in this book, except to allow the planet to escape, but to resurrect the concept was not a a good idea, at all. 

Anakin is captured when Tarkin takes his ship, but with Obi-Wan's help, they cripple the transport and rescue the ship, heading back to the planet, then far away from it, in a silly zigzag of motion. The ship is damaged, and it dies after they put down on a secret Jedi hideaway near Coruscant (Seline -will we see this in the Jedi Apprentice series? Qui-Gon led Obi-Wan here years ago...). We get a strange outline-form of a Coda, which looks like the author's notes for future chapters, and he got too lazy to write them. Does everybody live happily ever after? Not really, and I doubt we'll hear from anybody other than Obi-Wan and Anakin in the future. 

Why bother? That's what I kept asking myself when reading this book. Does it have a story? Kind of; one that I didn't like. Did it have characterization? Yes, but when you look at it, there is not really much there, just the same thing over and over again. Does it have a resolution? To the story, no. To the characters... well, Anakin learns that he has something dark within himself, and that he should learn to train harder, and focus less on cheap thrills; but I think the desires he had were manufactured more for this story, so that we could have that sort of growth, instead of being inherent to the character. Obi-Wan learns that he has stagnated, which is really the only good thing about this book. He has to continue to grow, himself, and stop being a baby-sitter for his Padawan. The book tried to be intellectual, and it tried to be character-oriented. I don't think it succeeded on either front. Worse, it placed the characters in a setting that was uninteresting and filled it with unlikely and uninteresting stimuli, and didn't resolve any of it. 

I have never read a book by Greg Bear before, but I had several on my reading list for the future. I have just pushed those books far down the list, for a time when I perhaps have forgotten about this one. Maybe he just had trouble writing in the Star Wars universe. I hope so. Let's stay away from this kind of book in the future, can we?

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