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VECTOR PRIME

A novel by R.A. Salvatore (1999, Del Rey)
Book 1 in the New Jedi Order Main Sequence
25 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

A new enemy begins a galactic invasion, while Luke struggles with a decision to reform the Jedi Council.

 

 

3 stars+

September 6th to 11th, 2001

 
   

So easy to read, such a terrific characterization of the Yuuzhan Vong agents, but it starts to fade back into standard Star Wars fare about halfway through, and ends on a questionable note.

Before I even start this review, I want to comment on two things. First, the covers -stunning, absolutely beautiful!  I think the art work that has gone into the covers of every New Jedi Order book has been fabulous.  There is so much detail, especially on this one.  I could study it for a long time!

The second item concerns the map at the front of each book -I hate it, and I don't think they should have tried to do something like that.  Those planets are not situated in two-dimensional space.  If there are space lanes, they are not straight curving arcs.  As listed, even the closest planets are thousands of light-years away from each other, necessitated by being able to see individual dots on the size of two pages.  As it is, there is barely room to mention the rest of the planets that are to be mentioned in future books.  I don't think they should have tried to do this kind of thing.  But at least they put the location of Hutt Space near Tatooine... though Naboo is nowhere to be seen.

The first half of Vector Prime could probably be read within a single day.  It is so well written, with such deep characterization, especially of the "bad guys", that I was expecting to give out another five star rating, the first for a Star Wars novel in a long time.  But when the author has Jacen, Jaina and Anakin jump into an asteroid endurance game, I wondered where the aforementioned author had gone to.  It was obvious that this was setup for something down the line, and I wasn't surprised to see it happen again.  Having Jacen and Jaina steal the ice boring machine and rescue the two human prisoners was almost stretching it, like the authors of the Correllian Trilogy and The Crystal Star did. But here, they are much older, teenagers, and they are trained Jedi.  I guess that is excusable.

Although the author was easy to read, he did use long sentences, and Vong language, both of which interrupted the smooth flow of the story.  I guess I got used to it, though, because it ceased to intrude a few chapters in.

I wonder if Nom Anor will be featured in any future books.  He is the Yuuzhan Vong Executor, the person who initiates their plans for this invasion, and whom everybody seems to report to.  He wears a human disguise, so that he can blend in with the galactic citizens and cause unrest, judging and measuring the New Republic's strength.  When the Vong advanced force is defeated at the end of the book, he doesn't seem worried.  Although it is not explicitly stated, I think more and more ships are on their way.  Otherwise, the New Jedi Order would quickly be over.  However, the way he states it, that his people can send over many more ships, really insinuates that he is in constant contact with his people, and that they could be on their way over in a matter of days or weeks.  Even distances within the galaxy take days to travel.  Going between the galaxies should take years in hyperspace.  

But Nom Anor is not discovered.  He instigates a civil war on a double planet, and cripples a Mon Calamari cruiser with a single explosive-packed ship.  And he is not discovered to be a Yuuzhan Vong.  

Yommin Carr is a different story.  He has infiltrated an organization that studies the galactic rim for signs of extra-galactic transits, and is posted at a station where he can observe the Vong invasion fleet entering the galaxy.  It is through him that we get a terrific view of Vong culture, as he kills his colleagues and transforms the planet into a chemical mess.  

War is life for the Yuuzhan Vong.  Status is shown by the number of scars they have on their person, having survived many battles.  It seems to me, though, that the best person would have only a few scars, if he managed to avoid his enemy's blade.  But I guess standard procedure would be to inflict a wound on himself, then.  They also tattoo their bodies, making them apparently gruesome to look at (for humans, but probably not for many other species).  They remind me of the species we met in the Black Fleet Crisis in their culture.

One huge difference, however, is the use of completely non-mechanical devices.  Organic beings are trained as weapons, starships, and personal gear.  There is no mechanical or electronic creation at all.  This is terrific.  I loved the descriptions of the various organisms that had been adapted for the multitude of uses.  We had spacesuits, breathing symbionts, worldships, starfighters, tube-like passageways, projectile weapons, sticky living goo, a semi-rigid staff that seemed to be able to hold onto a lightsaber blade, and hyperspace-capable creatures that could lock onto a gravity well.  Pretty neat stuff.

What I don't like is the war coordinator.  A giant monster with tentacles that can coordinate the war, and link vessels together with a power akin to the Force (but is not the Force -I wish it was, for it would make more sense).  It seems to command obedience from the military it is guiding, and the Yuuzhan Vong follow it blindly, and when it dies, they are disrupted completely.  But Vong like Nom Anor seem to be better suited for this kind of command.  It doesn't make sense, and I don't think it is necessary (except for the questionable ending) for this creature to exist.  A council would be better suited.  As it is, although it isn't mentioned, I believe the war coordinator has spawned, and future war coordinators may lead the continuing war in future books.  I also object to the characterization of the war coordinator.  Nom Anor says that it would be disastrous for their war effort if the creature was destroyed.  That sends alerts into my mind when I read a book.  Some other characters seem to have read his mind, too, because in the end, they decide it must be destroyed.

Among our heroes, I really enjoyed the banter between Han and Chewbacca, and between them and Luke, especially when Anakin has damaged the Millennium Falcon landing on Coruscant.  But the best chatter comes between the two boys, Anakin and Jacen.  I guess the publishers have given up on Jacen being a person who is best with animals, and his sister with technical elements.  Jaina has retained her ace flying skills, but I wonder if Jacen would be well served to do the communicating with the living Vong creatures.  The Vong seem to be Force-immune, but their creatures are not.  

Which brings me to another questionable observation.  The Vong are not readable by the Force.  This is fine, because we have precedent, the ysalamiri from Heir to the Empire and subsequent books. I wonder if we will discover that they have a Force-sensitive enemy who was vanquished eons ago, so that they could evolve this way, as the ysalamiri's predators did.  But even if this is true, Mara's trick of using the Force to push him should have worked, because he is a physical object.  If she could still move a chair with the Force, she could throw him, too.  This is a delicate matter, and I hope they don't botch it in future books.  In light of The Phantom Menace, which was not entirely available when this book was written, I wonder if these creatures could exist at all, without midi-chlorians.  Only time will tell. 

But back to the twins and their brother, Jacen and Anakin have completely different views of the Force.  I absolutely loved the way they argued, each with a perfectly reasonable opinion.  Personally, I think they are both right, that the Force is something to be used for self-perfecting, and for external use, to help people with their gifts.  Jacen is against the idea of the Jedi Council, because it would regulate the Jedi, forcing them to help out in external situations.  He argues with Anakin, and he argues it with Luke.  His arguments are very well written.

But Luke feels the Jedi Council is necessary, mainly because his Jedi are deciding for themselves what is required of them.  For example, Kyp Durron and his apprentice Miko are constantly dealing with smugglers, taking the law into their own hands, and forming a ridiculous squadron that he calls the Dozen and Two Avengers.  He even hopes Jacen and Jaina would join!  

He is the excuse to get Luke, Mara, Han, Leia, Chewie, the kids and the droids out to the Outer Rim, where Lando leads a legitimate business.  One other element that seems to be thrown out is Lando's girlfriend, whom I expected him to marry before now.  She was first seen in Ambush at Corellia, and then in Specter of the Past, she was given even more importance.  I guess she disappeared from the scene later.  

Lando's operation is, of course, just a few planets over (in 2D space, according to the map) from Belkadan, where Yommin Carr is waiting, and from Helska (isn't that Swedish for "Sweden"?), where the war coordinator is living.  On a distress signal sent out by Kyp, Luke and Mara go to Belkadan, discover the planet, the living communicators, the dead crewmen, and the worldship that went out to the Helska system.  Mara fights Yommin Carr and kills him, but she is weakened to the point where she can barely keep her disease at bay. (The disease was created by Nom Anor to test the resiliency of the people in this galaxy -all other tests have been fatal, but this is the first test on a Jedi.)

Jacen, Jaina and Anakin each take turns flying into an asteroid in a modified TIE fighter, which is superfluous, except to show how good a pilot Jaina is.  When the battle comes back to Lando's planet, most of the Vong fleet follows the teens into the asteroid field, and Anakin joins the three of them into a single fighting unit.  Quite remarkable, except that they never mention even the fact that in Dark Force Rising and The Last Command, Joruus C'boath connected dozens of battleships together, and it was believed that the Emperor did so as well.  The three pilots destroy all of that host, enough so that the Vong attack is sent into retreat.  We're bordering on superhuman now, and I wonder where it will lead.  Jacen is obviously rethinking his part of the debate, since he could never achieve the control that Anakin did.

The New Republic sends in a Star Destroyer to deal with the threat of the "smugglers", not believing the invasion is real.  I knew from the start that the Destroyer would be destroyed, and that Han and Luke would be the best pilots there.  Jacen uses the ice-boring machine to enter the war coordinator's world and rescue a scientist captured from Belkadan, who was conveniently told all about the Yuuzhan Vong invasion fleet, and more.  

After the New Republic fleet is destroyed, Luke, Han and the stragglers regroup, grab some of Lando's shieldships (from Dark Force Rising) and go in again, using those huge ships to evaporate enough of the planet that it freezes, thus destroying the war coordinator.  The plan works, and the Yuuzhan Vong force is destroyed or disoriented.  

I think the plan is questionable, in the least.  I could be wrong, but let me lay out my reasoning.  Yes, evaporation takes a lot of energy.  Yes, if they focus enough energy onto the planet it would evaporate.  But to say that focusing external energy on the planet would freeze its center is something I am not sure is physically possible.  The key word is external energy.  Even if that energy comes from the war coordinator, it is external, because it is not coming from the ice.  If the ice gave up energy to the war coordinator to use, which was focused back onto the surface, it might work, but then the war coordinator would be full of energy, and so would not freeze.  Conundrum?  I could be missing a fact or two, but either way, it makes for a poor resolution, because it takes a lot of speculation to figure out what they mean.  Most people will likely be with Han and Lando, who had no idea what they were trying to do.  It is as if the author said, "well, people won't understand it, but like Han and Lando, they will just move on to the next chapter and forget about it.  Don't sit there analyzing it..."  And that is not a good way to finish a book.

Of course, there is one more thing that I have avoided mentioning so far: the death of a main character.  To avoid being spoiled about this, stop here.


**** MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD****

 

 

I was spoiled to the fact that Chewie is killed by the Star Wars Insider, a magazine that typically avoids telling the huge plot secrets of Star Wars, even when the publishers know these secrets.  They talked about it as if it was common knowledge, even though the book was just barely released in hardcover.  What about those fans who would wait until the book appeared in softcover?  What about those who wouldn't read it for years to come (I guess that's not fair, as it's the readers' fault if they wait that long...).

I thought his death was treated fairly well, but only after he was dead.  The Vong have those creatures that can lock onto a gravity well.  They normally use it to travel between the stars, but it can also be used to strip a vessel of its shields (which is why the Star Destroyer and its fleet was ravaged as it was -but Luke's sudden intuition was way too easy), and it can latch onto a moon and a planet, and pull the two together.  Lando convinces Han, Chewie and Anakin to take a trip to this planet (they don't know this is happening) to deliver some supplies.  Of course, they arrive just as the moon is dropping.  Anakin finds the creature (and a strange old man jumps into a volcanic crater on top of it with a thermal detonator), and it is destroyed (Anakin uses the Force to tell that the creature is dead, which is why I said earlier that the Vong creatures can be sensed with the Force).  

But it is too late for this planet.  That they actually have enough ships to evacuate ten thousand people from the planet is hard to believe, when the Falcon was probably the largest ship in the area.  Han is selfless in taking so many people on board, but he is able to travel from the cockpit to the landing ramp several times while off the ground, so he couldn't have had too many people.  Anakin is even less selfish, as when they are about to take off, he jumps down from the Falcon to rescue others.  However, it got tedious reading about him nearly getting onto the ship, then jumping off again, and again, and again...  All the while, Chewie follows him, making sure he is safe.  I don't believe the Falcon could hold position by itself, either high in the atmosphere and especially meters off the ground.  But Han finally requires Anakin to take the controls, and he reaches a hand to Chewie.  But the ship is blown aside, and finally, Anakin sees the moon coming crashing down, and has to leave...  and Chewie is left behind.  

Is this heroic?  Yes, but it was boring to read!  However, the aftermath was really interesting.  Anakin is so full of guilt that I'm surprised he is able to operate in the later battle.  Han is so angry that I'm surprised he didn't kill Anakin on the spot.  It was really interesting to see how the two of them interacted.  They made second-guesses, decided to turn around, but were forced back to guard duty by pursuing vessels and by the sudden appearance of Kyp's nearly destroyed ship.  They couldn't do anything, and it will take a long while for Han to get used to this.  

I was near tears myself when Anakin describes the scene to his siblings.  I felt foolish and guilty myself when I was mourning Chewie the next day, and saw an airplane smash into the World Trade Center in New York.  My grief was for a fictional character.  To say it was eclipsed is a gross understatement.  I had to reread the eulogy again afterwards, because my mind was not on Chewie's death the day I first read it.  Other images were haunting my thoughts.  

But it was a nice eulogy, especially with regards to Han's hat, which Chewie used to steal... and would never steal again...

This book was not about events, really, except to establish the Yuuzhan Vong invasion, and to provide a satisfactory conclusion to a self-contained novel.  The missions were satisfactory, but the resolution was not.  The beginning of the book worked so well because it was almost exclusively about characters.  I wish it would have continued that way all the way to its conclusion.  Such an easy book to read; the style of this author is terrific.  But he had to resort to strange and questionable tactics to conclude it.  That, is disappointing.  But overall, the book was a success.  I really enjoyed it, and it is a pretty good kick-start to the New Jedi Order.  I look forward to the continuing story with interest and just a little trepidation.  I hope they can tread the fine lines they have drawn here with a good balance.

 
   

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