My descent into nerddom began a long time a go in a galaxy far far away when my Dad started watching and old copy of The Empire Strikes Back he had taped off of the TV sometime in the in the mid-80’s. I was fascinated by these weird beasts that ran on two legs and giant robots that looked like gangly elephants. Not to mention the beautiful city in the clouds. I had no idea what science fiction was. All I knew was I wanted an X-wing.
My brother, who is 10 years my junior, began his Star War fanaticism similarly, but by the time he got around to it the old tape was fuzzy and worn. There was so much snow on Hoth it was hard to tell what was going on. He probably doesn’t remember that tape. He was three when the movies were re-released for the 20th anniversary.
What he does remember is the Han Solo trilogy of novels that was also released in 1997.
I never bothered to read these novels, partly because I thought it was nerdy, and partly because I didn’t care what someone other than George Lucas had to say about my favorite pirate smuggler. I don’t want none of this hypothetical baloney. So I was simultaneously making fun of nerds and being very nerdy. For shame.
Fast forward 13 years (wow, that long) and I find myself clutching this very same book at the behest of my bro.
With no practical reasoning I have always considered authors of novels within established realms to be talentless creatures incapable of publishing based on their own merits. After reading The Paradise Snare I have come to the conclusion that this may be a bit harsh. Ann Carol Crispin won’t be winning any Pulitzers any time soon, but she knows how to tell a story. Though I suspect that like many of her Star Wars universe compatriots she was given a rough outline of the story by the big bearded man himself. Regardless, The Paradise Snare successfully carries on the long tradition of intriguing, if poorly written, sci fi.
The whole point of this trilogy is to provide the often speculated back story of the “scruffy” but lovable Han Solo, so what better place to start but aboard a large ship full of a relatively organized band of the lowest scum of the galaxy. Crispin informs us that young Han was an orphan taken from his home planet by a space faring pirate and basically became a slave. He was dumped on a world and forced to work as a beggar, pick pocket, burglar, and con man successively and didn’t even know his last name. His only friend was SURPRISE! a female wookie who treated him like the son she’d actually finished raising a couple hundred years ago. The problem with writing a story that has a predetermined conclusion, especially one designed to develop an already loved character, is you have to force the story to go in a certain direction. Lucas seemed to struggle with this throughout Episodes I, II, and III. How do you make Anakin loveable then slowly turn that love into hatred and fear?
Fortunately for Crispin Han’s transformation was already presented in A New Hope. She was merely tasked with convincing the audience that Han was a man capable of that change. She does this well. The reason Han doesn’t join the Rebel Alliance immediately in Episode IV is due to a large bounty on his head. It’s clear he has misgivings about leaving his new friends, but it’s also clear that he has no intention of flying around the galaxy with bounty hunters nipping at his heals. Until he starts listening to the battle on his cheesy 1970’s headset while plotting his course back to Hutt space. Crispin explains this behavior by showing us that the two-bit crook turned smuggler learned the lessons given by his adopted wookie mother. He can be a cruel self involved jerk, but he has a soft spot for the less fortunate.
He also has a soft spot for the ladies. This wouldn’t be a problem except the subject is approached from a woman’s perspective. Something I suspected but didn’t fully realize until starting this article. I had no idea A.C. stood for Ann Carol while reading it. Now that I think about it, I think my brother might have mentioned it way back when, thus providing me with another reason to avoid it. The problem is Han’s feelings towards women are too emotional. That is a sentence only a man can appreciate. OK granted, Han’s first true love is at the age of 19 when he finds himself living on his own for the first time.
I realize young love is unique and powerful and much to touchy feely for the mature man. But this is Han Solo here. SOLO. He’s Sean Connery, not pansy boy Craig. I’m not saying he needs to be a woman-hater. Princess Leia eats woman haters for breakfast and she does it standing up. But I don’t think he lends himself to emotional scarring. Sure he’d pick a long-legged steely eyed Corellian over Chewie any day. But it’s Han SOLO who does the leaving. He was born alone in a rain-soaked alley in the wrong sector of back water planet and he don’t need nothing from nobody. He might want a few things, but he doesn’t need them.
Giant development errors aside, Crispin is very bad at making up aliens. Two of the predominant races she creates are the Togorians, who are not in fact plaid wearing blonds with a nack for getting into trouble, and t’landa Til. The Togorians are bipedal anthropomorphic cats. Surprise, surprise, a woman comes up with a cat alien. The t’landa Til is something decidedly more bizarre. As near as I can tell, it’s an elephant with a rhino horn and “head tails” instead of large ears. And it has long dainty arms coming out of its torsoesque neck. It wouldn’t be so bad if its home world wasn’t also the home world of the Hutts. Yes, we are supposed to believe that a giant slug and diminutive elephant evolved side by side and the slug won the race to become the dominant species.
The writing was actually better than I had anticipated. Crispin has a firm grasp on the English language, and I would go so far as to put her in the same category of Stephen King. She lacks his imagination, but their talent as writers is equal. Now, if you know my thoughts on King you know what I’m about to say. Crispin’s story telling ability, as I’ve said, is quite good. She makes the characters interesting and the action sufficiently gripping. But the writing lacks a certain polish. She can describe scenes and they feel real. The actions of characters for the most part are believable. The action stutters. I find myself tripped up by an out of place phrase or awkward dialogue. The dialogue is at its worst when a Hutt is talking. It’s not “Oonta Eto Solo?” It’s “we must be careful not to over estimate the young pilot. If we lose him it will surely hurt our profits and our cousins will gain the upper hand.” How exactly does that sound in Huttese? I try to imagine it every time they talk. It’s very hard and distracting.
What will prevent more readers from finishing this story more than any other factor, is the issue with pacing. For the first 60 pages Han is stuck in one measly little freight ship that he’s not even piloting and his only diversion is dwelling on the emo story that is his childhood. I was flabbergasted when I checked to find it was only 60 pages. It felt like 300. Once he gets off this ship the pace accelerates like a freight train and the best and most exciting bit flys by in an instant. That instant did two things to me. It made me forget the monotony of the previous 200 pages and it made me want to immediately pick up volume two, The Hutt Gambit. I can’t decide if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that my brother left me all three books last time he visited. I let you know when I finished the rest.