Monday, December 29, 2014

Book Review: SPLINTER OF THE MIND'S EYE (1978, Alan Dean Foster)

Stars:  3 of 5.
Length:  199 pages.
Publisher:  Del Rey/Ballantine, NY.
Tag-line: "Stranded on a jungle planet, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia found themselves desperately racing Imperial stormtroopers to claim a gem that had mysterious powers over THE FORCE"

Now this is a true curiosity.  A quickie paperback sequel to STAR WARS that used inside info of George Lucas' original drafts of the script (with his blessing) to build a smaller, more intimate storyline that might have been the actual movie sequel to STAR WARS had the first film not been such a resounding success.

The plot follows Luke, Leia, C-3PO, and R2-D2 as they travel to the Circarpous system to spread the Rebellion and recover a mysterious force-focusing crystal on the planet Mimban.  Darth Vader makes a brief appearance at the end, also hunting for the crystal.  Ben Kenobi is mentioned a few times, though Han and Chewbacca are nowhere to be found (Han warrants one mention only, on the penultimate page, when Luke argues in passing, "I know another man, a smuggler and a pirate, who once thought the same way as you.").  

It's a strange, quick read (it's one of those books you can finish in an hour and a half) that feels sort of quaint (droids are persistently called 'droids throughout, for instance) in light of the actual STAR WARS sequels, and any die hard fan will find much amusement in its pages.  Therefore, without further ado, here are my ten strangest/most hideous/favorite things about SPLINTER OF THE MIND'S EYE:

#10.  The level of self-seriousness.  First off, the title: SPLINTER OF THE MIND'S EYE.  It's already striving for something greater than "STAR WARS." STAR WARS gets straight to the point: you got yer stars, you got yer wars, and there you go.  "SPLINTER OF THE MIND'S EYE" sounds partway between a Tennessee Williams play and a Daphne Du Maurier short story and a Philip K. Dick novel. This seriousness sometimes extends to the prose.  For instance, the opening line had me chuckling out loud:

"How beautiful was the universe, Luke thought.  How beautifully flowing, glorious, and aglow like the robe of a queen."

Now, in context, the first movie began with pew-pew laser-blastin' spacecraft screaming across a field of stars...  that I've always considered to be much like like the robe of a queen.

Pictured: the robe of a queen.


#9.  The names.  Alan Dean Foster definitely nails Lucas' (more recent) propensity for unwieldy names:  Circarpousians, Kaiburr Crystals, The Temple of Pomojema, Captain-Supervisor Grammel...  er– Captain-Supervisor Grammel?  Seriously?  There is no precedent in the first film for the rank of Captain-Supervisor.  That's unwieldiness for unwieldiness' sake. And I kinda like that.

#8.  So much Luke and Leia romance.  SO MUCH LUKE AND LEIA ROMANCE.

This was more than enough already.

I realize that they peck in STAR WARS and kiss in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and that we don't know their actual sibling relationship until halfway through RETURN OF THE JEDI, but in retrospect this stuff is extraordinarily awkward, and most of it feels culled from a trashy Harlequin paperback:
"The other [Leia]...  whenever he looked at her, the other caused emotions to boil within him like soup too long on the fire, no matter if she was separated from him by near vacuum as at present or by only an arm's length in a conference room."

"Awkwardly pressed up against him, the Princess seemed to take no notice of their proximity.  In the dampness, though, her body heat was near palpable to Luke and he had to force himself to keep his attention on what he was doing."
"Disheveled and caked with mud from the waist down, she was still beautiful."

Luke does some sleeper creepin':

"It was not the face of a Princess and a Senator or a leader of the Rebel Alliance, but instead that of a chilled child.  Moistly parted in sleep, her lips seemed to beckon to him.  He leaned closer, seeking refuge from the damp green and brown of the swamp in the hypnotic redness."

At one point Luke and Leia must (?!) undress in front of each other:

"She put her hands on seal-curve hips, cocked her head to one side and stared meaningfully at him.  'Oh,' he murmured, half-smiling.  He turned away and continued undressing."

At another point, in a great leap forward for gender relations, Leia must role-play as Luke's servant-girl in order to fool the local authorites:

"He thought furiously.  'No, she's... uh, I bought her.'  Leia twitched, stared at him a moment before returning resolutely to her food.  'Yes, she's a servant of mine.  Spent all my earnings on her.' ... Her shoulders shook.  'But she was the best I could afford.  And she's kind of amusing to have around, though she tends to get out of line at times and I have to slap her down.'

#7.  As a writer myself, I'm always on the lookout for bad sentences, the sort that jut out of the page and fall straight on their faces.  Usually, they are ambitious sentences; a simple sentence has fewer ways in which it can go wrong.  In any event, bad sentences can happen to good writers, and Alan Dean Foster is no exception:

"While most of it tasted like reprocessed X-Wing fuselage insulation, a couple of the subterranean gourmet delights were downright flavorful."
"We could find ourselves marooned forever on this empty world, without companionship, without knowledge tapes, without... without lubricants!"

"She did as she was told, the motion generating squelching sounds from the bog."

"Air!  Most delicious of gases, it filled his starved lungs, those weakened bellows pumping harder with every fresh breath."

"Swear it!" She [Leia] demanded, her voice that of a steel kitten."

#6.  Pre-Yoda speak.  At one point, Luke pontificates, "Survive we will, if the Force is with us."  The man hasn't even met Yoda yet!


#5.  Lovecraft references.  At one point, beloved Lovecraft descriptors like "eldritch," "stygian," "abyssal," and  "sepulchral" appear within the same paragraph.  The only one missing is "Cyclopean."  As they say, everybody loves Lovecraft.


#4.  Brief social commentary.  On the planet Mimban, the underclass' plight is addressed:
"She gestured, and they saw the degraded, crawling beggars pleading with patrons for a chance to perform the most servile acts in return for a sip of alcohol."
Holy shit– Imperial policies have created a society of deviant hobo drunks!

The STAR WARS universe and this guy seem like they'd be a good fit.


#3.  After cutting off a ruffian's hand with his lightsaber, the Mimban locals give Luke the nickname "Saberman."  Boy, I wish that name would've stuck!

"Use the force, Saberman."


#2.  Foster is forced to expand on little throwaway bits from the first movie because at this point, it represents the entirety of his source text.  Some of these are actually well-developed.

For instance, Leia is basically suffering PTSD from her encounter with the interrogation droid in the first STAR WARS movie. ("Small black worms crawled through her brain...the machine drifting into her holding cell.  The remorseless black machine, illegal, concocted by twisted Imperial scientists in defiance of every code, legal and moral... Screaming, screaming, screaming never to stop she was...").

Later, she makes Luke promise to murder her ("put that saber at your hip to my throat") if she's captured by Vader, because she won't be taken alive again.

Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) mentions the Emperor disbanding the Imperial Senate in the first STAR WARS.  In SPLINTER OF THE MIND'S EYE, Foster tries to address how this is putting undue pressure on the local system Governors, who no longer have Senate infrastructure and don't always have access to Imperial military.  While it's kind of bureaucratic in a PHANTOM MENACE kind of way, I appreciate the effort.


#2.  Darth Vader is a total perv.  I guess the dudes's always been into leather and bondage and asphyxiation and could definitely fit in with the gas mask fetishists.

I would never say that his cape reminded me of the robe of a queen, however.

Maybe this whole time his cape has really been just one big handkerchief indicating what sorts of scenes he's into.

Would you say, "leather daddy?"

Anywho, in SPLINTER OF THE MIND'S EYE, while fighting Princess Leia Vader says the following:
"'Foolish infant.  The Force is with me, not you.'  But, he [Vader] shrugged amiably, "we will see."  He assumed a position of readiness.  'Come, girl-woman... amuse me.'"
Er–  did you really just say that?

"Yes," Vader observed, perverse amusement in his voice, "I can see that you do.  I am truly sorry I have nothing as elaborate to treat you to at this time.  'However,'  he added, swinging his weapon lightly, 'one can do some interesting things with a saber, you know.  I'll do my best to show you all of them if you'll cooperate by not passing out.'
WHAT!?!


In lieu of comment, I will simply remind you that we never really knew what went on inside that chamber.


#1.  Okay, so we seem to have a mix of progressive and backward thinking running throughout this book.  It takes a hardline stance on torture and Imperial hobo policy, but on servant-girl fantasy and daddy-daughter-dance protocol, it's a tad sexist.

Let me back that up: it becomes a plot element that Princess Leia can't swim.  And Luke can.  Luke, who spent the entirety of his life thus far on a desert planet.  As in, "lacking in bodies of water whatsoever."  From our brief glimpse of Leia's planet Alderaan before it's destroyed,

we can see that it's at least 75% water.  Plus, Leia clearly had Alderaanian dressage tauntauns and palace diving pools and water polo lessons and lakeshore property and sailing lessons and summer homes and all that jazz, and you don't experience all that without learning how to swim.

In SPLINTER OF THE MIND'S EYE, Luke demonstrates his lifeguarding skills on Leia and she says, "I'm sorry I was so much trouble.  I'm sorry I did so much screaming.  I... usually have better control of myself than that."  In the first STAR WARS movie we saw Leia survive torture, murder a stormtrooper at point-blank range while his blaster was set to 'stun,' and coordinate a war room.  She's a two-fisted Hawksian heroine, for sure, and she doesn't need a farm boy to fish her out of a swamp.

At least she gets to take on Darth Vader with Luke's– I mean Saberman's– lightsaber at the end, but she only holds him to a draw till Luke can extract himself from the rock that has pinned him. Luke finishes the battle but cutting off Vader's arm and knocking him down a mineshaft, which is a pretty stock ending, but what are you gonna do.

Three stars.

–Sean Gill

6 comments:

Cannon said...

Huh. I never would've taken you for one to dabble in Star Wars novels.

Never got into them myself. Star Wars without the onscreen B-movie barked dialogue or dopey dramatic presentation -- not to mention Williams' musical narrative -- just doesn't feel like Star Wars to me. Though I've often taken a shine to some of those novel covers artwork, the book in question being a prime example.

Also, this be my first time ever hearing the term "steel kitten" ...and I think I like it.

Sean Gill said...

Cannon,

I dabble in trashy film novelizations every so often (usually the ones based on John Carpenter films), and as a 15¢ thrift store find, this seemed to fit the bill. Indeed you're right that it doesn't feel like a STAR WARS film, but I found much amusement in this officially sanctioned cheese.

Jason said...

Holy shit....I must find this book immediately. Awesome review!

Sean Gill said...

Jason,

I can't really vouch for the book being "worth your time," per sé, but thanks for stopping by!

J.D. Lafrance said...

Nice! I loved this book as a kid when I was hungry for anything STAR WARS related. At the time I didn't notice the dodgy writing and weird jumps in continuity, etc. but when you look at it in retrospect it is an odd duck of a book.

Personally, I prefer Brian Daley's trilogy of Han Solo novels that came out in the late '70s. I picked up the omnibus edition that collects 'em all on Amazon marketplace for $1.50 and it was worth it. A fun read, esp. when you realize that these were written before EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

I think you might dig 'em.

There's also a trilogy of Lando novels, too, which I haven't read but they're next on my hit list.

Sean Gill said...

J.D.,

Glad you enjoyed! I never read the Han Solo or Lando novels, though they sound pretty entertaining. I'm still trying to hunt for Alan Dean Foster's THE THING movie novelization at a reasonable price, too.