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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Star Wars: Crosscurrent by Paul S. Kemp

 Title: Star Wars: Crosscurrent
Author: Paul S. Kemp
Reviewed Format: mass market paperback
Release Date: January 26, 2010
Pages: 320

Did you know the dark side makes you vomit?  In case you were wondering, Paul S. Kemp keeps up a healthy reminder in his debut Star Wars novel: Crosscurrent.  It’s a bit of a crossover with two different Star Wars eras (literally) meeting face to face: Sith and Legacy Era (post-Jacen government).  The book opens with more than a few chapters switching back and forth between the past (5,000 years before the Battle of Yavin) and the present (41.5 after).  Kemp introduces several characters in both eras, but it isn’t long before I was left wondering when the narrative would connect the two timelines.  What does a Sith--who I admit, I am not a fan of--three Jedi, and an Anzat have in common?  And what’s the meaning behind a strange vision of a blue-ringed planet and evil pouring from the sky?

In the spirit of adventure and magic at the heart of many Star Wars stories, the book doesn’t pick up until Khedryn Faal and Marr Idi-Shael, a pair of remarkably unremarkable fellows, make an appearance--a captain and his copilot with a modified ship (a YT-2400), a penchant for gambling, a dislike of droids, a generous dose of banter, and a heavy resignation when a Jedi approaches the pair wanting to hitch a ride.  They’re no Han Solo and Chewbacca, but the pair is cute and manage to drive the novel past the 82nd page.  Up until this point I was getting frustrated and concerned that my dislike and avoidance of all things Sith-related was going to unfairly influence how I read the rest of the book, regardless of what happened.  Ancient feuds, wayward Padawans, and Sith artifacts do not concern me nor do they grab my attention.  Not to mention all of this Harbinger and Omen nonsense was fiddling with my notion of the organic “Ship” Ben found and this new, quite clearly, mechanical war machine and part-time harvester droid carrier.  You see, the two, in my head, were quite the same thing.  Once I got that straightened out (believe me, I know the difference now), I was able to make the necessary connections and leave Omen for FOTJ to concentrate on Harbinger.

Relin, a Jedi Master with a lightsaber so ancient it makes me want to cry, is torn by the very recent death of his Padawan as he chases down another.  Bent on destroying Saes and the cargo of Lignan (a substance known to amplify Sith power) aboard Harbinger, Relin instead manages to screw up the hyperdrive in just such a way to warp their travel plans about 5,041.5 years off schedule.  As they disappear from the time in which the Great Hyperspace War existed, so, too do they disappear from the narrative until Kemp scatters the rest of his players across the board and lets them play out their destinies.

Driven by his strange Force vision of exploding evil and disembodied Jedi voices, Jaden makes nice with Khedryn and Marr.  A deal is struck when the two happen to be owners of the coordinates Jaden’s convinced are related to the odd distress signal his Jedi radar picked up.  He’s sure his vision is tied to these coordinates and the scrambled message that absolutely must be a call for help.  As the group makes their way to Fhost, so, too does Kell--a weirdly single-minded Anzat sent to do whatever he wants to get some dinner.  On the menu: essence of Jaden Korr.  As everyone gathers together separately and above the planet, a surprise appears over the horizon: Harbinger, burning, dying, but armed breaks free from its hyperspace vortex as if no time had passed.

Here’s where the novel both exceeded my expectations and then quickly let them down.  Khedryn and Marr really perked up the narrative and made the rest of the book well worth reading.  I was even enthusiastic about the Sith when our new duo became involved--not as crazy as I was about the mysterious and horror-influenced Thrawn-era Research facility, but I was devouring the novel.  This new aura of the grotesquely fascinating that Star Wars has developed a taste for (see Deathtroopers) is addicting.  Unfortunately, the insinuations of the past and my speculation are far more interesting than what actually happened.  I was excited to read more about a research facility so secret scientists were referred to by oblique titles (Dr. Black, Dr. Grey, Dr. Green, etc…), test subjects were labelled with letters from the alphabet, and experiments involving Jedi DNA were kept from the public.  How creepy and spine-tingling that Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Duology was brought fresh to our memories and a promising new dark corner of the Empire lurched to the forefront--promising until it got very, very weird.  When Alpha steps from the shadows blathering nonsense about “Mother” I felt so cheated.

I understand that cloned Jedi haven’t exactly got the best track records.  Kemp made enough references to C’Baoth to remind readers, lest we forget, that the way of cloning Jedi leads to more than just madness: it’s terrifying and clearly a no-no.  Who can forget the likes of Maara, Luuke, or that rascally clone Emperor?  They’re unstable, cause a lot of damage, death, and let’s face it: the Star Wars universe would be better off without them.  But couldn’t we just have one super bad intelligent and sneaky manipulative clone without a childish complex?  This “Mother” nonsense reeks of Dark Nest hive mentality and brings to mind C’Baoth’s bouts of petulance.  I wanted so much more from Alpha than just a crazy killer needing sacrifices for the cause who’s just shy of being Zombie-grade material.

Despite that major disappointment, I really, really loved Crosscurrent. I don’t lie when I say Khedryn and Marr saved this book for me.  Kemp favored banter, drinking, ankaraxes, and metaphorical allusions drawn from blaster fire wall stains and doors frequently referred to as mouths or eyes (not to mention: vomit--I don’t think I’ve ever read about so much dizziness, nausea, and returned lunches in a Star Wars book, or any book, ever), but overall, he wasn’t too bad!  There were some tender moments, especially between Khedryn and Marr as the two stumble in their manliness for a way to express gratitude and friendship.  It was also touching when the two Jedi protagonists feel the loss of their non-Jedi companions, quite contrary and outside of the normal “abortive emotions” so frequently seen in the literature.

Another thing that thematically made Crosscurrent stand out was Kemp’s use of obscure Star Wars characters mentioned in passing before but never really explored further (Jaden was from the Jedi Academy video game; Khedryn was a child during Outbound Flight).  That’s exactly the type of thing I’ve been wanting to see for a long time.  There are so many stories to tell in the Star Wars universe.  While they can’t always be stand alone stories separated from the big, pivotal events that churn into motion things like The New Jedi Order series, Legacy of the Force, or Fate of the Jedi, its interesting to see where they fall in the larger scale of things.  I’m still not sure how dragons fit into everything, unless Kemp is referring to the Krayt variety (feel free to enlighten me on Star Wars taxonomy), but I guess what matters most is the sentiment behind the phrasing, “There be dragons” (p. 318).

Crosscurrent is a book which really should have been released after LOTF and just before FOTJ, if only for continuity purposes, and maybe, to build anticipation for FOTJ, which, let’s face is, isn’t too impressive yet.  I’m also not sure how I feel about the e-book tie-ins for the Lost Tribe of the Sith.  I don’t like e-books and avoided reading these, but I think now I’m going to have to force myself to cross the multimedia platform if I want to be a little less confused about what’s going on with Omen.  In any event, I completely recommend this book, especially if you haven’t started FOTJ just yet, but even if you have: it’s a fun addition to the Star Wars library featuring some of the best “quality rascals” (p. 269) around and, might I say, I’m really glad Marr made it in the end.  Although I’m still a little grossed-out that Khedryn swallowed his chewstim. Urgh.

How many Jawas recommend this book?



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