Heir to the Empire, Chapter 4

will: Chapter four! And we’re actually doing this thing. Look, it took me and Z a year from saying “we should do this thing” to setting up a bare-bones WordPress blog. (Although you can blame a lot of that on the fact that I spent 2014 in Japan.) But now? We’re happening. Wow.

z: Insert the beautifully expressive emoticon Android has for “happy grinning face.” This past weekend it was my turn to be traveling—in fact, I went to NYC with some visiting family from abroad and had dinner with Will and his lovely wife, but we didn’t talk shop.  So Will wrote the opening draft again, and I’ll be commenting within.

This is a long-ish chapter, finally bringing the last large piece onto the game board and setting up the conflicts centered on him.  And setting off the Great Jedi Hunt, Babies Extra Edition.  More on that later.

will: Anyway. Chapter Four begins with the Chimaera making Point Four speed (with a logarithmic explanation that, as usual, I like better than anything else–and I’m not sure West End Games’s system was anything substantive anyway) to Myrkr. And one of the lines that I look back on now and have to laugh:

[Five days] was all right, because it took the engineers nearly that long to come up with a portable frame that would both support and nourish the ysalamiri.

I can imagine it now: “Welcome, engineers. I have before you a creature you’ve never seen before, from a planet you’ve never heard of with its own unique ecology, that will die if not properly connected to a tree, with a limited number of samples. You have to figure out a human-portable support and nourishment structure.”

Five days later, after they engineers have probably worked nonstop and managed to crack the untold xenobiological, chemical, and botanical challenges: “Well, I’m just glad our ship wasn’t faster.”

I haven’t decided if this is Zahn being satirical with the way Pellaeon thinks this, or if he just misses the implications.

z: I don’t have a good hold on that, either.  You have to consider that it is Thrawn who’s “written the specs” as it were, and as an engineer I can’t help but think he would be a terrifying but very rewarding customer to work for.

will: Thrawn needs ysalamiri because he’s visiting the Emperor’s personal storehouse on Wayland, which he’s sure will be guarded by a Dark Jedi. Here, as before, Zahn ends up getting continuity-shifted, this time by the “only two there are” Sith. But on the other hand, how many “secret apprentices” have various Sith had in other media anyway? Talk about a practice honored in the breach…

z: For my money this is another example of something that will come up time and again: There are people who have thought of the implications of the whole Force concept, of the “Dark Side” and its counterpart, and indeed of the entire Jedi order, very deeply and built beautiful storylines based on those implications.  None of those people have the initials GL, however, unless someone in the BioWare writing teams does and I simply don’t know about it.

(…Yeah, I said it.)

will: Shots, fired. Hope you have something better than stormtrooper armor, Z. Ahem. They arrive at the settlement at the foot of Mount Tantiss, which has humans as well as two types of aliens:

Pellaeon: “Any idea whether those alien species are hostile toward strangers?”

Thrawn: “Probably. Most alien species are.”

This time, there must have been irony in his voice. Right? (Of course, one wonders if Zahn had even imagined the word “Chiss” yet, let alone their defense-only philosophy. Still, an alien, saying that, to a human?)

z: Oh, I am very certain that Thrawn would be feeling the irony even if he didn’t express it in a way Pellaeon would detect.  As upcoming episodes with the Wookiee and the Noghri are going to make clear, Zahn was deeply aware of the implications of the all-human Empire vs. mixed-species Rebellion (which the movies, to my recollection, never actually spell out or even explicitly point out). The very first chapter already covered Pellaeon’s instinctive unease around Thrawn.  It never comes up between them, but that is meant to showcase Pellaeon’s basic decency, I believe.

Anyway.  Thrawn comments that humans and at least two alien species are living in the deserted-seeming settlement (deducing it from, naturally, the architectural style), and then—

will: Thrawn gets attacked by an arrow that is deflected by his body armor (and unleashes the destructive power of his bodyguard/assassin Rukh in response), but an old man shows up, claims to rule the city, and says he’ll take Thrawn to the Guardian of the mountain. As if anybody believes that…sure enough, the old man takes them to a crypt, shows them the grave of the Guardian and all the prior offworlders, and attacks Thrawn with Force lightning. But it no-sells completely.

There’s a lot to unpack here. The body armor thing is a distraction–apparently Zahn got flack from people who asked why he wouldn’t be wearing it all the time, say onboard ship, but Zahn’s simple “it’s uncomfortable and bulky” is more response than that needs–and then we have the old man. Did anybody buy the “I’m just the local king, I’ll take you to the Guardian” routine?

z: I don’t think anyone was supposed to “buy” the “just the local king” routine, because from the moment C’baoth opens his mouth there’s a subtle sense of unease.  He indicates what looks like a palace to Pellaeon and says “the [locals] built this for [the Guardian] when I began my rule,” emphasis mine?  That was when I first started getting the “slowly edge away, don’t make eye contact” feeling, as it were.

will: And here’s where I depart from Zahn. He says that he figures the old man to be what he says–he found Wayland, killed the Guardian, and set up shop. Nope. Don’t buy it, even with the Force. I much prefer the “Palpatine set him up there, but he’s insane and doesn’t remember” explanation that Zahn says was fan speculation. It explains why he even exists, given who and what he is, and what he’s doing on this planet. And it would be a nice Palpatine trick.

z: To be perfectly frank, I was utterly confused about that until I read Zahn’s margin note here.  My initial mental image was that Jorus C’baoth himself was the Guardian, was cloned, and the clone killed him and took over.  A few pages later Thrawn says that C’baoth the Original was part of the Jedi Purge on a mission known as the Outbound Flight, and when I read that I just got mystified.  So there are two ways the story can go: 1. The Guardian was a non-character and a randomly created Jedi clone who not-so-randomly went unstable (and fell to the Dark Side, or was thrown, whatever) killed him and took over because… he got to Wayland somehow… because reasons, or 2. what Will says here.  I think I honestly don’t care much, as that aspect of the SW history was never a fanfiction attractor for me, but that fan theory Will describes does make a lot of sense.

And it would be a nice Palpatine trick.

will: The man reveals himself to be Jedi Master Joruus C’baoth (Sa-bay-oth, which is not how I always heard it; the danger of unnecessary apostrophes…), who actually stares down Thrawn over his disciplining of the villager who lost his home to Thrawn’s “lesson.”

And here, the continuity stretching is, well, stretching it. “Thrawn must be showing emotion for once because he knew Jorus C’baoth and remembers him!” That sits wrong with me. I mean, it works, but…it’s pushing it. How about “Thrawn isn’t used to being challenged like that”? Which is, after all, true, at least as a Grand Admiral. And it’s exactly what’s going to be happening for three books, as Zahn admits. Why shoehorn that bit in there? This again strikes of trying to redeem Thrawn. But we’ll save that for discussing Outbound Flight proper.

z: I’ve always said “sa-bah-oth” in my head, the first “a” almost inaudible.  It’s the “bay” that I would never have stumbled on.

I don’t even know where the challenges to Thrawn “showing emotion” came from that Zahn felt the need to defend against in a margin note, here.  When I read the plain first unannotated edition, I put down his reaction to exactly Will’s interpretation, and it was a very natural reaction at that.  Also, Thrawn will  show emotion later: Quiet satisfaction, further anger, and even admiration.

But then, fandom can and will complain of anything.  We should know.

will: Now I might need some armor too… Next, we get the point of the ysalamiri: they push back the Force. Except they don’t, Zahn says in a footnote, they just suppress it below what a Jedi can access. Which Zahn says “we’ll see later.”

And once again: nope. See above, re “don’t buy it.” Thrawn’s true purpose for the ysalamiri, after all, relies on the Force not being in the way at all, not just being so low that a Jedi can’t use it. And besides, it’s not just that a Jedi within a ysalamir zone can’t use the Force. Force lightning, mind manipulation, and all the rest are blocked, too, even if they started outside the zone. Actually pushing back the Force also explains why the ysalamiri have this ability–which, interestingly, Thrawn neither knows nor cares about. Karrde will figure out that piece of the (admittedly meaningless) puzzle.

z: I do have to say that I liked Karrde’s discovery; it just made a lot of sense from a xenobiology point of view.  And then they took that and went… places… with the Yuuzhan Vong, which is probably the best demonstration of the Law of Unintended Consequences in a fictional continuity that I know of.  The “suppressing” introduced in the margin note was new to me, since I had the mental image of bubbles strongly settled in my mind…

will: Both of these (Thrawn/C’baoth, and now ysalamiri) seem like places where Zahn left some not-fully-explained holes, and then when people complained, went back to tighten everything up, square all the corners…and ended up squaring a few circles too. Which I don’t like, or indeed, need. This is Star Wars. A few dark weird corners are par for the course. The universe is a messy, used, lived-in place. Not everything needs to be precise.

z: …and this is where I point up to Will’s text and say “Yes.  This.  It’s space opera, of the range of the spectrum that is a very tiny step separated from fantasy.  We got here from something that started with ‘A more elegant weapon for a more civilized age…’ [lightsaber ignites] after all.”

Once again, fandom can and will complain about everything, and I wish there wasn’t that much pressure on the authors to explain.  Because that’s how you end up with the m-word that we don’t mention here.

will: Thrawn explains that he’s raiding the storehouse for cloaking shields and “another small–almost trivial–bit of technology.” And he’s looking for a Jedi Master to help him coordinate the Empire.

This, by contrast to the above, I just plain love. Why did the Imperial fleet fall apart at Endor, to the point that the bridge of the Executor got wrecked? (Besides that, in the best “this is cinema, not reality” tradition, the bridge of every capital starship in the universe is exposed.) Because the Emperor was personally driving the entire Fleet, and when he died, so did the motivation, the drive, the cohesiveness. It’s a very Emperor thing to do, it lets Thrawn pull all the tricks he has, and it works within the universe. The Emperor wasn’t just the apex of the Empire, he was the Empire.

z: Interjecting here to say that once again we have a “yes, this” moment.  I remember reading this section for the first time and feeling an overpowering sense of “this-just-fits.”  And it is just plain good characterization for the Imperials, as embodied by Pellaeon. Our friend Leigh Butler, who’s done a reread of The Wheel of Time and is currently reading A Song of Ice and Fire for tor.com, has mentioned that one of the things that really appeals to her in works of fantasy are the many opportunities they afford for characters to have self-revelatory moments, to learn something about themselves, what they are, what they can do.  I share her fascination with such moments, and this is such a one for Pellaeon.

Hey, no one ever guaranteed that all revelations would be pleasant.

will: As Mike S. commented last chapter, it makes no sense for the Sith to almost deliberately go out of their way to be evil…to which I say, there actually is a reason for that, and it gets explained, and we’ll talk about it. Of course, that’s something like a dozen books in the future. Maybe more. Which reminds me, Z, we should probably figure out the schedule. Then again, at one chapter a week we’ll be doing Heir for another seven months; we have time.

z: We can talk about speeding up if you wish, although given how chatty we tend to be maybe this is a good speed?  To be discussed later.  Anyway, to your remark about how this is going to get explained a dozen books ahead, I’ll point upwards to my remark about “people thinking deeply who don’t have the initials GL.”

will: Oh, no, it’s a fine speed, but I think we should start figuring out the master list and order for after we finish the Thrawn Trilogy. Which will be in 2017, so maybe we don’t need to rush after all…

Next up is Thrawn and C’baoth disagreeing as to the nature of power. Thrawn, based on his experience with the Emperor, sees it in broad strokes. C’baoth sees it much more personally. Which we’ll see later. Given what I just said above–how the Emperor was the Empire–it’s interesting that C’baoth goes so much further. But I suppose that’s a mark of his madness, in a way. At any rate, the New Order and the Empire aren’t a lure to C’baoth.

But Jedi? Luke, Leia, and the unborn twins? Hook, line, sinker.

z: OK, big pause here for two things.

Thing The First, the Smaller One: This is one of the best (unintentional?) aversions of the Plot Armor trope for Luke and Leia that I can remember, and I love it.  C’baoth wants to teach Jedi and babby Jedi.  C’baoth can’t teach dead or even much-damaged Jedi and babby Jedi.  Hence blasters are permanently set to stun, and there need be no Noghri commando teams who graduated from the Stormtrooper Academy of Advanced Marksmanship and Not Hitting the Broad Side of a Barn YT-1300.  It extends the NotPlotArmor to anyone who happens to be standing behind Leia or carrying her on his back, too, for two rather non-random examples.  (I am not linking to the TVTropes page for Plot Armor; your productivity can thank me later.)

will: Noble of you.

z: Thing the Second, the Larger One: The discussion about the nature of power between Thrawn and C’baoth encapsulates in a nutshell why I much, much prefer the EU treatment of the Force to the movie treatment.  I don’t mean that I subscribe to either character’s point of view in the matter.  I just love the fact that the discussion happens at all, that these powerful characters have thought about why they do what they do on a meta level, with the obvious implication that the author has sat down and puzzled these things out.  I adored it when I first read it because of that, and I didn’t even know the word “meta” then.  (I wasn’t to attempt reading Gödel, Escher, Bach for another three years.)

There is some foray into that in The Empire Strikes Back with Luke’s training with Yoda, but it is neither plainspoken nor very deep.  No, that wouldn’t belong in the middle of an action movie.  But that is precisely why I prefer the books for whatever passes for the philosophical underpinnings of the Star Wars universe, because the movie pins are of necessity very, very few in number and have to be used to hold up the Light Side solely.

Oh, and initially I thought that if you twist my arm, I might have picked C’baoth’s side in that discussion.  At least the power he aims to have over the lives and deaths of creatures he sees face to face is, um, honest?  The way a domestic abuser’s quest for power over their partner is… honest?  OK, honest is not the word, and I then realized that I was trying to choose between different ratios of psychopathy and sociopathy mixed up here and if you’ll excuse me I’ll go get some wirebrush and brain bleach.

will: While she’s gone, I haven’t mentioned that Zahn originally wanted C’baoth to be a clone of Obi-Wan Kenobi. As much as I would have liked to see that, I don’t think the book suffers for it. I suppose it would have had more resonance, but eh. Though it does give credence to the “C’baoth is the Guardian” explanation; a random clone of Kenobi finding Wayland would stretch credulity, Force or no. A Palpatine-created clone of Kenobi to be the Guardian, twisted by his madness? There we go.

Thrawn finds the cloak and the “other bit,” and away we go.

But not without a brief denouement: Jorus C’baoth is dead, at Thrawn’s hands. Lasers. Whatever.

And here’s where the timeline starts kinking up. We later find out that it wasn’t nearly that simple. Who was on what side of what battle (and hell, was Thrawn even an Imperial commander at the time)? I’ll save it for Visions and Outbound Flight when we do them. For now, it’s enough to say that Thrawn knows Jorus is dead, and besides, this is Joruus, two u’s. That’s how you know a clone, apparently: doubled vowels.

This is, I think, the second time (real-world chronologically) that the word “clone” is used in the Star Wars mythos, at least the parts we’re going to care about. We knew there were “the Clone Wars,” about which we will learn all too much more later (and oh, the tangled webs of Kamino and Spaarti…); now we have a cloned human, and we know clones frequently go insane. And Zahn, as usual, gives Lucas way too much credit: “nice twist” of having the clones be fighting for the Republic. But that would be roughly equivalent to calling the American Revolution the “Hessian Wars,” wouldn’t it? Never sat right with me.

z: Confession time: As we proceed, you will find that I am actually rather weak re: the timeline out of the area covered by the books about the pilots and Zahn’s later duology.  Also, your point about Zahn giving Lucas too much credit is well taken, but I’ll give that dead tauntaun a rest for the moment.

will: The point is, we’ve established cloning, and in the same chapter as that “other bit” of technology. It’ll be a long time before we get the pieces properly placed, but in retrospect, here they are. Clones, C’baoth’s ability to coordinate and his lust for control over people, secret technology, Thrawn’s genius. Garnish with turbolasers, serve over death.

It occurs to me that all of the really important setup in this book is here in the Empire’s chapters. In retrospect it’s obvious why: they’re the ones acting, making a choice and doing something. The New Republic will be reacting, on the defensive, for a long time, until they know enough to push forward and strike out. Ditto Karrde. But what else is new? Villains act, heroes react, right?

Your turn, Z.

z: Yes, although now that I think about it the original Star Wars does not fit that mold; events there are set in motion by Alliance spies, er, I mean diplomatic missions.  And by one recalcitrant irritated android.

Anyway, there isn’t much I have left to say that I haven’t already interjected.  “Ysalamir” is singular; “ysalamiri” is plural; and the word sounds curiously onomatopoetic to me while at the same time you can’t convince me that “salami” wasn’t part of the inspiration.  I mean, just look at their description.  That still makes me giggle and eye-roll, just a little bit, because wordplay and I have an interesting and checkered relationship to say the least.

will: I always pronounce that “e-sal-a-mir,” and “e-sal-a-mir-ee,” so it didn’t occur to me to look for the…I’m not going to say the hidden salami, I promise, except I just did, didn’t I?

z: Insert glare here, moving on: I notice that the “Guardian’s palace” is supposed to have a carved keystone holding up its main archway, and I wish I knew the design of the carving.

And that’s all she said this time around, folks.  May the Force be with you. Don’t feed the ysalamiri.

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