Heir to the Empire, Chapter 8

will: Chapter 8: Meetings. We get interesting parallels between hierarchy and representative governance, dealing with powerful loose cannons, and how to create trust and respect. There’s more than a little deck-stacking in the Empire’s favor on those points, but the contrast makes for some more Z-cringing moments, I’m sure.

z: Oh, yes. But for the opening section, it’s mostly admiration at the way Thrawn and Pellaeon run their meeting/briefing. Check/check/check/done, no distractions, no side-tracking allowed—

will: We open with the report on the failure of the Bimmisaari operation. Thrawn takes the report simply and then moves on to other business, but C’baoth won’t have it. “You promised me Jedi,” he says, but Thrawn ignores him, and Pellaeon follows suit, only because the Chimaera’s bridge is ysalamir-warded.

z: —case in point. Clear action items, too, and concerns heard and addressed.

Don’t you wish your manager was this productive in project meetings?

will: Ah, the joys of fiction. Next come the breadcrumbs. We hear that the next phase of Thrawn’s game plan is an attack on the Sluis Van shipyards–we don’t yet have the context to know that this is a huge deal, that Sluis Van is one of the major construction hubs of the New Republic, but we don’t really need it–and that he 1) will be using cloaking shields; 2) won’t need to cloak a Star Destroyer; 3) will need mole miners. We also hear the term “Spaarti cylinder,” link it to the “other bit of technology” from Wayland, and learn that C’baoth is to be kept out of the loop.

z: I’ll take a moment here and cackle/purr myself about those mole miners. I might have giggled in glee when I eventually find out what they were to be used for. And to pace the few readers who might not remember, I’m not going to unpack it here. Just… happy anticipation.

The mole miners will also reinforce another point which I hasn’t noticed as a theme before this read-through, but this time it’s pinging my radar rather strongly. The first indication was the carrier frames Thrawn had Engineering put together in a week for ysalamiri. Then here, they are said to have been analyzing cloaking shield plans from Wayland and to be getting ready to build some; I’d wager they had to make some adjustments to the Bill of Materials and manufacturing methods to fit their stores, vendors and facilities. I’ll not be spoiling much if I say that the mole miners also have some modifications coming up.

The Engineering unit, under Thrawn, has had to become very good at adapting things. A climactic scene will later reinforce how much Thrawn values adaptability.  One can easily conclude that he has made the core of his baby-phoenix-wannabe Empire an adaptable beast, too.

will: A good point. This is not the hidebound, uncreative Empire–it has to be more flexible, creative, and yes, adaptable.

It’s impossible for me, at least, to separate out what I know at this point from what I would have known when I first read the book. I know from the way the books are structured that the revelation that Spaarti cylinders are cloning tanks is supposed to come as a gut-punch at the end of Dark Force Rising, and feed into everything that happens in The Last Command. That’s why they shouldn’t discuss them with C’baoth, after all. Z, do you remember what you could deduce from the descriptions? Are the clues that obvious, or is it hindsight bias (which I suspect it is)?

z: I… don’t think the clues are all that obvious, no. It’s always had to judge. The way Thrawn immediately asks about mole miners right after he says Engineering won’t have to build large-scale cloaking shields is a fairly nice clue, but it still doesn’t give away much of his plan. The Spaarti cylinders—I had no clue then, even though the explicit ”don’t mention them to C’baoth” combined with another ship taking ysalamiri to them at least give the clear idea that the Force is involved somehow.

will: We next see two sides of Thrawn. He isn’t pleased with the Noghri for failing, and the threat of their lord’s displeasure is sufficient to, he is sure, get them to redouble his efforts…and he cares very little for Noghri lives. In many ways, the Noghri are Thrawn’s great blind spot, along with one critical bit of information he doesn’t know. (And the consequences of that are appropriate…)

On the other hand, Thrawn also keeps his ego in check. He listens to Pellaeon’s idea for luring Luke to C’baoth in a way that lets the Empire keep preparing for the Sluis Van attack, supports it when it’s sound, allows for flexibility and creativity in his staff. The battle of wills between Thrawn and C’baoth adds tension–if the idea had been crap, Thrawn probably wouldn’t have appreciated the interruption because it undermined him in front of C’baoth–but at its core, this is one of Thrawn’s strengths.

z:  To this I can only point up and say “what he said.”

will: Again, though, I come out of this seeing Thrawn as a chillingly effective villain, not some antihero with noble goals about preparing the galaxy.

z: And also that. He’s the worst kind of antagonist: A competent one.

will: And then we transition to a New Republic meeting, a study in contrasts. Fey’lya keeps spinning everything he can get his hands on: how dare Han cancel the meeting, there is no threat from the gray-skinned aliens who attacked the Trio, how could there possibly be a threat, maybe there is a threat and Ackbar wasn’t ready for it, there’s no need to send “our glorious forces” to be an entourage, I’m no the side of the common soldier, security will cost time and effort…it’s incredibly frustrating, and I think I can hear Z’s teeth grinding from New York.

z: The accompanying twitching—and oh there was twitching—is fortunately inaudible though.

Something I would never have noticed prior to living in the USA, in particular, is Fey’lya’s explicit rhetoric about “our glorious forces” and Ackbar’s effectively full-body eye roll in response.  I shall refrain from further commentary here…

will: Even Zahn admits that a lot of this is pure distortion, and he had to hold his nose while he wrote. I can think of dozens of reasons a race might want to vanish from the central government’s sight, and Fey’lya’s idea of security makes the word “joke” seem kind. And the fact that we know it’s all motivated by wanting to look like he’s on the side of the average soldier so that he can try to get the power–which he’d be awful at using, let’s be clear–of military command…now I think Z can hear my teeth grinding.

z: …because this.

Towards the end of that discussion, Leia points out that there might be some significance to how the Noghri were already on Bimmisaari and waiting for the delegation. But that is quickly melded into “we’ll be sending along backup,” without detouring into “…who here knew?” Although the implicit assumption seems to be that the Bimms were responsible for the informational security breach.

I’ll… just leave this very soft, mildly-foreboding strings soundtrack snippet here.

will: Nicely caught! But following this exercise in representative politics, we then get the hierarchical hammer coming down, and Mon Mothma making the choice to have Diplomat Leia, not Jedi Leia. (Diplomat Leia Action Figure, now with Real Politics-Fu Voice!)

z: …and Sad but Resolute Face! And Irate-Han Companion Figure!

will: And with some snark from Han, encapsulating the “politics is about compromise” and “warriors aren’t always good at politics” argument I was talking about (and in the second case, disliking) in Chapters 2 and 5, we exit, stage left.

The contrast between the two meetings is stark and obvious…and not entirely comforting. There’s a tendency, among military science fiction writers, to write hierarchical authoritarian systems as subtly good, and complicated representative systems as impeding progress. It’s not a huge surprise given that they’re usually writing about, well, militaries, which are hierarchical. But it tends to muddy the waters when those books seem to suggest, consequentially, that Empires and Kingdoms are better than Republics and Democracies because they can Get Stuff Done because there’s someone telling you What to Do. (This debate has been going on as long as Starship Troopers at least, so we’re not going to solve it here.)

Zahn taps into this a bit here, which is the central reason I don’t want Thrawn’s to get that “redemption” I keep banging on about: the flipside to the effectiveness of Imperial authority is that Thrawn is perfectly willing, and allowed, to write off Noghri lives because he feels like it. He has a lot more authority, but no checks on him to use his power responsibly.

And that’s about all I have. Z?

z: I don’t fully agree with that; rather, after some years in the workforce I think I have the tendency to look at those two extremes not as symptoms of Totalitarian System and Diplomatic System, but as indicators of Good Management Style, Project Management Edition, vs. Amateur Management Style, the same.

The important distinction in my mind comes from the fact that these samples aren’t from, say, law-making or policy-dictating sessions. For those, let Fey’lya politick all he will. (It’ll still irritate me, but less and differently.). But qualitatively the two are the same meeting—failed mission post-mortem, planning of next steps—and the Totalitarian Regime’s attendee list happens not to include someone who thinks politicking every waking moment regardless of context is the way to go. Imagine that.

Of course having Fey’lya in the Inner Council has been the result of further off-stage politicking, which the non-totalitarian system of government allows. So one might come back to these as a comparison for governing systems from that angle, and then the totalitarian regime might seem advantageous.

will: To be clear, I don’t think it’s conscious, on Zahn’s part anyway. (There are a couple of writers I’m less sanguine about.) But as you said, the advantages are made clear. I’m mostly just appreciating that the disadvantages are also present (cf. Noghri lives).

z: There’s also the mildly worrying sequence about how Mon Mothma makes an effectively unilateral decision about keeping Leia active in the diplomatic corps while glancing at Fey’lya all the time. But in the Empire meeting, it’s Pellaeon, the underling, who seems to be very aware of C’baoth, not Thrawn.

Well, well.

That’s it from me this week as well, folks. Those in North America, grit your teeth and stay warm and hope of spring. Everyone, may the Force be with you.

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2 thoughts on “Heir to the Empire, Chapter 8

  1. Speaking of Leia, Mark Waid is doing a comics mini about her adventures between Star Wars and TESB, presumably setting the new continuity. I haven’t seen it yet, but Waid’s got a pretty good track record.

    http://www.comicbookresources.com/comic-review/princess-leia-1-marvel-comics

    From what I can tell, in this version she’s not a leader of the Rebellion yet so much as a symbol (I get a certain Katniss Everdeen in District Thirteen vibe), but it’s pretty early days at that point.

    Thrawn is perfectly willing, and allowed, to write off Noghri lives because he feels like it. He has a lot more authority, but no checks on him to use his power responsibly.

    I have zero brief for autocracy, but the track record of republics with respect for loyalty to their allies and subordinates isn’t necessarily all that great either. (I’m unembarrassed to call myself patriotic, but the US has had a habit of losing interest in and blowing off allies since we made a separate peace with the British in 1781, after promising the French not to do so.)

    Electorates have short attention spans and don’t like to be reminded of obligations, and the new party in charge doesn’t always feel bound by the deals the old one made. Likewise here– if Ackbar gains influence, will the Republic remain on good terms with the smugglers? Will Fey’lya abide by every deal Leia negotiates if Mon Mothma and the Princess are successfully sidelined?

    (They probably won’t be as openly dismissive or brutal as the Empire when they renege or leave someone hanging out to dry, but that seems more white hats vs. black hats than system or even management style.)

    Like

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