Heir to the Empire, Chapter 9

z & will: Yesterday on March 12th, after we had already finished writing this post, we got some terrible news. Here we fly in the Galaxy Far Far Away, but we have both dwelt in other worlds, in other times, and have felt quite at home in the Discworld. Whose creator, Sir Terry Pratchett, has just passed away.

z: I feel as if I’ve lost a favorite teacher, one of those who can really change who you are.

will: If you aren’t familiar with Pratchett’s work, we recommend Guards, Guards, Going Postal, The Truth, or Small Gods as an entry point. He was one of the greatest writers, and most wonderful, kind, and generous people, you could ever meet. The world is sadder for his loss.

will & z: A quote from Hogfather, one of the Discworld books, which shines light on some of the reason why we are even here at all:

Humans need fantasy to be human. To be where the falling angel meets the rising ape.

z: This is the Chapter 9 broadcast, and we have something new: The first three chapters had introduced the three major factions in the game here individually; this chapter gives us PoVs from all three of them back-to-back-to-back.

will: Understanding is a three-edged sword, after all. Wait, wrong universe.

z: We open on the bridge of the Chimaera as they are in the last stages of a raid near… erm… Bpfassh.  I had a whole rant about transliteration and pronounceability here, but there’s a better place later, so I moved it.  OK.   Raid.   Pellaeon remarks mentally that they had to do a fairly difficult maneuver to get into that specific position, and that they had been drilling that for a year and have gotten good at it, concluding that even though he has been feeling like he has nothing but raw recruits for his crew, they are capable.  As they go through the “all systems ready?” checklist, Thrawn asks C’baoth if he’s ready and in communication with “other two task forces,” which, we will learn shortly, are in two other star systems, about four light-years away each.

I will now demonstrate how willing I am to discuss how things in the Star Wars universe mesh with relativistic physics, in terms of defining simultaneity etc.:  AAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa…. {{scream fades as I get out of sound range at a non-relativistic, yet fairly fast, run}}

will: I should point out that Z is the one with the physics background–well, Z and Zahn himself, as we learned earlier. I certainly don’t, I’m a dabbler at best. Z does have the right approach (or retreat), though: Star Wars is future fantasy, drop it.

Though there’s also probably a Doppler effect going on with that scream…

z: The Imperial ships jump within the system and engage targets.  Thrawn commands, monitoring the situation closely; Pellaeon is concentrated in battle mode, and it’s all a picture of military competency.  Then Thrawn asks C’baoth how things are going in the other two systems, and C’baoth replies that the attacks there also “proceed.” Pellaeon notes that C’baoth seems to be under a lot of stress, very stiff and strained, as if what he’s doing is very difficult.  Thrawn spells it out for the audience when he snarks that C’baoth “is doing what he enjoys most: controlling people.”  C’baoth is directing not one, but two simultaneous attacks in two separate star systems, reaching through the Force.

I will now demonstrate how willing I am to discuss how real-time communication, let alone “control” (which is yet to be defined) through the Force, or the Force in general, meshes with relativistic physics: AAAAAAAAaaaaaaaa… {{scream fades faster as I make a spirited attempt at relativistic speeds myself}}

Are we clear on that? Good.  Because that ain’t going to be happening here.

will: This time it’s a blueshift.

z: Well, blueshift is a Doppler effect, because the term Doppler effect applies to any wave you see and {sits on hands to stop typing}

will: Heh. I love doing that to her.

No complaints from me on dodging this particular handwave, though. Incidentally, one of the footnotes mentions that Zahn has no military background, and that “one would expect” he would. Which…I dunno. Zahn’s description is very simple, here–far less than the Marg Sabl scene in the opening chapter. From this, I get that Zahn thinks of space combat in very Star Wars-y terms: cinematically. Which I do too, after all. But that’s not really a military-SF style, which is more gritty. Generally.

z: It turns out that C’baoth doesn’t have unlimited control; for instance, he can sense if the crews of the other task forces feel threatened or not, but not specifically what kind of resistance they may be encountering.  Thrawn gives an abrupt, and to Pellaeon, non-sequitur command to C’baoth to have one of the Star Destroyers separate from its group and go wait at the rendezvous.  Pellaeon realizes that his commander is testing how willing C’baoth is to be commanded.  Then he notices that their own attack is going very well, too well; he checks analyses and realizes they are operating well above the norms in efficiency and effectivity.  He is fairly creeped out by the realization that C’baoth still has enough attention and power to be helping a little here as well, and by the implication of this demonstration: Thrawn’s theory about the Emperor’s death causing the sudden defeat in Endor (because Palpatine had been controlling his forces in a similar fashion) is verified.  And, well, I can’t blame him because it’s beyond creepy.  But C’baoth still insists that this isn’t “real power,” and all he’s interested is getting “his Jedi.”  He’s following orders, but obviously chafing under military rule he does not really care about.  The foreshadowing is thick here as Pellaeon feels the clash between the two strong wills, and is very happy about the ysalamiri all around in the bridge.

will: I’m not sure it quite counts as foreshadowing, given that I don’t feel there is payoff, as it were. Symbolism, perhaps, of the tension at the core of the Empire–the Dark Jedi versus the military commander, Evil and Lawful pulling in their two directions (while I won’t promote Thrawn to the level of antihero, compared to C’baoth he definitely smacks of the Well Intentioned Extremist).

Also of note, I wonder how any commander could be able to call up the data on “speed, coordination, efficiency, and accuracy” mid-battle like that–computers registering hits and firing times and who knows what else, I guess?

z: In the meantime the raid is wrapped up, with a couple of interesting points: Thrawn doesn’t care that Bpfassh is calling for help from the “Rebellion,” and in fact likes that they will be depleting their resources helping; this attack was mostly a test and a diversion.  Thrawn also asks about the mole miners again.  It looks like there are some in a planet with “problems of sunlight intensity,” which we’ll find out about in due course.

Then we shift to Mara Jade’s point of view: The Wild Karrde is in one of the systems being attacked (coincidentally, as they have a shipment of contraband) and basically is a quiet observer.  Conversation reveals that this kind of “hit-and-fade” (Zahn has a nice linguistic-shift bit there in a margin note about how our “hit-and-run” can sensibly become “hit-and-fade” with ships that jump to hyperspace) has been happening more often recently.  Karrde opines that this must be Thrawn’s effect on Imperial strategy.  Mara remarks that then it won’t be something simple, as Thrawn’s often complicated and so on.  Karrde is all “oh, you know quite a bit about Grand Admiral Thrawn then?” and Mara nonchalantly deflects this.  Then they cancel the delivery (because, as Karrde puts it, the whole system is about to be overrun by a “hornet’s nest of New Republic ships” coming to the distress call) and Mara reacts very negatively: To her it’s a broken promise.  Karrde points out that it is SOP, and it’ll be all right when they come back when it gets quiet.

will: No comment on the name Wild Karrde?

z: I was going to pointedly ignore that, but, oh, well, be that way.

will: I admire Zahn giving Karrde a fondness for punning, as it properly nails his personality so well. My favorite has to be the Lastri’s Ort. And I do like that (as we’ll learn at some point down the line if we do that story) people occasionally recognize Karrde through his alias because of that. (The story is “First Contact,” in one of the Tales collections–New Republic, I believe.)

Given what we will learn about Mara, I like that she is centered on promising so strongly. Many years from now (in books, in release dates, and likely in blog posts) we will find out why Mara never truly fell to the Dark Side, and I think this shows it off. And, of course, it reminds us that Mara feels she has a promise to keep, and lightyears to go before she sleeps.


(No I’m not.)

z: Mara wonders if Luke will be among those coming to help, and tells herself that she is not ready, for… something, and “Not yet.  But soon.”

Insert creepy violins here.

will: Ominous horns, I think. Maybe a subtle undercurrent of the Imperial March.

z: Third POV: Luke, training Leia with a remote the same way Obi-Wan trained him.  I am both amused and gratified that Zahn emphasizes Luke’s uncertainty and self-doubt about Jedi pedagogy some more, and mentions it explicitly as a thorny problem in a margin note.  Leia is having real trouble with it; they discuss and theorize it might be her reflexes from her self-defense classes from her youth in Alderaan getting in her way, but before they can continue Han comes in and announces that the Imperials “just pulled a three-prong hit-and-fade on three systems in the Sluis sector.  Some place called Bpfassh and two unpronounceable ones.”

Zahn: “For some reason, Han not lumping Bpfassh in with the “unpronounceable ones” strikes me as both funny and very Han.”

z: Flat glare, grumbling acceptance of the “very Han.”  But.  Look. Okay, this is a dead horse in speculative fiction maybe, but I need to say something.  I have no trouble accepting that different evolutionary paths lead to different species having different vocal architectures and we’re even lucky if we happen to fall in the same band of the spectrum.  I have also no trouble accepting that the names used are transliterations of what the planets’ or species’ names would sound in a human language, using a human alphabet.  Which makes it particularly nonsensical to use something deliberately unpronounceable, at least to my mind.  “Bap-fassh” would have been fine.  “Bp” is not a sound.  It’s two voiceless consonants.  When we try to say it, we will inevitably slip a very quick vowel sound in there that I’m not sure how to notate in English (it’s ı in Turkish).

will: A schwa, maybe. But I’m going to disagree a bit, not to be contrary (not just, anyway), with a fantastic quotation that’s been making the rounds in the past few months from actress Uzoamaka Aduba (well, from her mother):

“If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.”

The point being, the definition of “impronounceable” is about familiarity and being accustomed more than anything else. As to why the system was named that, and transliterated thus, I don’t know for sure. But I think the takeaway is that even though Han hasn’t heard of Bpfassh (“some place”), the spelling, consonant blender and all, is something Han knows how to pronounce.

Or maybe there’s a silent consonant or two, like naming a system “Through” and pronouncing it “throo.”

So, blame the Space French.

z: Okay, rant over, and I’ll grant the silent consonant theory.  Also, that is a fantastic quote.

Three attacks at once is a big deal; and Leia Feels (that is with a capital F) that the Imperials are up to something big and dangerous. It suddenly makes a lot of sense to me, in this reread, that it is Leia having the strategic-scale forebodings from the Force, as she is the more strategic-thinker of the Skywalkers by training and vocation.

will: Yeah, and because Luke hasn’t gone through what he’s about to go through that will let his horizons broaden. Like botching his first graduating Jedi class. Right now, Luke is a tactical Jedi.

z: Mon Mothma wants Leia to go visit the stricken systems and reassure them of the New Republic being able and willing to protect them, and Han is getting ready to take her, but not without Wedge Antilles and the Rogue Squadron and another twenty-ship convoy in tow as backup this time.

…and thus is Rogue Squadron born.  In the margin Zahn points out that the Rogues were “half convenience and half throwaway line,” and he never foresaw how far Stackpole and Allston would later take them.  But he also points out that Wedge is special in a sense: “…anyone who can survive three Star Wars movies is welcome in my book any day.”  He’s completely right there, but there will come a time where it will be more appropriate to talk about that.  So, moving on.

will: Much, much more. We will be doing the entire Rogue Squadron and Wraith Squadron series, quite possibly as soon as we’ve wrapped the Thrawn Trilogy, so.

Well, maybe we’ll (ahem) space them out a bit with other early-New Republic-era (or Imperial-era) stories. Han Solo Trilogy (the Crispin one), Tales…you get the idea.

z: Luke assumes he’d be coming along; Han and Leia say he actually can’t come because the Bpfasshi (sigh) have A Thing about the Jedi that is the opposite of the Bimmissaari’s Thing about the Jedi.  As in they were burned badly by “some of their Jedi [going] bad” during Clone War incidents, and they don’t like Jedi much any more.  Leia remarks that said Dark Jedi made a lot of trouble for a while, why, one of them even ended up on Dagobah, she’s heard.  As Luke has never told her about where he disappeared after they ran away from Hoth that one time, he fairly jumps at the name.  Then he tries to hide his reaction from Leia and probably fails hilariously.

will: That always fell through for me. Why, oh why, would Leia be able to namedrop Dagobah? Because the plot demands it? But I always thought of Dagobah as, even more than Tatooine, the planet for which “if there’s a bright center to the universe, you’re on the planet that it’s farthest from” was coined. Completely unremarkable, basically nowhere anybody will ever have heard of. But if a Dark Jedi in Sluis sector made it there, enough that Leia doesn’t even say “some place called Dagobah,” it’s probably not that. If Leia had been at least reading that from a history of Bpfassh, or something, that would have been better.

But let’s gloss over that, the way Zahn did…well, at least until he goes back ten in-story years later, to turn this bit of leading-Luke-by-the-nose (he admits in a few chapters that this was all to get Luke in the right place for the second half of the book) into one of the greatest rabbit-out-of-a-hat continuity fixups (and possibly the greatest Tuckerization) the Galaxy has ever seen.

z: Leia leaves to pack; Han and Luke exchange reassurances that Leia will be kept safe; Han innocuously says that “you make her a Jedi, she can handle anything the Imperials throw at her.”  Which, of course, hits Luke where it hurts because he is really not certain he can teach Leia effectively.  Abruptly, he triggers the remote back on and starts blocking its shots with his lightsaber, effortlessly going into a flow state and joyous in having a non-abstract thing to fight instead of all the shadowy fear and doubt that has been engulfing him… and when the remote stops by itself because it’s reached the end of a twenty-minute time limit, he realizes with some trepidation that he has completely lost track of time.  Which is the first time that has happened outside of meditation.  Except in combat exercises during training with Yoda on Dagobah.  Which… Yoda had never told him anything about a Dark Jedi on Dagobah….

He asks for his X-Wing to be prepped for flight, and it’s revealed to the audience that the ship’s computers are not wiped every few months as per standard procedure, but Artoo and the ship’s systems are fairly well-meshed by now.  He’s going to go see what he can find on Dagobah.

will: The X-Wing detail is definitely what I call nice foreshadowing, or at least, nice seed-planting. We’ll save what Luke finds on Dagobah for, well, Dagobah.

z: Long chapter, long remarks.  I really don’t want to discuss timeline and continuity issues that arose from Lucas overwriting the prequel era history either; for my sanity I’m going to stay in Zahn’s alternate-history.  Anything else, Will?

will: A moment of silence for timeline kerfluffles, memorialized by Zahn in a footnote.

Beyond that I’m in your camp, Z. Skip it.

Not sure I have much more to say that hasn’t been done in snarky asides. I’m liking that Z is taking the lead lately, except for the part where it’s caused by my day job being brutal…

I did like the commentary about who of the Skywalkers is older. Officially, it is Luke (now, anyway), but I like how Han’s point is that Luke is acting in a protective big-brother role, which really he’s been doing since he first laid eyes on Leia’s hologram.

z: Tangential, but:  I re-watched A New Hope last Saturday night, for the first time in quite a few years.  And I noticed something about that hologram scene.  Think back to the dialogue between Luke and Threepio: They are discussing the droids’ history, Threepio mentions the Rebellion and Luke’s voice nearly cracks from excitement when he asks about that, and it’s obvious where his sympathies lie… and that’s exactly when, once Luke’s shown he’d be a willing pawn on the correct side, Artoo broadcasts that carefully-edited hologram snippet.

Sneaky little droid.  But we always knew that.

will: I think it’s possible to read Luke’s bit of battle meditation/time loss as a sign of some of the darkness Luke is going to contend with going forward–not just in C’baoth, but in himself. He exults in having something to fight? Even if it’s “at least this is something clear/concrete instead of nebulous,” that’s an…interesting feeling for a Jedi. Deliberate? I dunno. Appropriate? Yep.

One question: why does Luke even have “his” X-Wing? Was it just that nobody ever wanted to ask him for it back after Yavin and Endor? Or a consequence of his getting it in the Rebellion, when things were a bit looser? We’ll see a bit of that in the start of Dark Force Rising.

That’s it for now, unless people want to kick things up in the comments. Have a good weekend, and may the Force be with you.


8 thoughts on “Heir to the Empire, Chapter 9

  1. So, I am reading this book, because of you guys. (I missed them the first time ’round.) I have not finished it, but I am past this part.

    Re: relativity and real-time Force communication: OBVIOUSLY (lol) relativistic physics is not the variety of hand-wavy science that applies here. Quantum entanglement is what we’re dealing with. (Maybe that’s what midichlorians are for?)

    “Bpfassh”: does it help if you read it as “B’pfassh” and not “Bp’fassh”? Probably not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Re Obvious Quantum Entanglement: Even though my understanding of the physics for that is oh-so-slightly deeper than the same for relativity [1], still, #nothelping.

      Re “B’pfassh”: It helps, actually, since I read apostrophes not as glottal stops but a license to insert tiny vowels.

      [1] i.e. Cardboard-thick instead of greeting-card-stock thick.


  2. Aww, no simultaneity discussion? But it’s so fun !

    (Srsly. One of the things I regret not fitting into my recent short was the delightful ability of real-time comms and relativity mixed to let you dispatch useful reinforcements in response to the battle report that mentioned those useful reinforcements, and so forth, along with other information-from-the-future tricks. Can you imagine what Thrawn would have done with that ability?.)

    On pronounceability, while I too love the quote, I have just one word for you:


    (c is sh, ! is , and every vowel by the rules of this orthography is to be pronounced distinctly. Have at it! And seeing as it’s from gas giant dwellers who talk in electrical discharges and hydrogen farts, even a good attempt isn’t going to be the way they pronounce it… it’s just as close as anyone with hominin mouthparts can come.

    But courtesy mandates that one at least attempts to approximate the original.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, but you’re writing something much, much closer to hard-sf. Much.

      I can at least attempt your word by drawing on choral singing for the individual vowel pronunciation, and the “sss(sh)” is obvious since s is a voiced consonant…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.”

    I like her fine in Orange is the New Black, and I’m assuming it sounds like it’s spelled. But only her mom would consider the cases comparable. People make extra effort in those cases because they’re famous enough to be remembered for decades or centuries. (The fact that people can remember Washington’s birthday doesn’t mean I expect them to know mine, even if I’ve told it to them.) Even then, most Americans don’t pronounce Michelangelo the way an Italian would. (And let’s not get into how Chicago pronounces e.g., “Goethe Street”)

    And that’s an easy one. I’m sure that someone who knew the rules for Georgian orthography would have no trouble pronouncing the name of a planet discovered by Rati Tsinamdzgvrishvili. (Presumably after he retired from soccer for a career as an explorer.) But I’d personally forgive Han for punting on that one.

    Liked by 1 person

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