The Truce at Bakura, Chapter 19

will: Welcome back to The Truce at Bakura. I’m taking the lead this week, because Z is swamped, and let’s just say, she owes me one for this.

z: I can’t deny anything in that statement, frankly. But luckily, Will’s going to be in town this weekend for Balticon, and chances are I’ll see him at some point, so there’ll at least be a drink or something.

will: Yup, that’s where I’ll be.

Also, normally I don’t mark the date for the whole “Star Wars Day” thing, or honestly the Glorious 25th of May for Pratchett fans either, but the fact that yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars does seem like the kind of thing that’s worthy of a moment of pause and reflection.

40 years. And, for all its ups and downs, bad times and good, it cannot be denied that it’s still going strong.

z: Yes. And it has definitely been an influencing factor in people’s lives. {raises glass to Will}

will: Gaeri, watching the battle on Nereus’s holoprojector, cheers the departure of the Ssi-ruuk, and is somehow surprised when the Rebel ships get reclassified as enemies and then start blinking out one by one. She’s also worried about Luke, a prisoner and infected with a parasite.

She “hopes that her attempt to gather her wits looked like a dramatic pause,” which I guarantee it didn’t, and lodges a formal protest on the part of her constituency that the Rebels risked or lost their lives and are now being attacked.

z: I hadn’t stopped laughing at the bad acting when the bad politicking hit.

will: Nereus finds this about as ridiculous, but funnier, than I do. We also get told that his lips are “effeminate.” Has Nereus been explicitly described in those terms before? Because I feel like we would have called it out. Either way: ah, I didn’t think we’d get through a Nineties book written this mediocre without some casual gender-stereotyping.

z: Yes, in fact. I don’t like it any better here either. And it’s always puzzled me at least a bit, although it shouldn’t really, that it’s a woman who uses a word signifying “femininity is a bad thing.” Internalized misogyny is a hell of a drug.

will: Anyway, Nereus makes fun of the idea that Gaeri would have had the chance to hear from her constituency–“have you been taking telepathy lessons from someone?”

(Well, if Eppie could somehow take Force-healing lessons…)

z: Yeah, but Gaeri would have reacted… poorly… to the suggestion she use the Force for anything.

Actually, I’m not sure if Nereus would know that about her beliefs.

Actually-actually, I’m really sure Nereus wouldn’t care a whit either way.

will: Also, without getting too far down a political-science rabbit hole, I’m on the side that says that a representative of a constituency brings her own worldview to the job–owing her people her judgment as a person.

z: Yes, so “on behalf of my constituency” doesn’t necessarily imply “they told me this in as many words,” more of a “this is what they would want knowing what I know of their needs and wishes.”

Actually, I’m not sure if Nereus would know that about how representative democracy works.

Actually-actually, I’m really sure Nereus wouldn’t care a whit either way.

will: Gaeri seems to agree with us about that, brushing aside the “implied, repeated accusation of collaboration” and saying that she speaks for what her constituents would want, but she’s interrupted by a report of the start of either a riot or a protest. Thirty people and climbing. Nereus says to suppress it, and Gaeri notes his hand shaking.

z: That’s a nice, subtle moment, which is all too rare in this book–Nereus is a coward.

will: Nereus tries to spin this as “if we don’t destroy the Rebels, we’ll eventually be traitors ourselves.” Gaeri focuses on the fact that the uprising is Eppie’s doing, and she needs to focus. She’s also torn by the fact that both the Empire and the Rebels were necessary to stop the Ssi-ruuk…and while I do appreciate the lack of reference to her whole Cosmic Balance religion, it seems out of character to not be present.

Nereus and Gaeri verbally fence about things like how she hasn’t drunk her namana nectar (her throat hurts from the parasite), whether Nereus has any scruples (no), and how Gaeri was always supportive of the Empire, they helped her family and gave her an education and maybe Nereus will have her join his office–Gaeri wonders whether she might work undercover as Leia did–the Rebels being slaughtered “for the safety of your own people,” Luke’s death sentence…, and finally Gaeri decides that with the Imperial legion weakened by the fights with the Ssi-ruuk and the Rebels, once she gets the word out, there will be no way Nereus can hold his office against the revolt.

She thinks that she ought to be happy about that, but she can’t help but be sad about Luke–and here her religion pops up and suddenly she feels like she needs to help stabilize the Balance by… helping remove Nereus from power… I give up.

z: I haven’t yet, because I didn’t have to try to unravel and write up that entire sequence–two drinks, Will–but I don’t have too much more left to say here. It’s funny how Bakurans being bereft of self-determination all this time didn’t make Balance sad, but then the Balance was… reinforced… by the Rebels showing up? Or something? And now that the Imperials are taking over sole control again that upsets the Balance… ? Or…

Okay, I guess I give up too, except one thing–hadn’t she already thought about getting the word out about what Nereus did to the Rebels, hence fanning the riots herself? So what’s this redundant decision about–

will: She decides to stay near him and wait for “a chance.”

z: … oh, she means remove him personally.

Our sweet summer child, everyone.

Fine, I give up too.

will: Scene shift, thankfully. Han knows he’s screwed. Outnumbered, the Flurry destroyed (again, how?), his remaining ships englobed, low on power… he covers his fear and fatality with snark as usual, and Leia idealizes that there must be something they can do, and Han isn’t considering Luke–but Han says Thanas is about to intersect the Ssi-ruuk cruiser, so…and then he gets an idea, playing whatever the GFFA equivalent of billiards is (it wasn’t listed on the Coral Vanda) with ships. He figures that if he can ram a certain ship, it will hit the Dominant right at its main generator.

“Ka-boom.”

z: At the interest of not adding to both our twitchiness, I’m going to disregard considerations such as “the conservation of momentum.”

will: Han confirms the coordinates, and that this will kill the Falcon. Leia tries to contact Luke through the Force–no dice–and Han, in “a genuine general’s voice,” tells the snubfighter escorts to flee. Leia adds to “scatter the fire of Rebellion. It will flare up everywhere the tinder is dry.”

Han calls it poetic.

I point out that this is one small carrier group.

z: I just facepalm. Then I imagine Wedge’s face, and facepalm some more.

will: Though, this is a suicide run for Han and Leia, and that’s a problem (structurally, I would rather see a few of the snubfighters setting up to do this so the Falcon can escape, but I understand why that isn’t the case).

z: Heroic posturing chance wasted? Nah.

will: Anyway. We’re in Leia’s head now; she passes by Threepio, who asks if they’re almost done, and Leia’s thought is about the odds of survival, and she exits without more than a casual word–once again, Bakuran droid biases seem to be based on Tyers’s own–and joins Han in the cockpit.

z: Oh, that is a good observation–that the Bakuran bias, if not exactly Tyers’ own, is a direct result of her not being comfortable with the droids or writing about the droids or writing about the other characters’ interaction with the droids.

will: Han gestures her to the copilot’s chair, and Leia reflects that little gestures like that were what she loves him for. Chewie wants to ride things out in the gunwell.

z: ….because reasons? Well, it does make for a couple more touching moments, which would have been more touching if the base situation wasn’t so contrived.

If I may be allowed to say so about a sentence that I wrote myself, that last sentence might be used as a one-line summary of the book, come to think of it.

will: Han says he can set this up by himself, and then, “sorry, old girl.”

Leia’s about to object, but Han quickly corrects that he means the Falcon, not her.

I snerk. That was amusing, I guess.

z: It was; there are some standalone moments of genuine humor and genuine horror in the book. It’s the fundamental things that we have trouble with.

will: With everything set up, Han tells Leia to get to an escape pod.

Nope, she says.

Insert standard “nobody is leaving” conversation, complete with Chewie refusing to womanhandle Leia into the pod, which I don’t quite believe is true to character. But whatever.

z: Yeah, even if we assume Chewie hadn’t extended the life debt to Leia by this point, the word from Han would have had him getting Leia out.

will: And then, we get a remarkable failure to close an arc, with Leia out of the blue thinking about the cosmic justice of “Vader’s daughter, ramming an Imperial ship for the sake of the Alliance” in a “kind of symmetry.” Watch this, father! she thinks.

Wow, does that not work for me at all. Out of left field and just weak closure.

z: Yup. It’s supposed to be touching that she abruptly does think of him as “father,” except it’s literally one paragraph in the middle of something that didn’t involve Vader either before or after and as such, reads like a sentence from an outline rather than the final form of the book. It’s not really a closure.

will: Two TIE fighters make a break for the Falcon, and Chewie blasts them to vapor. The craft they’re aiming for starts firing wildly, and we scene shift.

Luke coughs, still feeling like disaster is coming, and reaches out to check in on Leia. And gets the plan.

He collapses to the deck, coughing (and still thinking this is bad air), and reaches out for Thanas. He apparently has enough Force strength somehow to read Thanas’s mind, get the sense that Thanas’s whole “I saved slaves, they all got killed” thing has made him basically meek and afraid of being the nail that gets hammered down for sticking up, and thus he treats the whole thing as a game, not real…and to scramble Thanas’s brain enough to decide to focus on the Shriwirr, pushing his ship out of position and weakening the thrusters.

Wow. This isn’t as bad as Force-whammying Han, but…really?

z: I’m going to point out that from here on to the end of the chapter, Luke, the Force, and Luke’s relationship with the Force feels like a car with bad steering on a slippery road with weak brakes being driven by a driver that keeps falling asleep. There’s a lot of wobbling, a lot of weird surges in unexpected directions, and nothing that keeps the speed steady. So when I fail to try to make sense of chaos ahead, you know why I’m not trying.

will: Brief jump to Thanas’s head. He does just that, thinking of it as a “difficult decision” to destroy the contagion.

z: …because the Force has a strong effect on the weak-minded, you see, and of course he justifies it to himself subconsciously as you know what whatever I don’t care.

will: And we’re back to Leia, about to kiss Han when Chewie says that the Dominant is out of position. Han leads the remaining ships out of the englobement, saying they’ll circle back for the Dominant.

Leia, exhausted from the contact with Luke, wonders what’s happening to him.

Back to Luke. He’s irritated at Thanas, the Ssi-ruuk, the Empire, the fact that he can’t stop coughing… he tells Dev to find the weapons systems, and asks for a breath mask. It won’t fit, but it’s worth a try.

And now, we get an After-the-Last Temptation of Skywalker. He thinks how the dark side would give him strength right now, how he trusted Thanas, he could save Han and Leia…

And Gaeri’s spiel about power and temptation stops him.

If you’re getting the sense that I’m running through this chapter, you’re right. It’s just not working for me one bit.

z: Not blaming you. Luke sits there and thinks about using the aggressive feelings and then decides against it just in the same way that I would think about wearing a specific shirt one day and then decide against it for whatever reason.

The Force–It Doesn’t Work That Way!

…OK, better now.

will: Luke now feels several alien presences, and Dev says he has found the weapon controls. Luke, rejecting the Dark Side because, you know, been there done that (no, really), starts blasting the Ssi-ruuvi picket ships, reducing the fight to Dominant versus Shriwirr.

z: Will isn’t kidding, folks–Luke literally thinks “I turned down the temptation of the Dark Side when the offered reward was ruling the Galaxy, so I wouldn’t fall to it for anything less, right?”

will: And that’s when Firwirrung and three P’w’ecks jump into the bridge.

z: …mercifully, because I’d probably not be able to take any more of “The Dark Side: An Actuarial Adventure.”

will: Dev’s head now. Dev freaks out, Firwirrung calling him a traitor, Dev still having some Stockholm syndrome about having slept at Firwirrung’s feet; and he then gets a neural beamer through the neck for his troubles.

Luke remembers that hatred makes you powerful, decides he needs power, kills the third of three P’w’ecks–

z: –my eyes bug out of my head as the Revenge of the Actuarial Tables hits–

will: –and as Firwirrung aims at Luke:

By sheer force of will, Luke snuffed out anger and fear. Aggression, too.

Oh, it’s that easy?

That’s it, I need a break. I’m making some tea.

z: Three drinks.

The Force–It Doesn’t Work That Way!

Yeah, I know I already said that.

will: OK, I’m back.

Anyway. Luke prepares to die instead of falling to the Dark Side, and then the Shriwirr takes a hit from the Dominant. It fries everything into explosive shrapnel, kills the rest of the power–and Firwirrung–and blinds Dev. Who also has no feeling below the shoulders. Luke helps him collapse under a console, and finds himself musing on death, the Force, Thanas’s shot, and the costs of violence, but he’s just tired.

z: If that last sentence seemed to lack coherence, folks, let me repeat that this is not Will’s fault.

will: He can’t reach Leia, so he starts to heal Dev. First he turns off (or at least weakens) Dev’s pain sensation, which helps, and Luke starts asking Dev to help, to focus and open his mind.

And when he’s hit by another cough, Luke instinctively focuses on himself, and notices the two parasites in his chest.

About damn time. I admit that this was all structured so that Luke wouldn’t have had a chance, but I don’t quite believe that he wouldn’t try to heal himself sooner. Any time after killing Bluescale, for example.

z: Or kept complaining about allergens and asking for breath masks without trying to do anything to his lungs himself first to bring down the irritation that he thought was caused by allergens.

Mind, I’m not entirely sure if Force healing works as an anti-inflammatory, but Luke-written-by-Tyers seems to think so, so okay…

will: At any rate. Luke curls up in the fetal position, his survival instinct resonating with his sense of the parasites’ own.

z: This is another one of those “quite nicely written when taken entirely by itself out of context” sentences, but…

will: And we shift back to Leia. She’s terrified, worried about Luke, whom she can’t feel anymore after Thanas’s shot, and Han says the shot did severely damage the Ssi-ruuvi cruiser after all. Leia asks Han if they can’t get closer, and find a docking bay. First, though, they’re going to take a run at the Dominant.

Rogue Leader–Wedge, naturally–says they’re lined up for a run, but Leia says to harass the Dominant away from the Ssi-ruuvi ship, maybe take it as spoils of war. When Han and Wedge say that isn’t likely to work, Leia says maybe they can spin it as a message that they won’t stoop as far as the Empire, but anyway. The Rogues and the rest of the fighters harass the Dominant as Han looks for a docking bay, and Leia thinks, “we’re coming” to Luke.

And, blissfully, we exit out of this chapter, and I can drink my tea and try to recover.

Yikes but this chapter was bad. It combines the things Tyers does the least well: philosophy, the Force, and characterization.

I may need to doctor this tea with something stronger.

Z, please, help me out here.

z: Four drinks. We’ll put one in tea if you want. You’re not driving while at the convention, right?

will: Very much not. And I already have my tea, and some flasks, packed and ready to go.

z: Because I can’t really be of much help: The motivations of everyone flop around unmoored to anything steady because there’s no steady characterization, therefore actions read as they flail wildly, not anchored by any steady motivation that makes sense; the Almighty Plot, instead of the characters, makes decisions, takes actions, and says words; I am not even going to touch that entire Luke-did-what-to-Thanas and Luke-decides-the-price-isn’t-good-enough-for-him morass, let alone the “need power now, turn on aggression, don’t want to turn dark, turn off anger” nonsense–

The Force–It Doesn’t Work That Way!

Heavens, but I feel like Maz Kanata here. “I am no Jedi, but I know the Force” indeed.

But anyway. Next week, Luke heals himself, with the accompaniment of some more “ews” from me, and frankly, I’m not interested in looking ahead more to figure out what else is coming at the moment. We’ve had enough and I need sleep. Until next time, then, may the Force be with you.

(The actual one, not the “turn the heat to low and let it simmer until soft” one.)

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