The Alexandrian

The Paradise Snare - A.C. CrispinVOLUME 1: THE PARADISE SNARE

It’s books like this which make reading tie-in fiction worthwhile. What makes this book really tick is Crispin’s ability to take the familiar character of Han Solo and vividly capture him on the page: Han Solo walks, talks, acts, and thinks like Han Solo, and Crispin uses that to tell a really solid character drama wrapped into your standard Star Wars sci-fi action fare.

Speaking of that sci-fi action fare, the other notable strength of The Paradise Snare is Crispin’s ability to craft a Star Wars story without cribbing all her material from the the films. This is actually a fairly difficult line to walk: On the one hand, you get the authors whose novels feel like modern SF novels with a thin veneer of Star Wars glossed over the top. Those just don’t have the right mixture of classic space opera and Saturday serial heroism. They don’t feel right. On the other hand, you’ve got the authors who simply take the themes and elements already present in the films, throw them into a blender, and pour out the result. Those feel right, but they don’t offer anything of particular interest.

Crispin, on the other hand, manages to craft a novel whose plot and theme are very distinct from those found in the films, but which still feels like a Star Wars story. That’s no small accomplishment and it kept my turning the pages compulsively from cover-to-cover.

I’d like to be able to say more, but that really sums it up: The Paradise Snare is a tightly written, very well-done novel that’s a lot of fun to read. Perhaps the highest praise I can pay it is that this a novel that I’m likely to come back and read again some day. As I put it aside, I was eagerly looking forward to the next two books in the trilogy…

VOLUME 2: THE HUTT GAMBIT

The Hutt Gambit - A.C. CrispinUnfortunately, the promise of The Paradise Snare is not fulfilled by The Hutt Gambit.

This is a novel which doesn’t seem to have made the transition from outline to finished product. Far too many sequences are told instead of shown. For example, Han goes through several girlfriends in the course of the novel, but every single one of them follows the same course: We see Han ask them out, we get several paragraphs summarizing their months-long romance, and then we get another scene with them breaking up. The result is just words on a page — there’s no connection; no emotional resonance; no meaning.

I think Crispin is struggling with two problems here: First, the amount of time covered by the novel — at least three or four years, if not more. Such a timespan invites the author to summarize with broad strokes, and once they’re in the habit of doing that its easy for the telling-rather-than-showing to creep into the smaller sequences as well.

Second, she has a lot of previously-established continuity from the Expanded Universe to work into her stories. It’s continuity from over a dozen different stories from a half-dozen authors who were more interested in establishing their immediate dramatic needs than coming up with a coherent narrative.

As a result, there are some things which work very well. (For example, the history established between Han and Boba Fett provides some nice depth to the saga.) And there are some things that don’t. (For example, the first meeting between Han and Lando felt very flat to me.) And there are quite a few things that feel as if Crispin is going through the motions. (For example, establishing Solo’s history at Smuggler’s Run seemed very mechanical to me.)

On top of this fundamental problem, there are a lot of contributory flaws.

For example, I find the narrative itself to be poorly structured. There are numerous occasions where Crispin could have established crucial knowledge early in the book in order to lay a firm foundation for events later in the story. Instead, she opts time and time again to wait until the later events are actually playing out before dropping the crucial knowledge in as a lump of awkward, hamfisted exposition.

Crispin also gets repetitious: During one short section of the novel, for example, Han thanks another character for their help on about three or four different occasions, getting the same stock response every single time. If this happened just once, one would try to find meaning in Han’s excessive gratitude. But it happens again and again and again, until you begin to wonder whether or not Crispin even realizes that she’s already hit this narrative beat before.

The final battle sequence is solidly planned, but poorly executed. The problem is that there’s no twist or hidden back-up plan for our heroes to exploit at the last minute to snatch victory from almost certain defeat. Instead, the heroes spend more than a hundred pages minutely planning out every single detail of an ambush… and then the ambush works just the way they planned. It’s as if you were watching an episode of Mission Impossible where absolutely nothing went wrong with the plan. Or if the Rebel leaders at the end of the original Star Wars movie had spent fifteen minutes of screen time minutely planning out the final attack run exactly the way we see it happen: “Okay, and then Luke will take the lead. And he’ll turn off his targeting computers right here. And we’ll keep Han Solo in reserve just in case any TIE fighters put Luke in danger. And then Luke will take his shot and destroy the Death Star. Now, let’s go over that another half dozen times…” Oh, and Vader should be paid off AND ordered to let the Rebels win, just to remove any lingering suspense.

I also feel as if there’s some big, gaping plot holes lying around in the novel as well. Maybe I’m just missing some crucial piece of information from some other tie-in novel that would make the whole thing fit together, but the result is just deeply unsatisfying.

Perhaps the biggest problem with The Hutt Gambit, however, is that it doesn’t seem to have any coherence. It doesn’t feel like a story. It just feels like a bunch of stuff that happens, rambled off in a scrambled stream of consciousness.

In short, I found The Hutt Gambit to be a serious let-down after the extremely enjoyable Paradise Snare. Hoping for a recovery, I turned to the third volume in the trilogy, Rebel Dawn

VOLUME 3: REBEL DAWN

Rebel Dawn - A.C. CrispinWhile Rebel Dawn represents an improvement over The Hutt Gambit, it still doesn’t live up to the promise of The Paradise Snare. Once again I feel as if Crispin’s hands were tied by the need to incorporate continuity from other novelists. There’s a lengthy section of Rebel Dawn which essentially consists of Crispin saying, “And then Han Solo went off to Star’s End and did a bunch of stuff which you can read about in HAN SOLO AT STAR’S END, available from Bantam Books…” Followed by, “And then Han Solo went off to some other adventures which you can read about in HAN SOLO’S REVENGE, also available from Bantam Books…”

I simply would have preferred to see a coherent narrative in THIS novel. And that could have been done without violating the continuity of the previous Han Solo novels.

And, although the book’s execution is better than The Hutt Gambit, Crispin still seems to be struggling with some of the most basic storytelling techniques. Let me give you a couple of examples of the type of stuff I’m talking about:

In desperation, Han sent the Falcon closer to the black hole clusters than any sane person would ever go. Only the ship’s breakneck speed might save them.

The Millennium Falcon skimmed so close to the black holes in the Maw that only her terrible velocity kept her from being captured and sucked in.

What’s with the repetition there? It’s like Crispin tried writing the same passage two diferent ways and then forgot to delete one of them.

Bria smiled excitedly. “Muuurgh and Mrrov!” […]

“Muuurgh!” Han shouted, so glad to see his friend that he ended up thumping the huge felinoid on the chest with his fists while his feet dangled. “How are you, buddy?”

“Han…” Muuurgh was nearly choked with emotion. “Han Solo… Muuurgh very happy see Han Solo again. Too long it has been!”

He obviously hasn’t been practicing his basic, Han thought, amused. […]

“Hey, Muuurgh! Mrrov! It’s great to see you both!”

After their greetings were over, Mrrov explained that there was a contingent of Togorians who’d had run-ins with Ylesia over the years who wanted to be part of the assault. “Six of our people were either enslaved or close to enslaved there, Han,” Mrrov said. “We wish to have a part in making sure that no other Togorians will ever again be trapped in that terrible place.”

Again you’ve got a little bit of weird repetition. (Bria and Han have already shouted out the names of Muuurgh and Mrrov. So who’s shouting out their names again in that unattributed line of dialogue? There’s nobody else in the scene.) And then you segue into one of Crispin’s puzzling tell-instead-of-show dialogues. Why slip into the distancing, amateurish technique of summarizing dialogue when you could have just as easily written:

“It is good to see you, both,” Mrrov said. “And we are not alone in wishing you well. There are six others here who were either enslaved or close to enslaved at Ylesia and who want to be part of your assault. We all wish to have a part in making sure that no other Togorians ever again be trapped in that terrible place.”

I dunno.

Of course, if this type of thing only cropped up once or twice in The Hutt Gambit and Rebel Dawn, that would be one thing. But these techniques, and other amateurish missteps like them, crop up again and again and again, constantly jerking you out the narrative.

The ending also fails to ring true for me. Not only does it seem incredibly rushed, but I also find it impossible to believe that two weeks before the beginning of Star Wars, Han Solo was actively helping the Rebellion. Nor do I find it believable that 24 hours before meeting Obi-Wan and Luke, Han Solo learns that [SPOILERS] happened to [SPOILER].

And speaking of being rushed, I’ll also say that I think a big problem with both The Hutt Gambit and Rebel Dawn is that Crispin simply tries to cram too much into each novel, and ends up shortchanging everything. For example, Crispin sets up a huge sabacc tournament at the beginning of Rebel Dawn for Han to win the Millennium Falcon at. (This also rings false to me for several reasons, but those are separate issues.) But then, after hyping it up, Crispin only spends about eight pages on it. It’s an anti-climactic waste.

When all is said and done, I give a big thumb’s up to The Paradise Snare. And, fortunately, it can stand on its own: So I recommend checking the first volume of this trilogy out and then giving the rest of it a pass.

GRADES:

THE PARADISE SNARE: B+
THE HUTT GAMBIT: C-
REBEL DAWN: C

A.C. Crispin
Published: 1997-1998
Publisher: Bantam Spectra
Cover Price: $6.99
ISBNs: 0-55-357415-9 / 0-55-357416-7 / 0-55-357417-5
Buy Now!

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