A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I started reading these books…
The Star Wars Expanded Universe is a big place, and one that’s easy to get lost in. To the extent that my bookshelf allows, every Tuesday I or another reviewer will be guiding you through the EU with (generally) chronologically placed reviews of Star Wars novels. Today I will be reviewing Lando Calrissian and the Flamewind of Oseon, the second novel of L. Neil Smith’s trilogy The Adventures of Lando Calrissian, the only Expanded Universe novel to prominently feature a Sesame Street character!*
Fresh on the path of a “respectable” career, Lando Calrissian, the Millenium Falcon and the droid Vuffi Raa find themselves plagued at every turn with run-of-the-mill troubles such as ridiculous fees, inhospitable locals, bombs, random assailants… You know, the usual. Unbeknown to Lando and his pentapedal companion, the layers are indeed deep and convoluted, and the authorities of a system who will execute you for possessing a weapon of self-defense aren’t his only enemies.
Quick note, I’m posting this review in January of 2010. If you’re reading this in February, or worse, March, despite being a regular reader, it’s because you’re doing it wrong. My Star Wars reviews (mostly novels) are first posted on the front page of NJOE.com then up to a month later on deviantArt and, finally, under #Book-Reviews. So if you want to see it first, and with all links and images intact, come to the prime source!
The Flamewind of Oseon picks up on the tail of its predecessor in true vector fashion. We get a brief description of some of the troubles Lando- a gambler at heart, tricked into a mercantile lifestyle with the “reward” of the first novel- is faced with, and the unexpected invitation to resume his preferred lifestyle. From here we get some of the most glorious sabacc sequences in the history of Star Wars.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m well aware that Brian Daley is said to be the one who took the concept of sabacc and expanded it into a game. That said… I have yet to read the Daley novels- they’re actually waiting on my bookcase for me to finish the Lando books. But if you’re looking for a comprehensive description of sabacc without having to look it up on Wookieepedia, look no further- Lando Calrissian and the Flamewind of Oseon features the gambler in his element, winning and, less often, losing at sabacc.
From sabacc, we move into an area Lando’s a little less at home, though some readers may be very well there: the world of fisticuffs and police. After being attacked by an unknown assailant and killing the man in self-defense, Lando calls in all of his local contacts and awaits his trial. Needless to say, he’s a bit shocked when he discovers that they could care less that he killed the man- it’s just too bad that he didn’t do it with a knife or a blunt object, because then he wouldn’t be faced with one of the most painful execution methods known to man.
Guns get a bum rap in communities where the inhabitants have little to fear other than the faint risk of assassination. Poor rich people, with their wealth and their bodyguards. They have it so hard**… but I digress.
So, true to formula, they give Lando another option. Except, of course, it’s really his only option. And that is to fly through the titular local holiday/attraction, the galaxy’s largest aurora (which could easily double as a nuclear weapon), blind, to set up a millionaire for a drug bust with the support of only Vuffi Raa, a police woman who not only would see a law breaker and gambler like Lando broken and humbled, but also lost a good deal of her meager wealth to him in the first chapter, and a narc. Who happens to be Big Bird.
No lie or exaggeration needed.
Let’s put aside the retcons and articles for a moment, and focus only on the information we had available from L. Neil Smith’s figurative mouth. Waywa Fybot is an avian sapient, taller than a human, with an orange beak, large blue eyes and yellow feathers. His legs are not suited for sitting or resting like a human’s, and it has vestigial arm-wings that are not long enough to tuck its head under its wing to sleep. Finally, he has a high-pitched, annoying voice and has a tendency to drift very easily into a drugged-like state when resting.
Waywa Fybot’s similarities to Big Bird is only the start of the light, silly connections to our galaxy in this novel, an apparent attempt to lighten the mood of the darker novel (mostly because it’s obvious someone (several someones) are actively trying to kill Lando. The stakes are higher). I had a moment of shocked disbelief and a small chuckle when “a braid of raspberry red, lemon yellow, and orange orange twisted through the heavens, across a constellation the locals called the Silly Rabbit.” Yes, as you can see, the trend of using Earth items such as fruits from the first novel hasn’t been cut down at all. One thing I’m curious to see is whether this continues in the Brian Daley novels. Finally, there’s one more allusion I believe was made in the novel. I have no idea what it was to (and hence, don’t ask me to find it) but it was a line delivered so dead-pan I’m pretty sure I would have gotten the punchline if I had read this novel in the mid 80s.
Back to the story. Like with Crimson Empire II, this gets a bit convoluted, so I’m going to break this down by characters instead.
We’ve got Rokur Gepta. In the first novel, you may remember, he did nothing. He put on a scary show early on, and showed up at the end of the novel to make “don’t you dare, you don’t know what you’re doing!” phone call. Now, for some reason, he wants revenge on Lando. I guess because Lando didn’t break from the grasp of Sharu technology to give the harp to him. Or something. His plan? To make life hell for Lando. It varies throughout the novel between simple harassment, to two murder attempts, to (this makes two of five in the novel, not counting the scheduled execution) kidnapping him and torturing him slowly to death. Speaking of which, this powerful Sorceror, who wiped out those who taught him sorcery and lived for centuries before meeting them, relies on electronic torture devices (actually reminiscent of the Matrix, though the latter didn’t exist at this point) to augment his Force torturing abilities. That said, it really is a pretty impressive effect once combined, but it doesn’t do much to bolster Gepta as the next Emperor. Gepta kills and replaces Bohhuah Mutdah, the uber-rich entrepreneur Lando is sent to set up, with the purpose of setting Lando up. Now, given Gepta’s position as ruler of the Centrality (which I’ve chosen to think of like his own private Moff-dom, which is most likely at this point in history even ignoring Gepta’s unique position, and something the Essential Chronology seemed ignorant of), it’s possible that Gepta originated the whole plan to have Lando invited to the Oseon system and sent to set up Mutdah.
Next we get the Renatasians, the completely unnecessary and redundant foes of Vuffi Raa who seem to have been added only for parody purposes, or so that the third book can be climactic. Maybe both. For some background, those who read The Mindharp of Sharu might recall that Vuffi Raa worked with a government-employed anthropologist prior to being “lost” to Lando. Working with this man, Ottdefa Osuno Whett, Vuffi Raa disguised himself as an organic being when they discovered and studied the technology backward system of Renatasia. Naturally, the Empire drained the system and demolished their pitiful attempts at resistance, resulting in a 67% fatality rate. Apparently, this is Vuffi Raa’s fault, because he happened to be the most visible being at the time . Also, they are complete idiots, which is the only realistic explanation as to why their ancestors lost hyperdrive technology, they were fooled by a droid in a plastic coating, and their entire civilization’s most fanatical and decorated warriors don’t have the skill to take out a single private freighter. One of these guys sets off the whole plot, attacking Lando with a metal pipe and dying an unceremonious, red shirt death. I think he got a name at some point, but I didn’t care enough to remember it once I realized he had nothing to do with anything important. Later on, an “elite” fighter squadron of Renatasians corner Lando flying blind in the Flamewind (we’ve reached four of those five attempts, by the way), and proceed to have their asses beat completely by him. One of these ships even rams him, but the shields pretty much hold. They hunt Lando down after the climax (that’s right, they don’t even have the decency to appear at the most important point of the book ), and then [url=http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ptitleaddc1oe7?from=Main.MrExposition]exposit[/url] just about everything in this paragraph. Unfortunately, Lando doesn’t put the man out of his misery.
Now we get to the real convolution. We’ve got the nameless second in command of the Wennis, Rokur Gepta’s personal shuttle/militia. Not only does he work for Gepta, but he is also turning over Gepta’s information to a secretive organization whom we later learn to be none other than the Renatasians themselves. The Renatasians, who not only are completely unnecessary in this book, but also have nothing against Gepta, and only serve in this part of the plot to confuse readers into thinking that they’re on Lando’s side. Gepta is aware of this subterfuge, by the way, and he plots revenge on the character who is never heard from again after the first few chapters. Don’t ask me if he ever got that revenge, I don’t know. Someone might, but no one who’s read the book.
It’s also Second Officer Mac Guffin is the one who does the bribing of Big Bird. Officer Bird, by the way, is not only supposed to be in the payroll of Bohhuah Mutdah, who may or may not actually be Rokur Gepta at the point of the bribing, but he also attempts to kill Lando on his own, allegedly because he didn’t think Lando would make it all the way (and yes, number 5. Pointless, wasn’t it?). Now, why a representative of the sector government would need to bribe an officer for anything is beyond me, as well as why this particular character would need to do so on behalf of the now deceased Mutdah. He could have even been bribing him on behalf of the Renatasians, but guess what? Big Bird doesn’t even acknowledge they exist. Even though they would have been a hell of a better reason for a crippled passenger (Big Bird was injured during the battle with the Renatasian squadron) to try to kill his pilot. So nope, instead, there’s a whole lot of confusion that blocks off a whole lot of plot. Tell you what: you read the book, and tell me what happened. I’ll wait.
That’s pretty much all there is to Lando Calrissian and the Flamewind of Oseon. Lando and Vuffi Raa have changed just enough to be realistic from The Mindharp of Sharu and Rokur’s regressed from irrelevant to bumbling, although he doesn’t look quite so bumbling next to everybody else Lando is faced with in this novel. The one character I found interesting (whom I won’t name here because of the rest of the sentence) and with potential for growth, got blown away by point blank blaster for the sake of a succinct wrap-up. However, the titular character goes through his share of trials and tribulations, coming out stronger and smarter for it, though pretty much unhappy. The writing is, if anything, even more flowery than Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu, even going so far as to receive a lampshade, though like I said in my last review, I’m a fan. Flamewind of Oseon isn’t quite as good as its predecessor, but one isn’t required to understand the other, and I recommend them to pretty much the same audience. Oh, and fans of the Millenium Falcon‘s communications antenna.
Notes for the Argumentative:
*Big Bird’s appearance is based on reviewer’s interpretation of the text and not on any plagiarism by L. Neil Smith. Author’s intentions are as yet unknown.
**Statement made entirely for satirical purposes based on portrayal in the novel. Please do not reply to this review or email me about the hardships and stress that executives and other wealthy are faced with, I am well aware that we live on the same planet. In most respects.