by Michael A. Stackpole.
It’s rare for the tagline to live up to the item it’s tagging, but for once Bantam didn’t exaggerate. The X-Wing series is one of the real treasures of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and I had forgotten so much of why I love it. Perhaps the most concise evidence for its greatness is the fact that I read it first at age 14 and loved it — and now over 14 years later, reading it again, I love it again. In other words, it holds up.
Michael A. Stackpole is a great author. In reading this, I’ve been reminded of all the reasons I used to follow his writing blog and advice columns and all. He breathes real life into his characters, and none more than Corran Horn, the hotshot pilot from Corellia who serves as the main character in this ensemble-based series that first took us away from the “main trio” of Luke, Han, and Leia.
Corran Horn is remarkably mature and introspective, highly analytical, intelligent, and resourceful. His background as an officer of CorSec and skill as a pilot make him a valuable asset to Rogue Squadron, but he has also been tested by grief and trial. Ego, its proper place and its downfalls, is a common theme throughout Corran’s books, and I’m half in love with a man who can coolly analyze his thoughts while hotly kissing some chick in order to come to the conclusion that he needs to walk away fast.
In this book, Ysanne Isard — one of the great underrated villains of the expanded universe — more aggressively develops her plan to crush the rebel alliance once and for all. The empire is still fairly stable, secure on Coruscant under the city-planet’s protective shields, and Isard is its tacit leader, empress in all but name, and in name, she is the Director of Imperial Intelligence. Her plan to end the rebellion? Infect Coruscant with a fast-incubating disease and then surrender the planet, leaving the rebels to bankrupt themselves in the efforts to stop the virus.
Without realizing that Coruscant is bait, the Alliance has sent Rogue Squadron undercover to infiltrate the Imperial Capital and find out all the information they can about its defenses, especially information on how to bring those planetary shields down. With a mole hidden somewhere among the Rogues and a parcel of thug convicts from Kessel to help (or not help), our band of heroes don’t even know the level of danger they’re playing with.
Smartly written, fast-paced, and compelling, Wedge’s Gamble lives up to the high standard set in the first book and promises even better to come after a stunning cliffhanger ending. I’ve laughed out loud, gasped out loud, and even done a little self-evaluating on my own inspired by Corran’s internal monologue, which tempts me to say that this series exists somewhere on a plane above the rest of the EU. As much as I love those adventure stories, there’s something of philosophy that creeps into Stackpole, and I love him for it.
My only complaint is twin with my highest praise for him, and so it’s just something I need to get over: no Star Wars author more aggressively asserts a galaxy-wide, governmentally-supported, anti-nonhuman bigotry more than Michael A. Stackpole. He paints Coruscant with “aliens-only ghettos” and “alien Jim Crow laws” like no other. Obviously this grates on me with my steadfast belief that such prejudice is impossible in an ancient galaxy on this scale; however, he turns such a sharp story on it that it’s hard to complain. I’ve always said that nonhuman prejudice easily exists in individuals throughout the Empire, and so perhaps I can explain this by saying that on Ysanne Isard’s Coruscant, this kind of bigotry becomes more widespread and enforced.
Why did I say twin with my highest praise? My highest praise of Stackpole is that he writes in a kind of casual way that takes for granted all the technology and “weird stuff,” stripping off the sense of science fiction and making us think we’re just reading daily life. When Star Wars first hit theaters, it stunned people because Lucas showed them a dusty, well-used universe — this is the equivalent of what Stackpole’s writing does. He’s casual and offhand; his universe is dusty and lived-in. And I found out why by reading the dedication page of this book (“To the memory of Roger Zelazny”) — Roger Zelazny is one of my favorites, and this is his style of writing that I love so much.