Review: Wraith Squadron
by Aaron Allston.
This is a story about how I affirmed my trust in my own instincts. Twice upon a time, I tore through the first four X-Wing books and picked up the fifth with complete faith and trust that it would continue in the same pattern of awesome. Twice upon a time, I put Wraith Squadron down with a heavy sigh after the first half dozen chapters. Once, in 1999, I was too bored to ever continue and it sat on my “unfinished” shelf for over a dozen years. The second time was this year, and if it hadn’t been for my alphabetical challenge (this was the book for X), my commitment to review it for this site, and my desire to get to the Stackpole book I’ve never read, it would have gone right back on the unfinished list as a permanent resident.
I’m sorry; I know people love this book. You can take that sentence as my sorrow that anybody could love it, or sorrow that I couldn’t join them. Both are probably true. I actually am sorry I didn’t like it, since Allston died back in February, and I’ve kind of used his death as a rallying point for realcanon (the man dies and suddenly his books get thrown out the window?). But it was not a good book. It was about 150 pages too long, and it was also abundantly clear that the author made video games for a living, with page after page of clunky space battles that felt like reading the player’s guide to Flight Space Fighter Sim 3000xe IV: More Splodey.
Here’s something Aaron Allston really, really wants you to understand as you read this book: it is NOT Rogue Squadron. Okay, it’s called Something Squadron and it’s about Wedge putting together an eccentric group of pilots to the chagrin of a disgruntled admiralty. BUT there are two quirky nonhumans instead of one. And his second isn’t under suspicion from the New Republic; one of their pilots wants to kill him. Oh, and the guy who TOTALLY isn’t Corran because he’s not even Corellian, see, he gets with his chick in the first book, which is different. And the chick who makes him analyze his feelings and stuff isn’t Mirax and there isn’t a triangle, so, it’s different. So, just to be clear, this is totally not a slower-paced, more boring version of Rogue Squadron. And Allston made me aware of this on every page he possibly could.
Now, I liked the plot. It’s too bad the plot couldn’t hang out for more of the book, because I really liked what it had to offer: the re-form of Rogue Squadron is so successful that they’ve lost their effectiveness in the covert ops department. Wedge decides to take some commandos who also happen to be pilots and make an undercover team, the dagger in the boot to compliment Rogue Squadron’s more direct sword. Janson, Wedge’s gunner from the Battle of Hoth, reappears as the second in command, which I was very excited about, and I was also extremely hopeful about finally getting to see Warlord Zsinj after hearing his name so much. I even appreciated the hints about The Courtship of Princess Leia, because I love it when the books reference each other to tighten up their connections.
Unfortunately, the plot had to duck out early because it had a thing at a place, and the 403-page book tried to make up for its absence with lots of explosions, relationship stuff, and, um, paragraphs. For awhile, I thought the relationship stuff might get some positive points, because the girl shuts him down for not actually loving her but only wanting to be in love with someone like her; however, predictably, she gives her personality the boot and decides to suck face with him in the concluding chapters.
More embarrassing than his treatment of people with ovaries were Allston’s racial stereotypes. Wedge and two of the pilots literally go undercover as Mexican desperadoes with ponchos, sombreros, and terrible haircuts/mustaches. And let me just say now that if a racial stereotype is so overt that I notice it, it is bad, because 9 times out of 10, that kind of thing sails straight over my head. And, because I’m an equal opportunity equal opportunist, I also got extremely upset over his treatment of nonhumans. Aaron Allston was completely oblivious to the fact that Gammoreans are not literal pigs and gives us a character like Rocket the Raccoon in that galaxy movie — not only is he called Piggy (something I cringed every time I read it — how does this galaxy even have pigs? — how is it ever okay to call someone Piggy unless her first name is Miss and she has golden curls and is voiced by Frank Oz?), but he also had to be totally genetically modified and crammed with cybernetic hardware in order to function as not a brainless animal. I thought it was sick.
And finally, far more distressing than his treatment of females and nonhumans, the much-touted “humor” that was the first thing out of everyone’s mouth the moment I mention Wraith Squadron. Here’s the thing: I have laughed out loud often throughout every one of Michael A. Stackpole’s books. He’s wry and clever and can suggest humor with the twitch of a character’s eyebrow, an unexpected meeting, or the consequence of a character’s action. Humor in this book was more like getting aggressively beaten with a Three Stooges Box set. He might as well have written in the pratfalls. A laugh track would have been more subtle. There were only three jokes, which were repeated an average of, oh, well, every 10 or 15 pages for a total of some 30 times. They weren’t funny the first time, and by the 20th, I was wanting to beat my head on the desk just to feel better. I was so weary by the time I finished this book. But I did try. Canon, obviously, but far from readable. Yub, yub, or whatever.