Wednesday, November 22, 2017

From a Certain Point of View - Elizabeth Schaefer (Ed.)

“From a Certain Point of View” is an anthology of forty short stories set in the Star Wars universe during the events of “A New Hope”. The title refers to the suggestion that the truth is a matter of points of view – and indicates the diversity of perspectives that become clear from their associated stories. That some of those stories may conflict, with each other or with other works in the Star Wars universe – well, we can put that down to the subjectivity of truth, and just accept that each of these stories is true – from a certain point of view.

There are a multiplicity of views on display here – from the crew chief doing paperwork on star destroyer guns, through the Tusken raider with dreams of a different life, to old favourites like cantina band The Modal Nodes and mysterious spy Long Snoot. These are the people in the background of the Star Wars cinematic story, beavering away and getting things done whilst the heroes captured our attention. Perhaps the most important lesson the collection teaches is that each of those background players was someone in their own right, with their own hopes, their own enemies, their own betrayals, their own dreams.

One of the positives of the sheer number of stories is that there’s something for all tastes in here. There’s wry pieces like Ken Liu’s ‘The Sith of Datawork’about the necessity of filling in a vast amount of paperwork every time you shoot down an escape pod. There’s pieces like Pierce Brown’s ‘Desert Son’ which explore the emotional intensity of rebellion, and the love of friends for one another. There’s pieces like ‘Grounded’, where a maintenance chief waits on the ground at Yavin to see if her pilots survive, which blend flat-out action with the kind of emotional weight that might catch you by surprise. Then there’s pieces that are blaster fire, lightsabers and chases. Whichever you’re in the mood for, there’s a story somewhere in this collection which will fit. Some of them will work better than others  for any given reader, of course – given the number of tales in the volume, that’s going to be inevitable. But I think they’re all interesting entries into the Star Wars genre.

The breadth of narrative also includes the scope. There’s sweeping, horrifyingly grand events here, like the eyewitness account of the destruction of Alderaan. Of course, the story which gives us that also provides a close character study of a woman torn between concern and pride in her daughter, worry for her husband, and the pressure of her own duties. There’s more intimate portrayals too, like Contingency Plan, following Mon Mothma as she prepared for the possibility that the Death Star won’t be destroyed. Here we get a tightly plotted examination of Mothma. Her internal voice is intelligent, wracked with a complex welter of emotions behind a calm façade; it’s a spy story, with only the protagonist’s internal dialogue to guide the reader through (it’s also fantastic).

We also get to see some experiments in narrative style and structure. The multiple viewpoints of ‘The Kloo Horn Cantina Caper’ combine with a noir atmosphere to make something unique, mixing gentle comedy, emotional truth and  something a little edgier. The metatextual ‘Whills’ is a comic homage to fans of the franchise, whilst ‘An Incident Report’ , in the clipped formal tone of Imperial correspondence, gives a unique perspective on the way Darth Vader handles his udnerlings.

This is a strong collection; the sheer volume of stories means there’s always something to pick up, read and enjoy. But alongside that, another strength is its sheer heart. You can feel the affection for Star Wars rolling off of each page in the volume, and the effort that each writer put into building a Star Wars story of their own. There’s a few quirks – everyone in the Cantina seems to know Han Solo! – but they’re forgivable. If some of the stories didn’t work so well for me this time, I imagine they might when I’m in a different mood – and the overall quality is rock-solid. 

Is it worth reading? If you’re a Star Wars fan, new or old, absolutely. I’d even say if you’re not, this might be a good way into the franchise. There’s small revelations scattered here and there, but what this book celebrates is Star Wars, in all its warmth, energy, humour and diversity, and it does that extremely well. 

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