The Black Fleet Crisis: Shield Of Lies – Book Review

Book 1 in the Black Fleet Crisis was not very good. Book 2 isn’t much better.

The Black Fleet Crisis: Shield of Lies
Written by Michael P. Kube-McDowell
Publication Date: August 1, 1996

Timeline: 16-17 ABY (with a flashback to 4 ABY)

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Plot Notes

As with The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Kube-McDowell shifts from intertwining the three storylines, to having them take place separately, in self-contained chunks.

Lando, Lobot, R2, and C-3P0 continue to explore the mysterious derelict ship, developing a batter handle on the aliens’ technology, though they still don’t know where the ship is going, and how to safely get it to stop. Further, the escalating situation with the Duskhan League and the Yevethans means that the New Republic Navy ships that were chasing after Lando get recalled, so there’s nobody coming after them. Not that Lando and company know this, nor – over the course of this story – do they really expect pursuit to be ongoing – they come to the assumption that the vessel lost their pursuers and they’re on their own.

Luke and Akanah are continuing their search for the Fallanassi. Luke has realized that his traveling companion is hiding something, but he’s still resolved to go along for the ride, in spite of his reservations, and the fact that she objects to him carrying a lightsaber and using physical (and potentially deadly) force in self-defense. The section ends with them discovering that the Fallanassi’s last seen location was in territory that the Yevethan’s have claimed – the Koornacht cluster.

Finally, Leia sends the Republic Navy into the Koornacht cluster, where they lose their first battle, because the Yevetha have been taking hostages, and when they find themselves fighting a species that they view as “inferior” (which means everyone who isn’t them), they broadcast messages from the hostages, pleading for their life, in order to get their enemies to hesitate. Sort of the space battle equivalent of Kitten Armor.

The book ends with Han Solo being sent to command a larger counter-attack against the Yevethans – only for a member of the Republic Ruling Council to leak Han’s flight path to the Yevethans, allowing them to intercept the ship and capture him, in order to hold him hostage, leading to a vote of no confidence against Leia being called as the book ends.

Worldbuilding

We get a look at Yevethan culture and, um, you should take care not to cut yourself on the edge.

They’re highly focused on domination, both emotional and physical, with weaker members of the species being required to present their necks to their betters so, if their betters with it, they can be killed. At any time, for any reason or for none at all. Additionally, Yevethan women are expected to present themselves to any “superior” male for mating whenever they wish. Nil Spaar is such a big “alpha” that when he returns to the homeworld, he gets a Beatles level response, with hordes of women presenting themselves as mating candidates, because he so totally cucked the New Republic.

I think I just threw up in my mouth.

Several Republic member worlds, including Bakura, think this is totally awesome.

We also learn more about the Fallanassi philosophy of The Force – the Current – which, as the name implies, is basically about going with the flow and not resisting it or imposing their will on it, or on anyone else. This includes inflicting violence if, for example, somebody wants to kill you. Basically, as Akanah describes it, this is total pacifism, which would include acts like, for example, destroying the Death Star. Or killing Emperor Palpatine.

To be fair – this isn’t depicted as being a “good” philosophy, but still…

Characterization

Once again, I feel no inclination to be polite.

Leia’s characterization is… improved, but still isn’t great. Now, Leia has shited to being a heavy war-hawk with no patience for politics, when previously – by which I mean in A New Hope – she was established as being a sitting senator before the Emperor dissolved the Senate. Which would, you know, have some involvement in politics.

Maybe they’ll find the range in the last book?

More significantly, we get a bunch of characterization for Akanah… and it’s all over the place. On the one hand, she’s shown as being profoundly street smart, to a degree that impresses Luke. Considering Luke is good friends with Han and Lando (both of whom were former smugglers or moved in those circles) you’d think that would speak volumes. On the other hand, she’s pacifistic to the level of naivete. She feels it was wrong for Luke to destroy the Death Star. She doesn’t want Luke to carry his lightsaber, and she wants Luke to abandon the idea of using any form of force for self-defense. She’s not presented in being in the right – and this wide contrast is what sets off Luke’s sense of distrust, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that her two extremes just don’t fit with each other – and there needed to be some middle ground to reconcile them.

Other Notes

I failed to mention what Chewbacca was up to in the last book, and where he is now. He’s on Kashyyk, where his son, Lumpawaroo, is having his coming of age ceremony.

You know, Lumpy.

From the Star Wars Holiday Special. Turns out it’s canon in the Legends Timeline now. Thanks. I hate it.

Final Thoughts

The first book left me on a sour note, and this didn’t change my demeanor. The fact that every major female character in this series is so badly written is not great. Further, the way the New Republic legislature is written regarding the titular crisis is deeply problematic as well. We’re less than 25 years from the destruction of the Death Star. Less than 15 years (with this timeline) from the death of the Emperor, and while I appreciate the idea of the government wanting to avoid a constant state of war leading to further entrenchment of powers in the executive to prevent a second Emperor, we’ve had enough strange alien threats and expansionist powers coming out of the blue into various Imperial power vacuums that I feel like the response to “This new political power is using a bunch of Imperial tech to engage in a genocidal campaign” should be less pearl-clutching and refusal to act and more “Oh, huh, it is Tuesday. Well, send out the fleet.”

Probably the biggest misstep of this book though is the structural shift. As mentioned at the top of the review, this very much feels like an attempt to emulate the Lord of the Rings. The problem is that in The Two Towers, splitting the story into three helped to show the scope of events, as Merry & Pippin in Fangorn, Aragorn, and company with the Rohirrim, and Frodo & Sam way the hell over on the way to Mordor all were impacted by the events of the war, all in different ways. Here, because of how loose the connections are, it feels like a bunch of shaggy dog stories padding out the book.

It would be one thing if the publisher had asked for all three stories combined together as a trilogy – Lando in his New Lando Calrissian Adventure, Luke searching for his mother’s side of the family, and Leia facing a military and diplomatic crisis. Then I would get that this wasn’t the author’s idea, and was shoved into a situation he didn’t want. It would be a different thing if these were just three different stand-alone books – Lando going off on an adventure on his own, Leia not being able to investigate with Luke because of her political duties, and Luke not being able to help manage the Black Fleet Crisis because he’s running the Jedi Academy. Each book is their own, self-contained thing, each having the time given to them where the characterization issues I have were smoothed out.

However, instead, we have all 3 of those stories duct-taped together in a partially done form, either because the actual individual stories were not long enough on their own, or they were unfinished and a deadline was approaching. In either case, they all suffer because of this.

I could be wrong – We’ll see if the third book bears this out.

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