Posts Tagged ‘Splinter of the Mind’s Eye’

Stone in the Mind’s Shoe. Blowing in the Mind’s Wind. I’m sorry, I should probably stop now. Yes, nonsense upon nonsense and you may well be wondering exactly what I am on about.

Well, here’s the thing. As those who know me will be all too aware I am chronically unable to pass a second-hand bookshop without popping in for a good rummage about, and last weekend was no exception. I spent a happy hour or so in Hurlingham’s, apparently ‘the best bookshop in London’ (nearest Tube stop Putney Bridge), and was pleasantly surprised to discover a copy of Alan Dean Foster’s 1978 novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, an unassuming volume but one nevertheless of some note as only the second piece of Star Wars fiction ever written. Worth a look simply for curiosity value, I think you’ll agree.

You may be wondering why this tale trades under that particular title. Well, having read it, so am I, as it isn’t really addressed in the story. What the story does concern itself with is a secret mission undertaken by Luke, Leia and the droids, to attend a rebel conference. Unfortunately Leia’s ship gets the space equivalent of a flat tyre and they are forced to crash-land on the swampy planet Mimban. Before too many chapters have elapsed they find themselves roped into a quest to recover a mysterious crystal which grants the holder tremendous control over the Force. Unfortunately the Empire has also got wind of its existence and Darth Vader himself is on the way to recover it.

And the results are, er, really incredibly dull. No, really, they are. There’s a lot of wandering around in swamps, ruins and tunnels and conversations between fairly irksome characters. Partly this derives from the fact that the story is based around Luke and the Princess, undoubtedly the two most blandly written and performed characters in the original movie (Vader only shows up in the very last section of the book), even if their characterisation here seems a little eccentric.

There is also, you may not be surprised to learn, a rich vein of ick running through the story for modern readers, as Luke and Leia contend with the powerful sexual chemistry between them. This is written with the obvious intention to be cute (there’s a bit where they have to change clothes which involves a lot of bashfulness and backs being turned) but just comes across as deeply queasy.

There’s what looks like an H.P. Lovecraft reference at one point (which was probably a lot more subtle at the time) but really most interesting thing about reading this book was not the actual story but trying to figure out why it was written the way that it was. Why was the story so lacking in ambition, spectacle and incident? Why weren’t Han and Chewbacca in it, or even referred to much? Why did the story share such odd similarities with scenes from the later movies (it opens with Luke crashing his X-wing into a swamp and later on the Imperial Stormtroopers take a beating at the hands of furry aboriginals)?

Well, readers, if you don’t want the only interesting thing about this book spoiling for you, look away now. My researches (okay, Wikipedia) have revealed that this book originates from such a distant point in the past that at the time George Lucas was worried that the first Star Wars might not be a moneyspinning hit, and commissioned the story for a low-budget sequel to amortise costs. And Splinter is that story, transformed into a novel.

Why is it so dull and lacking in incident and spectacle? Because incident and spectacle are expensive things, unsuited to a low-budget quickie sequel. Why aren’t Han and Chewie in the film? Because Harrison Ford hadn’t signed up for the follow-up when the story was being put together. Why do odd bits of this story resurface in later movies? Presumably because Lucas took a liking to them and decided to recycle.

I do usually like Alan Dean Foster’s writing, his Alien novelisations are exemplary and his original novels (the Spellsingers, for instance) are full of wit and imagination. But Splinter is really only of historical interest, a vision of not such a terribly long time ago in a parallel universe that was probably closer than many people think. That said, it is almost impossible to imagine the original Star Wars not being a monster hit: the fact that George Lucas himself was unsure of its success is somehow rather sweet.

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