One of those things is editing.
Another one of those things is that when I read it, I don’t feel like I need to be proofing this for my fourteen-year-old brother for a freshman English assignment. The writer submitted this, which is one problem. The second problem is that someone then approved it.
And I just want to make this clear: at this point, I am not talking about the things I talked about before—story elements that don’t make sense, characters not acting like they should, etc. I’m talking about literal technical writing ability.
My expectations were obviously too high.
If you still have a paperback copy of Children of the Jedi, I want you to turn to page 157, since most of what I’m going to talk about comes from a few pages here. Let’s start here:
“They followed the scratched marks on the floor to a wide cavern, crossed a narrow wooden bridge among a cleft from which steam and the acrid breath of the subterranean gases rose in a suffocating wall” (157).
Were you able to read that and understand it the first time through? Because I’m not saying these words are difficult. There are several things that are wrong with this. Right off the top, we’re missing a conjunction! Did someone miss that episode of Schoolhouse Rock?
Beyond that, do you get the impression that someone is trying to sound smart? Like they keep right clicking on a word and hitting the synonym button in Microsoft Word to find a longer word to make the page count? For example: cleft, acrid, subterranean, and suffocating. Taken by themselves, any of these words would be fine. When you put them all together in the same sentence, it seems like someone’s trying to impress me.
It ain’t working.
Continuing on, subterranean gases have breath? If this were the only instance of this kind of florid prose, then I’d let it slide. But this isn’t even the worst of it. This is the beginning of it in this section. Shall we continue?
Pg. 158 – Skipping over the full second paragraph and dropping description in on unwary readers in one giant block, we have a little bit of an environmental problem. We are presented with a) “serpents of mists coiled across the floor” and b) “Hot, acrid breezes….choking with sulpher and kretch smell.”
By the way, did I miss this, or do we not have any clue what a kretch is at this point? Edit: I missed it. But it wasn’t shown to be important at the time.
Then we have a description of a droid, which includes the author’s incredible propensity to refer to all droids by their serial numbers. And in this case, after giving us a giant paragraph of description of the room, we have no idea what this droid looks like whatsoever, other than that it has a cylindrical head and glass eyes. We don’t even know if it’s humanoid!
Pg. 159 – And then they find…the jewels! Which Han’s “luminator” (for heaven’s sake, just say flashlight. Or glowrod! We have those in the Star Wars universe, but this is apparently functionally separate from a glowrod! GEEZE. “Luminator” sounds like something that Nerf would have made in the nineties!) shines on and reflects “bright colors springing back to salt the low ceiling in fire.”
Since when is the verb “to salt” appropriate for anything other than food? If you want to show how smart you are (as the author appears to attempt in previous pages), why not use the word refract?
Coincidentally, the jewels are not jewels, but jewelry, identified as earrings, pendants…and pectorals? Dictionary.com notes this definition as #8: “something worn on the breast for ornament, protection, etc., as a breastplate.” NUMBER EIGHT. Who the heck knows what a pectoral is if it’s not a muscle? Why not just say a breastplate?
This was one of my favorite examples of the idiocy—in fact, every time I tried to read this bit to my wife, I doubled over laughing: “The far-off hursh of the water echoed in the low groinings of the ceiling.”
Let’s start with hursh, which is the part which makes me laugh. Say it. Out loud. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Say it out loud as if it was the sound that water made.
Yeah, I know. You’re laughing now too, aren’t you?
Also….groinings? Dictionary.com (because I had to look it up as well) says that it is the “intersection of two vaults.” And I would like to note that my wife, who has almost completed her Ph.D. In English literature heard me say that word, and asked me if it was the sound that a man who had just been kneed in the dangly bits made, because she’d never heard it before. Groinings. I mean, it could work, right?
At the bottom of this same page, we have this sentence: “The stray, hot wind brought a feral stink that almost made Han gag.”
I’m sorry, I didn’t know stinks could be feral. Are there wild stinks roaming the forests of this planet? And if there are wild, feral stinks, are there also perhaps domesticated stinks? What are domesticated stinks raised for?
And then: “Then a scream, the scratch of claws; (SEMI-COLON!) Han yelled “Light!”…
It’s the semi-colon here, and once again, referring to my lovely wife for confirmation, this is a completely inappropriate use of a poor, defenseless semi-colon who really deserved better. The semi-colon separates two complete thoughts. THERE IS NO SUBJECT. THERE IS NO VERB. THIS IS NOT A COMPLETE THOUGHT.
Pg. 160 – And it goes on! The light from the “luminator” “flared diamond hard in yellow beast-eyes, slashing brown teeth.”
At this point, I started shouting something about how this is a published work and a New York Times bestseller and other things which aren’t appropriate for print. And I’ve covered all of four pages here. I’ve covered four pages with the kind of grammatical errors that would fail a high school English paper!
This is why this book is taking me so long to get through. I can’t go five pages without finding something new to shout about. And yes, I am shouting.
Just ask my wife.
So, I’m going to go ahead and conclude this rambling review of what really has been a bad to mediocre book at best. Because if I wanted to I could create an index of things that really frustrated me and have something for almost every page.
Here’s what we end up with. And if you haven’t read the book and intend to, spoilers. But come on, the book is sixteen years old. If you haven’t read it yet, you’re not going to. Luke discovers that the supercomputer in the Eye actually also has the spirit of a Jedi inside of it. Callista had been one of two Jedi that were trying to disable the ship so that it couldn’t carry out its job, but at the end of the mission her partner ran out on her and died and she had to take some action to prevent the ship from simply booting back up.
Luke has two conversations with her. And then he falls in love with her. I’m really not kidding, two conversations with her as the computer in which he starts to feel really chummy with her, and then a dream sequence, because robots may dream of electric sheep but Jedi encased in an AI in a murderous dreadnaught dream of other Jedi, and then he kisses her. Truly this is what the things of romance are made of… And then they transfer her into the body of Cray and she is alive again but lacks her prior connection to the Force.
My final verdict on this? This book is baaaaaaad. Ultimately, it’s not the story, which is painfully clichéd, it’s not the invention of new powers for Luke and other Jedi, which is unnerving and fits into the theme of it being Trope Tuesday (as noted here) it’s not the writing, which is bad in the most fundamental and technical sense, and it’s not the tone, which is so un-Star Wars it’s astonishing. It’s the combination of it all.
And I just want to throw this out there, previously, I had no idea what else Barbara Hambly might have written, I just knew this and I knew it read like it was trying to be an ‘epic’ fantasy novel. While at a local used bookstore, I found a whole stack of her work, all of seemed to be jabs at the Tolkein-esque model of ‘High Fantasy.’ If this represents some of her later work, because all of what I found seemed to be from the 80’s, then I really don’t want to even think about how not good I might find those.
In the end, I want you all to remember that this has been my opinion, and only my opinion. If you loved this book, I disagree with you. But I respect your right to enjoy things I don’t. Even if you’re wrong.