Laughter and Levity can Cut Through Darkness

It was just last night on the podcast Nanci and I were jokingly talking about how awesome it would be for Aaron Allston to write a second Starfighters of Adumar book in which Wedge, Tycho, Wes, and Hobbie run off to play diplomat again and mutter “we’re too old for this shit.” If anyone could have made that setup work, it would have been Aaron Allston. His ability to tap into the humor of Star Wars (and life in general, really) was unparalleled. If there was one lesson you could take away from his works, it was that there was always room for levity and laughter.

(Continue reading under the cut, warning for discussion of depression and suicide)

I never hid the fact that Aaron Allston was my favorite Expanded Universe author and that Starfighters of Adumar is my favorite book. Full-stop, no qualifiers. Just my favorite book. The first time I read it and his other X-Wing novels was my freshman year of high school. Like many people with similar sensibilities as myself, high school was pure, unadulterated torture. In addition to the usual issues of getting picked on mercilessly and not fitting into any social group, I was going through a prolonged stretch of the worst depression and anxiety I had ever felt in my life.

I wasn’t exactly keen on being social during that stretch of time. Frankly, I wasn’t exactly keen on the whole being alive thing either. I’d contemplated suicide a few times and while I (thankfully) never acted on it, the thought loomed in the back of my mind like a dark cloud. I was doing the responsible thing and getting counseling and taking medication, but there’s no getting around the fact that I was miserable. About the only thing I had any desire to do was read books.

During the fall of my freshman year I picked up the first X-Wing novel by Mike Stackpole and read through those first four novels in about two months’ time. It was around December of that year I asked my dad to order me a used copy of Wraith Squadron off Amazon because our local second-hand bookstore didn’t have it in stock (and because I only had a couple dollars to spare on another book to read).

I’ve talked about what happened next on the podcast and in a blog post or two, but it bears repeating. As I was reading Wraith Squadron, I laughed for the first time in months. I kept reading Allston’s books and I kept laughing. Looking back now, those books were sort of a mirror to my own life at that point. Despite the dark themes and tragic events that were happening on the page, there was still room for laughter.

Maybe that was the missing something I needed to get my life back on track and for the therapy and medication to finally start working. Psychology is a convoluted and complicated thing and I won’t pretend to fully understand how it all works. All I do know is that by the time I had finished Starfighters of Adumar about three weeks later, it was a lot easier to wake up every morning and go to school. All I know is that after reading his books, I stopped thinking about suicide.

At conventions, Aaron Allston often told the tale of a reader who sent him a letter. In that letter, the reader thanked him for writing the Wraith Squadron books, because those novels saved their life. The reader recognized the destructive parallels between themselves and Ton Phanan, and that was a jolt for the reader to get help so they didn’t walk down Ton’s path any further. I wish that at those conventions I had taken the chance to relay my story to Aaron as well, because I don’t know where I would be now if I hadn’t read his books when I did. Aaron Allston inadvertently saved my life as well.

Yub yub, Aaron. Thank you for making me laugh when I needed to most.


5 thoughts on “Laughter and Levity can Cut Through Darkness

  1. I know it's a sad day, but thank you for posting this. It speaks to both Aaron Allston's legacy as an author and the general transformative power of the written word, which should never, ever be underestimated. Thank you for sharing: I only met him a few times, but I can almost guarantee he'd have been glad and proud to hear your story.

  2. Starfighters of Adumar is my favorite Star Wars work. More than any Star Wars author, Allston knew how to make Star Wars fun. There are plenty of EU authors whose works are full of tension and drama and violence and death, and yes, Allston's works have those, too. But more than anyone else I've read, Allston knew how to capture in writing the spirit of adventure that animated the original movies.

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