Lit Science-Fiction in Star Wars

Discussion in 'Literature' started by Karohalva, Jan 30, 2013.

  1. Karohalva Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    May 27, 2008
    star 2
    I reconciled long ago to the fact that Star Wars is not science-fiction by the standards of the '50s and '60s anthologies I devoured from the local library, but this is not to say the absence of requisite themes are ubiquitous in Star Wars literature. Yes, for science-fiction authors and authoresses the writers of our dear franchise create things more often akin to the '30s and '40s space fantasy, which is acceptable considering this is precisely the lovely pulp-fiction sludge that ultimately begot Star Wars in 1977. However, for a collection of men and women whose literary credentials are supposed to be science-fiction, should we not expect more themes to carry over into their Star Wars stories? Honestly, the story which slapped me in the face with the most overtly "classic" sci-fi themes remains the stone that started the avalanche, Zahn's trilogy.

    1. First contact. Zahn practically wallows in this theme. I would hazard to say it is characteristic of his non-Star Wars stories too. Noghri provide the traditional interaction of established civilization and a newly found species. It is icing to the cake that they are somewhat made out to be noble savages.

    2. Newly discovered technology. Cloaking devices and the complexities that arise around their usage are in a long line of science-fiction plot points going back to Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. I am reminded of the Nautilus, for example. Consider also Delta Source being radio transmitting trees.

    3. Survival and alien environments. For all intents and purposes, Myrkr is the theme of man against nature. Not only is it wild and untamed, but the conventional knowledge of the universe is therein challenged by the existence of ysalamiri. Admittedly, this is stock fodder for much fiction, science- and otherwise. Consider, for example, Robinson Crusoe. Nonetheless, it is also ubiquitous to the point of characterization for sci-fi.

    4. Playing god. What can I say about cloning that should not already leap out and punch us in the face? Zahn incorporated as an essential plot device the manipulation of the natural order with the corresponding questioning of whether the natural order exists.

    To be fair, Zahn is not the only one to use these themes. Others have used them too, sometimes well and sometimes not so well. Whether it is the Ssi-ruuk and entechment or Waru and his alternate dimension, science-fiction is littered throughout Star Wars. Even IG-88's droid revolution which, probably for the best, we all seem to be in tacit agreement to never mention is characteristic of science-fiction. Of course, suspension of disbelief can work only so far, and expecting us to believe the pinnacle of robotics is a fifth-grade art project cobbled-together out of toaster parts that comparatively makes the Tin Woodsman look like a T-1000...

    Yeah...I needed to say that for years.

    Anyway, in Star Wars these themes or tropes seem to often be relegated to minor roles or placed so far in the back as to possibly invalidate their claim to being science-fiction. Focus is different for different writers, yes, but I cannot help feeling science-fiction in Star Wars has been on the decline since its very inception. Maybe its last gasp was parts of the Yuuzhan Vong. Is this good or bad? Or am I completely wrong, merely being too unobservant to see what is before my very eyes?
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  2. Jeff_Ferguson Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 15, 2006
    star 4
    Del Rey mostly hires fantasy authors, but Bantam primarily brought sci-fi authors into the EU. The result was a nineties filled with authors filling in the New Republic era with sci-fi themes, concepts, and stories: entechment, Waru, The Vagabond, Zahn's military sci-fi, etc.Some of it worked (Vagabond!), and some of it tanked (The New Rebellion's Luke vs. bubble), but given that today's EU is mostly mindless lightsaber swinging that looks identical in every medium and every era, I find myself missing the overall experimental feel of the Bantam era. Even though the impending prequels placed far more limits on the stories compared to the freedom authors enjoy today, there was much more of a frontier feel to everything. Authors were never afraid to try something new. I'm not saying that hiring sci-fi rather than fantasy authors would solve all of Del Rey's problems, but it would sure as hell take them out of their lazy comfort zone.
    Last edited by Jeff_Ferguson, Jan 30, 2013
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  3. TrakNar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 4, 2011
    star 5
    As long as they don't start using oxygen pills as stand-ins for enviro-suits...

    I'm looking at you, Fireball XL5.
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  4. Mechalich Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 2, 2010
    star 4
    Star Wars has always been more of a fantasy than a science fiction universe in truth, but there has been a move, particularly by Del Rey, to remove the 'science' and even 'space' elements from the universe, and not in a good way. Of course this is particularly concentrated in the Main Novel Timeline, meaning those novels that advance the principle events of galactic history forward following ROTJ. Once Del Rey took over and launched the NJO the science fiction elements of Star Wars immediately took a back seat (the Yuuzhan Vong's biotech is all almost pure fantasy and the intial thrust came from a fantasy author), and it has become progressively worse over time FotJ barely includes any major space engagements (and then only in service to the largely irrelevant Imperial Remnant subplot).

    Now, this is not a universal movement. There have been EU materials with strong science-fiction themes: the Jaden Korr books for one, TOR's got some good stuff too (it has a droid revolution of its own, plenty of science-based superweapons, and even Arxis Wode saying that the Force is no match for his technicians), and the Coruscant Nights trilogy put in some unusual things like the Cephalon.

    Ultimately I would put a lot of the blame on Denning, at least in the novels. Having read material by him in other settings it is very obvious that he changes his style not one wit from Forgotten Realms to Star Wars, and that's a huge part of the problemtic impression mentioned by the OP.
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  5. Karohalva Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    May 27, 2008
    star 2
    Discussion elsewhere with some folk about this determined that, yes, science-fiction is a medium whose themes can and often ought to be universal. However, space opera such as Star Wars, or science-fantasy as I prefer to call it, has the potential to stand on both sides of the line. I am not seeing it done of late. If we proceed from the premise that science-fiction adapts ubiquitous themes to the context of technologically adept or scientifically knowledgeable civilization, then does it not behoove these stories to allow the stories to be shaped by the conditions and idiosyncrasies of such an advanced civilization? I am not seeing this happen, although I dearly hope it is my own inattention and not reality. Consider, for example, the fairly consistent reverence of Star Wars for democracy. Apparently, the light side adores democratic process. It is acceptable for the stories marketed for children to not address such weighty themes, but who is daring enough to challenge for adult audiences whether there is a point at which population size, cultural plurality, technology, and distance make, say, the Old Republic's democracy or democratic methods themselves inherently undemocratic? Oh, there are occasional nods to this with Palpatine's Imperials mouthing platitudes. Not that I am demanding expositions about political theory, or this topic be addressed at all. I love Star Wars' fairy tale notion of good being good and bad being bad. If it lacked this in most or all cases, it would, so far as I am concerned, lose its claim to being fantasy. Yet the pendulum must swing both ways. If it does not, then stories are not adapting universal themes to either context, science-fiction or fantasy.
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  6. Mechalich Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 2, 2010
    star 4
    The Essential Atlas contains a very broad and well reasoned challenge to the principle of democracy as a governing philosophy in the Star Wars galaxy. Zahn, in Choices of One, has Thrawn specifically hack at the idea of a democracy representing tens of thousands of different species psychologies.

    On another issue, TOR very explicity makes the opposite side of the argument - presenting the idea that the Sith Empire's anti-alien prejudices (and to some extent the Republic's as well) weaken it, and this enables Malgus' rise to (brief) power and ultimately contributes to its downfall.

    Even FotJ tried to explore what the proper place of a superpowered religious order answerable only to a vague energy field had in society. The conversation between Luke and Daala (pg 65-72) is certainly the most valuable part of all nine novels and deals very heavily with universal themes such as forgiveness, moral certainty, and the relationship between justice and the law. of course the rest of the series undercut that passage more or less in its entirety, but that's par for the course with those particular novels.
  7. instantdeath Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 22, 2010
    star 5
    Oddly enough, it seems like hiring fantasy writers worked extraordinarily well for the NJO, an era that's perhaps the most "science-fictiony" of them all. Perhaps it was the collaboration; you got primarily fantasy authors, like Stover, Greg Keyes, RA Salvatore, Troy Denning, and others working alongside primarily sci-fi authors like Walter Jon Williams, Greg Bear (I will hear no argument about Rogue Planet :p) Michael Stackpole and so on. Star Wars is at its best when it blends the genre, I feel. Lean too much in either direction and it really starts to lose its unique identity.
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  8. Karohalva Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    May 27, 2008
    star 2
    Granted, granted, but how often are these challenges built upon reasons that arise specifically from the material circumstances and conditions of a space-faring civilization? I propose that when these challenges are dealt with as issues of abstract theory and general morality, they are being addressed in Star Wars' capacity as fantasy. This is good an proper, and I have no charges against it. I merely wish for a taste of both science-fiction and fantasy. As for your examples, I have these comments.

    • The Essential Atlas. I cannot remember any such exposition, so I thank you for your example. Apparently, to my bookshelf I must go.
    • I have not read Choices of One. Since the library is closed, please tell me, is the objection presented as an opinion or as an event which arises specifically because the context and condition of society create it? If the former, as has commonly been the case for Thrawn, then I see no reason to rescind my position...yet.
    • TOR, as I have seen it thus far, does not seem to present the Sith Empire's racism in a manner unique to its civilization's context. It seems to be a historical habit arising solely from Sith xenophobia, and as such is not an idiosyncrasy of science-fiction or fantasy as genres.
    • I have not read FotJ because after LotF I took a deep breath and said to myself, "Karohalva, there is a book you have about Byzantine socioeconomic conditions among the pronaioi landholders in Thirteenth through Fourteenth centuries and their political conditions in the face of Frankish legal systems interjecting into the regional laws in Greece and Turcoman incursions into Bithynia. It will make a lighter and more comprehensible read than a series where Daala is Chief of State." I am, therefore, unqualified to comment on these books.
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  9. Jeff_Ferguson Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 15, 2006
    star 4
    Well said. The continuing post-ROTJ EU has been leaning waaaaaay too heavily in the Forgotten Realms-style fantasy direction for a long time now, and it desperately needs something to balance it out. Not even necessarily a hard sci-fi tale, but just something different, dammit. Do more Crosscurrents and Knight Errants, but take a risk and make them the next chapter of the post-ROTJ story. They've been serving us the same tripe for too long, and I'm sick of it. I'd take a new Vonda McIntyre novel over another Denning or Golden trilogy any day.
    Last edited by Jeff_Ferguson, Jan 30, 2013
  10. Boba Frett Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 21, 1999
    star 4
    As they did with the horror-themed "Death Troopers" and "Red Harvest," I'd love to see some hard sci-fi books put out. I enjoyed the Quella angle in The Black Fleet Crisis.
  11. Mechalich Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 2, 2010
    star 4
    The NJO is not 'science fictiony.' The fact that the Yuuzhan Vong use biotech does not make them science-based. Their biotech makes no sense and is basically a bunch of hacks that are designed to produce something that roughly mirrors what the New Republic and Jedi possess. Take amphistaffs, why can they block lightsabers? So the warriors can duel Jedi. There's no other logical reason presented why these otherwise flexible whip-things are able to resist weapons that can shear through reinforced hull plating. The Yuuzhan Vong represent a gigantic invasion by an alien 'other' that is completely and totally irredeemable. They pratically ooze fantasy tropes.

    And the NJO contains perhaps the most ridiculously non sci-fi aware thing in the entire EU: the gigantic Chiss library full of paper books!

    The thrust of Thrawn's argument (which is given to Car'das), is that it is simply impossible for multiple species to coexist, their viewpoints are too varied and chaos results. Thus there must be one dominant voice. Since the condition and context of the Star Wars galaxy is that of a single government attempting to rule over literally millions of species, I think that fits those criteria.

    I believe the actual backstory behind the Sith Empire's speciesism is that those who were brought with Vitiate when he escaped to Dromund Kaas as slaves remained slaves, and the speciest tendencies arose from that.

    And TOR does have a number of other 'science-fiction' themes. It has it's own droid revolution plot for one (Directive 7). There are several plots involving playing god and treading where one should not, notably centered on Belsavis, and numerous plots involving advanced technology (the Imperial Agent storyline, for example, involves both genetic engineering and chemical mind control).
  12. Iron_lord Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Sep 2, 2012
    star 6
    Edge of Victory I and the later books tried to get inside the Vong's heads, show them as not irredeemable.

    The OT oozes fantasy tropes just as much. And most of the OT tech needed rationalizations of varying plausibility after the fact- the "laser sword" nickname for lightsabers was dropped and people came up with a "plasma chainsaw" justification, and so forth.
  13. Zorrixor Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Sep 8, 2004
    star 6
    Wait, wait, wait... just because Waru was the product of a cocktail of hallucinogenic drugs brewed in some university lab late at night does not mean he's the product of science. :p
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  14. Iron_lord Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Sep 2, 2012
    star 6
    The idea of "creatures from another dimension" could be said to be "fantasy given a scientific-sounding name"

    Waru being bigger on the inside than the outside might be a nod to Doctor Who and the like though.
  15. cthugha Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Sep 24, 2010
    star 3
    [face_laugh]

    I also thought Crosscurrent and Riptide were particularly great because they brought an SF angle back into the EU... same for Sean Williams' TOR: Fatal Alliance with its replicator tech. More original (i.e. non-video game novelization) Williams books would totally rock my boat... as I'm sure I've mentioned a few times :p

    Actually I mention that one all the time :)

    ...and thank you for the "ubiquitous absence" in your OP -- that really made my day ;)
  16. Karohalva Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    May 27, 2008
    star 2
    You're welcome. Wordplay is fun.

    And to all, allow me to reiterate briefly. As has been observed, Star Wars can go both ways, science-fiction and fantasy. There are times when it does both, of which I want more. Rakghouls, for example, are both. Sith magic made a pathogen, so it is a magical zombie virus of a kind only arising from the idiosyncrasies of Star Wars.
    Last edited by Karohalva, Jan 31, 2013
  17. Iron_lord Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Sep 2, 2012
    star 6

    Sinrebirth's been writing an extremely entertaining fanfic expanding on the events of the last LoTF book Invincible- later entries do deal with the Daala issue:

    http://boards.theforce.net/threads/...he-force-invincible-special-edition.50003395/

    hasn't been updated recently though.
  18. instantdeath Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 22, 2010
    star 5
    While the NJO is an extremely mixed bag in terms of concepts, many of the broad strokes can be characterized as "soft science fiction", which is what one could consider Star Wars in the first place. It uses many science fiction tropes and concepts, but doesn't take the time to analyze them, explain how they work, or outline some of the more esoteric technical details. I'm not the biggest fan of the "soft sci-fi/hard sci-fi" designation, but it works well enough in differentiating, say, Dan Simmons and Arthur C Clarke.

    When I say NJO is the most "science-fictiony", I mean that it exhibits perhaps the strongest sci-fi influences in its setting. That's where the hybrid comes in. Like with the OT itself, upon first glance it appears to be a pure sci-fi tale, but later reveals itself to be more rooted in fantasy, just set against a sci-fi backdrop. Rogue Planet is a good example of the NJO-type pseudo science. Zonama Sekot itself makes absolutely no sense, and the explanations provided in the book, while detailed, don't make it any more plausible.

    The irredeemable alien invader plotline is done quite often in fantasy, but is also popular in sci-fi; that natural human fear of alien contact has lent itself to hundreds of similar stories over the years. I see the Yuuzhan Vong themselves as genre-neutral.
  19. Gorefiend Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Oct 23, 2004
    star 5

    Living space ships and extreme bio engineering is about as old a sci-fi trope as it gets, but yes the amphistaffs and Vonduun crab armour is a little bizarre when it comes to explaining how they are meant to block light sabers, pretty much going with “magic” crystals. Which pretty much is the SW go to place for any kind of weapon as it seems. Blasters? Special Crystals! Lightsabers? More exotic Crystals! Superlaser? Super Special Crystals! Blast vests and Storm trooper armor? Crystal gel packs!
    Didn’t the book itself explain that as some bizarre custom started to protect the knowledge? Which since the Chiss are known to be a little strange with such things, doesn’t strike me as that impossible. Hell our hospital still has paper copies off just about anything just because the director is almost paranoid about potential data loss with digital mediums.
  20. Iron_lord Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Sep 2, 2012
    star 6
    "Quantum-crystalline armour"
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  21. thesevegetables Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 11, 2012
    star 4
    True - take away the technology of Star Wars, add in some biotech or magical Vong ship things or whatever, and you can still get the same feel if you do it right. This is why Star Wars and John Carter are not strictly sci-fi, but really more fantasy - take away the machines and the story isn't dependent so can still be told. HALO depends on the tech.
  22. Mechalich Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 2, 2010
    star 4
    Sure Yuuzhan Vong bioengineering plays to science-fiction tropes, but only at the broadest 'hey look biotech!' level. And my objection is not so much as to the how, which in Star Wars can be just about anything, but to the why. The Yuuzhan Vong have huge issues in the 'why does our stuff work the way it does' department. The setup of their warriors, in particular, seems designed precisely so they can get into the kind of fantasy staff-to-saber duels that fit the writing style of the fantasy authors now in charge.

    Yes there was an explanation, but it was a really, really dumb explanation. And it wasn't a backup, it was somehow the only copy of this massively important astrographic and planetary survey data. It also made the pathetic, non-searchable nature of the Chiss archives into a major plotpoint, since the Jedi team had to spend multiple chapters navigating through the inefficencies of the system as a key obstacle towards finding Zonama Sekot.

    I'll grant that the NJO tried to implement a bunch of new science fiction trope effects into the Star Wars universe, it just managed to screw most of them up while doing so. For some reason a certain class of fans, such as the population of this board, have been largely forgiving of this, while they hack into similar hand-waving justifications in other sources. At the very least the NJO was where we began a transition to a much more fantasy based version fo the main novel timeline, which culminated in 'Font of Power' and Abeloth related absurdities in FotJ.
  23. Gorefiend Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Oct 23, 2004
    star 5
    They do have ranged weapons and all, which are actually more bizarre (high speed flying bugs with sharp edges?!?!) to explain then their snake spears, though they do even have something akin to plasma rifles, those just don’t seem popular. Of course in this case the idea of them being able to light saber duel (which is something rather SW iconic they definitely wanted to keep in) but just giving them lightsabers would have seemed even more unfitting, though since we already have all kinds of stuff that can be formed into weapons that can hold up to lightsabers (sith alchemy blades, electro staffs, power swords, special treated vibro blades etc.) the amphistaff never irked me out that much. Although I would also have favored them just having quarterstaffs or swords that are just made from lightsabre resistant material and only have the amphistaff versions as the shorter officer models we also get to see.

    "The Chiss have always stored sensitive information in this fashion. It is safe, secure, and permanent. We have lost too much data in ice storms to trust other, more complicated forms of storage."
    Its local tradition (which has also lead to all kinds of bizarre stuff we do) and they do have a point; it makes it insanely difficult to steal such things if you have to first break into the library and then figure out which books to take. Plus the Chiss not really being interested in expansion would not dig it up unless they need it for something they were planning ahead for a while, especially given how their hyperspace beacon network works. So maybe not that bad an idea.

    YMWV. I never minded Vong tech all that much because there is literally nothing they actually have that doesn't show up in some form or another as a living creature in SW lore before. Creatures with hides exotic enough to block lightsabers and blasters, seen it. Creatures that life in space, seen it. Creatures that can move through hyperspace, seen it.

    Trust me LOTF and FOTJ are much more insulting just because how disjointed and unplanned they are, whilst pretty much only concerning themselves with force users and having enemies that are not really enemies. Hell if the Confeds had actually won in LOTF there wouldn’t even have been a real difference in galactic government and Aboleth and the Sith were such nut jobs it was hard to take them serious. The Vong on the other hand clearly had the means, will and abilities to really screw up things for good for everyone living in the GFFA, matter of fact they pretty much did.
    Last edited by Gorefiend, Feb 1, 2013
  24. TrakNar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 4, 2011
    star 5
    Some of the Vong tech irked me because it struck me as incredibly pointless. You can abhor technology without it being utterly ridiculous. For example, your cups and bowls don't need to be living creatures, and neither do your pants. To me, it's saying "See? They use only bio-technology! See?? SEE?!" and forcing it down my throat.
  25. Iron_lord Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Sep 2, 2012
    star 6
    My guess is- it's not technology alone they abhor- it's the unliving in all its forms.

    If the Vong could- they would coat every rock and stone in the universe, in living matter- just so they wouldn't have to look at them.

    That might be why they leave the handling of the dead to slaves and Shamed Ones.
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