Choices of One, by Timothy Zahn

November 26, 2011 at 13:58 (Book Reviews, Fiction, Mediocre Books, Star Wars Saturday!) (, , , , , , )


The Star Wars franchise really is an interesting place. At its simplest, it is a good old-fashioned battle between good and evil. Occasionally, it is an interesting hypothetical look at human nature, the clash and compatibility of opposing philosophies and political theories, and an analogue of certain events in real-life history. It is not too much of a stretch, for instance, to compare the Roman Empire or the British Empire with the Galactic Empire: and then to take true problems and struggles of both of these historical entities, and apply them to this fictional creation. The Star Wars books that succeed above the rather muddled melee of third-rate science fiction and embarrassing fantasy are those that come up with heroes and villains with flaws and strengths, with complexities and conflicting beliefs. Timothy Zahn’s books typically top the list for the Star Wars extended universe, and it will become readily apparent to any reader that follows him that he is a man who can tell an interesting story.

Nevertheless, this is Star Wars, and Zahn is not writing his own ticket here. Star Wars means a battle between good and evil where good wins. It means a Rebel Alliance and it means Han and Chewie and Leia and Luke and the rest of the gang. It is disappointing, then, that Choices of One is a fairly decent and engaging story that has been mauled and twisted in order to fit in the “A-List” stars, but without any real need for them. This story is mostly about Mara Jade; a great deal of it is about LaRone and his friends; Thrawn and Esva are key (but underdeveloped) participants; and a totally unnecessary amount of space and effort is devoted to an entirely meaningless Rebel Alliance subplot.

“‘You, Captain Thrawn, will make that decision,’ Nuso Esva said quietly. ‘You will decide which of your Empire’s precious war machines you will order destroyed. You will decide which of your Emperor’s warriors will die.'”

-Choices of One

Now, this is not unusual. Many books in the Star Wars universe pack Lando off on some bizarre adventure, or have a baffling quest by a group of droids or children to distract from the main story. Honestly, the ensemble cast has grown so large that writers are forced to pack in a half dozen adventures and match up the most unlikely of characters, simply to shoehorn them all in there. But this might be one of the first stories in which the “Rebel Alliance” plot thread (including all of the above movie characters) might be easily removed from the book entirely without changing the story at all.

This plot difficulty (it might be ventured…laziness?) is a serious flaw. Thankfully, the rest of the book is interesting and engaging, though it falls massively short of the sort of thing we have grown to expect from Zahn. He is as melodramatic as usual, ending each chapter (occasionally it feels like each paragraph) with a starkly-worded cliffhanger implying certain death or destruction that never really happens. He devotes himself as always to quoting liberally from the Star Wars movies in his characters’ dialogues and interior monologues; perhaps because he feels his fans get excited over such references, or because he believes it ties his characterisation more closely to the movies themselves.

And that is it. A decent effort, though nothing at all special. Zahn works very hard to create dramatic tension, but the only drama in this book comes from wondering exactly how–not if–the heroes will succeed in their tribulations. It is good to see Timothy Zahn writing again, but he is resting on laurels of past successes.

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