A Prelude to Star Wars Fiction
Throughout my lifetime I’ve perhaps read forty or fifty books based in George Lucas’s Star Wars universe. This literary canon spanned a few hundred years of fictional history (until it was jettisoned by Disney executives), with several long-running series planned out by some seminal authors.
Of these, it was the X-Wing series that I most adored. Let me pitch them to you: these books contained exotic planets, hot-headed pilots, exquisitely detailed space battles, and plenty of emotional growth and complexity between the characters. There were lightsabers and aliens, sure, but often these books read just like a straightforward military drama with a space opera coating.
The Best Novel in the Series
I have recommend Starfighters of Adumar by Aaron Allston, to many friends. The exchange will generally go like this:
Me: This is a great series! You should read this one, it’s my favourite.
Friend: Thanks! Is this the first book in the series?
Me: No. It’s the ninth and final book.
Friend: Oh…wait, what?
Luckily, Starfighters of Adumar is a standalone story. You don’t need any knowledge of the rest of the books to understand it. There isn’t even any Jedi or lightsabers in the story. So, why do I recommend a book that is perhaps the least Star Wars-y in the entire series?
The reason is, at its heart, despite the name and the cover, Starfighters of Adumar is not truly a book about starfighters. (A majority of the book doesn’t even take place in space). I would argue instead that it’s a book about relationships. The first chapter doesn’t open with a dogfight, but rather with the main character on a date, looking for a chance to end his relationship with his girlfriend.
“She was beautiful and fragile and he could not count the number of times he had told her he loved her. But he had come here knowing that he had to hurt her very badly” (Allston, p.1).
That’s a pretty surprising opening when the front cover looks like this:
Wedge, the protagonist, expects that he will need to break his girlfriend’s heart, but instead she breaks up with him over the meal. It’s mutual. They needed each other for a time, but they’ve both realised that all they truly feel for each other is affection.
“Wedge, when we [met] I was a different woman…I feel as though I inherited you. From a friend who passed away. You were her choice. I do not know if you would have been mine. I never had the chance to find out” (Allston, p.4).
I first read this book as a teenager. So, while I was still coked up on hormones and dreaming of the perfect romance, a Star Wars book was able to, in a small way, dispel the fairytale notion that people remain the same throughout the course of a relationship.
Why do I recommend this book? Allston is a master of dialogue and character. His characters speak effortlessly for pages, their conversations ebbing and flowing from topic to topic, and yet somehow they are driven towards a poignant conclusion at the end of the chapter.
Starfighters of Adumar begins with Wedge losing the most solid relationship in his life. There’s a lot that we, as readers, can learn from his journey throughout the rest of the book.
Fame and Toxicity
Starfighters of Adumar also deals with the dark side of fame. Wedge is tasked with being a political presence on Adumar, a newly-discovered planet that produces weapons. It is a planet that idolises star pilots, and Wedge is one of the best star pilots there is. I feel Allston chose this particular setting, because it allows him to delve into the issues of fame and fandom.
Wedge and his team initially enjoy the praise lavished on them. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that the cons of fame outweigh the benefits. Wedge and his team are followed by a journalist who documents their movements, and they are soon unable to travel freely without being mobbed.
Everyone Wedge meets has an expectation of how he should behave, and Wedge quickly grows tired of it. It is a joy to read how Wedge outmaneuvers the society that is seeking to constrain and idolise him. Most people dream of being famous, but I think in this novel Allston has cleverly tucked away advice about the perils of being famous. Popularity quickly shifts. Fame can turn sour. There is a simple peace when you remain unrecognised on the street.
Band of Brothers
It is difficult to say much more without spoiling some of the best moments of the series. Simply put, in Starfighters of Adumar, Allston has expertly balanced many moving parts. His story, as mentioned before, is set against a backdrop of war and fame, while Wedge is internally determining who he is, and who he wants to be.
However, it would be remiss of me not to mention the humour. The novel uses its characters and their personalities to great effect.
“Oh, stop worrying, Wedge.” Janson’s grin was infectious. “It’s obvious they adore you. You could throw up all over yourself and they’d love it. By nightfall they’d all be doing it. They’d call it the ‘Wedge Purge.’ They’d be eating different-coloured foods just to add variety.”
Wedge felt his stomach lurch. He half turned to glare accusingly at Tycho. “I thought maybe you’d be able to do what I never could. Get [Janson] up to an emotional age of fourteen, maybe fifteen” (Allston, p.33).
While Wedge’s desire for love is thoroughly explored throughout the novel, his camaraderie with the other characters ties the novel together.
For a while, I wanted to send these thoughts to Aaron Allston, to let him know how much his novel impacted me as a young person. When I finally decided that I should send this to him, I found out that he passed away six years ago (at the time of writing), aged 53.
I wish I had thought to write this article just a few years earlier, so that he could have read how much I appreciated his craft. He was a man with perhaps one of the greatest influences on my literary tastes. My debut novel (Lessons from the Wreckage) was heavily inspired by his work. And yet his life is summarised on a Wikipedia page that’s 800-words long.
Instead, I will have to be satisfied with this: you can find a copy of his book second-hand, and cheap. You can still buy it on Amazon, as an audiobook, or for Kindle. You may not particularly like Star Wars, but if you are someone who loves fiction with biting dialogue, action, and well-defined characters, then perhaps you can appreciate Allston alongside me.
Even though he won’t be heralded as a powerhouse of fiction by many, I still find myself reminiscing about the half-forgotten teenage lessons I learned on Adumar.