Short Stories 366:125 — From a Certain Point of View, edited by Elizabeth Schaefer

coverIt’s May the 4th, so, okay. Yeah. I’m going to do a cheesy thing and talk about Star Wars short stories. Now, normally on Short Stories 366 I talk about one story a day, but it’s May the 4th, and it’s not like Star Wars needs my help boosting attention to it. Also, this anthology as a whole was a really mixed bag on two levels (I’ll get to that in a second) so I’m going to do more of a drive-by on the stories I really, really loved out of the forty stories collected into From a Certain Point of View.

“Raymus,” by Gary Whitta gave a breadth and depth to the captain of the Tantive IV (the ship Leia is on when it all began, with the death star plans and so on), and his thoughts of his family, his life thus far, and the reality of what he knows he’s up against—but wanting to maintain a sense of hope—is so nicely woven.

“Stories in the Sand,” by Griffin McElroy is a story about Jot, a jawa in a sandcrawler who is assigned to wiping droids, and who comes across something truly unique when he bumps into a certain Astromech droid. The character of Jot is just full to the brim of longing for something more, and I loved that I was left hoping he got his chance.

“The Baptist,” by Nnedi Okorafor was flipping brilliant. That beast in the trash compactor? Not only a sentient alien, but Force sensitive and aware—in her own way—of what was coming, and approaching her role in it with bravery and hope, despite knowing her prison was likely the last place she’d be. So freaking good, this story alone felt worth the audible credit.

“There is Another,” by Gary D. Schmit is the story I wish I could have read as a novel—Yoda learning it’s coming close to time to train a new Jedi, and assuming the Jedi in question will be Leia, because Luke is such a damn emotional mess. Yoda training Leia… What could have been, no? Always my princess and general. Sigh.

“Duty Roster,” by Jason Fry was emotionally satisfying on so many levels, and a glimpse into the pain and realities of the rebellion and its pilots. More, I think Col was one of the rarer characters in the book who was one of the good guys but came across so rough-edged and borderline-broken, which was nice to see in a story about a rebellion on the edge of being destroyed forever.

“Grounded,” by Greg Rucka was a glimpse into support staff and mechanics and engineers in the form of one of the technicians trying to keep the rebellion in ships able to fly, and the weight of responsibility of the ground crew was so deftly written into her character, I wanted to give Nera a hug. Not that she’d have accepted one.

“Contingency Plan,” by Alexander Freed was such a dose of plausibility that I loved it on that level alone. We are with Mon Mothma as she escapes before the Death Star swoops in to potentially more-or-less end the rebellion, and it’s about her plans… to surrender. Or, at least, her plans to do whatever it takes to save as many lives as possible once the rebellion fails. So well written, and such a great glimpse into a leader who gets a few lines on screen.

Now, I don’t want to sound overly negative about the rest of the tales and those above (and a few others) are good enough that I think a fan should give the anthology a go, but I do want to mention the two problems I had with the anthology as a whole. One was something I honestly hadn’t expected from an intellectual property like this one, which was maybe naive, but it’s this: the stories consistently and constantly contradict each other. In one story, the rebels don’t have enough pilots to put all their ships in the air against the Death Star. A few stories earlier? A pilot is left on the ground because they don’t have enough ships to put into the air against the Death Star. A detailed description of sandcrawlers in one story (there is no spare space, nowhere to ever truly be alone or out of view of others) is immediately contradicted in the next, where the same sandcrawler has a large open bay area where a woman hides for a good length of the journey. The musicians at the cantina are hired the morning of the day Han Solo’s famous shoot-out goes down; wait, no, they bartender arrived for his evening shift and he’s so tired of their performances he’s heard over and over; Also, Boba Fett is a well known bounty-hunter who is dangerous and works the system to maximize credits from Jabba the Hutt; wait, no, he’s about to prove himself to Jabba for the first time with his first score, Han Solo. And… well, you get it. It felt like every third story directly contradicted something in a previous story, and not in a “point-of-views can attribute things differently” way, but factual, world-building elements. It just seemed like a strange choice not to cross-edit with an eye for consistency, and it knocked me out of story after story.

The other problem was perhaps more to taste, but: choosing to have so many stories told from the points of view of the Imperials, who are—let’s be clear—complicit at the very least, and outright evil otherwise was a hard sell. Especially asking me to care about the romance between a stormtrooper and an officer? It wasn’t really going to fly (also, I guess a galaxy far, far away still has don’t-ask-don’t-tell, and really tired stereotypes, but I suppose at least there were gay characters, so yay for gay space fascists who die?). Ditto the story where the stormtrooper’s big narrative was basically “the rebels see us as faceless, we’re people in these helmets, too, y’know!” or the one where the guy decides he just can’t shoot rebels in the face anymore, but he’s gonna find a way to shoot them without looking them in the face because, uh, growth? Paper pushers and operational managers, soldiers taking off (at least that’s better than sticking around), the generals filling in incident reports; we spend so much time with Imperials and they’re often presented somewhat sympathetically, but…their side destroys whole planets, so no?

I listened to this one on audio, and for the most part, that enhanced the experience, as there was often background sound effects (blaster fire, cantina noise, etc.), but a few times—looking at you, “The Kloo Horn Cantina Caper”—that meant including aliens with super-screechy, awful-to-listen-to voices and I barely made it through some of the tales because of it. So, a mixed bag, even on the audio front.

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