Sunday, 19 January 2020

Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu

Author: L Neil Smith
First Published: 1983
File size/Pages: (ebook trilogy) 5366KB / (paperback) 144pp
Ebook Publisher: Del Rey
Ebook Date: June 2011

Before Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire launched the Star Wars Expanded Universe into the widely popular enterprise is it now, a few books had tried to capitalise on the franchise. To add to the publication of Splinter of the Mind's Eye and the early Han Solo trilogy (Star's End, Revenge and Lost Legacy) we also had three novels starring the gambler, con artist, playboy, character of Lando Calrissian. All were published in 1983 and were written by L. Neil Smith.

Smith is an American writer, born in Denver, Colorado in 1946. He writes science fiction, and specialises in libertarian themed novels. Amongst his most recognised books are Pallas, The Forge of the Elders, and The Probability Broach. He has, over the years, taken an interest in politics, especially to further the cause of the Libertarian Party. At one point he even agreed to stand as an independent candidate for President, but his supporters fell far short of gaining the amount of signatures he demanded before taking the decision seriously.

The Lando Calrissian trilogy of books has been collected into a single volume (as has the Han Solo books) since the nineties and is readily available in paperback ebook format. This review only encompasses the first volume, The Mindharp of Sharu (what a great title).

The novel has a mixed reception. Many readers find it slightly out of sync with other Star Wars expanded universe books. This is possibly due to two factors. Firstly, the timing of the publication was straight after the end of the original trilogy (in fact for some it might have turned up on bookshelves before they had even had a chance to see Return of the Jedi). The third film was clearly still in production when Smith was writing this book (and the other two - as they were all published in 1983) and he very likely did not have access to sources from the final film to influence his style. Secondly, it would appear that the author was given only three things to work with. Lando Calrissian, Sabacc and the Millennium Falcon. Nothing else. Therefore he had to populate his world on his own creations outside of the Lucasfilm creation. No Stormtroopers. No Empire. No Sith. No Jedi. No Rebels. It is probable that this is the same situation presented to Brian Daley, author of the Han Solo trilogy - however, he had Solo, a firm fan favourite to carry his stories. Smith had to bring a character who had only had a brief appearance in The Empire Strikes Back to the forefront, and make him different to Solo. Not an easy task.

The books take place before the Skywalker Saga of films. It had been established in the second movie that Lando Calrissian was the previous owner of the Millennium Falcon, losing it to Han Solo in a bet, so the famous ship could either be introduced as a plot point, or already be in Calrissian's possession. Smith takes the second option and the novel opens with the classic premise of our hero already seated at a game of Sabacc with a motley crew of gamblers. He is at a mining facility, hoping to make a good profit from his card skills. This he does and part of the proceeds is a Droid. Unfortunately the robot is located on a different planet, not so far away. Deciding to also pursue the lure of a tale of ancient treasure (the Mindharp), Lando travels to a planet in the Rafa system to collect his prize.

The Droid we meet, who becomes Lando's travelling companion is Vuffi Raa. And here we have the first miss-step in the way Smith is trying to sell us on the fact that this is a story set in the Star Wars expanded universe. For a start the name of his Droid does not match the format we are familiar with. I thought all robots in this setting had names that were numbers and letters? His has an actual name? Then there is the description of Vuffi - kind of like a dome with lots of extendable limbs with fingers. The cover of the paperbacks tries to convince us that Vuffi is a mix of R2D2 with metallic arms sprouting out of his dome-head. But I wasn't convinced. At points in the novel the reader is presented with Vuffi's point of view which I don't thinks works in Star Wars.

Anyway, Lando soon finds himself on the wrong side of the local constabulary (not the Empire, another fact that jars) and forced into looking for the Mindharp of Sharu. linking up with a character named Mohs he acquires a key to unlock the location of the Mindharp and together the three have to travel across the Rafa system to find it.

For some strange reason, Smith gives Mohs the strangest way of speaking. His language is practically Shakespearean in structure. This is quite comical, and I truly did not work out whether it was supposed to be or not! There is a lot of "seeith", "foresooth" and "thy's" to be uttered by him. In terms of character development though - Mohs actually ends up being the most interesting character in the entire novel!

Taking these strange choices and parking them to one side. Mindharp of Sharu is trying to present us with a different Star Wars story. Lando Calrissian does not enjoy violence. He prefers to avoid conflict, and would much prefer to fast-talk himself out of harms way, so that he can spend his time on expensive drink and flamboyant clothes. He is also not a very good pilot, and struggles to cope with the potential that the Millennium Falcon affords him. He leaves the flying to his robot colleagues.

This presents the reader with a story that is less action/adventure and more space opera. The story struggles to keep the pace going in places, and to be frank it only really gets pacey in the last couple of chapters (which are genuinely good) and I wished Smith had given us more of those escapades earlier. There is a very strange journey through an ancient building that takes way too much time - even though the book is less than 150 pages long.

I would only recommend Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu to Star Wars fans, or those who are particularly interested in these early books (people like myself I suppose!). You need to be willing to forgive the author for his interpretation to really enjoy it. And even then, it's not the most exciting adventure you could be taken on.